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Koya Bound, beautiful photographs from Japanese pilgrimage path

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 07, 2016

Koya Bound

Craig Mod and Dan Rubin recently walked the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path in Japan, taking thousands of photos along the way. They made a book of the photographs and have launched a Kickstarter project to make more copies of the book and do some other fun stuff.

The book, of course, is beautiful — Rubin and Mod are great photographers and designers - but direct your attention to the economy of their project description:

In March of this year, Dan Rubin and I went on a walk. The walk was along Japan’s 1,000+ year old Kumano Kodo pilgrimage path.

From that walk, we made one copy of a book of photographs called Koya Bound.

Together, with your help, we’d like to make/do a whole lot more…

This is what we did, here’s what we made, and we’d like your help to do more. That’s how you do Kickstarter, folks.

We Work Remotely

55 generations of sake brewing

posted by Jason Kottke   May 03, 2016

One of the oldest businesses in the world, Sudo Honke is a sake brewery founded in 1141 and managed by the Sudo family for the past 55 generations.

We’ve been making sake for at least 870 years.

I love the “at least” bit. You can buy some of their sake online. (BTW, feel free to supply your own “Sudo, pour me a sake” joke.)

10 things to know about Japanese street fashion in 2016

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 25, 2016

As you can tell from whatever “outfit” I’ve extracted from my closet and placed on my body each morning, I know close to nothing about fashion. But I love reading about it. This piece about circa-2016 fashion trends in Tokyo neighborhood of Harajuku is interesting in many ways. Take the first section on Genderless Kei and Kawaii Boys.

Genderless Kei

Though the Kawaii Boys’ styles vary, the most popular look is childlike rather than traditionally feminine. These are not crossdressers, most of them are not gay, and they are not trying to look like — or pass as — women. They are specifically aiming for a happy fun Genderless style. That said, none of these new generation of Kawaii Boys are afraid of incorporating traditionally female fashion elements and makeup into their looks.

When I typically think of genderless fashion, I think of someone dressing “in between” the two dominant genders in relatively nondescript drab clothing that leans masculine. So it’s interesting to see the different approach described here…men wearing traditionally feminine clothes to average out as genderless.

As odd as it sounds, Japanese-ness is also making a comeback in Japanese fashion:

Fashion designers may have finally gotten his message, as we’ve never seen as many Japanese characters in street fashion as we did in 2015. The kanji print boom was just one of the many signs that young Japanese creatives are looking inward as well as outward for inspiration.

The classic Japanese sukajan (souvenir jacket) has been ubiquitous on the streets of Harajuku and in vintage shops since the end of summer. As Spring approaches, the low cost trend shops are well stocked with souvenir jackets as well. Influential indie boutique and underground Japanese brands are offering t-shirts, bags, dresses, and accessories printed with messages in kanji, hiragana, and katakana.

The post also delves into economic and city planning territory with sections on tourism and gentrification. (via @moth)

A history of Japan

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 05, 2016

Bill Wurtz’s History of Japan is the most entertaining history of anything I have ever seen.

Air Bonsai, a magnetically floating bonsai tree kit

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 25, 2016

Air Bonsai

A group from Tokyo is selling floating bonsai tree kits on Kickstarter. The starter kit is $200, which includes an electric base and magnetically floating pot…plant not included. (via colossal)

Scenes from Fukushima, four years later

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2015

Podniesinski Fukushima

Photographer Arkadiusz Podniesiński recently took a trip to Japan to the area affected by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. He toured towns closed due to high radiation levels, talked to former residents, and observed clean-up efforts in some of the less affected areas.

When entering the zone, the first thing that one notices is the huge scale of decontamination work. Twenty thousand workers are painstakingly cleaning every piece of soil. They are removing the top, most contaminated layer of soil and putting it into sacks, to be taken to one of several thousand dump sites. The sacks are everywhere. They are becoming a permanent part of the Fukushima landscape.

The contamination work does not stop at removal of contaminated soil. Towns and villages are being cleaned as well, methodically, street by street and house by house. The walls and roofs of all the buildings are sprayed and scrubbed. The scale of the undertaking and the speed of work have to be admired. One can see that the workers are keen for the cleaning of the houses to be completed and the residents to return as soon as possible.

Podniesinski Fukushima

Podniesinski Fukushima

(thx, james)

The hardest working man in Japanese porn

posted by Susannah Breslin   Mar 16, 2015

Details has a long, strange profile of Shimiken, the “king of Japanese porn.”

On a sunny Saturday morning in eastern Tokyo, a silver Audi pulls into a parking lot and sparks pandemonium. Out of the driver’s seat bounces a small, stocky man with bulging biceps, spiky orange hair, and a broad smile spread across his effulgent, spray-tanned face. He bounds onto the pavement wearing a hoodie and a T-shirt that reads SEX INSTRUCTOR. To his left, the mostly male crowd leans forward, en masse. “Shimiken!” several shout, and a clatter of smartphone shutter sounds follows like a round of applause.

“Let’s go,” Shimiken whispers to a handler attempting to clear a path through the throng. He raises one arm over his head to air-high-five his riveted fans. It’s the morning of the Japan Adult Expo, and the crowd has been waiting for tickets. Inside, they’ll get to meet the stars of their wildest fantasies. Outside, they’ve already caught a glimpse of something rarer: the man who has actually lived them all.

Apparently, Shimiken, who is 35, is “beset by XXX exhaustion” because, he says, “the number of male porn stars in Japan is less than that of Bengal tigers.”

The history of Japanese video game music

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 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 ramen

posted by Jason Kottke   May 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.

Kintsukuroi

posted by Jason Kottke   May 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 better

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 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 omelette

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 beautiful

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 19, 2013

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

Japanese Manholes 01

Japanese Manholes 02

Japanese Manholes 03

Japanese Manholes 04

(via mr)

Moving in Japan

posted by Sarah Pavis   Feb 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)

posted by Jason Kottke   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 Japan

posted by Aaron Cohen   Dec 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/minute

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 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 Yakuza

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2012

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

Yakuza Anton Kusters

A 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, perfectly

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 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 earthquakes

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 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 Spring

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 Economy

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 meltdowns

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 codes

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 Japan

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 tsunami

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 earthquake

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 Japan

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 tsunami

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 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 game

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 20, 2010

Oh, this is hilarious: