Here’s a question for the more culinarily-inclined of you out there. Are you feeling hungry right now? Really hungry? So hungry you could eat an elephant? Try this out for size…
3. Mega Sushi Roll
Japan is well-known for its indulgence in ‘micro-cuisine’. Given the Japanese fascination for all things tiny, it is perhaps not surprising that the Japanese eat small too – from the lunchtime staple of the bento [弁当] boxed lunch to the dizzyingly diverse range of sushi dishes being produced in restaurants all over the world (and, so it seems, on every street in Greater London).
As the world has been watching Japan this week I thought it fitting to share another Japanese folk tale. This is for everyone who is in Japan or who is waiting for news about friends and loved ones. Spring is on its way. The wonderful symbol of Japan, the sakura, will soon blossom again. Our prayers are with you.
There once was an old man and his wife who lived in a modest house in a small village. The old couple were very kind to all they met. Unfortunately, they lived next door to another man and his wife who were mean and unfriendly. The kind old couple owned a pure white dog named Shiro, and loved him with all their hearts. However, their neighbours hated dogs and threw stones at Shiro whenever the poor dog came too far into their garden.
“Remarkably enough, I know people must think it was a really horrific experience – it’s so much easier to take any form of punishment if you believe you actually deserve it, and I did.
It wasn’t a weekend break, put it that way. I didn’t feel sorry for myself. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this place is absolutely filthy,’ because it was Pentonville. I just thought, you get your head down.”
Singer George Michael, speaking about his prison sentence last September for a drug-fuelled crash into the front of a photo shop in London
Today’s folk tale comes from Indonesia. Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populated country and is now a republic. However, a thousand years ago the islands were split up into many small kingdoms, each ruled by a different king. This story comes from that time and finds its origins upon the largest island of Java.
There was once a king who had two daughters. To his dismay he had no son; and so, when he grew older, he knew he must pass on rule of the kingdom to one of his daughters. Purba Rarang, the eldest, was shrewd and ambitious, but unpopular. Purba Sari, the younger, was kind, fair and generous, and her beauty had won the hearts of the people. So the old king appointed Purba Sari as his heir and passed away in peace, knowing he had made a good choice.
Everyone was pleased with their new queen. Everyone, that is, aside from her elder sister Purba Rarang. She felt cheated. As she was the elder, she thought, the throne should have been hers. She became increasingly jealous of her sister and plotted against her.
Think about the ancient civilisations of Asia, and if you’re anything like me, it won’t be long before you begin conjuring up mental pictures of beautiful men and women dressed in fabulously rich and decadent clothing; the iconic Japanese kimono [着物], the elegant Chinese cheongsam or qipao [旗袍] or perhaps even the Korean hanbok [한복]. The fabrics used to make these garments have long been popular trade commodities between the east and west – especially silk, which has been developed in China since around 3500 BC – and intricately decorated, through printing, dyeing, weaving and embroidery.
Silk brocade remains a popular Chinese export even today and its history goes back to at least the third century AD. Often mistaken for tapestry or embroidered fabric, brocade is in fact woven and is traditionally used for clothing, bedspreads, furniture and many other household items. The fabulous patterns and scenes depicted on brocade were often so intricate and beautiful that they appealed to the belief they were real…
It’s not often that you will find a song which will take your breath away. I discovered this one last year, and many listens later it hasn’t lost the tender beauty or the power it held over me the first time I heard it.
Unbelievingly, I first discovered Xǐ huan [喜欢] ‘Like’ as a free download. It’s by Zhāng Xuán [张悬], most commonly known as Deserts Xuan or Chang, a Taiwanese singer who is thought to be one of the leading voices of contemporary alternative Chinese music. It’s from her second album, released in 2007 and entitled, Qīn ài de…wǒ huán bù zhī dào [親愛的…我還不知道], ‘Dear…I Don’t Know Yet’.
A long-time independent musician and composer, Chang began writing songs barely into her teens. She was performing her own music on stage by the age of 16 and at 19, she had written over 100 pieces of music. She chose the stage name ‘Deserts’ because it was “mysterious and suggests something hanging in limbo”; like her personality.
Is it just me, or are we far too easily charmed by silly gimmicks, toys and novelty products?
The other day I discovered a shop in Newcastle city centre which sells (vastly overpriced) items, of which the greatest value to the world could be described as ‘cute factor’; like the Matryoshka Stacked Measuring Spoons or the Mobile Pocket IQ Test, or perhaps the Spinning Petals Flower Fan Which In Fact Doesn’t Cool You Down At All.
Nevertheless, the very fact I stayed inside the shop long enough to gawk at these things persuaded me to dedicate the first of a series of posts to the bizarre novelties which companies come up with to part us with our cash.
There are many stories out there about the faithfulness of dogs. You might have heard one or two of these; maybe you are familiar with the tale of Old Shep, the border collie who followed his beloved owner’s coffin to the train station, and, barred from boarding the train, waited for six years him to return; or of Buddy the black labrador, who braved the sub zero temperatures of mid-winter Alaska to fetch help for his dying master.
It’s less likely you will have heard of the tale of Delta, a dog from Pompeii in 79AD who was found lying in a protective stance across the body of her child owner, preserved forever after the famous eruption. The silver collar around Delta’s neck had survived intact. On it was written the name of her young master, Severinus, and that she had previously saved his life three times; from drowning, from robbers and from a wolf.
Today’s entry to the dōbutsuen is a creature that you may have seen connected with Japan before. The kame is extremely prevalent in Japan’s modern culture but has, as all the dōbutsuen do, a rich folk history.
Many species of turtle are native to Japan’s shores, and so it is no surprise that they feature so strongly in Japanese culture. The kame has long been an important animal in Asian cultures, first as one of the four symbols of the Chinese constellations, Běi Fāng Xuán Wǔ [北方玄武] the Black Tortoise of the North; known in Japan as just Genbu [玄武]. However, the turtle enjoys an extremely unique part of Japanese culture itself.
If there’s an animal the Chinese venerate more than any other, it’s the dragon. In ancient China, only the Emperor could wear such an emblem of supreme power; it was a capital offence even to be found with the symbol of a dragon on your person. In western folklore the dragon is a frightening and dangerous monster; intelligent, but cruel and destructive. In China however, the dragon is a noble creature of the heavens and even kind to humans; as this popular folk tale will tell.
A long time ago when there were no rivers but only the vast eastern sea, where dwelled four great dragons; the Long Dragon, the Yellow Dragon, the Black Dragon and the Pearl Dragon. The dragons were boisterous creatures and the Jade Emperor had long bade them out of his court. They loved to play among the clouds and paid little attention to the people living far below them, until one day they saw a spiral of fragrant smoke emerge from between the clouds.