Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Food Photos

I had a wonderful day yesterday way up in the central Saitama mountain range, where we took photos for my food book at a small restaurant in Shomaru.

Enomoto-san used to have a fancy eatery in Yoyogi, but got tired of that kind of lifestyle, and found this location instead.

He made traditional foods including seasonal vegetables, tamagoyaki, and grilled tai, red snapper: since tai rhymes with the word medetai, or "congratulations," it is regarded as a good luck dish in Japan.

Kodansha is going all out to make this a best-seller, and I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

Monday, November 24, 2008

Japanese Children Worried About The Environment

I wrote a post for Treehugger about the campaign over at Japan's Environmental Ministry, where kids are contributing drawings on the theme of global warming, pollution and other concerns. The children are clearly concerned about the future, their future.

I got a pretty nasty comment already from someone who thinks this is all due to propaganda, brainwashing, and: "Seriously, it's the modern day equivalent of the Cold War. I'm sure in the 60's you'd have had the same number of drawings from kids told they were going to die from A-bombs and nuclear winter."

Oh well... That kind of comment really makes me think we all need to work even harder for the future of the kids on this beautiful planet.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Swan Lake

Have you ever seen Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake performed on stage? I was lucky as a young boy to see both this and the Nutcracker at the Malmö Stadsteatern (built in 1944), and then the Aida opera by Verdi, around the time when I was 9 or 10.

Swan Lake was written in the 1870s and received its premiere on February 27, 1877, at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, but credit for the version we are used to seeing belongs to the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

BBC last year made a fantastic documentary, now available on Youtube. Here is part 1:

If you like Japanese animation, I'm sure you know that Toei did a wonderful Swan Lake (白鳥の湖, Hakuchou no Mizuumi) back in 1981...

The first performance of Swan Lake in These Parts Of The World was on August 9, 1946 by the Imperial Garden Theater. Their roots go all the way back to 1911, when Toho opened a theater in Marunouchi, central Tokyo. Today, Tokyo has seven major symphony orchestras. And classical music is incredibly popular. According to a 1950 article in JSTOR, western music was introduced here in the early Meiji period, some 130 years ago:

Among the far-sighted Japanese of that day was Shuzi Izawa, who returned from the United States, where he had been sent for training, enthusiastic in the cause of Western music. Largely due to his efforts, the Institute [for Musical Research] was founded, and he became its first director.

Shuzi Izawa? Today, his name is spelled Izawa Shūji (1851-1917). He was born in Shikoku, in the Tokushima Domain of the Edo era. "National identity..."

Imagine the journey he would be taking, all the way to Boston!

East-Asian-History has more details. Worth mentioning is also Luther Whiting Mason (1828-1896).

Izawa studied education for three years in the Untied States, became an educational official in the new Meiji government, and, although not a musician, became the supervisor of music education. In 1879, he submitted "Plan for the Study of Music" in which he advocated a creating a distinctive form of modern Japanese music by mixing Japanese and western elements. To carry out this plan, Izawa brought in Mason in 1880, who was a professional musician. Later that year, twenty-two students, mostly women, enrolled in a course in music studies directed by Izawa and Mason.

Having worked at NHK, I always tend to check their websites, as I know they were often very early and I was not disappointed:

The history of the NHK Symphony Orchestra began from the “New Symphony Orchestra”, Japan’s first professional orchestra established on October 5, 1926. After its name was changed to “Japan Symphony Orchestra”, the orchestra received full financial support from NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai, i. e. Japan Broadcasting Corporation) in 1951, and changed its name to “NHK Symphony Orchestra”. The Orchestra’s performance standard has vastly improved after appointing Joseph Rosenstock as chief conductor, and its subscription concerts, which are its core activities, continued even during the World War II...

Bonus Swan Lake: NHK Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kazufumi Yamashita. NHK Hall, Tokyo, 2005.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Plan

I have had the most amazingly busy week helping a very professional and inspiring Swedish film team do a documentary here in Tokyo. Their emails turned into phone calls and then increasingly - concerns/joyful requests/questions/whatnot.

The team that made The Planet will now go further to talk to some very special people around the world, trying to find out what we all can do to change things.

If you are familiar with Thomas Kuhn/Paradigm Shift-kind-of-thinking, this will sound familiar.

There are moments in history when great changes occur. An old epoch gives way to a new, shifts in ways of thinking or paradigm shifts, as the philosopher Thomas S. Kuhn chose to call it. What is it that drives forth and triggers these changes or sudden shifts in our lives and in our minds?

Yet, somehow, it all boils down to logistics. I found a truly marvellous driver, Mayumi-san, with a Toyota Hiace van big enough for the five of us and tons of gear, including a brand new camera that is good enough to light up your movie theatre. There was a lot I could not help them with, so they had to rent Kino gear from expensive Tokyo firms that I had no idea even existed. Oh well...

Getting permission (許可 をとる, kyoka o toru) for filming in Tokyo is not impossible, if you are shooting a real feature film, like Lost in Translation. Talk to Tokyo Location Box - you had better do it formally through the Tokyo Metropolitan people, who will help you sort things out properly with the police department. But for us, with Mayumi-san kindly watching our backs, setting up the camera on a sturdy tripod on a busy west Shinjuku corner was actually not so bad. We even made some friends with passer-bys who stopped by to admire Anders, our Norrland (far northern Sweden) cameraman and his novelty-yet-to-be-released Red.

Filming in Akihabara was fun, but we failed to get any of the cosplay Licolita girls who are trying to get every otaku in Tokyo to get into carbon offsets to join us. We also failed to go all the way to Uenomura in south-western Gunma, where the mountain roads are not so easy to navigate this time of year, in spite of Mayumi-san's fancy superior (and talkative) Panasonic GPS system!

I loved the evening we spent at an ancient shinto shrine in Chofu. Tonight, we rode the Yurikamome line back and forth to catch the billions (?) of lights of this huge and important city, glowing so bright in the night. Did you know that the Winter Illumination in the Marunouchi district near Tokyo station is all powered by renweable energy and low-energy LED lamps this year? Finally, tomorrow we have a party in Harajuku, courtesy of and Treehouse Network.

The Plan? I hope the team will keep asking the difficult question - what is your plan? How do you intend to change the world? What can you do? What are you doing? What will you do?


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Making Wine From Viburnum Berries

I went to a "Eco-tourism" event in Hanno, up near where the hills become mountains and there are rivers and lakes.

We took a long walk in the morning, with the guide helping everyone identifying edible plants and berries, such as gamazumi, that we picked. We then got the entire, full-monty lecture and started clean the matatabi, yamaboushi, sarunashi and gumi. Adding alcohol, we were told to wait for 3 years to get the special flavour... Our guide had plenty of bottles, all properly labelled, some dating back 20 years or so. The older the better ;)

Gamazumi is a plant we actually have in Sweden too, it is called olvon. The Latin name is Viburnum dilatatum.

Making sake from rice of course happens in late fall, after the harvest. Around here, and in the far western part of Tokyo, and into Yamanashi, there are lots of wineries and sake breweries. Many of them are having events and guided tours.

With my UK friend visiting, I had an opportunity to go to Mercian, the large winery in Yamanashi prefecture. Their wine-making tradition dates back to 1877. We also went to a sake brewery called Matsudaya, that boasts the largest taiko drum in the world! Of course Tom and Kouji had to go ahead and play.

Really, there were these huge, heavy drum sticks waiting in a box: all you had to do was take of your shoes and hit the skin. Apparently it is in the Guinness Book of Records.

Evening Meditation

Sunset on Lake Kitaura, Ibaraki-ken

and the moonrise

Monday, November 10, 2008

Groovisions: "Ensuring the Future of Food"

Pink Tentacle spotted the new video Tokyo-based Groovisions motion graphic design crew made for the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), to highlight some of the serious issues surrounding the future of food in Japan. The video with English subtitles was posted on the official MAFF YouTube channel, which was created last month.

Groovisions usually makes design projects like Spank the Monkey or stuff for MTV, so I wonder how they felt about this project! Do watch, they have managed to cram a lot of facts about Kurashi issues into a very attractive package.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Hanno Matsuri 2008

Hanno City has a couple of amazing festivals, and last weekend I was lucky to meet up with an old friend from the UK who happens to be a great taiko drummer.

The largest taiko drum in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records? Tom loved it. If you ever visit Yamanashi prefecture, pick up the wooden sticks, take off your shoes, and hit the skin.

Tom has been to some 38 prefectures around Japan, usually on the special 18 Seishun JR tickets that allows unlimited train travel on local lines. Tom was back briefly for the 2002 World Cup, but this was his first real "deep" visit since he lived here back in 1989-1994.

And, what a coincidence, having 50,000 people on the streets for 2 nights, just as my old friend was back. Luck... 一期一会!

Caster: Lung Cancer Causing Cigarettes From Japan Tobacco

If you ever have watched Tetsuya Chikushi, a newscaster and journalist who hosted Tokyo Broadcasting System's "News 23" program, you will be sad to hear that he died in lung cancer yesterday. He was fluent in English and interviewed presidents and foreign guests with confidence.

I have no evidence that his favourite brand was Japan Tobacco's Caster, (with a hint of vanilla from Madagascar, apparently) but cigarettes are the cause of 98% of all lung cancer cases around the world. The brand name obviously tries to milk the sense of kakko-ii (stylishness) associated with a TV news caster, but the era of such murdeous marketing scams ought to have ended a long time ago. Tetsuya Chikushi, we miss you.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Kei-Car Sales Up 6.2% In Japan While New Car Sales Dropped 13.1%

Macho car journalism will never be the same... NHK World notes that Kei cars, the 660 cc engine size vehicles that are already so common in Japan, are now selling like hot cakes, no make that omochi (rice cakes). The association of mini-car dealers, Japan Mini Vehicles Association, says October, 2008 new car sales were up 6.2 percent from the same month last year, indicating that many motorists are opting for cheaper, more fuel efficient vehicles.

More details over at Treehugger!