Archive for February, 2008

Coming This Spring: Proof of Authentic Japanese Food (Sorry, Cal-Asian Fusion)

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Yahoo News reports that because of the growing popularity of Japanese food all over the world (25,000 restaurants and counting), an organization in Japan has been set up to appraise and authenticate the establishments:

 

“We are not aiming at something like a sushi police aiming to crack down on inauthentic restaurants,” said a member of the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, declining to be named.

“Our objective is to promote Japanese food, not eliminate Japanese restaurants.”

…To qualify for certification, applicants are required to use Japanese rice and seasoning along with traditional ingredients.

 

Originality and presentation of cuisine will also be considered.

Does this mean the Philadelphia Roll (with cream cheese and avocado) and the Oy Vey Salmon Sashimi at Crazy Fish in Beverly Hills will get the axe?

(At least the oft-derided California Roll contains crabmeat and vegetables!)

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Call me a snob, but I love the idea of certifying Japanese restaurants. It’s easy to tell the difference between fast food places (Yoshinoya Beef Bowl, I’m talking to you) and fine dining but some places are less obvious in their range of quality.

In the future, if you want confirmation that you’re eating “real” Japanese food, check for this logo at the restaurant: a pair of chopsticks holding a cherry petal set in front of a red rising-sun flag. Bureaus are scheduled to set up shop in L.A., Paris, London and Amsterdam by the end of March.

Sarah S.

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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February 28, 2008 at 9:08 am Leave a comment

My Favorite Gifts from Japan

Whenever my Japanese relatives tell me they’re coming to visit the first thing they ask is, “What do you want from Japan?” And with my jaw agape, a flurry of cute-but-unnecessary products start racing in my head. I’d ask for plastic miniature toys but now that I’ve accumulated a garage-full I’ve scratched them off my list. A slab of Kobe beef would be nice, but unless I can assure safe passage through customs I doubt that’s going to happen. So lately, when they ask I just tell them, “Surprise me.”

Here’s what I’ve received recently:

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I’m a sucker for Japanese candy so I always get a handful of it. They’re brightly packaged and come in weird flavors. The one on the bottom is called “Fragrance gum” and tastes like a bouquet of roses. No, I’ve never eaten a bouquet of roses, but if I did I’d probably spit it out, too. After a while, though, it starts to grow on you.

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I haven’t tried it yet but apparently this package contains tablets that make your voice sound “wondrous.” You swallow it just before you go out to the karaoke bar. It’s called “Pro Voice,” so maybe it somehow turns you into a diva?? My brother found it at a store called Don Quixote, which is Japan’s version of Aahs.

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And finally, my favorite gift from Japan. Boxes of tissue! Only these guys measure only 4 inches long! Utterly useless if you have a bad cold, but amazingly useful for the incidental nose drip. Whereas everything in the U.S. is super-sized, many things in Japan come really small.
So if someone wanted to bring you something from Japan, what would you ask for?!

Himawari

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Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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February 25, 2008 at 8:44 am 6 comments

Oscars Here and Oscars There

As an L.A. girl, I’m always psyched for the Oscars, especially since it’s the only awards ceremony that airs live on the West Coast. The drunk-tastic Golden Globes and slightly more sober Emmys are delayed in California for a primetime audience, and I’m petrified of being spoiled about the results beforehand, either online or from newscast teasers. But the Oscars happen mere miles from my apartment, at 5 pm, and the excitement around town is palpable. Because of the WGA strike this year, there were doubts that the show would go on, but at the 11th hour (a Hollywood ending?) a union deal was reached and we’ll get to enjoy the star-studded, glitzy evening in all its glory this Sunday.

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Japan holds its Academy Awards in February as well. This year, “Letters From Iwo Jima” won Best Foreign Film. Clint Eastwood’s World War II movie was well received in Asia. A companion piece to the American film “Flags of Our Fathers”, “Letters From Iwo Jima” depicted the same battle from a Japanese perspective. According to Japan Today, the all-Japanese cast, including Ken Watanabe, added authenticity to the script by finessing the dialogue.

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The biggest winner of the 31st Japanese Academy Awards was a film called “Tokyo Tower: Mom and Me, and Sometimes Dad.” It swept the awards, earning trophies in five categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. (Now I’m dying to see it!) Unlike our Oscars, the Japanese Academy Awards also award Best Newcomers and Most Popular. Sounds kind of like a high school yearbook, but I love it.

For a taste of Japanese filmmaking closer to home, check out the Japan Film Festival – Los Angeles, which hits downtown Los Angeles from April 11th to 17th and Orange Country from April 18th to 20th. The festival promises to screen the latest cutting-edge films from Japan in hopes of starting a cultural dialogue between American and Japanese people.

Just let me grab my popcorn and I’m there!

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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February 21, 2008 at 8:41 am 1 comment

Keeping Warm in a Futon

Winter can be miserably cold. That’s why I decided to buy a futon comforter this year. It set me back $300, but then again it was half-off – a sure bargain. I’m not rich. I just appreciate good sleep in the dead of winter.

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Back in Japan, I did everything I could to stay warm in my tiny, 8-tatami mat apartment. I’d take a hot bath and do jumping jacks just before bedtime. And when desperate times called for desperate measures I moved my refrigerator to the bedroom. It increased the room temperature at least two degrees.

Kerosene heaters are common in Japan, but I never enjoyed the lingering smell of gas after turning it off. So I’d wave around a match. (Not recommended.)

Eventually, I found a sports club a block away from home. Call me crazy but I paid the 30,000 yen (~$300) a month dues just to soak in their communal bath every night. Then I’d make a mad dash home and jump into bed.

Now I have my futon comforter which retains every degree of body heat I produce. It’s common for Japanese department stores to sell comforters for upwards of $2,000, so comparatively speaking my $300 blanket is a steal. It’s stuffed with bird feathers just like in the U.S., so it’s hard to say what the major difference is other than that with a Japanese one it’s like settling next to a toasty fire. And so while my friends complain about getting the sniffles I can’t help but to gloat about my big purchase. Some may see it as a bag of feathers, but I see it as a bag of gold.

Himawari

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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February 18, 2008 at 8:09 am 2 comments

Modeling and Acting in Japan: A Tough Sell

It seems like western actors and models are constantly making Japanese commercials or snagging the best Japanese modeling jobs. The other day I saw a post on Craig’s List seeking Caucasian and Caucasian/Asian mixed models, 18-24 years old, to live and work in Japan. On the surface it sounded cushy and exciting, especially because the poster claims to provide round trip airline tickets, housing, a minimum base salary of ¥ 200,000 per month (plus whatever you make modeling) and a six to ten month contract.

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However, according to the Japan-based Arts C Models agency, “the hey-day for foreign models occurred from the mid 80’s to very early 90’s” when “the Japanese fascination with the west was at its peak.” Perhaps gaijins are not in such high demand right now after all. Actually booking jobs as a foreigner (even as a no-line extra), isn’t easy, as the blogger at Gaijin Tonic recently attested:

I signed up with an agency hoping to get some work as an extra. I thought it would be a laugh to be on TV in Japan, just once or twice, the token white face in the crowd. I failed even at that humble goal! Someone pointed out to me that extras are supposed to be unobtrusive and inconspicuous, and that as a towering 6’5″ blond oaf, I’d be the worst extra ever.

Even petite, slender model Elyse Sewell, a fan favorite from the inaugural season of America’s Next Top Model who went on to have a successful career in Hong Kong, had difficulty conquering the Japanese market.

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Check out this 2004 exchange with her Japanese modeling agents, excerpted from her LiveJournal:

Kumi: Since the last time you here [in February], your who-o-ole image completely change.
Elyse: Oh, um, what do you mean, Kumi? [Assuming they’re about to tell me I look old or have ugly hair]
Kumi: Last time you here, you ve-e-ery kawai. Very, very thin.
Elyse: Have I put on weight?

Akemi makes the universal sign for “fat”: cheeks puffed out, hands gripping an imaginary Santa paunch.

Kumi: Yes, you put on kilos. Your whole body change. You got a big belly, big face…
Akemi: Don’t eat rice! Do exercises.
Kumi: Do walking.

Hmm, maybe if I walked more I could get a sweet modeling gig in Japan!

 

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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February 14, 2008 at 10:07 am 3 comments

Gangster Lovin’? I Think Not.

If I should ever get my butt kicked by a gangster I blame the Japanese media. Thanks to all those serialized dramas I spend cold winter evenings watching, I’ve developed this warped sense of reality, making me think I can approach one and be their best friend.

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Last year I was big on a show called “My Boss My Hero” which stars the handsome Tomoya Nagase as a 27-year-old son of a mobster boss sent back to high school for a proper re-education. (Mobsters are no good if they can’t count money.) While in class, he falls in love with an adorably innocent girl and tries his best to woo her, all the while keeping his true identity under wraps. A brute in his gangster life, Nagase posing as a wimp makes for great comedy, and in the end I was wishing I’d meet my own yakuza softie.

And yet, like the mafia men scattered along the East Coast, Japanese gangsters are nothing to gush about. Last month, a member of the Dojin-kai gang was arrested on suspicion of shooting a man in his hospital bed. The details are still hazy but it seems to be a case of mistaken identity; the room’s previous patient had gang affiliation, not the current one. Then earlier last year the mayor of Nagasaki was shot point-blank by a senior member of the Yamaguchi gang, the country’s largest crime syndicate. The assassin had beef with the city because his car was damaged at a public works construction site and he wanted compensation. Talk about hot-headed.

I did have a real-life encounter with Japanese gangsters a few years back, well before I thought they were adorable. It was actually quite surreal because there they were, a group of ten walking down the street like they meant business. One of the younger thugs strode confidently with a full-leg cast. The others wore sharp suits with their hair combed back with enough pomade to grease a car. I was in awe at the sight of them and was compelled to follow behind like a newly-initiated paparazzi. My better sense told me to do an about-face toward home.

I’m glad I did, though. I don’t think any of them would have made a good boyfriend, anyway. (^o<)

Himawari

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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February 11, 2008 at 9:09 am 3 comments

How Novel: Forget Amazon’s Kindle; Read Books on Your Cell Phone

Imagine a long, melodramatic text message conversation filled with abbreviations and emoticons and you have a pretty good idea what keitai shosetsu is: novel-sized stories composed entirely on cell phones by amateur authors. What these Japanese writers (most of them young women, in their late teens to early 20s) lack in experience they make up for in brisk style. The addictive, tear-jerking tales are short on description, but long on drama and trauma. Heavily influenced by manga and graphic novels, the dialogue is quick and to the point and characterization is very light. Constant thumb-scrolling and tapping is required as each “page” has little room for text. The authors (who all go by single names, such as Yoshi, Rin, and Mika) tackle emotionally fraught issues like rape, pregnancy, death, failed romance, and prostitution – and, most importantly, overcoming all of the above.

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I first heard about keitai shosetsu last year from the Galleycat publishing blog, and last month, articles also popped up in New York Times, London Times and Time Magazine. I think reporters are both curious about and disturbed by the phenomenon. It’s very tough for western literati to understand why anyone would want to read or write a full-length novel on a cell phone; surely the fall of civilization is at hand!

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Then again, maybe not. It’s important to note that just because the stories start out on cell phones (where authors don’t earn anything), doesn’t mean they stay that way. Ever since Yoshi’s keitai shosetsu title “Deep Love” was published in traditional book form in 2002, selling 2.5 million copies and spawning a film and TV show, other cell phone novels have followed. One of the most successful is probably “Love Sky” (Koizora) by a young woman named Mika. In its original form, “Love Sky” was read by 20 million people on cell phones or computers, and when it was republished in book form, it became Japan’s top selling novel of 2007. It was also adapted into a movie. New cell phone books are downloadable from sites like Bunko Yomihodai (which offers a “library reading spree!”)

 

Sarah S.

—————————————————————————
Thinking of doing business in Japan? We can make it easy for you!
JPBizDirect, a Los Angeles based company, provides practical solutions for U.S. – Japan business projects. Our experienced Japanese staff will support all phases of your business project to seize business opportunities and turn your vision into a reality. >> Learn more
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February 5, 2008 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

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