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7 Things you didn’t know about fish in Japan

7 Things you didn’t know about fish in Japan

  1. Tataki—a unique method of preparing fish

  Methods of preparing fish such as sashimi, frying, steaming and simmering are well known, but have you ever heard of tataki? There are actually two methods with this name. One is to chop raw horse mackerel or tuna into one-centimeter cubes, garnish them with seasonings such as herbs and miso paste, and mix it all together while cutting the fish into even smaller bits with a knife—or minching with two knives together. When dressed with miso, this dish is called namero, and is a traditional meal consumed by fisher folk in Chiba Prefecture, who take a few moments out of their busy day to eat while out on their boats. The other method is to cut a large fish such as bonito into blocks, skewer the blocks and very briefly sear the surface of the meat, then season it with herbs and eat

  1. Approximately seven hundred kanji use the character for fish as a left-side radical

   In the kanji used for fish names, the character for “fish” is used as a radical placed on the left. In Chinese-Japanese character dictionaries, there are actually 678 kanji that use the “fish” radical. Adding “fish” to katai (hard) forms the character for “bonito” (because bonito become very hard when dried). Adding it to yuki (snow) creates the character for “cod” (because cod come into season in the winter). You’ll often find teacups covered in columns of kanji characters that include the “fish” radical at sushi restaurants.

  1. There is no single style of making sushi

   There are many ways to make sushi associated with various regions in Japan. The style of placing sashimi on bite-sized, oblong balls of vinegared rice, the most familiar style overseas, is called Edomae sushi and was developed mainly in Tokyo. In the Kansai region, the general style was oshizushi (pressed sushi), where you place a piece of fish seasoned in vinegar, such as mackerel, on top of vinegared rice, then press it with a wooden mold. Other styles include sasazushi, which involves placing a fish such as salmon on vinegared rice and then wrapping it in bamboo grass, which has antibacterial properties, allowing it to be preserved for two or three days.

  1. Japanese people eat poisonous fish

   Fugu (blowfish) is a lethally dangerous fish. From ancient times the Japanese people have eaten it, but because it is difficult to completely remove the poisons in its organs, many diners ended up dying. During the sixteenth century, in fact, eating blowfish was banned, but among the citizenry it remained a part of food culture. In 1888, Hirobumi Ito, the first prime minister of Japan, dined on blowfish during a visit to the Shunpanro Inn in Shimonoseki City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. He was so awestruck by its delicious flavor that it led to the lifting of the ban. Only licensed chefs with specialized knowledge and skills are allowed to prepare this fish.

  1. .Eating fish for good luck during the New Year’s holidays

   During the New Year’s holiday period, Japanese people typically eat a special type of food called osechi. Among the dishes served are herring roe, shrimp, konbu (kelp) and other seafood known to bring good luck. The large number of seasoned herring eggs making up herring roe is said to be a symbol of prosperity for one’s descendants. Shrimp are said to symbolize the hope of living old enough to have a back just as bent and whiskers just as long as those of a shrimp. Konbu sounds phonetically like kobu from the word yorokobu, which means to be happy. All of these items are packed with meanings expressing good luck or hope for progress, and are staples of New Year’s menus

  1. Fish in Japan change their names as they get older

   Until the Edo Period, the custom in Japan was for a samurai or scholar to change his name in accordance with the level of social progress or success he attained. In much the same way, some fish are known by different names at each stage in their development as they grow from a fry to an adult. Buri (yellowtail) begin life as wakashi, later become inada, then warasa, and finally buri. Suzuki (perch) begin life as seigo, become fukko, then suzuki, and finally are called otaro. Because they change their names as they grow older, eating these fish is thought to bolster hopes of advancement, so they are favored as dishes at celebratory occasions.

7.The ultimate delicacies for the fish-loving Japanese

   The three famous delicacies of Japan are said to be shio-uni (salted sea urchin, using the gonads as a main ingredient), karasumi (bora [striped mullet] ovaries pickled in salt), and konowata (salted sea cucumber intestines). Other unusual dishes include kuchiko (dried sea cucumber ovaries), shuto (the pickled entrails of such fish as tuna, salmon, sea bream and Pacific saury), and uruka (the salted intestines, ovaries and testicles of the ayu [sweetfish]).]

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The Little Robot Still Enchanting Fans Worldwide

The Little Robot Still Enchanting Fans Worldwide

 Nobita Nobi is a boy who struggles with everything from schoolwork to sports and friendships. Naturally this is a source of frustration for his mother, who scolds Nobita daily. But one day Doraemon—an earless robot cat traveling back in a time machine from the twenty-second century—jumps out of Nobita’s desk drawer and changes his life.

 

A science-fiction manga series for children, Doraemon is the representative work of Japanese manga artist Fujiko F Fujio (the pen name of Hiroshi Fujimoto). The manga storyline follows Nobita and his friends, who overcome challenges in their everyday lives aided by the amazing futuristic gadgets that Doraemon pulls out of his “four-dimensional pocket.” Since it was first published in 1970, the series has been adapted into an anime series as well as films. Over the past five decades, Doraemon has gained numerous fans both within and outside Japan. The series has been translated into twelve different languages and published in seventeen countries, and the anime series has been broadcast in fifty-five countries.

 

Translated Doraemon manga are particularly popular in Asia. “In particular, Vietnamese fans’ love of Doraemon is unprecedented,” says Mitsuru Saito, chief producer of international media at publisher house Shogakukan. Even before Shogakukan and their counterpart in Vietnam concluded the official licensing contract, Doraemon was already famous in Vietnam due to unauthorized copies. Fujio opted not to receive royalties accrued from this official licensing, requesting instead that the money be spent on promoting education for children who wish to learn. The Doraemon Scholarship Fund, founded to honor Fujio’s wishes, has allowed over ten thousand Vietnamese children to pursue their education.

 

When Doraemon—now a traffic safety mascot throughout Vietnam—appears at schools, children welcome him enthusiastically. The Doraemon series occupies a third of the manga section in local bookstores.

 

“The Doraemon manga series was originally created for magazines that Shogakukan used to publish for school-aged children, so the character is like a friend to young readers,” says Saito, explaining the reason for the character’s celebrity and popularity. “The simple and easy-to-understand artwork, the fun plots where Doraemon makes children’s innocent wishes and dreams come true using his gadgets, and the gentle and encouraging worldview that encompasses the characters are universally appreciated, going beyond generations and national borders.”

 

As the publisher responsible for preserving the original artwork from the manga series, “it is Shogakukan’s wish to preserve the manga’s form and value as it is, and continue to pass it on to future generations,” Saito says. However, they continue to improve the quality of their publication. For instance, in pursuit of better picture quality, they renewed the printing films for the original volumes of the series.

 

“We’ll keep sharing Doraemon manga with the world,” Saito says. “While it may have a long history, we want to continue to emphasize the appeal of this wonderful, timeless work.” Thanks to the efforts of the publisher that took over Fujio’s creative philosophy, through the pages of manga Doraemon will continue to be a trusted friend to children for generations while staying true to himself.

By Tamaki Kawasaki

 

https://www.gov-online.go.jp/eng/publicity/book/hlj/html/201902/201902_07_en.html

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The Market that Stocks Japan’s Pantry

The Market that Stocks Japan’s Pantry

Guinness World Records recognizes the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market—commonly known as Tsukiji Market—as the world’s largest fish market in terms of seafood handled and produced, and the market’s intermediate wholesaling system offers quality control and attentive customer service that have no equal. Tsukiji Market supports Japanese food culture, and is the main reason people take for granted that fresh fish will always be available at the dining table.

Tsukiji Market opened in 1935 when the old fish market in Nihonbashi and the fruit and vegetable market in Kyobashi were relocated. The product lines include approximately 480 varieties of seafood and 270 varieties of fruits and vegetables, a daily volume and value amounting to over 1,779 tons and ¥1.55 billion worth of seafood, and over 1,142 tons and ¥319 million in fruits and vegetables (including eggs and pickles). The market welcomes 42,000 visitors a day (November 2002 survey), and admits about 19,000 vehicles daily. Handling everything from shipments to sales, operations run 24 hours a day, making it a market that never sleeps.

“Tsukiji Market’s greatest strength is that it isn’t a producers’ market directly connected to a particular fishing port, but rather the largest consumption market in Japan,” explains Osamu Shimazu of the Wholesales Cooperative of Tokyo Fish Market. “In general, all seafood products from every producing center can be obtained here, and it offers the best quality selection of fresh fish in all of Japan. Even if regional fishing ports are temporarily wiped out in times of natural disaster, we can always procure goods from somewhere.

“Including frozen items and processed goods, we collect cargo from all over the world, and not only high-end products—we can also provide the most suitable products to fit our customers’ budgets and needs,” Shimazu adds. “Even with the same type of fish, there are differences in how to prepare it to get the most delicious flavor out of it, whether it’s as sashimi or grilled with salt. The ability to understand that and offer a product that best fits the customer’s needs depends on the abilities of the intermediate wholesaler as a connoisseur.”

With the popularization of the Internet and an increase in customers who order products directly from regional fishing ports and fishermen, the necessity of intermediate wholesalers between buyers and sellers has come under debate, but it is these concierge-like abilities of the “connoisseur broker,” as well as his or her power to assemble wholesale cargo, that are cited as the advantages of Tsukiji Market.

“Because we are such a large market, each merchant works diligently to provide the best product, and that is a defining characteristic of Tsukiji Market,” Shimazu explains. “There are seven seafood wholesaling companies here, whereas in a regular market you would often find only one. There are over 630 intermediate wholesalers, and each provides attentive service to fulfill their customers’ needs. At every location of this system, built like a spider’s web, there are professionals checking and verifying the quality of products at Tsukiji Market. I believe that you can understand the value in that.”

The market system in place here, made possible through these intermediate wholesalers, has attracted a great deal of interest from overseas. In fact, Vietnam is reportedly considering adopting the same system. And in terms of fish exports, due to an increase in orders from Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and North America in recent years, the Wholesales Cooperative of Tokyo Fish Market is preparing a support system to handle and simplify the procedures as a way to reduce the burdens imposed on individual wholesalers in anticipation of the scheduled move of the market to nearby Toyosu in 2016.

“As interest in Japan rises as we approach the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, our goal is to show the world how wonderful Japanese food culture is,” Shimazu says with great enthusiasm. It’s only natural that supplying fresh, delicious fish to households and restaurants is the foundation for maintaining the importance of seafood in Japanese food culture. Since Tsukiji Market makes that possible, it can truly be called the pantry of Japan.

by RIEKO SUZUKI

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Welcome to the Cosplay Olympics!

Welcome to the Cosplay Olympics!

 Cosplay—short for “costume play”—refers to dressing as characters primarily from manga and anime, with a variety of events held not just in Japan but in countries around the world.

 

The World Cosplay Summit began in 2003, with countries sending the winners of their respective qualifying tournaments to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. The biggest cosplay event on the globe, the Summit is where the world’s top cosplayers are crowned. In 2015, the number of participating countries and regions rose to twenty-eight, and the event is now the ultimate aspirational objective for cosplayers worldwide. And with greater media coverage from many countries, the Summit has come to be known as the cosplayer Olympics. Tokumaru Oguri of the World Cosplay Summit executive committee spoke about the path this event has taken and its current outlook.

 

A mini-program reporting on the cosplay phenomenon and culture, organized by Oguri, then a producer at a Nagoya television station, inspired the inaugural event. “While we were doing research for the show, we learned that cosplay was enjoying more success overseas than in Japan,” he says, “so we organized a discussion and invited cosplayers from France, Italy and Germany along with Japanese cosplayers. Even if they couldn’t speak each other’s languages, their favorite characters all shared the same names. And that’s all it took. They had a great time. And that was the first World Cosplay Summit.”

 

When the event and cosplay championships took place at the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture, it led to widespread international media coverage from outlets such as Reuters and the Associated Press. As a result, many inquiries came from various countries through their embassies, with some expressing a desire to join in. Thanks to this momentum, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism began lending their support in 2006, and in 2009 the event gained the backing of the city of Nagoya to establish the executive committee.

 

Since then the event has vastly expanded in scale each year, and as of 2015, a cumulative total of more than 1.96 million people have attended the Summit and its associated events. At the opening ceremonies for the 2015 Summit, held at Laguna Ten Bosch amusement park, representatives from the various countries gathered around as the ship Thousand Sunny (from the popular manga and anime One Piece) floated in the bay, and conducted a tape-cutting ceremony. Participants streamed this event in real time via social networking services worldwide, sharing their excitement and passion with an even larger global audience.

 

Another development was the inauguration of the WCS Omotenashi Student Executive Committee in 2013, which consisted mainly of Japanese students and paired up Summit participants with student volunteers (omotenashi refers to the Japanese spirit of hospitality). For the duration of the event, the volunteers provided extensive support—from assistance with cosplaying to translation—with the Summit serving as an opportunity for promoting cultural exchange and creating deep bonds of friendship.

 

“Over the period of about a year, qualifying trials are held in 15 cities in Russia and 26 provinces in China, and cosplayers from all over Europe gather at the Japan Expo in France,” Oguri says, explaining the flourishing overseas cosplay boom. “Japanese anime and manga are very high quality, and they feature characters that are easy to identify with. And with the advent of the Internet, it’s become easier to access such works. I think this is what served as the foundation for the worldwide cosplay boom. There are tens of thousands of events, both online and offline, where people can come together. Cosplay can be a tool—and one unlike any other—for cultural exchange.”

 

The World Cosplay Summit has several goals in mind. One is to reduce the number of countries that have indicated interest in participating but haven’t yet been able to do so—currently over thirty—to zero by the year 2020. There are also plans to contribute to the revitalization and creativity of Japan’s regions by sending the majority of overseas cosplayers to regional cities and holding the final qualifying rounds for the World Cosplay Summit within Japan’s borders. Cosplaying has become a common global language, and it continues to generate powerful connectivity and energy to the world.

By RIEKO SUZUKI / Photos: © World Cosplay Summit 2015

 

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A Celebration of the Arts

A Celebration of the Arts

For Japanese students, autumn’s onset not only heralds a change in wardrobe and the brilliant colors of changing leaves but also the anticipation of a special schoolwide culture festival known as bunkasai. In contrast with the school sports festival and its emphasis on athletics, the bunkasai allows students at all levels a respite from their desk studies to give performances, present arts and crafts and pursue other creative and culturally oriented activities.

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The Oldest Jokes in the Book

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The Oldest Jokes in the Book

 Ebisu, the God of a good catch and business prosperity, is having a bad day. He has cast his fishing line in the hope of hooking a jumbo fish, but none is biting.

“Yare-yare” (jeez!), he says as he reaches into his basket to pull out more bait, causing a ripple of excitement among his audience – in particular the younger members, who know what’s coming next.

In this comedic play during an evening of Iwami-kagura drama, held at a 450-year-old shrine in the city of Hamada, Shimane Prefecture, the forty members of the audience are in effect Ebisu’s fish and the bait is not grubs, or herrings, but candy, which he flings by the fistful into the audience to hearty applause and squeals of laughter.

“It was funny, but a little scary,” said a four-year-old girl, who had joined Ebisu on the makeshift stage to lend a hand reeling in the papier-mâché sea bream.

The girl’s contradicting response is almost germane to kagura, a genre of dance that is Japan’s oldest performing art.

Although kagura’s exact origin is unknown, its earliest form is believed to have been a ritual derived from the legendary tale of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the entertaining way in which the goddess Ame-no-Uzume performed dances to persuade the reclusive, cave-dwelling Amaterasu to shed light on the world once more.

Over the years, many types of kagura have evolved, incorporating Shinto and, to a lesser degree, Buddhist elements. Some are highly ritualistic, such as the miko-kagura performed for the Imperial court by miko shrine maidens — descendants, it is said, of Ame-no-Uzume — while others are highly theatrical, almost kabuki-esque.

This latter style, known under the umbrella term sato-kagura (village kagura), was officially encouraged during the Meiji period (1868–1912), when local residents adopted the roles previously played by shrine priests and attendants, who had previously been the sole purveyors of the ritualized, Shamanistic plays that are often referred to as “Shinshoku-Kagura.”

Sato-kagura subsequently flourished and today a variety of dances and music are performed at many local festivals and other public events around the country. Some of the events last not more than an hour; others, such as those held in the fall as part of harvest festivals, continue overnight.

Today there are hundreds of kagura troupes throughout Japan performing numerous types of the dance, including Ise-ryu kagura and Izumo-ryu kagura.

Iwami-kagura alone is performed by some 150 troupes in a district of western Shimane Prefecture once known as Iwami.

Iwami-kagura features a repertoire of around 100 dances, invariably accompanied by flutes, percussion and voice. It is believed to originally date back to the Muromachi period (1336–1573), according to Takashi Shimono, who played the part of Ebisu at the performance at Hamada’s Sanku shrine.

“It was originally a ritual dedicated to the gods that was performed by shrine priests but was handed over to parishioners and turned into a kind of show,” he said. “Today the plays are close to kabuki in style and created with the objective of enjoyment for those who come to watch.”

A major distinguishing feature of Iwami-kagura is its fast tempo, called hacchoshi, the elaborate dress, which can weigh in excess of 30 kg, and striking washi paper masks.

“Another feature is that the plays are visually impactful and easy to comprehend even if you don’t understand the words spoken,” says Kenji Asaura, who heads the Mikawa Nishi Kagura Hozonkai troupe, whose members include local public servants, fisheries employees and workers at a local auto parts manufacturer.

This is particularly true of the comedic plays. Ebisu’s feeble fishing exploits and plodding, almost vaudevillian dance moves, are given an extra humorous touch by his mask, featuring an oval face, slightly drooping eyes and permanent grin.

“Just looking at that face makes me want to laugh,” said another member of the audience at Sanku shrine. “Not all kagura plays are comedic, but they are all highly entertaining.”

The age-old power of kagura to captivate an audience remains undimmed.

By ROB GILHOOLY

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