[Book] Occult aspects of Japanese cuisine

'Nippon Ryouri no Shinzui' by Abe Kouryuu, published by Kodansha in 2006

‘Nippon Ryouri no Shinzui’ by Abe Kouryuu, published by Kodansha in 2006

I was reading Nippon Ryouri no Shinzui [日本料理の真髄] by the Japanese gourmet Abe Kouryuu [阿部孤柳], and learned that occult concepts lie at the heart of Japanese cuisine. Below are some interesting facts I picked up:

  • When you hold a kitchen knife in your hand, the right side of the knife is considered yang while the left side of the knife is considered yin.
  • Likewise, tableware can also be categorized as either yin or yang. A round dish is considered yang, whereas a square dish is considered yin; a shallow container is considered yang, whereas a deep container is considered yin.

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[Manga] ‘Shitsuren Chocolatier’ Vol 1-9 by Setona Mizushiro

失恋ショコラティエ

In 2008, the manga artist Setona Mizushiro [水城せとな] turned 37 and began serializing Shitsuren Chocolatier [失恋ショコラティエ] and Black Rose Alice [黒薔薇アリス]. Both of these titles mark a dramatic departure from her earlier works and style. In the distant past after her first debut, she had been known primarily for BL short stories; between 2004 and 2008 she began (in my opinion) a good but not great psycho-mythical drama After School Nightmare [放課後保健室]. With the launch of Shitsuren Chocolatier and Black Rose Alice in 2008 however, she suddenly burst forth as a mature creative force to be reckoned with. Incidentally both of these titles deal with the singular phenomenon of unrequited love dragging on for the best of an individual’s biologically limited procreative life – just when do you call it quits?

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[TV] My top 3 jdramas in 2015

I have always considered Japanese television drama to be mostly anaemic affairs, and have come to expect on average only one series per year that has a genuinely interesting and original script. In 2012, there was Legal High [リーガル・ハイ] by the screenwriter Ryouta Kosawa [古沢良太]. In 2013, there was Saikou no Rikon [最高の離婚] by Yuuji Sakamoto [坂元裕二]. 2014 was a dry year in terms of original screenwriting, though I quite enjoyed the adaptations of two jousei manga – Shitsuren Chocolatier [失恋ショコラティエ] and Kyou wa Kaisha Yasumimasu [きょうは会社休みます].

The year 2015, however, was a different story. There were no less than 3 television dramas I have a high opinion of, as well as a host of other titles of lesser artistic merit that I nonetheless enjoyed.

Mondai no Aru Restaurant [問題のあるレストラン] by Yuuji Sakamoto

'Mondai no Aru Restaurant' aired from Jan to Mar 2015 on Fuji TV,

‘Mondai no Aru Restaurant’ aired from January to March 2015 on Fuji TV,

The first of these three is Mondai no Aru Restaurant. The screenwriter Yuuji Sakamoto is active in a number of fields from movies, manga, anime, live theatre to games. Mondai no Aru Restaurant is, in my opinion, his best work on television to date. It is much more polished and thought-provoking than his earlier work Saikou no Rikon.

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[Book/Anime] Occult aspects in ‘Shin Sekai Yori’ by Yusuke Kishi

After I watched the anime Shin Sekai Yori (From the New World) [新世界より] and also read its original novel by the always insightful Yusuke Kishi [貴志祐介], I cannot help but think of the Japanese educator and mystic Makoto Shichida [七田真] (1929 – 2009).

Shin Sekai Yori, the anime

Shin Sekai Yori [新世界より], the anime series of 25 episodes released in 2012

First, a quick summary of the story of Shin Sekai Yori. Human societies as we know in the present day collapsed after 0.3% of people discovered that they had psychic powers, and after prolonged struggles in which the psychics and non-psychics fought each other to establish a new world order, the earth became depopulated (down to 2% of its height) and a new society in which everyone is psychic finally emerged.  The protagonists of the story – a group of five friends – live in that new society 1,000 years from now. As we follow these five friends from childhood to adulthood, we discover the true history of what happened to the human race in the intervening 1,000 years through their interactions with an inferior race of bakenezumi – mouse-like mammals who are intelligent, speak human language and supposedly worship humans as deities. The story culminates with the rebellion of bakenezumi against the human race.

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[Book] ‘Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou’ by Tsuneyasu Takeda

Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰]

Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰]

There is no lack of self-help books for business people in Japan which regurgitate mainstream self-help ideas from America almost word-by-word. However, if I were to choose books on indigenous Japanese ideas of self-help for translating into English, Nihonjin ga isshou tsukaeru benkyou-hou [日本人が一生使える勉強法] by Tsuneyasu Takeda [竹田恒泰] would be one of them.

The author Tsuneyasu Takeda (1975 – present) was born as the great-great-grandson of the Meiji Emperor and graduated with a law degree at Keio University. By his own account, he sat for bookkeeping qualifications at middle school and started his own marketing consultancy business at high school. In his twenties, he travelled to Iraq during the war, got hit by the big question of what is the meaning of life, quit his lucrative consultancy business and withdrew to Kamakura where he lived on a shoe-string budget for three years, doing nothing but reading first-hand historical documents about the imperial family of Japan with the intent of making himself an expert on it. Later, he made it big with a bestseller on Emperor Koumei, rode on the wave of the media hullabaloo surrounding the Japanese succession controversy in the early 2000s as a commentator and became famous. He is now the author of a number of books on the imperial family and also runs a ramen restaurant in Tokyo. This particular book I am reviewing is about his personal life-story and useful ideas he has picked up along the way.  Continue reading

[Manga] ‘Historie’ Vol.1-9 by Hitoshi Iwaaki: The fortunes of Eumenes of Cardia

Historie Vol.9 by Hiroshi Iwaaki

Historie Vol.9 by Hiroshi Iwaaki

The first thing I did after I finished the latest Vol. 9 of Historie [ヒストリエ] by Hitoshi Iwaaki [岩明均] was to look up Iwaaki-sensei’s year of birth, so that I can calculate how many earthly years may be left for him to finish this incomparable epic, of which Vol.9 is still setting the stage.

Historie is the story of Eumenes of Cardia from boyhood to manhood. The real Eumenes in history is remembered as the clever, talented, wily and resourceful royal secretary of Alexander the Great, who later discarded the pen and took up the sword as a military commander (and one of the commanders active in the dividing the spoils of Alexander’s empire after his sudden death at that). If the chips had fallen the right way, it would not be inconceivable for us today to learn of the Eumenes as the successor to Alexander. However, Eumenes had two things working against him. First, he was a foreigner – a Greek in the court of Macedonia, which meant he was an outsider and out of the game of forging useful alliances through marriage like his Macedonian peers. Secondly, he began his career as a secretary, which in the macho culture of Macedonia was seen as a negative. In addition, the major irony is that although Eumenes was the most ardent loyalist to the royal house of Macedonia from start to finish, he was declared an outlaw in the bizarre Game-of-Thrones environment after Alexander’s death. As the historian James Romm summarized in Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the Bloody Fight for His Empire:

“Such was the strange position Eumenes found himself in amid the turmoil of the civil war. He alone of all the leaders in that war had gained a major battlefield victory. Yet he had ended up without a country, cause, or commander to fight for. His cavalry was good enough to win against any challenger – but just what he could win was beyond’s anyone’s surmise.”

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