One evening not too long, my daughter surprised me an unlikely question about, of all things, Japanese baseball. I am keenly interested in Japan and always enjoyed attending baseball games during my many visits to that country, but still the question came out of left field.
“What is baseball to the Japanese?” she asked, explaining that “during the Second World War, Japan’s military government suppressed all things American, even the English language, but the Japanese continued to play baseball, even professionally.” She then added, almost innocently: “Didn’t they know it was an American game?”
I assured her that Japanese people knew the game’s origins well. Other than that simple fact, I had nothing specific to offer her. In the back of my mind, I sensed that the answer somehow connected to a broader mystery about the Japanese – how they can so readily adopt so much from abroad and never for a moment lose their sense of self or their commitment to steward Japan’s unique culture and values. Americans, when they adopt something foreign, often feel a tension between their identity and the new practice as if somehow indulging it makes them less American. Not so the Japanese.
If it takes time to become acquainted with a person in any meaningful way, then a bowl of noodles needs to be raised for John Daschbach. After spending an entire year filming a master ramen chef, the Tokyo-based filmmaker’s latest film Come Back Anytime beautifully captures the feeling of finally getting to know someone.
You’ve probably heard by now of Drive My Car, the Ryusuke Hamaguchi film based on three stories from the Haruki Murkami short story collection Men Without Women, and the fact that it has made history as the first Japanese film to be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. But if you’ve yet to find the three hours necessary to see it, you may be wondering what’s so special about this film.
It’s January – the days are short and dark and the nights are long and cold. It’s a perfect time of year for sitting around the fire, lighting candles and storytelling!
We’ve been enchanted by a traditional Japanese folktale from the Kyoto Heian era about a woman called Kuzunoha who is secretly a white fox. We’ve seen enchanting metamorphoses in Japanese stories before – we loveThe Chrysanthemum Spirit where the noble lady pines for the chrysanthemums in the palace garden so much that a nobleman appears who is the actual spirit of the flower.
Come with us as we take a closer look at Kuzunoha, to discover a little bit more about Japanese storytelling traditions, and also take a look at the symbolism of the fox in Japan.
Two superstar artists, one aspiring contemporary artist divided on visual language but united by a shared appreciation of Japan’s national flower. The art world has suddenly gone all cherry blossom. And why not? Damien Hirst has gone from pickling sharks, and Swarovski crystal-studded skulls to painting blossoming flowers.
And not to be outdone, David Hockney’s cherry blossom efforts have also been in the news as he swaps paint for an iPad to capture the blossoming magic of spring at his Normandy retreat. London artist Denise Ballard-Wyllie claims she was there first, painting them since she was a child and this passion was rechannelled during a residency at Myddleton House Gardens in Enfield painting cherry blossoms and capturing the super-charged content of nature.
Browsing London Sake’s expansive range, it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by choice. Sometimes, even for an experienced nihonshu connoisseur, the best approach is simply to choose a bottle with a beautifully, striking label and hope that the contents measure up. This tactic (which has generally served me well with both unfamiliar sake and craft beer purchases in the past) goes a way to explaining how I ended up in the possession of Tamagawa’s 2019 ‘Red Label’ Heirloom Yamahai Genshu.
How one man turned his trials into triumphs: The Story of Carl Rosa
By Kristine Ohkubo
“What if we viewed life’s challenges as tools that can actually help us prosper?” That is the question asked by Carl Rosa, the founder of the Sushi Club of Houston and several other highly successful businesses which promote Japanese cuisine and culture in the United States. It is a question which gives us pause to think, and also effectively encapsulates Carl’s own personal experiences beginning with the tragedy which struck his family in 2005.
Inspired by his incredible knowledge and love of Japan, I recently interviewed Carl to learn more about what fuels his passion and dedication to promote Japanese culture through carefully cultivated culinary experiences.
I first encountered Morikuni Sake Brewery Co. Ltd (increasingly referred to as Shodoshima Shuzo) via their Hachi Hachi 88 junmai. Using local Oseto rice polished down to just 88%, the golden-coloured thick and nutty brew certainly grabbed my attention as one of the most unique junmai classification sake I’d experienced, and left me longing to try more of the small and very young (established 2005) company’s offerings.
I am delighted to say that tonight I achieved just that, finally getting my hands on each of the beautifully presented 300ml bottles of the Shodashima No Kagayaki range daiginjo and junmai daiginjo (stylised as ‘daiginjyo’ on the labels) via Ukiyo Republic’s online Japanese sake store.
As a long-time enthusiastic craft beer drinker, one of my must-visit locations in Tokyo was Hitachino Brewing Lab, in the Akihabara district. Whilst I certainly spent a fair amount of time getting well acquainted with all manner of styles from the Hitachino Nest Beer range in the hip bar, I walked away completely oblivious to the fact that Kiuchi started life (and continues) as a sake brewery.
It was actually not until I was back in the UK and looking to order some of my new favourite Nest Beers to enjoy at home that I stumbled across Kiuchi’s nihonshu range.
For this gaijin, the great enigma of Japan has long been how its people can so readily adopt so much from others and yet remain unmistakably Japanese in spirit. Americans may be pragmatic enough to adopt things foreign, but they do so only reluctantly and with a sense of defeat.
Not so the Japanese. They readily embrace things foreign with not the least embarrassment or sense of loss. It all seems more graceful and reasonable than my own country’s way. Not only is it more graceful, but it somehow enables the Japanese to put their own unique stamp on what not too long before was entirely foreign.
This is a wonder to me, and no doubt feeds my never-ending interest in Japan and its culture, modern and ancient. Over the years of living in and visiting Japan, questioning and reading, I have failed to fully understand, though at times I have had glimpses of how the process works, and often in the strangest of places.