Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Playing with My Food: A Rabbit, a Bear, and Hard-Boiled Eggs

Let's cute up our boring hard-boiled eggs by turning them into adorable animals! It's easy with Yudetama-Gokko!

Yudetama-Gokko molds

Gokko means to play make-believe. A Google search led to the discovery that there are a lot of manga with Gokko in their titles. Yudetamago means hard-boiled egg. Apparently, thanks to another Google search, Yudetamago is also the collective pen name of two manga artists. For our purposes, we're make-believing that our eggs are a rabbit and a bear.

On the left is usagi (うさぎ), or rabbit; on the right is kuma (くま), or bear

"How can I transform my eggs into rabbits and bears," you ask? It's easy! First, you boil a couple of eggs.

The packaging instructs us to peel the eggs when they are "as hot as possible." This is the hardest part of the process. If anyone knows how to peel an egg immediately after removing it from a saucepan filled with boiling-hot water, please advise.

Once the eggs are peeled, put them in the molds. Soak the molds in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes.

The eggs are taking shape!

Pop open the molds, and you have cuteness!


One of the eggs cracked while boiling, so my poor bear has a scar across his face. I'll be more careful next time.

Cute and delicious!

The finished product is a great way to perk up a salad or a bento.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Marty Kuehnert: A Lifetime in Japanese Baseball

Me with Marty Kuehnert at Kleenex Miyagi Stadium in September 2010.

I'm fortunate to have met so many interesting people during my travels in Japan. Marty Kuehnert is no exception. He is a dynamic person with a fascinating story, and I'd love to share that story with you here. I need a lot more than one thousand words to describe Marty properly, but this is a good start, I think. (This essay was originally posted on Baseball Reflections on January 21.)

 Marty Kuehnert: A Lifetime in Japanese Baseball 

“Everything with Japan started in the toilet.”

When Marty Kuehnert speaks of the serendipitous event that led to his first trip to Japan, that’s usually how he begins. “Spend the summer in Japan!” the flyer above the urinal beckoned. Kuehnert, then a freshman at Stanford, noticed the sign while he was, er, in the toilet and was intrigued. The next thing he knew, he was celebrating his 19th birthday in Japan.

Forty-five years later, Kuehnert calls Japan home, where he is the senior advisor to the Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball, a professor at and the vice president of Sendai University, and the founder and president of International Sports Management and Consultants. From his first experience in the Far East to his current activities, Kuehnert held several jobs in Japanese baseball and dabbled in everything from sports licensing to sports media along the way.

Marty Kuehnert
photo ©ISMAC

Kuehnert’s route to Japan may have begun in the men’s room on the campus of Stanford University, but his interest in Asian culture began much earlier. When Kuehnert was in elementary school in his native Los Angeles, his parents sponsored a Chinese family through their church, and the two families became close. “I had an affinity for coming to Asia, I think, because of that association with that one family in church,” Kuehnert says from his home in Sendai, a city north of Tokyo.

That affinity stuck with him years later when it came time to apply to colleges. He chose to attend Stanford on the basis of three categories: The strength of its academics, a partial baseball scholarship (he was a catcher), and the reputation of its foreign exchange program. Little did he know during his 60-day stay as an exchange student at Keio University in Tokyo that he would later become the first foreigner to be named general manager of a Japanese professional baseball team.

After Kuehnert spent his senior year of college in Tokyo and received his Stanford diploma in the mail, he stayed in Japan through 1970 and worked at the World’s Fair in Osaka as an interpreter/guide in the United States pavilion. “I was kind of the unofficial sports representative when athletes came through,” Kuehnert says. In addition to giving sumo wrestlers guided tours through the pavilion, Kuehnert met members of the San Francisco Giants, including reigning National League MVP Willie McCovey, superstar Willie Mays, and a young Bobby Bonds. Kuehnert also had the good fortune of meeting the legendary Cappy Harada, a nisei (2nd generation Japanese American) who was a longtime assistant to the San Francisco Giants and instrumental in US-Japan relations through the sport of baseball.

That association with Harada proved to be auspicious. In 1972, during the first of his two stints back in the US, Kuehnert was “flipping burgers at my friend’s father’s place” and on the waiting list of Stanford’s MBA program when he received a call from Harada, asking him to become general manager of the Lodi (CA) Orions, a team in the Class A California League and the first Japanese-owned professional franchise in North America. The 25-year-old, who originally wanted to earn a business degree and use it to bridge Japanese and American sports, took the job. He ran the club for two seasons, during which time he was named the 1973 California League Executive of the Year.

Fifteen years passed before Kuehnert lived in the States again. This time he reigned as president of the Birmingham Barons from 1990 until 1991 and was part owner from 1990 until 1995. While Kuehnert was with the Alabama-based affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, he witnessed Bo Jackson attempt a comeback and Michael Jordan attempt a career change.

The lure of Japan kept calling him back, however, and because of Kuehnert’s ongoing projects, he never really left. After he ran the Lodi Orions, he took a front office job with the Taiheiyo Club Lions in Fukuoka as the director of sales and promotions in 1974. He did licensing for an Osaka-based sportswear company, introduced Easton’s metal bats to Japan, wrote seven books, was a sports journalist for major Japanese newspapers, had his own TV show, and acquainted Japan with the concept of sports bars in Kobe (a venture that ended after the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995).

Kuehnert’s resume impressed Hiroshi Mikitani, the founder of Rakuten, the most successful online shopping site in Japan. In 2004 Mikitani sought out Kuehnert for sports management advice for his floundering soccer team. During the meeting Kuehnert joked to the billionaire, “Mr. Mikitani, if this [were] a baseball team and not a soccer team, I’d love to join you and help run it.” A few months later, Mikitani called Kuehnert with the news that he was vying for an expansion team in NPB and wanted Kuehnert to be the general manager. After reading Kuehnert’s books, Mikitani felt the American’s no-nonsense style would be the right fit for his new club, if he won the bid. In November 2004, Mikitani was indeed awarded a franchise, and Kuehnert became the general manager of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. It didn’t take Mikitani long to grow impatient; he demoted Kuehnert from GM to assistant to the president only one month into the Golden Eagles’ inaugural season.

Now a senior advisor to the ballclub, Kuehnert is still a popular figure in Sendai. These days his main job is with Sendai University, a school that focuses on preparing students to become coaches. “It’s a university that is basically to train coaches for high schools, elementary schools, PE instructors, really,” says Kuehnert, who is the school’s vice president. Kuehnert also teaches sports management and sports media classes at Sendai University and at the prestigious Tohoku University.

Kuehnert addresses the JapanBall tour group in September 2010.

Despite his busy teaching schedule, he remains active with the Golden Eagles and vocal about baseball inside and outside of Japan. In October of last year he wrote a passionate and informed missive in response to a reporter’s criticism of Ichiro Suzuki’s record-breaking achievements in MLB. (When the newspaper didn’t print Kuehnert’s rebuttal, I posted it on my blog.)

Kuehnert signs autographs for young fans at Kleenex Miyagi Stadium in Sendai in October 2008.

Throughout four decades Marty Kuehnert became fully ensconced in the culture of his adopted land, but without losing his own voice and compromising his principles. As a result he established his own business, built his own brand, and made a difference in Japanese baseball. “What’s happened to me in Japan is . . . an interesting life,” says Kuehnert. 

Not bad for a guy whose life in Japan began in the toilet.

Monday, January 17, 2011

It's Officially 2011: The Usagi Have Arrived!

When a package from Japan arrived this weekend, I was relieved that 2011 could officially begin in my household.

This box contained the carefully wrapped ceramic figures that represent this year's zodiac.

According to the Chinese Zodiac – called eto in Japanese – this is the Year of the Rabbit. In keeping with Japanese tradition, we ordered the rabbits – usagi in Japanese – to display in our home. (Japanese people are usually on the ball and purchase the characters before the New Year, but I'm only a half Japanese, and a procrastinating one at that.)

At any rate, our usagi are here and occupying the perch reserved for our yearly eto characters. Welcome, 2011!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cold-Water Rituals in Tokyo, NYC

The Picture of the Day from Japan Today is of several men described as "physical fitness enthusiasts" taking a dip in a pool of freezing water. The ritual, which took place at Teppozu Shrine in Tokyo, is the enthusiasts' way "to keep themselves fit and display their perseverance."

AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi from

Seeing this photo reminded me of the Coney Island Polar Bear Club and its annual New Year's Day Swim. Ruri Kippenbrock, owner of online tenugui shop wuhao newyork, participated in the club's ritual jump in the Atlantic. She introduced tenugui fundoshi, Japanese traditional underwear, to the crowd with the help of Tokyo Circus, a comedian who prefers to wear as little as possible.

Ruri Kippenbrock of wuhao newyork wearing a tenugui as a bathing suit
© eatsdirt's photostream on Flickr

Tokyo Circus in a tenugui fundoshi from wuhao newyork
© eatsdirt's photostream on Flickr

Yes, I'm sure it was cold.
© eatsdirt's photostream on Flickr

Monday, January 10, 2011

How Well Do You Know Japanese Map Symbols?

Here's a link to a Wikipedia page that lists chizukigou, or symbols on Japanese maps. They're fascinating. Let's take a look.

I'm not very good at reading maps in English (my native tongue), much less in another language. However, I recognized three of the chizukigou listed on the page. 

To me, the most recognizable of these Japanese symbols is for the yuubinkyoku, or post office.

At first glance, people might think this is a swastika. And it is. Sort of. This was a religious symbol long before it became the badge of Nazi Germany. The word swastika comes from the Sanskrit word svastika, which means "all is well," and it is important in both Hinduism and Buddhism. An auspicious character that denotes good fortune, it represents the Buddha's footprints and thus marks the sites of Buddhist temples.

Japan is well known for its abundance of onsen, or hot springs, that dot the small island nation. If you're looking to soak in Japan, you have plenty of options, as evidenced by this map on This symbol is also stamped on all kinds of products sold at onsen, including my Onsen Manjuu.

I find the above panel interesting, particularly Power station and Volcanic crater or Fumarole. 

While looking through these, I wondered if the U.S. had comparable symbols. For instance, what marks paddies and tea plantations in the States?

How many Japanese map symbols do you know?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

This Loud Typist Will Never Own a Quiet Keyboard Cover

There are a few people with whom I work who call me "Hammer," partly because my last name is Hamaker, partly because everyone in the TV business seems to have a nickname, but mostly because I'm a loud typist. I hammer away at the keys on the keyboard as I type graphics, e-mails, blog entries, articles, whatever. So when my husband sent me the link to a story on Weird Asia News about a "Quiet Keyboard Cover," my first reaction was to recoil in horror! 

I mean, just look at it!


There's no way I would ever type on something that made the keys quieter when struck. This contraption is made by Japanese manufacturer Thanko. Apparently, these guys make all kinds of weird things, as evidenced here at, a blog which shouldn't be confused with travel giant Lonely Planet. (During a Google search of Thanko, I also found this site, based in Nanjing, China, which appears to be slightly different.)

Now look at my personal keyboard at home:

My personal Loud Keyboard

It's beautiful. And loud. The clank of the keys is soothing.

While I would never consider using the Quiet Keyboard Cover, I might be talked into purchasing Thanko's mouse pad cover.



Isn't this beyond cute? It would look great on my desk. However, someone might object . . .

Berkley rules the desk

Chopping Board Geta

The blog Ikea Hackers brings together people who repurpose Ikea products in creative ways. Ikea Hackers was featured in The New York Times back in 2007, and today almost eight thousand people are fans of its Facebook page.

Here is one "Ikea hack" that I found particularly interesting because of its connection to Japanese footwear.

From Ikea Hacker Yeow Benny

They're wooden geta fashioned from Ikea chopping boards! I'm not sure how functional they are, but I think they're cute. I wouldn't have looked at a chopping board and thought, "Wow, this would make a great pair of shoes!" That's why we're lucky to have Ikea Hackers like Yeow Benny in this world.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

How I'm Contributing to Nengajou Disappointment

Today is January 1, 2011. New Year's Day. I'm preparing to write nengajou to my friends and family in Japan. I'm a little behind, as nengajou are supposed to arrive on New Year's Day, not be sent on some random time after the fact. According to the website What Japan Thinks, I'm committing the fifth most disappointing nengajou act in the eyes of the Japanese.

The Number 1 complaint is that the recipient's name is misspelled, something I would never do. Here is list, ranked from 1 to 20.

goo ranking on

Numbers 3 and 7 seem particularly bad since nengajou are generally customized to include the zodiac sign of the New Year.
For instance, it's 2011, the Year of the Rabbit; therefore, one shouldn't send a card emblazoned with a tiger, last year's animal.

Number 11 is significant in Japanese culture.
If someone loses a close family member during the year, that person usually doesn't send or receive New Year's postcards.

I'm guilty of Number 13.
Now I know that if I make a mistake, I should toss the card and start fresh.

I am the opposite of Number 16.
The reason it takes me forever to complete Christmas and New Year's cards is because I'm all about hand-written messages.

Numbers 8 and 19 are things I hate about Christmas cards I receive from some of my American friends.
They shall remain nameless.

Number 20 is bad?
Hmmm. Guess I'll return that bunny suit.

Look at this blog I found by a New Zealander named Alessandra Zecchini. She posted this entry on December 8, so she's organized. She has stamps of the Chinese zodiac! She even made labels for her Christmas presents with her bunny stamps. I need to be as proactive as Alessandra Zecchini. Next year (or at the end of this one), I'll have stamps and card stock ready by the first of December so I won't commit Number 5 on the goo ranking again.

Before I can think about next year's nengajou, I need to get to do this year's. Hmm, maybe instead of hand-writing them, I'll break with tradition and send this pre-made Pan-kun nengajou.

What do you think?

Nengajou from My Favorite Japanese Animals

Nengajou are the New Year's cards that Japanese send to their friends and families. Since 2011 is the Year of the Rabbit, the cards have a rabbit theme.

Here are three of my favorite 2011 nengajou, featuring three of my favorite animals in Japan.

This is Otosan, patriarch of the White Family of SoftBank's brilliant TV commercials.

His nengajou is more of an advertisement than a nengajou, but it does say "Happy New Year" and offers a fukubukuro, or "lucky bag" present when you go into a SoftBank store. (I think it's for new customers.)

Next is Pan-kun! Isn't he sweet? I admit, I've never really liked monkeys, but this one is growing on me.
You may remember Pan-kun from my recent post about what I believe to be the best episode of his TV show, Shimura Zoo. He shed his standard overalls for a bunny suit to pose in this nengajou.

Last, but not least, is my all-time favorite Japanese bobtail, Nyaran.

He's the salarycat who works hard selling Nikukyu Manjuu and takes vacations booked through Jalan, a Japanese travel agency. In this nengajou, Nyaran looks like kagami mochi, a traditional Japanese New Year decoration of two rice cakes (mochi) topped with an orange. He's asking if it's the New Year yet.

It is the New Year, Nyaran! I wish all of you a happy, prosperous, and super-cute 2011!

New Year's Resolution: Be Less Like Berkley

Happy New Year everyone! I've decided not to make resolutions for 2011; I'm going to set goals instead. Things such as write every day, launch a website (more on that later), and lose the obligatory 15 pounds are on the agenda. Okay, so they sound like resolutions, but anyway. If I were to make a concrete resolution, however, it would be to act less like Berkley, my beloved, albeit sedentary, cat.

My husband ran the numbers on Berkley's day-to-day activities, and here are the results.

Like most cats, Berkley spends the majority of her time sleeping, as the chart above clearly indicates. While most cats are asleep an average of two thirds of a day, Berkley's numbers are approaching three quarters.

So what does Berkley do when she's not sleeping? We did an analysis of that as well, and the findings are not surprising. Eating leads the list, while bathing and thinking about sleeping were evenly matched. If Berkley wants to lose some weight – although she has not stated any specific goals for 2011 – she should spend a little more than 2% of her waking moments chasing her ribbon

Time to start working on my goals, and you should work on yours. And if your goals are in line with Berkley's, you should already be napping.