Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jungle Japan Video Attack Show

It's a jungle out there! And even with all the city and cement, endless wires and shoes and silver sparkling towers reaching for the sky, animals have still found ways to survive and speckle the landscapes of japan. Don't worry, I had them sign internet release forms.
Here's some unusually brave pidgeys and pigeottos in Hiroshima.
Animals must be brave here, and always ready for aCRAZY BEETLE-ANT SHOWDOWN at the gold castle in Kyoto!
Some of the onlookers were interesting too, they had quite unique fashion sense.

This blue-tailed skink in Kyoto was sad that he lost the bet when the ants won, he's going home.
The crows in Kyoto clearly have other plans...
What could they be thinking?
Well, in any case this egret/crane(?) wants nothing to do with it,
"Just a slow, scenic day at the river thankyouverymuch!" he told me.
So this is what those crows were after!! DINNER!
However snake meat can be very costly here,
So it's time for EPIC BATTLE #2, Crow VS Snake!
I was concerned when I saw one crow had been bitten,
as he soon struggled while flying to the next tree.
Crow-san mourns his fallen friend dramatically
in the rain, giving us an ominous image in the graveyards of Tokyo.
The battle between snake and crow may not be over for him!
But unfortunately this post is..


Shot, written, edited and recorded in two days between Kyoto & Tokyo.

Anti [18aC] - "Vague&Universal" from 18andCounting on Vimeo.



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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Kyoto wunderponder

Kyoto is the place to sit around and talk about what you are seeing, what you've just eaten and what it might be, and all that. Here we all do just that in front of Kyomizudera

Otherwise, it is a good, clear night to what around town. You might turn into a Japanese Ultraman creature if you do, which isn't a half-bad thing! Kyoto Tower looming in the background.

Monday, June 15, 2009

a visit to Hiroshima

Our third full day in Japan had us taking a Hikari "bullet train" ride to Hiroshima to visit its Peace Memorial Museum. Within the museum itself is both documentation, artfacts, personal stories, and a number of dioramic scenes, including a version of the famous "Atomic Bomb Dome" - one of the few structures near the original detonation site that still remains in the city and is now preserved (not far from the museum itself) as a testimony to the terrible events of that day.

Visiting Hiroshima now it'd be hard to now what happened given all its tall buildings, busy streets, (and of course famous okonomiyaki). That said, I hope you all feel the visit helped tie together the stories we read Nakazawa's Barefoot Gen and Hersey's Hiroshima, while at the same time raising a host of new questions as well - not only about the event or contested understandings of history, but also about the role museums play as cultural institutions of "meaning-making" that we collectively participate in, tourist and students alike.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chicago in Osaka (embracing art)

Landing in a place that is 14 hours different in time where you came from means dealing with a little tiredness - if not from jet lag, then at least from sitting in one position for 10 hours at 37,000 feet.

Hiroko-san likes the option of easing us all into Japan with just a bit of familiarity: the Namba Art Walk in Osaka, where your sister-city proudly displays ceramic-transfer replicas of some of the Art Institute of Chicago's works.

Josh took full advantage of the almost indestructible replicas and eerie visual fidelity by doing what you never could do at the Art Institute (without getting arrested and betraying the museum): get up close and just hug a work of art, in this case Frederick Hassam's Little Pond, Appledore.

Ah, now that is art appreciation....

Arrival in Osaka, 6/11/09

Our Japan study trip officially began on June 9th, when the instructors and a slew of students arrived at the airport, excited to begin their journey to explore Japanese culture firsthand. Unfortunately the weather wasn't on our side: a two-hour delay on the Chicago end turned into a disappointing overnight layover in San Francisco for half the group. The other half, which had taken other flights, got things started with a trip to the Osaka Castle and Museum led by our trip coordinator Hiroko Saito. Luckily, the Bay Area wasn't the worst place to be stuck. Once we'd sorted out hotel arrangements we made the most of our unexpected detour, and soon we were back in the air, headed for Osaka.

After a good night's sleep, the whole group reunited and caught the train to the small town of Takarazuka to check out the museum dedicated to Osamu Tezuka, the prolific "godfather of manga".

After that, we hit the Namba art walk, and then on to the big hair, flashing lights, and amazing spectacle of technology and excess that is Osaka's famous Shinsaibashi area. It's really impossible to do the place justice in photos.

Soon we'll be off to Hiroshima to reflect on the impact of war and atomic power here, and tomorrow Kyoto, where we'll see an entirely different side of Japan. Until then....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

For all of you on Livejournal...

Greetings from Osaka!
Our hotel does indeed have internets.

I know this is a little late in the coming, but for all of you on livejournal, I syndicated this blog feed for easy reading on your friends list.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Downward Spiral

The image that they used in the article. The web address can be located here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/02/02/AR2008020200913.html?referrer=digg

So the article for which I am posting about is out of The Washington Post. The article’s name is For Japan, a Long, Slow Slide, and it refers to Japans slow economic spiral downward. To summerize this article talks about how even though currently Japan holds second in terms of economy, it slowly is falling in a decline due to multiple reasons, including a decreasing population. The predictions put Japan’s population decline by the year 2050 in direct connection to it’s zero economic growth. This prediction is based on the prediction that by that time seventy percent of the labor force will no longer exist. Something that is brought up that I believe is most relevant to our studies is the fact that the higher ups in Japan refuse to believe that they are in a state of decline. This is not completely due to a lack of work on the Japanese part as it is the development of other Asian nations, such as China. In a quote from Oki Matsumoto “The current leadership of Japan came of age during the incredible success after World War II. They think that what worked then will work forever.”

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Herbivore Men Fotw

Ok so it seems there is a new thing going on in Japan culture wise, or there is something old just given an actual name. But essential 'herbivore men' are 20-30 year olds in Japan who are more concerned with their outward appearance more than finding girlfriends. The name comes from their lack of interest in 'flesh' They eat very little and have little interest in finding jobs. I'm not sure if this is an actual 'choice' by the herbivore men or an open acceptance of their laziness.

The herbivore men are interested in something other than their looks however- their feelings. So ladies if your missing a man in your life who is disconnected with his emotional side maybe you should make friends with a nice herbivore man. CNN states that they trace this trend to the habits of the herbivore's parents-the babyboomers. The babyboomer generating was a very goal oriented generation both professionally and romantically. Perhaps this trait somehow skipped a generation. However observing hard working parents should make for a pretty productive child I think. However, I suppose the the hardworking parent lifestyle could be a double-edged sword. There definitely seems to be a lacking of healthy goal oriented work ethic even here in this country amongst 20-30 somethings. Perhaps this is just because they're 20-30 somethings, but I always thought one would be anxious to lay the groundwork on top of which one would build their life. Anyways, the herbivore men definitely seem like they are possessing a number top saic qualities. over and out

Thursday, June 4, 2009

exploring why Hello Kitty is mass hypnotism

One of the most iconic fads to come from Japan is Hello Kitty. As a self-proclaimed Hello Kitty lover, I wonder what it is exactly that makes Hello Kitty so addictive. The round, open, and vacant face never changes, and a product is immediately made more appealing by its inclusion. Sanrio, the manufactorer of HK, has branded enough products that a person could decorate an entire house in Hello Kitty. Here in America, I've seen a sewing machine and electric guitar. If it has HK on it, I want it. I'm a person possessed by a stupid little circle with a few dots for eyes.

I suppose it is akin to having a favorite color or animal that a child likes having on her lunchbox, but the appeal also extends to women my age and older. Hello Kitty is a part of the kawaii culture. Perhaps Japanese females (and, increasingly, females here in America) feel the need to regress into childhood sensibilities because they also bring the associated comfort of childhood. Maybe the face also appeals to women because of maternal instinct-programmed to find a round, babyish shape appealing? Whenever anything is made HK style, it's almost always accompanied by a sugary-sweet female aesthetic. If a woman or a girl happens to like the particular style of an object, the HK face might just be the cherry on top of the cake.

Yet how does that explain combinations such as this?

I found this on a website called "Hello Kitty Hell," run by a guy married to a HK lover. They also have HK condoms, wrapped up as cutely as a pack of lolipops. Stuff like this has never made it to America, and with good reason. It crossed the realm from cute into creepy. Other examples of the extent of the HK and its penetration into Japanese culture is:
face masks for the flu
toilet paper dispenser
wedding dress
and of course, although i've only mentioned girls and women, I don't want to be sexist.

...and I can't wait to find this stuff in Japan.

If anyone gets a chance to head over the the Art Institute prior to their departure to Japan, they might be pleasantly surprised with the current prints up in Gallery 107. They are all based on famous women poets, mainly Ono no Komachi and Murasaki Shikibu.
Or, if you don't get a chance, you can check out the whole gallery online.

Ono no Komachi's Poetry spoke often of loneliness and broke hearts. She was very beautiful and was courted by many men. She grew old and lost her beauty causing her to go into exile to keep anyone from seeing her craggy old form. Komachi is often portrayed in Noh and Kabuki.

Murasaki Shikibu is famous for her poetry, diary, and The Tales of Genji, that she wrote. Many of the woodcuts as images of her in repose prior to writing Genji.

This image is a woodcut of two women in a parody of Ono no Komachi. The kimono they are wearing is reminiscent of those that Komachi wore.


I've been looking for some new Japanese music that I actually like for sometime now and have been rather unsuccessful. However today I stumbled upon Niseenenmodai!
This group consists of three young ladies Himeno Sayaka (drums), Zaikawa Yuri (bass) and Takada Masako (guitar) from Tokyo.

I think that what is in the popular, and even unpopular, media says a lot about a culture. Nisennenmodai isn't what I would say 'popular' in Japan. Not from what I've seen thus far, I just found them like 2 hours ago) But this is defintely the beginning of a furter music exploration. Japan, I know you have more than just DJ Krush! Where ever all the good music is i will find it!

I'm going to add there music to the blog tools so we (i) can rock own while we (i) read all the new posts. You can check out some of their tunes HERE.


Marriage in Japan (Cartoons, Bras, and Traditions) (by Michael C.)

Japanese Man Petition to Wed Manga Cartoon

Original Story News.com.au October 30 2008

A Japanese man Taichi Takashita got hundreds of people (aiming for a million) to sign a petition to present to the government to establish a law allowing humans to marry cartoons stating that he feels more comfortable in a 2 dimensional world.

"For a long time I have only been able to fall in love with two-dimensional people and currently I have someone I really love," one person wrote.

Currently, Japan permits marriage between human men and women, butgives no legal recognition to same-sex relationships.

"During the age of aristocracy, Muko-iri was the common marriage system in Japan. A bridegroom would nightly visit his bride at her home. Only after the birth of a child or the loss of his parents would be the bride be accepted as the wife in the man's home."

"With the rise of "Bushi" warriors, the system of women marrying into men's families called Yome-iri was gradually adopted and widely accepted in the 14th century and on. Under the feudal system marriages were often used as political and diplomatic approaches to maintaining peace and unity among feudal lords."

"Marriages came to be arranged by and for families and the role of "Nakodo" go-between became very important in Japan. Now this Yome-iri system is quite common in Japan and you can find the traditional procedure in the contemporary marriage."


The Japanese Marriage Bra!!!

The garment's described objective is to allow marriage-minded women to essentially wear their ambitions, with a chest-mounted countdown cloc , pen and seal holster (for signing marriage contracts), and a ring receptacle that beeps "The Wedding March" when filled.

The wedding bra, and the manga cartoon are both obviously just stunts to gain media attention, but hey, don't we all love a good stunt?

As far as this business of prearranged marriages go, I think people should have the right to chose. In fact, from a scientific standpoint, the right to natural selection maintains the integrity of a species by allowing the female to chose the most suitable mate based on key indicators that demonstrate a higher chance of survival. The brightness of an animals colors are a good indicator of his health. If he wins a fight, he's obviously stronger etc ... In fact, if there is little or no choice, as in the case of incest, undesirable traits start to develop in the species. And i'm pretty sure this is the case with royalty (Queen Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert) keeping the bloodline clean by marrying cousins, and ending up creating kings and queens with mental problems.

I think we are all essentially searcing for mr./ mrs. right, and end up settling for mr./ mrs. right now... but hey...

Life is short. Have fun.

Japan envoy apologizes to aging Bataan victims

After much readings on such characters as Henry's Hiroshima and Honda, I have come to think of how horrible war is and all the horrible crimes that happen during war that people never really hear of or think of, or at times don't even care about. I found this article about a recent apology to the survivors of the Bataan Death March during WWII.

Japan's ambassador offered a personal apology to survivors of the notorious Bataan Death March in World War II as they met for the last time, a veterans support group said.

Thousands of US and Filipino prisoners of war are believed to have died when Japanese soldiers forced them in 1942 to trudge some 100 kilometers (60 miles) through tropical heat with little food or water.

The surrendering troops suffered casual beheadings and bayonet stabbings inflicted by the victorious forces, in what was ruled as a war crime after Imperial Japan's surrender.

Japan's ambassador to Washington, Ichiro Fujisaki, made a surprise visit to personally apologize to Bataan Death March survivors who gathered in San Antonio, Texas for what they expect to be their last reunion.

"We extend a heartfelt apology for our country having caused tremendous damage and suffering to many people," Fujisaki told them, according to the US Army Freedom Team Salute, which supports veterans.

The Japanese embassy in Washington said it did not have a transcript of Fujisaki's remarks during the ceremony on Saturday.

Seventy-three veterans turned out for the reunion, some of them bedridden, he veteran support group said in a statement.

US military officials also flew from Washington to Texas to present commendations to the veterans.

Japan, transformed after World War II into an officially pacifist US ally, has repeatedly apologized for wartime abuses, but the ambassador's trip to Texas was an unusually personal touch.

Japanese leaders when discussing the war generally repeat a landmark statement of apology approved by the cabinet in 1995 on the 50th anniversary of Emperor Hirohito's surrender.

Wartime issues -- which long haunted Japan's relations with its neighbors -- have occasionally creeped into Tokyo's alliance with Washington as well. In 2007, lawmakers demanded a new apology for Japan's use of wartime sex slaves.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

plug-in cars, finally

Toyota recently announced that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (or PHEVs) would be available globally for lease by Wednesday.

Announced in 07, the prototypes were able to operate for about a distance of 7 miles on a lithium ion battery, and could recharge within a period of three to four hours from a 110 volt outlet. The motor generated about 50kW of power, enabling the car to operate up to 62 mph solely on electric power (beating their current models which kick the gas in at 25 mph).

The vehicle could operate in two modes, EV, and hybrid (like the current line). Popular Mechanics says:

"In EV mode the vehicle can run on electric power longer and with a more aggressive throttle input than in the hybrid mode. With an eye on the energy flow meter (basically a reprogrammed and updated version of what’s in the Prius now) we were able to accelerate up to approximately 50 mph and keep the car in electric mode all the way around the track. Like many owners do in the current Prius, we found ourselves playing the efficiency game of trying to keep the car in electric mode as long as possible. After two back-to-back laps, the monitor said we still had around 6 kilometers of battery life remaining. The most impressive part of the system was that it can take 1/4 to 1/2 throttle without engaging the gasoline engine. And that means for short 3 to 4 mile commutes, one could conceivably get to work and return home solely on electric power. The hybrid mode works much like the current car, engaging the internal combustion engine much sooner. This mode, it is presumed will be most applicable to long trips, when charging the battery isn’t an option. "

Toyota has stated that it is its goal to sell 1 million hybrid vehicles per year, starting next decade.

In the 19th century, steam power and the internal combustion engine were the technological luxuries of their time, and in the 20th century they were overthrown by electricity. Whether your alignments are environmental, technological, or what have you, the question of efficiency is one that affects all of us - technology has progressed at an exponential rate, why are we still allowing ourselves to be crippled by expensive, nearly 200 year-old technology?

via: here and here

super milk

Kind of old news, but in October of 2008, Nakazawa foods announced that they were marketing a new kind of milk: stress-relieving milk.

The product is targeted at "adults who live in a stressful society," and is currently priced at around 43 USD a 1-quart bottle.
The active ingredient of course, is melatonin, a natural hormone produced in most animals that regulates sleep cycles. The cows are said to be milked just before sunrise, as their production of the said hormone is highest at this time. The milk is bottled within 6 hours of extraction, and contains three to four times the amount of melatonin found in normal milk.

It's no surprise that a country that has practiced such strict farming techniques in order to deliver higher standards of beef would produce such a product, but at 43 dollars a bottle (roughly 30 times the tokyo area standard), one might just be better off heading down to the health store and mixing your own.

via this

Kenji the Robot

In other robot apocalypse news, back in March  Toshiba Akimu Robotic Research Institute was working on their latest project.  A third generation humanoid robot named Kenji, who's main goal is to emulate human emotions including love.  A flaw in its programming has turned the project for the worst. 

“Initially, we were thrilled to see a bit of our soul come alive in this so called ‘machine,’” said Dr. Akito Takahashi, the principal investigator on the project. “This was really the final step for us in one of the fundamentals of the singularity.”

"Kenji was part of an experiment involving several robots loaded with custom software designed to let them react emotionally to external stimuli. After some limited environmental conditioning, Kenji first demonstrated love by bonding with a a stuffed doll in his enclosure, which he would embrace for hours at a time. He would then make simple, but insistent, inquiries about the doll if it were out of sight. Researchers attributed this behavior to his programmed qualities of devotion and empathy and called the experiment a success."

And as if coming straight out of sci-fi film the experiments turned for the worst.

"The trouble all started when a young female intern began to spend several hours each day with Kenji, testing his systems and loading new software routines. When it came time to leave one evening, however, Kenji refused to let her out of his lab enclosure and used his bulky mechanical body to block her exit and hug her repeatedly. The intern was only able to escape after she had frantically phoned two senior staff members to come and temporarily de-activate Kenji."

And if that didn't make you wet your trousers this will "Ever since that incident, each time Kenji is re-activated, he instantaneously bonds with the first technician to meet his gaze and rushes to embrace them with his two 100kg hydraulic arms. It doesn’t help that Kenji uses only pre-recorded dog and cat noises to communicate and is able to vocalize his love through a 20 watt speaker in his chest."

Since then Kenji has now deactivated but Dr. Takahashi is optimistic that he will one day succeed where Kenji had failed. 

“This is only a minor setback. I have full faith that we will one day live side by side with, and eventually love and be loved by, robots,”

Here's another Toshiba robot, don't be fooled by its cuteness

More on the Harajuku Girls

So, someone has already posted a blog with a picture of some Harajuku gals. I know there are a few people on the trip who are obsessed with the Harajuku culture and know more way more than I do on the subject! Nonetheless, I think it's worthwhile to post another blog on the subject because Harajuku fashion is fabulous.

As described on the Wiki: "Harajuku (原宿 "meadow lodging") is the common name for the area around Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line in the Shibuya ward of Tokyo, Japan. Harajuku is known for the patrons that visit the area every Sunday. Every Sunday, many young people dress in a variety of styles that include gothic lolita, visual kei, and cosplay, among others and spend the day in Harajuku socializing. The fashion styles of these young people frequently vary and are rarely conformist to one particular style and are usually a mesh of many. Most young people gather on Jingu Bridge, which is a pedestrian bridge that connects Harajuku to the neighboring Meiji Shrine Area. However, Harajuku is not just known for its Sunday visitors. It is also a well-respected fashion capital of the world renowned for its unique street fashion. Harajuku street style is promoted in Japanese and international publications such as Kera, Tune, Gothic & Lolita Bible and Fruits."

So, Harajuku is an acutal place, and the gals that hang out there are named after it. My Lonely Planet guidebook has this to say about them:
"It's an organic rather than organised group, a constantly evolving conglomeration of mostly teenage girls, often those who are bullied in school. By inhabiting alter egos, they find freedom and acceptance in subcultures whose 'official' garb is wildly creative."

I laughed when I read that- a little blunt, isn't it? The guidebook also warns:
"Weekends draw the cosplay-zoku (costume-play gang) from the suburbs of Tokyo to Jingu-bashi, the bridge linking Meiji-jingu with Omote-sando- which, in turn, draw hordes of tourist-paparazzi excidedly snapping away as the girls pose, sulk and preen resplendent in all their crazy finery."
Having found myself in many a scene growing up this of course makes me wonder if there are some "underground" Harajuku spots where everyone complains about how the kids on the bridge are posers :P Even so, I would love to see them.

Ms. Gwen Stefani (a decidedly guilty pleasure of mine) is also responsible for another disambiguation of the word "Harajuku". She hired her "Harajuku girls" as backup dancers in 2004 for "Love. Angel. Music. Baby." After appearring in numerous music videos for the album they became Ms. Stefani's entourage of sorts. Stefani appeared on Friday Night with Jonathon Ross and introduced the girls as her "imaginary friends." Amusing!

However, not everyone gets a kick out of the girls. Again from the Wiki: "In an interview in the January/February 2006 edition of Blender magazine, American comedian Margaret Cho calls Stefani's Harajuku Girls a "minstrel show" that reinforces ethnic stereotypes of Asian women. Writer Mihi Ahn said of Stefani's Harajuku Girls: "Stefani has taken the idea of Japanese street fashion and turned these women into modern-day geisha"."

Nakasone disagreed with Cho's accusation and responded that Stefani was inspired by the Japanese fashion culture and that she felt honored to have been in the group.

Who knows? Cho is, after all, criticizing a group of backup dancers who draw from a subculture in Japan that ultimately draws on the sexist and confining styles of the Victorian era and a novel about a 12 year old girl who is molested by her step father. But, whatever the inspiration, the result is certainly interesting.