B12 Solipsism

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Archive for the ‘Japan’ tag

George Solt, Ramen Historian

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Arami Ramen
Arami Ramen

Devouring a delicious bowl of ramen is one of life’s great pleasures. Luckily, the number of quality establishments serving good versions has proliferated in the last few years.

Twelve years ago, [Professor George ] Solt, who spent the first decade of his life in Tokyo, before moving to New England, began researching his dissertation at the University of California, San Diego. Entitled “Taking Ramen Seriously: Food, Labor, and Everyday Life in Modern Japan,” it delved into the food production, labor practices, foreign trade, and national identity wrapped up in Japan’s now famous noodle soup. He has published other noodle-related academic writings, including an article in the International Journal of Asia-Pacific Studies, “Shifting Perceptions of Instant Ramen in Japan during the High-Growth Era, 1958-1973.” But his most accessible piece of work on the topic is a book borne of his doctoral dissertation, “The Untold History of Ramen: How Political Crisis in Japan Spawned a Global Food Craze,” which was published in February.

His talk traced ramen from its origins, as a distinctly Chinese soup that arrived in Japan with Chinese tradesmen in the nineteenth century, through the American occupation after the war, to the proliferation of instant ramen in Japan in the seventies; the national frenzy in the eighties and nineties that gave birth to ramen celebrities, ramen museums, and ramen video games; and, finally, America’s embrace of ramen and Japanese culture today, as exhibited by the cultlike craze surrounding the sixteen-dollar bowls of ramen served by the celebrity chef David Chang.

“Ramen is one of the most minutely documented foods in Japan,” Solt writes. A number of geopolitical and economic factors—the reindustrialization of Japan’s workforce during the Cold War, the redefining of national identity during twenty years of economic stagnation—all combined to elevate ramen from working-class sustenance to a dish that is internationally recognized, beloved, and iconic. His research involved reading everything from ramen graphic novels to government documents produced during the U.S. occupation. In what Solt describes as an “Aha!” moment, he discovered that when the U.S. occupied Japan it imported wheat as a way to contain Communism. “The more Japan experienced food shortages, the more people would gravitate towards the Communist Party,” he said. By providing the wheat needed to make ramen noodles, America won the Cold War, sort of.

(click here to continue reading George Solt, Ramen Historian : The New Yorker.)

Tampopo Ramen!
Tampopo Ramen!

and of course, you should watch the film, Tampopo, if you haven’t already seen it…

Tampopo (タンポポ , literally “dandelion”) is a 1985 Japanese comedy film by director Juzo Itami, starring Tsutomu Yamazaki, Nobuko Miyamoto, Kōji Yakusho and Ken Watanabe. The publicity for the film calls it the first ramen western, a play on the term Spaghetti Western

and Roger Ebert’s review seems appropriate:

“Tampopo” is one of those utterly original movies that seems to exist in no known category. Like the French comedies of Jacques Tati, it’s a bemused meditation on human nature in which one humorous situation flows into another offhandedly, as if life were a series of smiles.

As it opens, the film looks like some sort of Japanese satire of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti Westerns. The hero is Goro (Tsutomu Yamazaki), a lone rider with a quizzical smile, who rides a semi instead of a horse. Along with some friends, he stages a search for the perfect noodle restaurant but cannot find it. Then he meets Tampopo (Nobuko Miyamoto), a sweet young woman who has her heart in the right place, but not her noodles.

The movie then turns into the fairly freestyle story of the efforts by Tampopo and her protector to research the perfect noodle and open the perfect noodle restaurant. Like most movies about single-minded obsessions, this one quickly becomes very funny. It might seem that American audiences would know little and care less about the search for the perfect Japanese noodle, but because the movie is so consumed and detailed, so completely submerged in noodleology, it takes on a kind of weird logic of its own.

Consider, for example, the tour de force of a scene near the beginning of the movie, where a noodle master explains the correct ritual for eating a bowl of noodle soup. He explains every ingredient. How to cut it, how to cook it, how to address it, how to think of it, how to regard it, how to approach it, how to smell it, how to eat it, how to thank it, how to remember it. It’s a kind of gastronomic religion, and director Juzo Itami creates a scene that makes noodles in this movie more interesting than sex and violence in many another.

(click here to continue reading Tampopo Movie Review & Film Summary (1987) | Roger Ebert.)

Written by Seth Anderson

May 22nd, 2014 at 12:03 pm

Beam Inc. being bought by Suntory

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Mmm Crunchy Chicago Dogs
Mmm Crunchy Chicago Dogs

Does this mean that Maker’s Mark Whisky will become Maker’s Mark Whiskey?

Suntory Holdings Ltd has agreed a $16 billion deal to buy Deerfield’s Beam Inc, making the Japanese company the world’s third-largest maker of distilled drinks with a global footprint.

The company is paying $13.6 billion in cash for Beam shares as well as assuming its net debt, bringing together Beam’s Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark bourbons, Courvoisier cognac and Sauza tequila with Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu, Hibiki and Kakubin Japanese whiskies, Bowmore Scotch whisky and Midori liqueur.

Suntory said on Monday it will pay $83.50 per share in cash, a 25 percent premium to Beam’s closing share price of $66.97 on Friday. Beam shares jumped 24 percent to $83.27 on Monday.

The price is more than 20 times Beam’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), a multiple that comes close to the record 20.8 times EBITDA Pernod Ricard paid in 2008 for the maker of Absolut vodka.

 …

Suntory and Beam already have a business relationship under which Suntory distributes Beam products in Japan and Beam distributes Suntory’s products in Singapore and other Asian markets.

(click here to continue reading Beam Inc. being bought by Suntory – chicagotribune.com.)

Maybe now Maker’s Mark will stop trying to futz with their alcohol content to sell more product of a lesser quality…

remember this?

Maker's Mark - a collectors edition?
Maker’s Mark – a collectors edition?

90 Proof Whisky without an E a thing of the past?

my.chicagotribune.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-74379067/

Maker’s Mark announced it is reducing the amount of alcohol in the spirit to keep pace with rapidly increasing consumer demand.

In an email to its fans, representatives of the brand said the entire bourbon category is “exploding” and demand for Maker’s Mark is growing even faster. Some customers have even reported empty shelves in their local stores, it said.

After looking at “all possible solutions,” the total alcohol by volume of Maker’s Mark is being reduced by 3 percent. Representatives said the change will allow it to maintain the same taste while making sure there’s “enough Maker’s Mark to go around.” It’s working to expand its distillery and production capacity, too.

Bonus: via Lost in Translation

Written by Seth Anderson

January 13th, 2014 at 9:38 am

The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami

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mzi.tqeikwgb.225x225-75.jpg

Sam Anderson1 went to Japan and hung out with a literary hero of mine, Haruki Murakami, in anticipation of Murakami’s newest novel, 1Q84 being released in America. I look forward to reading it…

Who is Haruki Murakami? Well, read on…

Murakami has always considered himself an outsider in his own country. He was born into one of the strangest sociopolitical environments in history: Kyoto in 1949 — the former imperial capital of Japan in the middle of America’s postwar occupation. “It would be difficult to find another cross-cultural moment,” the historian John W. Dower has written of late-1940s Japan, “more intense, unpredictable, ambiguous, confusing, and electric than this one.” Substitute “fiction” for “moment” in that sentence and you have a perfect description of Murakami’s work. The basic structure of his stories — ordinary life lodged between incompatible worlds — is also the basic structure of his first life experience.

Murakami grew up, mostly, in the suburbs surrounding Kobe, an international port defined by the din of many languages. As a teenager, he immersed himself in American culture, especially hard-boiled detective novels and jazz. He internalized their attitude of cool rebellion, and in his early 20s, instead of joining the ranks of a large corporation, Murakami grew out his hair and his beard, married against his parents’ wishes, took out a loan and opened a jazz club in Tokyo called Peter Cat. He spent nearly 10 years absorbed in the day-to-day operations of the club: sweeping up, listening to music, making sandwiches and mixing drinks deep into the night.

Haruki_Murakami_signture.svg

His career as a writer began in classic Murakami style: out of nowhere, in the most ordinary possible setting, a mystical truth suddenly descended upon him and changed his life forever. Murakami, age 29, was sitting in the outfield at his local baseball stadium, drinking a beer, when a batter — an American transplant named Dave Hilton — hit a double. It was a normal-­enough play, but as the ball flew through the air, an epiphany struck Murakami. He realized, suddenly, that he could write a novel. He had never felt a serious desire to do so before, but now it was overwhelming. And so he did: after the game, he went to a bookstore, bought a pen and some paper and over the next couple of months produced “Hear the Wind Sing,” a slim, elliptical tale of a nameless 21-year-old narrator, his friend called the Rat and a four-fingered woman. Nothing much happens, but the Murakami voice is there from the start: a strange broth of ennui and exoticism. In just 130 pages, the book manages to reference a thorough cross-section of Western culture: “Lassie,” “The Mickey Mouse Club,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” “California Girls,” Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, the French director Roger Vadim, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Elvis Presley, the cartoon bird Woodstock, Sam Peckinpah and Peter, Paul and Mary. That’s just a partial list, and the book contains (at least in its English translation) not a single reference to a work of Japanese art in any medium. This tendency in Murakami’s work rankles some Japanese critics to this day.

Murakami submitted “Hear the Wind Sing” for a prestigious new writers’ prize and won. After another year and another novel — this one featuring a possibly sentient pinball machine — Murakami sold his jazz club in order to devote himself, full time, to writing.

(click here to continue reading The Fierce Imagination of Haruki Murakami – NYTimes.com.)

 

Footnotes:
  1. no relation that I know of []

Written by Seth Anderson

October 23rd, 2011 at 9:16 am

Posted in Suggestions

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Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk to Japanese Sushi

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Open Sushi

I’ve noticed that the Japanese restaurants I frequent have been much less busy recently. I wondered if the Japanese earthquake and subsequent Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant disaster was effecting the fish, and this was a danger I should pay attention to. Apparently, not so much, instead, irrational fear of the unknown is a bigger reason why people are not eating sushi this spring.

Kai Sushi White Tuna appetizer

NPR posed the question to Masashi Kusakabe, director of the Nakaminato Laboratory for Marine Radioecology not far from Tokyo. The research center is devoted to figuring out precisely what happens to radioactive material that gets into the ocean.

Kusakabe says what’s been getting into the Pacific Ocean near Fukushima is mostly radioactive iodine. It dissolves in water, and experiments have shown that the iodine tends to concentrate in algae. Then it gets even more concentrated as it works its way up the food chain.

Kusakabe says that might sound bad, “but the iodine we’re talking about now is iodine -131, which has a very short half-life at eight days.”

Every eight days, half of the iodine goes away. So after a few weeks, there’s not much iodine-131 left in a fish. Kusakabe says radioactive cesium is a lot worse: Its half-life is measured in decades, not days. But so far, much less cesium has gotten into the ocean at Fukushima.  Also, the ocean is so vast that radioactive materials are heavily diluted by the time they travel even a few miles.

So the Japanese fish most likely to become contaminated are the ones that spend their entire lives right near the Fukushima power plant. And the government isn’t letting fishing vessels anywhere near the place.

But what about the ocean-going fish that show up on sashimi platters — fish like salmon and tuna? Might they be contaminated by radioactive material from the power plant?

“I don’t think so,” he says, “because tuna move everywhere. They travel, you know, maybe hundreds of kilometers, so they never stay there.”

A tuna might swim by the Fukushima plant. But it wouldn’t hang around long enough to become seriously contaminated.

Kusakabe says the biggest threat to the Japanese fishing industry right now isn’t radiation. It’s fear.

(click here to continue reading Sushi Science: Fear, Not Radiation, Seen As Risk : NPR.)

Fresh Copper River Sockeye Salmon

Written by Seth Anderson

May 12th, 2011 at 12:24 pm

links for 2010-10-11

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“Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan (Hardcover)” Jake Adelstein

I just finished this book last night, can you tell?

Written by swanksalot

October 11th, 2010 at 7:01 am

Posted in Links

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Reading Around on December 23rd through December 29th

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A few interesting links collected December 23rd through December 29th:

  • Fun phrases in Latin – Ridiculum sum, ergo sum
  • Glenn Greenwald – Karl Rove: Champion of “traditional” divorce – [he ] engineered multiple referenda to incorporate a ban on same-sex marriage into various states’ constitutions in 2004 in order to ensure that so-called “”Christian conservatives” and “value voters” who believe in “traditional marriage laws” would turn out and help re-elect George W. Bush. Yet, like so many of his like-minded pious comrades, Rove seems far better at preaching the virtues of “traditional marriage” to others and exploiting them for political gain than he does adhering to those principles in his own life:Karl Rove granted divorce in Texas
  • Animated stereoviews of old Japan ::: Pink Tentacle – In the late 19th and early 20th century, enigmatic photographer T. Enami (1859-1929) captured a number of 3D stereoviews depicting life in Meiji-period Japan.

    A stereoview consists of a pair of nearly identical images that appear three-dimensional when viewed through a stereoscope, because each eye sees a slightly different image.

Written by swanksalot

December 29th, 2009 at 3:01 pm

Netflixed: Woman in the Dunes

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“Three Films By Hiroshi Teshigahara (Pitfall / Woman In The Dunes / The Face Of Another) (Criterion Collection)” (Hiroshi Teshigahara)

Don’t believe I’ve ever seen this film, though do remember discussing it in a film class, possibly with clips. Sounds odd and intriguing.

Hiroshi Teshigahara’s award-winning drama centers on a bug expert (Eiji Okada) conducting research who’s captured by locals. Held captive in a sandpit with a young widow, he struggles with his imprisonment — and his growing attraction to the woman (Kyôko Kishida). Based on Kobo Abe’s novel, the provocatively erotic allegorical film earned the Cannes Special Jury Prize and two Oscar nominations.

[Click to continue reading Netflix: Woman in the Dunes]

Ebert liked the film enough to add it to his Great Movies database:

More than almost any other film I can think of, “Woman in the Dunes” uses visuals to create a tangible texture–of sand, of skin, of water seeping into sand and changing its nature. It is not so much that the woman is seductive as that you sense, as you look at her, exactly how it would feel to touch her skin. The film’s sexuality is part of its overall reality: In this pit, life is reduced to work, sleep, food and sex, and when the woman wishes for a radio, “so we could keep up with the news,” she only underlines how meaningless that would be.

The screenplay is by Kobo Abe, based on his own novel, and it reveals the enormity of the situation slowly and deliberately–not rushing to announce the man’s dilemma, but revealing it in little hints and insights, while establishing the daily rhythm of life in the dunes. The pit-dwellers are serviced by villagers from above, who use pulleys to lower water and supplies, and haul up the sand. It is never clear whether the woman willingly descended into her pit or was placed there by the village; certainly she has accepted her fate, and would not escape if she could. She participates in the capture of the man because she must: Alone, she cannot shovel enough sand to stay ahead of the drifts, and her survival–her food and water–depend on her work. Besides, her husband and daughter were buried in a sandstorm, she tells the man, and “the bones are buried here.” So they are both captives–one accepting fate, the other trying to escape it.

The man tries everything he can to climb from the pit, and there is one shot, a wall of sand raining down, that is so smooth and sudden the heart leaps. As a naturalist, he grows interested in his situation, in the birds and insects that are visitors. He devises a trap to catch a crow, and catches no crows, but does discover by accident how to extract water from the sand, and this discovery may be the one tangible, useful, unchallenged accomplishment of his life. Everything else, as a narrative voice (his?) tells us, is contracts, licenses, deeds, ID cards– “paperwork to reassure one another.”

[Click to continue reading Woman in the Dunes :: rogerebert.com :: Great Movies]

Written by Seth Anderson

September 10th, 2009 at 7:14 am

Netflixed: The Taste of Tea

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“The Taste of Tea” (Katsuhito Ishii)

What a delightfully strange film, with very non-Hollywood pacing1… [Netflix]

Director Katsuhito Ishii’s whimsical episodic tale chronicles a summer in the lives of the quirky Haruno clan, who passes the unhurried days trying to realize their ambitions. As Mom (Satomi Tezuka) attempts to revive her career, her hypnotherapist hubby (Tomokazu Miura) practices on the family. Meanwhile, their pubescent son (Takahiro Sato) feels the pangs of love, and their 6-year-old daughter (Maya Banno) grapples with a pesky dopplegänger.

It’s been a few years since I’ve watched Fanny and Alexander, but didn’t quite see this connection:

The Taste of Tea (茶の味 Cha no Aji ) is the third film by Japanese writer and director Katsuhito Ishii. The film is concerned with the lives of the Haruno family, who live in the countryside north of Tokyo. It has been referred to as a “surreal” version of Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander. It was a selection of the Cannes Film Festival.[1]

[From The Taste of Tea – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

From Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times:

A bit of patience is required to get through “The Taste of Tea,” but patience is often rewarded, and it certainly is by this droll and oddly touching film by Katsuhito Ishii. The movie is a family portrait as painted by a moderately demented Cubist: the family involved is nothing like yours, yet somehow, in its fractured way, exactly like yours.

Through a series of vignettes that are sometimes linked, sometimes not, we get to know the Harunos, who live quietly in the Japanese countryside. The most visually interesting is young Sachiko (Maya Banno), who is followed around by a giant version of herself, which she thinks she can get rid of if only she can manage to do a back flip on the horizontal bar.

The most emotionally interesting is Hajime (Takahiro Sato), a teenage boy who is prone to developing crushes and has a knack for being a bystander during strange interludes. (Two people dressed in cartoonish space gear board a train he is on; in a restaurant, the couple across from him discuss whether the woman should have her breasts enlarged.)

But a description someone gives of a song involved in one of the film’s many detours neatly summarizes the movie itself: “It’s more cool than weird, and it stays in your head.”

[From Movie Review – The Taste of Tea – A Cubist Family Portrait – NYTimes.com]

Never weird just to be weird, just weirdly intriguing. Minor warning: there’s a sequence which involves human excrement as a plot device, complete with a sample. I happened to be eating popcorn just as this scene began, so averted my gaze. Only lasted a couple moments, but perhaps you are less squeamish than me.

Footnotes:
  1. and I consider this a good thing, but your milage may vary []

Written by Seth Anderson

December 14th, 2008 at 6:22 pm

Posted in Film,Suggestions

Tagged with ,