Friday, March 11, 2011

Pacific neighbours

Its been a long time since I visited this wonderful country... I have strong memories of an amazing trip in 1988 when I was lucky to stay with my friend Hisae who'd been an exchange student from Hokkaido in my final year of high school. Todays news took my thoughts back to her family and places we visited.

Massive quake unleashes tsunami on Japan
Skyline of Tokyo

Major 7.3 offshore quake jolts Japan
photo illustration of seismic chart

Thoughts turn to Japan ... hoping people everywhere are finding their way to safety! The tsunami warning that was sent out across the pacific has been updated here in Australia with the Bureau of Meteorology saying the threat to Australia and New Zealand has been downgraded with little impact expected. 

I wrote this post this afternoon an hour or so after the earthquake struck and the following Tsunami. Now its midnight here and I'm watching the news broadcasts and noting that the Phillipines seems to have come through OK and eastern parts of Indonesia describe a small tsunami with no reports of damage.

Reports from Japan grow more sobering all the time... fires in Oil refineries, Nuclear fears, missing people and the rising toll. Warnings persist for Hawaii and other parts of the pacific and west coast of northern America. 

Our little globe is taking a huge battering of late ... we can only hope the rest of the year is quieter! Thoughts go to all who, in whatever way, are affected by this tragic news.

I thought I'd share these altogether different stories from Japan below that caught my attention whilst reading the Japan Times online ...the first one titled Trends in Japan 2010: yama boom.
This is a country which brings trends to light in a very big way (many of you probably know this better than I)... especially trends for young people.

Trends in Japan 2010: yama boom

December 20th, 2010 by Felicity Hughes
The phrases “yama girl” and “power spot” both appeared in Jiyu Kokuminsha’s list of the year’s popular Japanese expressions, reflecting the fact that during 2010 Japan’s hills were alive with hordes of young female hikers. These women, attracted by the promise of powering up on spiritual energy, while sporting fashionable threads, were dubbed yama gaaru (mountain girls) by the media and have fueled what’s been called the yama boom.

Yama girls united
Add caption

Companies have been quick to cash in on the trend. Alpine-wear makers have  rolled out new lines with the stylin’ hiker in mind. Hotel Nikko in Nara is unveiled a yama girl plan, offering a discount for female hiking groups. Yama girls also have their very own magazine called Randonnée, which features articles on mountain fashion as well as the more practical aspects of hiking.
When they hit the countryside trails mountain girls wear sensible footwear and bright leggings coupled with cute short skirts. Some like this look so much that they wear it out in Tokyo’s concrete jungle.
Some  alpinists have said, however, that the city streets is where novice hikers should stay. The veterans’ warnings about the volatile weather conditions of Japan’s rugged mountains were proven right a couple of months ago when a group of young hikers got stuck on Mount Sawaguchi  in Kawanehoncho, Shizuoka Prefecture. According toSankei News, the group of two women and three men were on a yamakon (mountain climbing group blind date), when a sudden change in the weather made them lose their way. Having no map nor compass, they were unable to find their way back to the relatively easy hiking course. Fortuntately, they were rescued two days after they went missing.
If only they had had Mapion’s new cell-phone 3D maps, which went on the market on Oct. 27, just a couple of days before they set off on their hike. The CG-illustrated maps, made to appeal to a younger generation of climbers, are reported to be visually stunning and give the user an easy-to-navigate view of the terrain.
Beautiful scenery is not the only pull of mountain climbing. Another attraction is the power spot, places that are purported to posses large amounts of spiritual energy. Earlier this year we wrote about the increasing growth of this trend and the publishing boom in books about power spots.
According to an article published yesterday in the Yomiuri Online, the power-spot trend shows no sign of abating and large numbers of young visitors continue to visit famous sites in search of enlightenment. While it’s now getting a bit too cold to hike up Japan’s mountains to gather spiritual energy, other urban power spots, such as Meiji Shrine, are still enjoying healthy numbers of visitors.

This  article got me thinking. Young Japanese girls I met in Melbourne in the 90's who were spending 6 months traveling and working in Australia were all seriously searching for something outside the expectations of their families and tradition. I met numbers of travellers when they came to visit someone staying at my place ...and there was a very restless spirit in those I conversed with. Its always interesting to consider what exists under the surface of trends and so-called fads this light I found the Yama-girls most curious.
What a long and fascinating history this country has had - evolving at an extraordinary rate since 1945!

Another article I thought I'd share that reflects on the food culture past and present:

Vegetable boom growing steadily

February 8th, 2011 by Felicity Hughes
Despite the hallowed status of vegetables in traditional Buddhist cuisine and the healthy reputation of the Japanese diet, let’s face it: The majority of restaurants in postwar Japan are about pleasing carnivores, and most often the main-course options are limited to animal proteins. In recent years, though, vegetable-centric cuisine — not to be confused with strictly vegetarian fare — has been gaining popularity, with the number of restaurants focused on fresh produce growing steadily.
Don’t expect the waiters to be wearing Birkenstock sandals at these new style veggie restaurants, and the soup stock won’t necessarily be fish-free. The vegetables and their provenance do, however, take center-stage. This is literally the case at Nouka no Daidokoro (Farmer’s Kitchen), which just recently opened its fourth restaurant in Tokyo. At the Ebisu location, patrons enter through a fully stocked produce locker (which doubles as a veggie store), and a vegetable hothouse and veggie buffet are the restaurant’s centerpieces. On the walls, large posters sing the praises of the star farmers of Japan and at the register, the shelves are filled with condiments and snacks made from local goodness.
Yasaiya Mei, now with six locations, is slightly more up-scale but places the same emphasis on domestically grown vegetables. Quiz the staff on a particular vegetable, and there’s a good chance that they’ll not only impress you with their in-depth knowledge, but that they’ve actually been to the farm where it was grown.
Late last month, a new face arrived on the yasai scene: Vegetable Sushi Potager, which features nigiri-zushi topped with ingredients such as shitake, carrots, radishes and cauliflower. Aya Kakisawa, the chef and owner of Vegetable Sushi Potager, has searched not only domestically but also globally for ingredients that would work well on a bed of sticky rice.
Kakisawa also owns the extremely popular Pattiserie Potager in Nakameguro, which sells “vegetable sweets” such as carrot and chocolate flans; edamame cheese cakes; and purple sweet potato Valentine’s chocolates. She’s obviously on to a good thing. We chanced by Pattiserie Potager on a Sunday last month and the queues were out the door.
Despite the good times, industry website Tokyo Food News Online has sounded a note of caution to budding restauranteurs: There are plenty of vegetable cuisine restaurants that have gone under over the past few years, so it’s important to get the formula right. The Japanese are extremely partial to a nice bit of meat, so drawing the focus away from carnivorous delights has to be done well.
One shop that has been thriving is the Chofu-based Misatoya. The shop also doubles as a grocer selling organic vegetables to a loyal clientele. It’s this model that Tokyo Food News think might be the key to success, just as fishmonger’s have successfully started up izakaya (drinking establishements) on the premises in recent years, grocers might think to expand their business by setting up a restaurant in store.
Would a delicious slice of pumpkin satisfy as the main attraction to your meal or do you think nothing can replace a good steak? Are you up for trying out vegetable sushi or sweets?
(Nouka no Daidokoro photos by Mio Yamada)

This article below is precious ... had to post it too! There are many ways in which to experience and understand the particulars of a culture. These are certainly evocative even if somewhat unusual!

Unusual souvenirs deliver Japan in a can

Monday, January 17th, 2011
Browsing the shelves of Tokyu Hands the other day, a member of the Japan Pulse team came upon a display of weird and wonderful sweeties. Among the items on sale were various cans of bizarrely flavored sweets including: katsudon (deep fried pork cutlet) drops from Aisu and yaki udon (fried noodle) dropsfrom Kakura. After marveling at these canned items, a story in Nikkei Trendy caught our attention: From May this year, visitors to the volcanic island of Sakurajima will be able to buy cans of volcanic ash to commemorate their visit. Once we’d read that, we had to satisfy our craving for more weird and wonderful canned goods being sold as souvenirs in Japan. Here’s our roundup of what we found:

Katsudon drops with extra "source"
Aroma! Osaka: These three cans each contain aromas that are designed to conjure up the atmosphere of the city. Each can is meant to contain a smell that sums up a particular area of the city. The smell of thick stage makeup in one can is supposed to conjure up an image of Dotonbori’s theatrical past. In another can, the smell of the sea is meant to make you think of kimono-wearing mama-sans from the Kitashinchi entertainment district. The aroma of Tenpouzan, Osaka’s harbor village, is billed as a “scent of memories” — that first date on a Ferris wheel. Ahhh. Surprisingly, there’s no takoyaki (fried octopus ball) scent.
Akihabara canned oden: Oden, a soup which contains thick chunks of radish, eggs and other delights, wasput into cans by Chichibu Denki and went on sale on the streets of Akihabara from vending machines back in the ‘90s. The product has been hugely popular with the town’s geeks who consume the stew while waiting in line to purchase limited-edition goods. If you’d like to try Akihabara canned oden, you can buy a can on Flutterscape.
Canned pearls: These cans contain shellfish that you are supposed to prize open to extract a pearl hidden inside. The color of the “freshwater pearl” you end up with will signify luck in a particular area of your life: a pink pearl indicates you’ll be lucky in love; white guarantees good health;  cream is for all-round good fortune; purple is for study and black bodes well for your finances. While this is not necessarily a souvenir, it can be bought at souvenir stores in seaside tourist destinations such as Matsushima.
Canned drops: These canned sweeties come in “traditional” flavors, yet not exactly the sorts of flavors you’d normally associate with candy. Each flavor is linked to a region. For Fukuoka, there’s Motsu Nabe, which captures the taste of the region’s famous offal hotpot. Yum! Others taste treats on offer include Kyoto Tsukemono (pickled vegetables), Mojiko Yaki Curry (fried curry) and Ooita Yuzu Kosyo (yuzu pepper). (Here’s a photo gallery of a few.) As mentioned, you can currently find these on the first floor of Tokyu Hands Shibuya, and online at JBox.
Hai! Douzo: What’s the perfect souvenir to bring back from a volcanic island? Canned volcanic ash, of course. The name of Sakurajima’s Hai! Douzo plays on the double meaning of “hai,” which can mean both “yes” and “ash.” We reckon that those buying the can of ash will probably be purchasing it more for the joke than for its contents. Hai! Douzo is scheduled to go on sale from May this year.

You can read more at this Japanese Times blog Japan- Pulse here.

Im sure you'll all join me in sending heart-ful wishes to these Pacific neighbours and any in the surrounding region at risk tonight!


Mlle Paradis said...

great post as usual. so much here. so loved the way you used the seismic image.

i'm lvg you a note on email. xo

Anonymous said...

I am overwhelmed by all the "disasters" that have happened lately. My thoughts join yours in extending to the people of Japan. Thank you for a very interesting post. I was just speaking with a Japanese friend of mine about what it means to be feminine. It is interesting how different our perspectives are.

Sophie Munns said...

Just saw that the California coastline is getting a pounding MP!
If this seismic image wasn't the symbol of something so dreaded it would appear quite beautiful!
Good to hear from you... thanks for kind words,

Sophie Munns said...

Know exactly what you mean Mary.... watching the news at the moment is like watching the events of a few years compressed into a few months... with people having to run for their lives/stand firm, dig deep for courage or to support... whether through political uprisings or natural calamities or other losses!
Possibly no time in human history when curiousity and openness to other cultures, people, and individual differences has been so critical for moving on and living with the limitations of this precious globe!
Thanks for visiting Mary and joining with your thoughts for Japan!

nathalie et cetera said...

the images coming from Japan are so scary and heart breaking. thinking of them.

Sophie Munns said...

Heartbreaking for sure Nathalie ... it is hard enough to be safe and see all this... so to be there... to be affected... that is very tragic to imagine!