Illustrator Yuko Shimizu’s new book = perfect for your artsy coffee table

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Yuko Shimizu is a super-talented illustrator who lives in NYC. Her self-titled monograph came out about a month ago, and is full of provocative surrealistic comic art drawn first with traditional calligraphy brushes, overlaid with digital color and background to look like graphic prints. Super cool. I first met Yuko when I was working on the Studio360 piece about women artists in Japan. She told me that she had always drawn erotic women, but didn’t realize she was a feminist until she came to the US for art school and her teachers asked her to analyze her own art for the first time. (The Western tendency to analyze is different from Japan, where it’s more common to simply appreciate the aesthetic value of a piece.)

Get it here!

Haruki Murakami’s earthquake speech in Spain

Haruki Murakami gave a lovely speech when he received the Cataluña International Prize in June.

In Japanese, we have the word “mujō (無常)”. It means that everything is ephemeral. Everything born into this world changes, and will ultimately disappear. There is nothing that can be considered eternal or immutable. This view of the world was derived from Buddhism, but the idea of “mujo” was burned into the spirit of Japanese people beyond the strictly religious context, taking root in the common ethnic consciousness from ancient times.

The idea that all things are transient is an expression of resignation. We believe that it serves no purpose to go against nature. On the contrary, Japanese people have found positive expressions of beauty in this resignation.

If we think about nature, for example, we cherish the cherry blossoms of spring, the fireflies of summer and the red leaves of autumn. For us, it is natural to observe them passionately, collectively and as a tradition. It can be difficult to find a hotel room near the best known sites of cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves in their respective seasons, as such places are invariably milling with visitors.

Why is this so?

The answer may be found in the fact that cherry blossoms, fireflies and red leaves all lose their beauty within a very short space of time. We travel from afar to witness this glorious moment. And we are somehow relieved to confirm that they are not merely beautiful, but are already beginning to fall to the ground, to lose their small lights or their vivid beauty. We find peace of mind in the fact that the peak of beauty has been reached and is already starting to fade.

Full text translated into English is here.

(Thanks, Jason!)

Manga depicts Jesus and Buddha as roommates in present-day Tokyo


I was just clued into a manga series called 聖☆おにいさん, or Saint Young Men. It’s about two young men, Jesus and Buddha — yes, as in the two very famous spiritual leaders from the Western and Eastern traditions. They’ve just returned from a vacation in the underworld and are living together as roommates in the Tachikawa suburb of Tokyo. The stories are penned by 28-year old Hikaru Nakamura, and chronicle the duo’s adventures as they navigate their way through the modern world. Buddha is thrifty and very detail-oriented; Jesus is a lavish spender. Despite their differences, the two are best friends. Amazing.

Tonoharu, a Lost in Translation-esque manga (+ Pink Lady UFO video!)

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There’s an interesting review and discussion over at Boing Boing about Tonoharu, a manga about an American who gets a job teaching English in a small Japanese town. Reviewers have likened it to Lost in Translation, and there’s a somewhat heated discussion about how racist that movie is in the comments section. Take a peek if you’re interested or want to contribute your two cents!

I love that Mark embedded a video of the famous Pink Lady song UFO kind of as an afterthought. Classic 70s tune written by a good family friend of mine.

via Boing Boing (Thanks, Lisa G!)

Hilarious Harry Potter fangirl revisited: “touch ok?”

In July of last year I posted one of my favorite strangest YouTube videos of all time — Japan’s biggest Harry Potter fangirl and her encounter with actors Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe, aka Ron and Harry, at Hogwarts. Those clips in their entirety have since been removed from the interwebs because of licensing blah blah, but I found these snippets on YouTube of the crux of each, where she asks “touch ok?” and starts petting the two of them on the face. Love how she sniffs her finger after petting Ron’s eyelashes!

How to keep pigeons away from your window

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I recently discovered a pigeon nest near my bedroom window. I got rid of the nest, but the problem is that I don’t really know how to keep them from coming back. I did write an entry in my book about how to keep pigeons from landing on your plants, but I’m not sure if this tip will be useful in my situation. If anyone has any other ideas, please let me know! I’m planning to hit up the hardware store this afternoon.

Yasuko Namba, once the oldest woman to climb Everest

Image.axd While I was in Nepal, I read an incredible book by climber/journalist Jon Krakauer called Into Thin Air. It chronicles the events of an infamous Everest expedition in 1996 that left half a dozen people dead shortly after reaching the summit. Super sad, super amazing adventure story. One of the climbers who died was a 47-year old petite Japanese woman named Yasuko Namba. She was a graduate of Waseda University and worked on the business side of FedEx in Japan, but her real passion was climbing. That spring, she left her husband behind and took off to climb Everest on the same expedition with Krakauer, led by a famous guide who also died on the mountain.

Did you know that the first two women in the world to successfully climb the Seven Summits were both Japanese? The first was Junko Tabei, who climbed Everest with an all-female expedition sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun and Nihon Television. She passed out unconscious for several minutes before arriving at the top of Everest in 1975. Tabei is still alive today; she doesn’t climb as much as she used to, but she’s the head of the Himalayan Adventure Trust of Japan.

Namba was the second woman to complete this feat, but she didn’t make it back alive. In fact, she died lost and alone in a freezing cold blizzard. Her death is written about in a lot of detail in Into Thin Air. She obviously had an amazing spirit and an incredible amount of guts. I’m sure everyone who ascends Everest does so knowing that they may not make it down alive. Still, I finished the book wishing someone had made a better effort to save her.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer

Tokyo Vice, a book about an American journalist on the yakuza hit list

Tokyo_vice I just finished reading Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan. It’s a new book written by a guy named Jake Adelstein. If you haven’t seen his byline, it’s probably because he spent over a decade as a reporter for the Yomiuri Shimbun — the Japanese version, that is. The book kicks off with funny stories of how Adelstein came to Japan to study Buddhism but ended up studying his ass off to pass the Japanese language reporter exam. Miraculously, he gets accepted and is thrown into detective-like work on the police and crime beats in the Tokyo area. Through anecdotes of his own mishaps as the only foreigner among all his Japanese colleagues and sources, we get some fun insights on Japanese culture. But the book also takes us deep into the world of Japanese crime beat reporting, illuminating the relationships among the police force and the yakuza and the media. It’s interesting — you hear bits and pieces of this stuff on the news and in academic papers, but it’s much more fun to read a first person account of someone who was really there. Towards the end, the book takes on a much scarier tone as Adelstein gets wrapped up in some serious yakuza conspiracies — I won’t go into detail here, but the threats that Adelstein faces are real and present, and he doesn’t sleep well at night.

I actually had the pleasure of meeting Adelstein yesterday; we and Hiroko Tabuchi of the New York Times hung out over Peking Duck and drinks in Roppongi. He is as fun and crazy as he appears to be in the book, which is a good thing. I should also mention that the writing is superb — I start reading a lot of books about Japan written by non-Japanese people, but rarely do I finish them out of anything other than a sense of obligation. This one, though, had me hooked to the end.

Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan by Jake Adelstein = 5/5

TokyoMango’s holiday gift guide (books!)

If you’re a last-minute holiday gift shopper like me and you’re looking for something to get for your favorite/least favorite niece/cousin/uncle/sibling… why not get them a decent Japan book? Here are some recommendations:

The history geek…
John Dower’s Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II is a crucial volume in understanding US-Japan relations in the post-WW2 era. It’s also a fun read even if you’re not a history geek.

The aspiring novelist…
Anything by Haruki Murakami is always a delight, and if you haven’t read his stuff, you should do so, like, right now. One of my favorites was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle; I also really enjoyed Kafka on the Shore and South of the Border, West of the Sun.

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Urawaza is a great holiday gift! Buy it.

0811862151_normIt’s been a while since I pimped my book Urawaza on TokyoMango, but I really think you should buy it for someone — your mom, your brother, your friend, a White Elephant party — for the holidays. It’s green and red, colors reminiscent of Christmas Trees and Santa hats, it’s not heavy reading, you’ll learn lots of cool quirky tricks, and it’s 30% off on Amazon and at Chronicle Books’ web site with the discount code Family — which brings the grand total cost to about $10. Totally affordable holiday fun!

Buy Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan

New magazine for people living with facial scars

20091114p2a00m0na016000p_size5A new magazine aimed towards people with physical disfigurations will launch next spring. It’s called My Face, and it’s the pet project of a self esteem support group called MFMS, or My Face My Style. The magazine will include interviews, medical information, and advice on how to fight discrimination at work and at school for the estimated one million people in Japan who suffer from facial injuries or deformities. These people aren’t legally considered as physically handicapped, so there’s little support. The founder, 42-year old Hiroko Togawa, told Mainichi:

You never know when something like this can happen, such as those of us who have been involved in an accident. I hope the magazine will help take the worry out of finding hospitals and dealing with symptoms.


How to recreate a scene from Zelda in your lunchbox

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There’s a wonderful cookbook in bookstores & on Amazon now called Face Food:The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes. It’s a bento book that teaches you how to make delicious, nutritious meals that resemble your favorite anime, video game, or zoo animal. The art is simply amazing — here are Astro Boy and Zelda.


Face Food:The Visual Creativity of Japanese Bento Boxes by Christopher Salyers

More book reviews & recommendations on TokyoMango

Otaku Encyclopedia, a book that teaches you everything about otaku culture

Picture 1Great news for those of you who have always wanted to know everything there is to ever know about the otaku world! A new book called The Otaku Encyclopedia: An Insider’s Guide to the Subculture of Cool Japan, written by Patrick Galbraith, is now available on Amazon. I have a copy, and was impressed by the thoroughness of his research &mdash he is doing his PhD at Todai, after all. Ever wonder what “moe” really means? Want to know more about Shokotan, itasha, or maid cafes? It’s all here.

The super awesome Fred Schodt wrote the foreword.

The Otaku Encyclopedia by Patrick Galbraith

Bento Love: how to cook Japanese food that fits into a lunch box

Picture 1When I was in elementary school, I was always jealous of the kids who had them &mdash all I wanted in my packed lunch was a sandwich, a fruit roll-up and a juice box in a brown paper bag. Later I found out that the kids who had brown paper bags wished they had the bento box in a cloth purse that my mom always made for me, even though it made me a little embarrassed that my mom cared so much about what I ate. Funny.

But if you’re the PB&J type and are looking for an alternative for lunches, a new book called Easy Japanese Cooking: Bento Love might help you. In it, there are dozens of easy delicious Japanese cooking recipes that can fit right into a standard, rectangular bento box. Some examples: Salt-Grilled Chicken Steak Bento, the two-tiered Spicy Miso Pork Stir-Fry Bento, Stir-Fried Spaghetti Bento. Even if you don’t end up packing it as a lunch, it’s a great resource for simple Japanese meals.

Easy Japanese Cooking: Bento Love by Kentaro Kobayashi

Related stories:
Gourmet bento for dogs now sold at a highway stop near you
Review: Japantown bento
Froggy lunch wins top spot at award show

Barefoot Gen, a shocking manga about the atomic bomb

BarefootGenOn my nightstand right now: Barefoot Gen, Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima. It’s a manga that is famous in Japan for being heart-wrenchingly sad and true. In it, author Keiji Nakazawa tells the story of Gen, a boy who survived the atomic bomb. I am still only halfway through the first volume, and the bomb has not dropped yet, but it’s about to. Even the author’s foreword is a total tear-jerker &mdash he tells the story of how he survived the bomb with his mom, who was pregnant and had to watch her husband and other child burn to death because she didn’t have the strength to remove the debris that was burying them.

Barefoot Gen was actually one of the first manga to ever be published in English &mdash a group of volunteers who called themselves Project Gen took it upon themselves to translate several volumes (there are ten total) in the 70s. Currently, there are eight volumes available in English through Last Gasp. I am looking forward to reading all of them because this is one of those manga that I never read as a kid, but have always wanted to.

Barefoot Gen by Keiji Nakazawa

Urawaza at my neighborhood travel store


I was at the lovely Get Lost travel bookstore on Market Street in San Francisco just now looking at travel books, and was pleasantly surprised by Urawaza being displayed right by the cash register. By the way, if you’ve been reading this blog for awhile and you still don’t own the book, you should maybe get a copy. It’s a great time suck if you need an easy read on a beach vacation.

Urawaza, my Japanese tips and tricks book, on Amazon