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Panda-full summer

29 Jun

Pandas have been popping up with great frequency this summer. First, the boast that the greatest number of pandas outside China lives in the southwest of Japan, in Wakayama prefecture. Then, Lady Gaga’s very poised appearance showcased a Japanese designer’s dress, and panda-modoki makeup.

(note to self: I wonder if she knows pandas are Chinese?)

Then in a talk in a local restaurant my friend Yoshiko runs, the Yushima shokudō, the speaker, FUNAKOSHI Atsuhiro, mentioned the panda’s diet. The context was a laid-back sort of charismatic but jokey lecture about foods to keep you healthy, especially as illustrated by people who didn’t get sick after their genbaku (atomic radiation/bomb) experience in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He mentioned the panda’s herbivore diet, and how the chubby panda contradicted the image of the gaunt and slightly edgy stereotype of the health nut.  Funakoshi himself first settled on his own angle of cuisine–wara cooking–after talking to the ‘father of macrobiotic cooking,’ SAKURAZAWA Yukikazu, aka George Osawa. Wara uses fresh vegetables, and is a kind of slow cooking that uses a technique called kasane-ni (重ね煮), or layering of things to cook them slowly. Anyway, the panda seemed to illustrate how one could thrive and even seem a bit decadent even on an herbivore diet.

This is a meat-based dish, Pork Loin and Cabbage Layered Stew, but is one example of how kasani-ne has been adopted for everyday cooking. The result is a bit like the tenderness and mingling of flavors you get with a slow cooker. I also post it because it is pretty salty, and in Tokyo these days, salt is making a comeback with anti-radiation echoes. But that is another story…


23 Jun


I got to Tokyo yesterday, and wanted to post a couple of links to things I ran across, that touch on issues from class. Also, a food photo. I am staying in Kameari, way across the river, in true shitamachi-land. It’s the setting for the longest-running manga in Japanese print culture, Kochira Katsushika-ku Kameari kōen-mae hashutsujo (こちら葛飾区亀有公園前派出所, literally, “This is the police station in front of Kameari Park in Katsushika-ku”). Here’s the Wiki entry. And here is a new rāmen place, that specializes in tantan-men, and like many delicious Tokyo restaurants, seats about 15 people, tops.

Tantan-men and beer at Kamezou ramen

Here’s a really good, local food blog. The writer translates and adapts recipes for katei ryōri from all over the place, including NHK’s morning show, Asaichi (=朝市 or morning market, used for Sunday markets and farmer’s markets, too). Her latest entry features the many faces of kyūri…

And a short piece on more asaichi that take place on regular Sundays in the city.

On a more sober note, a couple of things…

First, a Japan Times article about the spiking suicide rate in Tōhoku. Japan already has the highest suicide rate of any “developed” country. The tsunami/quake/radiation and resulting dispossessions have upped this even further. Clearly, the oft-trotted out line about Japan’s historical stoicism is really off the mark–or does not account for why resources are not reaching people to such an extent that they feel there is no way out or up. Then, in a related turn, celebrities such as Lady Gaga are visiting Japan under the umbrella of the US government. According to CNN,

Japan’s tourism has been hammered by the March 11th earthquake, tsunami and ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant. According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, tourism began to plunge on March 12th. Tourism fell 73% as compared to March 2010.

In April, tourism dropped 62.5% as compared to April the year before. In May, the tourism organization reported tourism was still down 50.4% as compared to May 2010.

U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, appeared gaga over Lady Gaga, beaming as he stood by her side. The ambassador, who has personally championed the return of tourists to Japan, said the singer will help spread this message around the world.

“This morning I had breakfast with some think tank experts, U.S.-Japan experts, who said to me, Mr. Ambassador, ‘What can we do in order to strengthen the strategic, economic and people to people relations between Japan and the United States?’ And I had one answer, Lady Gaga,” said Roos.

It’s great that she wants to lend her glamour to the cause, but what troubles me is that there is a disconnect between the promotion and the money trail.

The Japanese Red Cross (JRC) is the designated recipient of the money she is drumming up, and was the go-to site for many from the US, especially in the early days. Donations, though, seem to happen on auto-pilot via branding, rather than any assessment of how effective the organization is, and whether it is the most efficient at direct services to people in stricken areas. Locally, in Japan, many suggest that the JRC has been slow in channeling funds. The Mainichi, for instance, writes that, “Of the 281.7 billion yen, 45.4 billion yen or 16 percent has so far actually been allotted to victims, arousing criticism as being too late.” Of course, this wording does not clarify who is doing the criticizing, or what “actually allotted to victims” concretely means. But it does underscore how many choices about gaiatsu-related donation–admin cost, local embeddedness, transparency, priorities, etc.–can be glossed over when celebrities just snap to a certain brand, without doing on-the-ground comparisons. To be continued, I am sure…


Next, more on the Slow Life movement in Tokyo…

Exciting soba news–and new syllabus!

25 Sep

OK, so we are finally set–and the results are that we are getting two soba chefs, instead of one! Sonoko Sakai and Akila Inouye will join us October 7. He runs the Tsukiji Soba Academy, and will be visiting LA for a short time.

As you probably guessed, this does have consequences for the timing of assignments. Here is a summary–

–paper due Oct 7: you are always welcome to turn it in early;

–class in Office of Religious Life Oct 7 (map to follow);

–assignment for Sept 28=read the Miyazawa Kenji story and the Kajii Motojirō story, and think about magic, referring back to our Tanizaki discussion. Write the blog entry on “magic” and post, using CATEGORIES NOT TAGS “magic”and “blog 3” and whatever tags you want.


I have also added a small section titled “a few words on participation,” so you will have a clear understanding of what that refers to, and how I understand it in the context of interactions in the classroom.

What about the plants, you ask? Good question, since we did not finish transplanting (plants were not ready, yet). We should discuss this on Tuesday–the heat wave is likely to last all week, and when it abates, I think we can transplant in small groups. But given that some time will have passed, and only a couple did this hands-on before, a refresher on how to do it is probably a good idea…

Underground rice paddies in Otemachi

16 Aug

Source: Japan Times

Otemachi is normally known for suits and skyscrapers, not farming. The Japan Times did a little legwork, and found out that the urban legend of the underground rice fields is actually true.