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).
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.
So far in the study of the dōbutsuen I’ve covered a variety of mammals; so it’s high time for a creature of the feathered variety. When you talk about birds in Japanese culture, there is one in particular which comes to mind; the tsuru, or crane.
Cranes have been an important feature in Japanese art, clothing, literature and especially folklore, for centuries. Their graceful nature has long captured the Japanese imagination and have taken on many different meanings.
Japan’s native religion, Shinto, has far more than one deity. In fact, the Japanese believe that just about everything in nature has a spirit or kami [神] to protect it. As we’ve seen before with such animals as the kitsune [狐] and the tanuki [狸], living creatures are themselves considered sacred and have strong connotations of luck and good fortune.
You can’t go far in Japan without seeing one of its most popular good luck charms, the maneki neko [招き猫] or ‘lucky cat’. Maneki neko are so well-known that they have become national symbols for Japan and are widely recognised throughout the world.
“Silence had fallen in the great hall, and she spoke.
“My brothers, listen to me. The gods came to assail us from the sea and I drove them back with my breath, to the very corners of the sea. But now the gods have come down from the mountain and I am unable to assuage them.
Battle is coming. I foretell by my witchcraft that none will be able to face this enemy that now comes; save the man who is named Shinutápka; our little brother and the heir of this castle. He alone will live. But even I cannot see whether this battle will go well; for on the sword our godlike brother Otópush wears the jewels do not shine. I do not know whether he will live or die.”