kottke.org posts about Japan

The history of Japanese video game musicSep 05 2014

Red Bull is sponsoring a six-part series on the history of Japanese video game music. The first installment covers the music of Space Invaders through the Game Boy. Highlight: composer Junko Ozawa showing off her hand-drawn waveform library she used in composing scores for Namco. Bonus: Space Invader-only arcades in Japan were called "Invader houses" while arcades in New Zealand were known as "spacies parlours".

Update: Beep is a feature-length documentary film that will attempt to cover the history of video game sounds from Victorian mechanical arcades on up to the present day games. They are currently raising funds on Kickstarter.

The history of ramenMay 29 2014

The New Yorker and First We Feast each has an account of a talk given by NYU professor George Solt, who presented some of his research on the history of ramen.

World War II all but destroyed ramen's first wave of popularity. Thanks to food shortages and famine, the government placed tight regulations on food supplies, and earning a profit via restaurants or pushcarts was strictly prohibited until 1949. Some wheat flour made it onto the black market, though, and many of the country's unemployed turned to hawking ramen. Which means, Solt points out, that selling future all-nighter fuel could and did land people in jail.

Holt is the author of The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze.

KintsukuroiMay 07 2014

Kintsukuroi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery using resin mixed with precious metals like gold. The result is often something more beautiful than the original:

Kintsukuroi

There are dozens of examples of kintsukuroi on Pinterest. And as with many Japanese concepts for which there are no corresponding English words, kintsukuroi has many philosophical and metaphorical implications. (via ★interesting)

Update: Here's a short video that shows the technique and other related techniques:

(via the kid should see this)

Update: When I originally posted this, I forgot to transfer the photo of a bowl repaired through kintsukuroi to my server, resulting in the browser displaying a broken image icon. Rather than just fix it by uploading the photo, I used digital kintsukuroi to fill in the crack in the icon. Not sure the technique works as well as it does with pottery, but it seemed fitting. Here's the photo I meant to post:

Kintsukuroi

How Japan copied American culture and made it betterApr 15 2014

American favorites (blue jeans, whiskey, burgers) have been embraced by the Japanese, who have been turning out improved versions of the originals.

In Japan, the ability to perfectly imitate-and even improve upon-the cocktails, cuisine and couture of foreign cultures isn't limited to American products; there are spectacular French chefs and masterful Neapolitan pizzaioli who are actually Japanese. There's something about the perspective of the Japanese that allows them to home in on the essential elements of foreign cultures and then perfectly recreate them at home. "What we see in Japan, in a wide range of pursuits, is a focus on mastery," says Sarah Kovner, who teaches Japanese history at the University of Florida. "It's true in traditional arts, it's true of young people who dress up in Harajuku, it's true of restaurateurs all over Japan."

It's easy to dismiss Japanese re-creations of foreign cultures as faddish and derivative-just other versions of the way that, for example, the new American hipster ideal of Brooklyn is clumsily copied everywhere from Paris to Bangkok. But the best examples of Japanese Americana don't just replicate our culture. They strike out, on their own, into levels of appreciation and refinement rarely found in America. They give us an opportunity to consider our culture as refracted through a foreign and clarifying prism.

Another example, not mentioned in the piece, is coffee. From the WSJ a couple of years ago:

"My boss won't let me make espressos," says the barista. "I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos."

Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe's owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond's main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.

Making a Japanese rolled omeletteMar 10 2014

A master chef from a Hokkaido sushi restaurant shows how to make dashimaki tamago, a Japanese rolled omelette.

Watching people who are good at what they do never gets old. (via swiss miss)

Japanese manhole covers are beautifulSep 19 2013

This group on Flickr shows just how fantastically designed Japanese manhole covers are. Here are some of my favorites:

Japanese Manholes 01Japanese Manholes 02Japanese Manholes 03Japanese Manholes 04

(via mr)

Moving in JapanFeb 25 2013

A popular option for moving companies to offer in Japan is, not only to transport your belongings, but to pack them and unpack them for you.

I'd move to Japan just so I'd never have to pack up my own apartment again... except I'd have to pack up my apartment to get there. (via @ohheygreat)

Japan is a land without guns (and shooting deaths)Dec 14 2012

Max Fisher on firearm ownership in Japan.

But what about the country at the other end of the spectrum? What is the role of guns in Japan, the developed world's least firearm-filled nation and perhaps its strictest controller? In 2008, the U.S. had over 12 thousand firearm-related homicides. All of Japan experienced only 11, fewer than were killed at the Aurora shooting alone. And that was a big year: 2006 saw an astounding two, and when that number jumped to 22 in 2007, it became a national scandal. By comparison, also in 2008, 587 Americans were killed just by guns that had discharged accidentally.

Almost no one in Japan owns a gun. Most kinds are illegal, with onerous restrictions on buying and maintaining the few that are allowed. Even the country's infamous, mafia-like Yakuza tend to forgo guns; the few exceptions tend to become big national news stories.

Tuna farming in JapanDec 01 2012

Bluefin tuna are being caught faster than they can reproduce, which is terrible news for bluefin tuna and people who like to eat them (but seriously for the tuna). These fish are awesome, and I didn't know farming tuna was possible, but it is, with a few caveats. Bluefin in captivity don't procreate unless they're shot with a hormone-tipped spear gun (really). Also, the fish the bluefin are fed still have to come from somewhere, so calling farm raised fish sustainable is something of a misnomer. More sustainable though. I loved this video from Perennial Plate looking at a Japanese tuna farmer. The farmer seems so happy (but does not consider himself a conservationist).

You also ought to spend some time looking at the Perennial Plate back catalog of videos. Lots of gems in there. (via The Atlantic)

The sushi of Jiro's dreams will run you $20/minuteOct 10 2012

Sukiyabashi Jiro is a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Tokyo that many say serves the best sushi in the world. The chef/owner, 86-year-old Jiro Ono, was the subject of last year's excellent Jiro Dreams of Sushi documentary film.

Adam Goldberg of A Life Worth Eating ate at Sukiyabashi Jiro yesterday. The meal was 21 courses, about US$380 per person (according the web site, excluding drinks), and lasted only 19 minutes. That's more than a course a minute and, Goldberg estimates, around $20 per person per minute. And apparently totally worth it.

Jiro's sushi

Goldberg has photos of each course up on Flickr and his site has a write-up of his 2009 meal.

Three slices of tuna came next, akami, chu-toro, and oo-toro increasing from lean, to medium fatty, to extremely fatty cuts. The akami (lean toro) was the most tender slice of tuna I've ever tasted that did not contain noticeable marbelization. The tuna was marinated in soy sauce for several minutes before service, perhaps contributing to this unique texture. The medium fatty tuna had an interesting mix of crunch and fat, while the fatty tuna just completely melted in my mouth. My friend with whom I shared this meal began to tear (I kid you not).

Lest you think Goldberg's meal was an anomaly, this is a typical meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Dave Arnold wrote about his experience earlier this year:

The sushi courses came out at a rate of one per minute. 19 courses in 19 minutes. No ordering, no real talking -- just making sushi and eating sushi. After the sushi is done you are motioned to leave the sushi bar and sit at a booth where you are served your melon. We took that melon at a leisurely 10 minute pace, leaving us with a bill of over $300 per person for just under 30 minutes time. Nastassia and Mark thought the pace was absurd and unpleasant. They felt obliged to keep up with Jiro's pace. I didn't feel obliged, but kept up anyway. I didn't mind the speed. I could have easily eaten even faster, but I'm an inhuman eating machine -- or so I'm told. At the end of the meal, Jiro went outside the restaurant and stood guard at the entrance, waiting to bid us formal adieu. This made Nastassia even more nervous about rushing to get out. Not me. At over 10 dollars a minute I have no problem letting an 86 year old man stand and wait for me to finish my melon if he wants to.

(via ★kathryn)

Anton Kusters' photos of the YakuzaSep 06 2012

For his Yakuza project, photographer Anton Kusters spent two years documenting some members of the Japanese mafia.

Yakuza Anton KustersA limited edition of a book containing the photos is available. Steward Mag recently did an interview with Kusters:

The values were almost comparable to general Japanese workplace values, actually. Most yakuza gangs actually have neighborhood offices, and the plaques they have on the door state core values like "respect your superiors," "keep the office clean," and so on.

One thing I noticed early on with gang life was how subtle everything was. Everything was unspoken, and will was expressed through group pressure. A pressure was constantly there. There was this innate understanding of form-if someone did something wrong, no one would say anything; he would simply be expected to apologize. And the fact everyone would be so silent about it made the pressure really intense.

(thx, david)

Made in Japan, perfectlyFeb 10 2012

The long recession in Japan has led to a curious result: the Japanese are no longer just importing American and European goods and services...they're perfecting their own take on everything from cocktails and cusine to fashion and hotels.

Imagine going into an espresso bar, as I did in Tokyo, ordering a single shot, and being told that it's not on offer. The counter at No. 8 Bear Pond may feature the shiniest, spiffiest, newest La Marzocco, as well as a Rube Goldberg-esque water-filtration system, but the menu, which lists lattes and Americanos, makes no mention of espresso or cappuccino.

"My boss won't let me make espressos," says the barista. "I need a year more, maybe two, before he's ready to let customers drink my shots undiluted by milk. And I'll need another whole year of practice after that if I want to be able to froth milk for cappuccinos."

Only after 18 years as a barista in New York did his boss, the cafe's owner, feel qualified to return home to show off his coffee-making skills. Now, at Bear Pond's main branch, he stops making espressos at an early hour each day, claiming that the spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.

Honor and earthquakesAug 18 2011

This is a nice story for the afternoon. During the cleanup process following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, citizens have turned in tons of wallets containing $48 million. 5,700 safes washed out to sea in the tsunami have been recovered containing another $30 million. Most of this has been returned to the owners. This is the type of story that makes me say, "Please don't be fake, please don't be fake," as I click submit.

Japan's Dark SpringMar 21 2011

Lovely Japan-themed New Yorker cover this week by Christoph Niemann.

New Yorker Dark Spring

(via stellar)

How a Tokyo Earthquake Could Devastate Wall Street and the Global EconomyMar 16 2011

That's the title of an article written by Michael Lewis in 1989.

A big quake has hit Tokyo roughly every 70 years for four centuries: 1923, 1853, 1782, 1703, 1633.

(via @daveg)

All about nuclear meltdownsMar 14 2011

I haven't been keeping up with the Japan nuclear power plant situation as much as I want, but I wanted to pass along a few interesting articles. Over at Boing Boing, Maggie Koerth-Baker wrote a widely linked piece about how nuclear power plants work:

For the vast majority of people, nuclear power is a black box technology. Radioactive stuff goes in. Electricity (and nuclear waste) comes out. Somewhere in there, we're aware that explosions and meltdowns can happen. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that set of information is enough to get by on. But, then, an emergency like this happens and, suddenly, keeping up-to-date on the news feels like you've walked in on the middle of a movie. Nobody pauses to catch you up on all the stuff you missed.

As I write this, it's still not clear how bad, or how big, the problems at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant will be. I don't know enough to speculate on that. I'm not sure anyone does. But I can give you a clearer picture of what's inside the black box. That way, whatever happens at Fukushima, you'll understand why it's happening, and what it means.

MrReid, a physics teacher, writes about the situation at Fukushima:

Even with the release of steam, the pressure and temperature inside Unit 1 continued to increase. The high temperatures inside the reactor caused the protective zirconium cladding on the uranium fuel rods to react with steam inside the reactor to form zirconium oxide and hydrogen. This hydrogen leaked into the building that surrounded the reactor and ignited, damaging the surrounding building but without damaging the reactor vessel itself. Because the reactor vessel has not been compromised, the release of radiation should be minimal. It appears that a very similar situation has occurred at Unit 3 and that hydrogen is again responsible for the explosion seen there.

And this piece is a more meta take on the situation, What the Media Doesn't Get About Meltdowns.

Of immediate concern is the prospect of a so-called "meltdown" at one or more of the Japanese reactors. But part of the problem in understanding the potential dangers is continued indiscriminate use, by experts and the media, of this inherently frightening term without explanation or perspective. There are varying degrees of melting or meltdown of the nuclear fuel rods in a given reactor; but there are also multiple safety systems, or containment barriers, in a given plant's design that are intended to keep radioactive materials from escaping into the general environment in the event of a partial or complete meltdown of the reactor core. Finally, there are the steps taken by a plant's operators to try to bring the nuclear emergency under control before these containment barriers are breached.

Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codesMar 11 2011

From the NY Times, Japan's Strict Building Codes Saved Lives:

Had any other populous country suffered the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that shook Japan on Friday, tens of thousands of people might already be counted among the dead. So far, Japan's death toll is in the hundreds, although it is certain to rise somewhat.

Over the years, Japan has spent billions of dollars developing the most advanced technology against earthquakes and tsunamis. The Japanese, who regularly experience smaller earthquakes and have lived through major ones, know how to react to quakes and tsunamis because of regular drills -- unlike Southeast Asians, many of whom died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because they lingered near the coast despite clear warnings to flee.

Note: the title of the post is a reference to a tweet by Dave Ewing:

The headline you won't see: "Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codes". But it's the truth.

Find people in JapanMar 11 2011

Google has built a quick little app for people trying to locate friends and family in Japan. There are two options: 1) "I'm looking for someone" and 2) "I have information about someone".

Photos of the Japanese earthquake and tsunamiMar 11 2011

Over at The Atlantic's In Focus blog, Alan Taylor is compiling a selection of photos of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. You've seen many of these on other sites, but not at these sizes (1280 pixels wide).

Japan tsunami

Al-Jazeera's coverage of the Japanese earthquakeMar 11 2011

If you haven't already heard, Al-Jazeera had (and continues to have) some of the best coverage of earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Here's a clip from earlier showing the tsunami rushing through a populated area.

Contrast with CNN, which was apparently home to giggles and Godzilla jokes as the quake was being reported. In the last three or four big events in the world, Al-Jazeera has had the best coverage...is this a changing of the guard?

Update: Mediaite investigates and finds no evidence that a Godzilla reference or giggling occurred on CNN last night.

We did find an example of an American in Japan that made a reference that it was like a "monster movie" (which is included below) but Church handles herself completely appropriately.

Update: Mediaite found a video of the CNN broadcast in question where the anchor chuckles at something her interviewee says. And her whole tone sounds a bit more chipper than it ought to. The sing-song anchor voice might suffice when reporting non-news filler but fails when watching video of dozens of homes (possibly with people in them!) being swept along by a massive wave of water. (via @somebadideas)

Video of the tsunami in JapanMar 11 2011

Two videos of the tsunami triggered by the 8.9 magnitude eathquake that struck Japan. Both are from Sendai:

Japan hit by 8.9 earthquake and tsunamiMar 11 2011

The quake is one of the most powerful ever to hit Japan.

The United States Geological Survey said the earthquake had a magnitude of 8.9, and occurred at about 230 miles northeast of Tokyo and at a revised depth of about 17 miles. The Japanese Meteorological Agency said the quake had a magnitude of 8.8, which would make it among the biggest in a century.

The quake occurred at 2:46 p.m. Tokyo time and hit off Honshu, Japan's most populous island. The quake was so powerful that buildings in central Tokyo, designed to withstand major earthquakes, swayed.

Japanese treadmill gameDec 20 2010

Oh, this is hilarious:

The sweaty glass of the Tokyo subwayDec 09 2010

From photographer Michael Wolf -- you might remember his Architecture of Density or 100x100 projects -- a collection of photos of people pressed against fogged-up Tokyo subway windows.

Michael Wolf Tokyo

(via coudal)

The CoveAug 21 2009

The Cove has been getting great reviews: four stars from Ebert (who calls it "a certain Oscar nominee") and a score of 82 on Metacritic. A quick synopsis from Wikipedia followed by the trailer:

The Cove is a 2009 documentary film documenting the annual killing of more than 2,500 dolphins in a cove at Taiji, Wakayama in Japan. The film was directed by former National Geographic photographer Louis Psihoyos, and was filmed secretly during 2007 using underwater microphones and high-definition cameras disguised as rocks.

Hiroshima, 64 years agoAug 06 2009

In remembrance of the mass destruction of life and property due to the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima 64 years ago today, The Big Picture presents a typically excellent selection of photos.

Update: From Design Observer about a year ago, Hiroshima, The Lost Photographs.

2-D loversJul 23 2009

Nisan is a balding 37-year-old man with gray hair and Nemutan is his girlfriend, a video game character printed on a pillow.

When I joined the couple for lunch at their favorite all-you-can-eat salad bar in the Tokyo suburb of Hachioji, he insisted on being called only by this new nickname, addressing his body-pillow girlfriend using the suffix "tan" to show how much he adored her. Nemutan is 10, maybe 12 years old and wears a little blue bikini and gold ribbons in her hair. Nisan knows she's not real, but that hasn't stopped him from loving her just the same. "Of course she's my girlfriend," he said, widening his eyes as if shocked by the question. "I have real feelings for her."

2-D love has similarities to objectophilia. (via waxy)

An almost virtual worldApr 07 2009

A cyber cafe outside of Tokyo has been coverted into an apartment complex of sorts. "Cyber drifters" pay $500/month to live in the cafe's computer cubicles.

Giant fire-breathing robotMar 31 2009

Sure, it looks like Astro Boy with heartburn, but Kenji Yanobe's Giant Torayan is not the kind of toy you leave with just any kid.

This GIANT TORATAN doll is the ultimate child's weapon, as it sings, dances, breathes fire, and follows only those orders given by children.

Masterminded at Nagoya Institute of Technology, its Command Device uses voice-recognition technology to differentiate between instructions given by adults versus those given by younger evil geniuses.

Half-dragon, half-Mary Poppins, all awesome.

Japanese bladesmithsFeb 12 2009

Photo essay of how Japanese knives get made by hand.

Japanese kitchen knives cost more than a camera, they can't be washed in a machine, are subject to rusting and boy, they are so sharp that if you slip you'll lose a finger or two before you can say banzai. There is no doubt that these are the best knives in the world. Nothing comes close to them in terms of sharpness. With one of these knives, you could slice fish so thin you could read a whole chapter of La Physiologie du Gout through the slices. Earlier this month, I had the chance to see how knives are made in Japan like they have been for the last 200 years.

(via serious eats)

Pervert trains (chikan densha)Feb 10 2009

At the Shibuya Pink Girl's Club in Tokyo, men pay upwards of $130 to grope the girl of their choice on a simulated subway train.

The connoisseur picks out from the menu the girl of his choice, dressed either as a schoolgirl or office receptionist. This girl then beckons him through the window of a mock-up train carriage, which not only broadcasts station announcements, but even shakes and rattles.

Real-life incidents of subway train groping are on the decline, in part because more women are reporting them and the subway offering women-only cars during peak times.

Lost photographs of the bombing of HiroshimaNov 10 2008

A month after the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945, the US government imposed a code of censorship in Japan, which means that photos of the effects of the nuclear device are somewhat difficult to come by. Enter diner owner Don Levy of Watertown, MA.

One rainy night eight years ago, in Watertown, Massachusetts, a man was taking his dog for a walk. On the curb, in front of a neighbor's house, he spotted a pile of trash: old mattresses, cardboard boxes, a few broken lamps. Amidst the garbage he caught sight of a battered suitcase. He bent down, turned the case on its side and popped the clasps.

He was surprised to discover that the suitcase was full of black-and-white photographs. He was even more astonished by their subject matter: devastated buildings, twisted girders, broken bridges -- snapshots from an annihilated city. He quickly closed the case and made his way back home.

The photographs were taken by the US Strategic Bombing Survey immediately after the war and are now in the possession of the International Center of Photography. A copy of a report made by the US Strategic Bombing Survey is available online at the Truman Library.

What are the Japanese up to right now?Oct 20 2008

As part of the Japanese census, people were asked to keep a record of what they were doing in 15 minute intervals. The data was publicly released and Jonathan Soma took it and graphed the results so that you can see what many Japanese are up to during the course of a normal day.

Sports: Women like swimming, but men eschew the water for productive sports, which is the most important Japanese invention.

Early to bed and early to rise... and early to bed: People start waking up at 5 AM, but are taking naps by 7:30 AM.

Fascinating.

Photos fool face scannersJul 02 2008

Japanese face-scanning vending machines designed to distribute cigarettes only to those of legal age can be fooled by holding a photo of an of-age person in front of the scanner.

In an effort to curtail healthcare spending,Apr 11 2008

In an effort to curtail healthcare spending, the Japanese government is requiring companies to cut the number of overweight workers (and their dependents!) by 25% as of 2015. Companies which fail to do so will have to pay into a fund for elderly care.

Reduced exercise, the adoption of western foods and an aging population have made Japanese men about 10 percent heavier than they were 30 years ago, ministry statistics show. Women are 6.4 percent fatter.

The ministry estimates that half of men over age 40 and 20 percent of women will be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome. For men, a key yardstick is whether they have a waistline wider than 85 centimeters (33.5 inches). Body mass, cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and smoking will also be taken into account.

Here's a video of a car drivingNov 26 2007

Here's a video of a car driving on Japan's aforementioned melody roads. (thx, kyle)

The top 60 Japanese buzzwords and buzzphrases of 2007.Nov 21 2007

The top 60 Japanese buzzwords and buzzphrases of 2007.

The term "monster parents" refers to Japan's growing ranks of annoying parents who make extravagant and unreasonable demands of their children's schools.

(via bb)

Japanese researchers have developed "melody roads" thatNov 20 2007

Japanese researchers have developed "melody roads" that play tunes when you drive on them. You could use this technique for traffic calming...i.e. the road plays music only when you're driving the speed limit and hope that there's no second-order melody that plays at two times the speed limit to entice highway hackers to speed for forbidden tunes.

Japanese treadmill game showSep 14 2007

Video of a Japanese game show where contestants have to clear hurdles while running on treadmills. There's something Sisyphean about their task. No word on whether any of the contestants were able to take off.

Japanese retailer Uniqlo has opened a storeMay 07 2007

Japanese retailer Uniqlo has opened a store in Tokyo that is essentially a giant vending machine for tshirts.

A Japanese temple building company goes outApr 18 2007

A Japanese temple building company goes out of business after 1428 years. Kongo Gumi was founded in 578 and was the "world's oldest continuously operating family business".

Very much on the travel to-do list:Mar 30 2007

Very much on the travel to-do list: head to Japan to see the cherry blossoms.

There are some goldfish in Japan thatMar 29 2007

There are some goldfish in Japan that live in a functioning deep fat fryer. The frying oil floats above the water where the fish live and as long as they don't try jumping out of their layer, they're fine. A nice side effect of this arrangement is that the fish keep the fryer clean, eating whatever food scraps fall from the fryer above. (via cyn-c)

Japan's top 30 emoticons. (via andre)Feb 26 2007

Japan's top 30 emoticons. (via andre)

Do Japanese pitchers, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, aFeb 23 2007

Do Japanese pitchers, including Daisuke Matsuzaka, a new member of the Boston Red Sox, have an extra pitch called the gyroball? "The pitch started on the same course as a changeup, but it barely dipped. It looked like a slider, but it did not break. The gyroball, despite its zany name, is supposed to stay perfectly straight." Nice accompanying infographics as well.

With rising domestic silk prices, decreasing salesDec 13 2006

With rising domestic silk prices, decreasing sales and retiring masters, Japanese-made kimonos may become a thing of the past. One of the last remaining masters, 102-year-old Yasujiro Yamaguchi, says, "It cannot be helped. All we can do now is keep trying to make kimonos so beautiful that they will no longer be able to resist it. What choice do we have?" (via rc3)

Very simple Japanese game show: fail toJul 27 2006

Very simple Japanese game show: fail to correctly repeat a tongue twister and you get hit in the balls. Bonus video: a monkey playing with a dog.

Update: The video in question is not a game show, it's of some sort of comedy team; here's a bunch more of their stuff. (thx, evan and gavin)

Author Haruki Murakami has spoken out againstJul 05 2006

Author Haruki Murakami has spoken out against a rise in Japanese nationalism and is planning to address the issue in his next book. "We don't have to be tied by the past, but we have to remember it."

New Japanese device records smells for laterJun 29 2006

New Japanese device records smells for later playback. Smell is the sense most associated with memory, so this could be quite a compelling personal history recorder.

Some photos of contemporary Japan.Jun 16 2006

Some photos of contemporary Japan.

The most popular video game in JapanJan 26 2006

The most popular video game in Japan isn't even a game...it's software for the Nintendo DS for improving your mind.

"At elementary schools, kindergartens, and preschools allJan 20 2006

"At elementary schools, kindergartens, and preschools all across Japan, kids are losing themselves making hikaru dorodango, or balls of mud that shine." I really want to make one of these. (via rodcorp)

Giant jellyfish invade Japan STOP Creatures 2 metersJan 20 2006

Giant jellyfish invade Japan STOP Creatures 2 meters wide and 450 pounds STOP Killing fish, fishing industry, and even humans STOP Run for your lives STOP

Thousands of young Japanese (men mostly) shutJan 17 2006

Thousands of young Japanese (men mostly) shut themselves in their rooms and don't come out, sometimes for years on end. Hikikomori, as ths phenomenon is referred to, has many potential causes, including that "Japanese parents tell their children to fly while holding firmly to their ankles". Reminds me of some of the themes from The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami.

Why are rental cars American cars? WhyDec 06 2005

Why are rental cars American cars? Why don't rental car companies use the superior Japanese product?

Story on Muji, the brandless Japanese retailerNov 04 2005

Story on Muji, the brandless Japanese retailer that has high brand recognition and customer loyalty. (Say wha?) I've got a few Muji things and love them.

The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleOct 27 2005

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

I've been reading a fair amount of fiction lately, which is not typical for me. My usual regimen of nonfiction followed by even more nonfiction has been wearing on me and I read so much news and short nonfiction pieces in keeping up with kottke.org that I'm getting a little burned out. My latest foray into fiction has been great, a welcome reprieve from a schedule that has been a little brutal recently.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle was especially good; I burned through it like I used to do with books when I was in high school. The lives of the characters in the book start out fairly normal but get more and more strange and unsettling as the action proceeds. But from my point of view as a reader, I was overcome by a growing sense of calm as I read. Maybe it was Murakami's quiet storytelling style, but I was especially struck by the duality of self theme running throughout the book. Many of the characters either had two distinct personalities (not in a schizophrenic sense...usually one personality before a dramatic event in their lives and a different one afterwards), talked of leaving their body & looking back on themselves, or had vague feelings that they should be someone else, that some other personality was inside them and couldn't reveal itself. This all ties into Japanese history & culture, eastern religion & philosophy, and Murakami's own experience[1], but I found it all personally reassuring, a reminder that you could change as a person and still essentially be who you were before or that stepping outside your normal self for a look 'round can be a healthy thing.

[1] I knew next-to-nothing about Murakami before picking up this book, but when I finished, I did a little poking around. Via Andrea Harner, here's an interview with him from 1997 in Salon. In it, you can definitely see how he feels disconnected with Japan, other Japanese writers, and from his past:

Because it's my father's story, I guess. My father belongs to the generation that fought the war in the 1940s. When I was a kid my father told me stories -- not so many, but it meant a lot to me. I wanted to know what happened then, to my father's generation. It's a kind of inheritance, the memory of it. What I wrote in this book, though, I made up -- it's a fiction, from beginning to end. I just made it up.

Sushi is doing well in many culturesAug 09 2005

Sushi is doing well in many cultures outside Japan and the US, showing up in places like Brazil and Moscow.

A Japanese bank is putting a slotJul 21 2005

A Japanese bank is putting a slot machine in their ATMs; get three 7s and the fee is waived. All they need is the sound effects from Super Mario 2 and I'm so there!

George Weller was the first foreign reporterJun 21 2005

George Weller was the first foreign reporter to visit Nagasaki after the atomic bomb was dropped. For the first time, these are his reports from there, which at the time were censored by the US military.

I am a Japanese School TeacherJun 13 2005

I am a Japanese School Teacher. Experiences teaching junior high school in Japan.

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