My mom tells me that one of the most popular English-language learning books on the market right now is this “Speeches of Barack Obama” booklet set, which includes a page-by-page translation of Obama’s iconic speeches throughout the years &mdash his keynote at the Democratic National Congress in 2004, his battles at the primaries, and his acceptance speech among them. The booklet also includes a CD of the actual speeches by the president. At 1000 yen ($10), it’s way cheaper than enrolling in an English lesson taught by amateurs at Gaba, and who better to learn how to speak English than the president in all his motivational oratory glory! Also worth noting that the publisher, Asahi Press, didn’t have to pay anybody for the rights to his speeches nor to write original content, so this is just a huge profit-making venture.
On July 28th, Vertical Inc will release volume six of Black Jack, the amazing manga about a mercenary genius doctor by Osamu Tezuka. I just got my preview copy, and it’s awesome.
Black Jack, Vol. 6 by Osamu Tezuka (If you want the entire collection, you can already buy Vol 1-5 and pre-order 6-8.)
I read a lot of manga when I was growing up, and so did my mom. She was obsessed with this one series called Oishinbo, a story about a food critic and his culinary adventures across the country &mdash it was so detailed and precise that you learned a ton about Japanese food and how to enjoy it just from reading.
I can confidently say that, if you want to learn about the intricacies of Japanese food, or if you want to know why Japanese people are so obsessed with white rice (last winter, I went to a restaurant in Tokyo where their specialty was white rice), reading this series is the best and most fun way to do it. The newest volume, Oishinbo: Fish, Sushi, and Sashimi, comes out in July and is available for pre-order on Amazon.
Oishinbo, Volume 1 by Tetsu Kariya
Toshio Okada is best known for founding Gainax, the famous animation company that created Neon Genesis Evangelion, but did you know he is also the author of a revolutionary dieting book for otaku? Sayonara, Mr. Fatty!: A Geek’s Diet Memoir was a huge hit in Japan &mdash a friend told me a couple years ago about how he lost 15 kilos just by reading a book. I bought the Japanese version of the book, but never read it. Now, it’s available in English.
Okada used a simple technique to lose weight. An excerpt from the prologue:
I didn’t to anything special, or use any special technique. I didn’t spend extra money. I didn’t suffer. I didn’t limit myself to particular foods. I didn’t fast. I didn’t have liposuction. I didn’t go to a gym. I didn’t take any special supplements. I didn’t buy a fitness machine or a sweat suit. I never visited a health spa or a weight-loss clinic. I didn’t eat any diet food.
What he did do, it turns out, had less to do with changing his behavior and more to do with using his otaku-ness to his healthy advantage. A must-read if you’re a geek who wants to lose weight, or if you know one, or if you just want to read some literature by Japan’s “ota-king.”
Get Sayonara, Mr. Fatty! on Amazon.
TokyoMango reader Martijn Kuik, who took this photo, writes:
In May last year I traveled through Tohoku together with my Japanese wife, at times in the footsteps of Matsuo Basho on a journey he took in the spring of 1689.
I visited a temple called Houjusan-Risshakuji, also known as “Yamadera”, near Yamagata city. This temple was founded in 860 by Jikaku Daishi, a priest of the Tendai sect who founded many of the most important temples in Tohoku. After climbing 1100 stairs one reaches the main tempel building and one can’t help but be overwhelmed by the magnificent view.
In “Oku no Hosomichi” Matsuo Basho writes:
How still it is here-
Stinging into the stones,
The locusts’ trill.
I was pleasantly surprised by the beauty of this temple and its surroundings.
Adam Tokunaga looks like an ordinary ojisan (old man), but apparently he’s Japan’s #1 sexpert. And his book, called Slow Sex Secrets, is now available in English. I didn’t read the whole thing because the thought of an ojisan teaching me about sex was a little bit… um… interesting. But I did find it highly entertaining and interesting that Tokunaga claims to have found several additional erogenous zones in the female body. They’re located kinda near the G-spot, he explains through diagrams and text, and he has called them the T-spot, the A-spot and the Adam G-spot. He writes:
The T in T-spot stands for Tokunaga. I named it this just the way the G-spot is named after the scientist who found it…It is not easy to compare the level of pleasure derived from the T-spot and the G-spot, but there are women who say the T-spot feels better. One woman described the pleasure as a “bolt of lightning shooting from my cervix right into my brain.” In other words, this is a hand technique that can literally blow your partner’s mind.
To learn more about the hand technique, I guess you’ll have to buy the book.
Slow Sex Secrets: Lessons from the Master Masseur by Adam Tokunaga
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be a yakuza boss’ daughter, Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster’s Daughter is a must-read. The author, Shoko Tendo, tells her story with brutal honesty. We all know how big a role family plays in shaping one’s life, and it’s amazingly interesting to see how being raised by a volatile yakuza boss influenced Tendo’s. She had, to put it mildly, a crazy life from childhood &mdash bullied in school, addicted to drugs and sex and the yanki lifestyle as a teen, and stuck in a series of awful, awful relationships with horrible men throughout her teens and twenties. In this book, she does a great job of relating all these experiences back to her family, her upbringing, and the conflicting desires within her to have fun, to appease others, and to stick with her convictions.
This was a quick read &mdash shocking, but very good.A total eye-opener to a part of Japanese culture that all of us who have lived in Japan have touched upon but probably not given that much genuine thought to. Tendo is a great narrator and protagonist who is easy to like and admire despite her shortcomings. You should read it!
Yakuza Moon: Memoirs of a Gangster’s Daughter by Shoko Tendo [Amazon]
Yoshihiro Kimura, a 65-year old man in Shimane Prefecture, is collaborating with his 41-year old daughter Chizuru to recreate the 11th century classic Makura no Soshi, or The Pillow Book, in embroidery on silk screen rolls. It’s symbolic of their desire to keep embroidery alive in Japan, which has been losing sewing jobs to China and Southeast Asia. They expect it will take years. The Pillow Book is a famous piece of literature written by Lady Sei Shonagon, a court lady in the Heian period. It was made into a Hollywood film starring Ewan McGregor in 1996.
Are you the type of person who likes to read while pooping? A new type of Japanese toilet paper has horror stories printed on it, a 9-chapter novella by Koji Suzuki, the author of Ring. The story printed on paper is aptly called Drop, and costs just $2 a roll. Hey, that’s cheaper than buying a paperback! In Japan (and in Harry Potter), we believe that ghosts hide in toilets. So this is super scary, especially because the guy who wrote the Ring is like the country’s horror master. Printed toilet paper, however, is nothing new &mdash we used to have it when we were kids. That’s how I learned kanji.
I finally took some time off this weekend to read. I recently got a short translated mystery novel called The Cat in the Coffin, which I finished in about an hour. It’s a quick read, and it was also one of the best mystery novel build-ups I’ve ever read.
The author is Mariko Koike, an award-winning, well-respected female mystery writer in Japan. The book is a flashback, a story told in the future by a lady reminiscing about an experience she had when she was in her early twenties. She was a live-in tutor for a little 9-year old girl who belonged to a widower, a good-looking, charismatic Great Gatsby-like artist named Goro. For the first half of the book, it’s a cute story about the little girl with her cat and the tutor with her secret crush on the dad. And then Koike starts dropping hints at the totally unpredictable crazy ending to come.
Like most human beings, I have a dark and evil side. I am a person who could witness something truly terrible and go on living as if nothing had happened. I could put the desire for atonement out of my mind, if that seemed to be in my own best interest. And I was capable of rationalizing the most horrific reality, if that was what I needed to do in order to go on living.
I thought the way Koike set up the story was really interesting. Some mystery novels blatantly drop clues early on to get the blood rushing, but she doesn’t do this until the end. Instead, her hints are placed gently within the smooth narrative and then suddenly, right before the ball drops, you realize that this was coming all along. I was reading it late at night and saying to myself, oh holy shit wow. The quote above, for example, doesn’t show up until the very end.
The English translation was just published &mdash it’s a great book for the beach or a lazy afternoon on the couch.
The Cat in the Coffin by Mariko Koike
The Smoking Section is a short story about quitting smoking in Tokyo by humorist David Sedaris. You can find it in his newest book, When You Are Engulfed in Flames. Determined that he needed a complete change of scenery to quit smoking cold turkey, Sedaris—who normally lives in Paris with his boyfriend Hugh—spent two months in Tokyo living on the 26th floor of the apartment building on top of Peacock supermarket in Azabu Juban. He isn’t a Japan expert per se, but his description of the two months he spend are some of the funniest and most insightful I have read in a long time. Here’s an excerpt:
A Japanese woman we’d met in Paris came to the apartment yesterday and spent several hours explaining our appliances. The microwave, the water kettle, the electric bathtub: everything blinks and bleeps and calls out in the middle of the night. I’d wondered what the rice maker was carrying on about, and Reiko told us that it was on a timer and simply wanted us to know that it was present and ready for duty. That was the kettle’s story as well, while the tub was just being an asshole and waking us up for no reason.
“The Smoking Section”, in When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris = 5/5
65-year old Toshiko Fukuda of Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, lost her husband to asbestos on April 17th last year. Her husband, Motoo, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2006, probably from the steel pipe factory he worked at. He got worker’s comp, but the disease ultimately destroyed his lungs and left him with hallucinations for the remainder of his life. Shocked, the widowed Fukuda started sending text messages to her dead husband every time she thought of something she wanted to say to him. Continue reading at BBG
Donald Richie, one of the most respected living Japan writers of today, will be giving a talk about Japanese film at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church on Tuesday, April 21. He is the author of books like Old Kyoto: The Updated Guide to Traditional Shops, Restaurants, and Inns and The Inland Sea. His newest book is A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics, which is kind of entering into Richie’s brain—it’s written in a free form, random rambling thought type of way. Man, I wish I could gain enough cred so that I can get my random thoughts published one day.
More info about the event here.
Donburi Mania is a fun Japanese cookbook full of creative recipes for rice bowls. I haven’t tried any yet, but I really want to make a killer oyakodon and I also kinda wanna try the Melty Cheesy Meat Sauce Donburi.
Ask anyone who their favorite Japanese author is, and chances are they will say Haruki Murakami. The guy has a penchant for winning foreign literary prizes, the most recent being this year’s Jerusalem Prize, awarded by the Israeli president to the best foreign writer. Murakami pondered whether he should go to accept the award because of all the mayhem in Gaza. But he went, and gave a riveting speech to an international crowd in which he made a cool statement about a wall and an egg. He prefaced the metaphor by explaining his decision to be there—he’s a rumored hikikomori, but he decided it’s better to say something than to say nothing at all—and then said:
“If there is a hard, high wall and an egg that breaks against it, no matter how right the wall or how wrong the egg, I will stand on the side of the egg.”
Nikkan Gendai recently wrote about what they call “love hotel refugees,” a subset of jobless, homeless women who sleep in love hotel rooms.This trend comes after Internet and manga cafe refugees made headlines around the world over the last few years. I met an Internet cafe refugee once. Apparently there are even “Makku” refugees—people who sleep in McDonalds.
Love hotel refugees are women and girls who hang out near love hotels looking for guys to bunk up with for the night, securing a good night’s rest on the bed they paid for. (The idea is that the guys will leave after sex, and let the women use the room until checkout.)
Speaking of love hotels, a book called Love Hotels: An Inside Look at Japan’s Sexual Playgrounds came out last year and gives a very comprehensive explanation of the whole phenomenon. For some beautiful photos of love hotels, check out Love Hotels: The Hidden Fantasy Rooms of Japan by Natsuo Kirino.
via Tokyo Reporter
On the car yesterday, I was listening to a great radio show by Soundprint, about a Japanese-American woman who got stuck in Japan during World War 2—her ship was headed home to America when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, so it turned back, and she ended up staying in Japan, getting married there, and finally—finally!—being able to go back to America years later. It was a great show that blended real commentary by the woman, now-elderly Mary Kimoto Tomita—with a younger voice reading her the letters she wrote to her best friend, Miye, from Japan circal 1939-1946. The letters are showcased in a book called Dear Miye: Letters Home From Japan 1939-1946 (Asian America); but if you’re interested, I highly recommend you listen to the radio show, which you can get here.
I hung out in Shibuya a lot during middle and high school. It was just the place to be—cheap food, Tower Records, sticker pictures, karaoke, and yes, before any of that stuff existed, there were the video game arcades. My favorite was a five-story little building in the middle of Center-Gai on the left side. I don’t remember what it was called. It was tiny and narrow and smoky but that was where most of my friends and I met, so that if somebody was late you could just play games until they showed up.
Fellow Wired writer Brian Ashcraft and blogger Jean Snow have a new book out called Arcade Mania: The Turbo-charged World of Japan’s Game Centers in which they neatly dissect the world of Japanese video gaming. It talks about rhythm games (BeatMania came way before DDR or Rock Band. I swear. I remember playing it every weekend when I was a kid); dating sims (dating in-game can be much more passionate than in real life); and UFO catchers (these days you can win everything from ice cream to blow fish). Gaming is a big part of Japanese mass culture—and was, even before the Wii—and I found this book to be a delightful peek back into that part of my history. You should check it out!
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms is a fictional manga that tells two stories of atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in one compact volume. Okay, kind of fictional. Artist and author Fumiyo Kouno actually based her story on the experiences of several real survivors—the protagonist is a lovable young girl who survived the bomb ten years earlier. I don’t want to give away too much, but the manga was a huge hit in Japan and became the basis for a live action feature and an award-winning Internet radio show. The English translation is available from Last Gasp. Recommended to anyone who’s interested in reading about the aftermath of the atomic bomb in a very human way.
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms by Fumiyo Kouno = 4.5/5 stars
One of my favorite manga growing up was Hana Yori Dango, or Boys Over Flowers. It’s an unconventional shojo series by Yoko Kamio. The heroine is a girl named Tsukushi Makino—she’s neither rich nor pretty, but her parents decide to dig into their savings and send her to a snobby private school. There, Tsukushi has multiple run-ins with the Flower 4—four handsome, wealthy, extremely cocky guys who dominate the school’s social life. My girl friends and I loved the story so much that four of us called ourselves the Flower 4 all throughout high school. Stupid, I know.
In the movie—which came out in theaters last month—Tsukushi and the leader of the F4, Tsukasa Domyoji, are about to get married but get sent on a transnational adventure in search of a missing tiara. I watched it on the airplane over to Tokyo (like JAL, ANA has great food and a highly maneuvrable entertainment system). I missed the entire TV series so was super curious to see how they portrayed my favorite manga with real humans. The verdict? It was okay. I was slightly disappointed by the random plot and the nonsensical turns it took (if they’re in a rush to get to Vegas, why are they driving idly through the desert and not flying into Las Vegas airport??), but still, I was entertained and I didn’t fall asleep. That says a lot, because I usually fall asleep during movies.