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ASIA.

f2

Most people know what the capitol of distant France is,
but not half of them could tell you what the capitol of Cambodia is without thinking.
And they’ll know what the World Heritage Site of Sagrada Família is,
but the Borobudur Temple? I’m pretty sure most of the time you’ll be met with the response, “What’s that?”

The number of foreign tourists is increasing each year.
It’s not something you need to learn from government statistics or the news. You just feel it as you walk the streets of Tokyo.
And you can’t deny that it has to be of “national interest” to Japan.
Naturally, you’d think about “national interest” in terms of the consumption of overseas tourists,
but beyond that, if visitors to Japan leave feeling that, “Japan is a great country”,
that has got to be true “national interest”.

What jump started me on my monthly visits to Asian cities was,
for one, my curiosity pushing me to find out for myself, what wonders I could still uncover in Asia.
Another was
discovering that Asia had “such beautiful places like this”, “such interesting places like that”, “such delicious food”,
“such wonderful cultures”,
and all of it so easily accessible.
If I could play even a little part in opening the eyes of Japan to all of it.
Luckily, the fierce price-driven competition amongst LCC (budget airlines) facilitates
a trip to Taiwan, South Korea or Hong Kong
for the same price of taking the Odoriko limited express train from Shinagawa to spend two nights at a hot springs in Atami.
You can also fully enjoy a 3 day/2 night stay in Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand or Singapore.
That’s right, these days, trips to Asia are not only for people with the time and money.
(Does that sound like an LCC catchphrase?)

We are Asians. However, we’ve continued to chase the West,
ignorant of what’s good or bad about our own neighborhood,
so I can’t help thinking that there must something I can do to alleviate this imbalance.
Several decades ago, no one would’ve imagined that an agricultural country like China would become such a powerful country.
Undoubtedly, we will continue to see power relations in Asia continue to change over the next several decades.
So that is basically why, since around the spring of 2012, I’ve begun using my free time to travel the cities of Asia for two to five nights, roughly every month.
I keep thinking I’d like to put everything that I’ve learned and experienced out there,
but I’m not quite sure how I should go about it, and before I know it, here I am again, rolling my suitcase toward Narita airport.
The number of tourists from Asia has grown, and more Japanese are also travelling to Asian countries, as well.
The number of tourists from Asia has grown, and more Japanese are also travelling to Asian countries, as well.
I believe that things will only get better.
2020.
Let’s get more foreigners hooked on Japan. I’m talking about “omotenashi”.
In order to do that, an important first step is learning more about our neighbor countries.

…which, to be honest, is how I justify my travels.

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TARE SAUCE.

垂れ

I’ll admit it right off the top.
My cooking is “amateur”.
Looking toward 2020,
I ponder what I might do.
One thing I’ve been wanting to do is to combine my interests with practicality.
That ambition has emerged as
the creation of an easy and delectable “yakitori tare sauce”.

It goes without saying that we’d like our foreign guests to enjoy something delicious before returning home, right?
But don’t you agree we should be thinking beyond that?
We want our guests to take the tastes of Japan back with them,
to reminisce about those flavors, and to tell everyone about them.

There are many people who cannot eat beef, pork or fish for religious reasons.
There are people who do not have the means to eat sufficiently and,
unfortunately, it is unlikely those numbers will diminish by 2020.
Nevertheless, when considering what foodstuffs might be most readily available,
then narrowing those down to “Japanese food”, then what you come up with is, yes, “chicken”.

These days, even food that is “halal”,
in other words, “meat that has been prepared in accordance with Muslim law”,
is readily produced in Japan.
(Kosher certification in accordance with Jewish laws may prove more difficult.)
With just “chicken and flames and tare”,
people around the world can eat “almost authentic” yakitori…
Doesn’t that sound great?
YAKITORI
Since around the spring of 2014,
I’ve spent days and nights on end eating yakitori, and I’ve savored the flavors and characteristics of each sauce.
Some were thick and sweet,
others were bitter with a light consistency.
Some tare had a pale, amber color,
and others were as black as dark chocolate. Truly a variety of sorts.
Home production prototype 1, prototype 2, prototype 20, prototype 30…
Lately, I think I’ve recently managed to create a “slightly better tasting than a terrible place” tare sauce.
Yet, again, I am reminded of the complexities of yakitori.
The effort that goes in to preparation, and controlling of the flames.
Yes, I take pride in knowing
I’ve made great progress because I now know “what separates the pros.” – Heh heh.

And as luck would have it,
I have friends in food product development, who formerly managed major restaurants,
and who are pros in Japanese cuisine, so I rely on all of them as
I aim to have a finished product by 2020.

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PHOTO.

写真

When flying with an LCC, checked baggage can be quite costly, so
the weight of my carry-ons becomes key.
I’m a minimalist traveler.
These days,
I take shirts, underwear and things that I think are “ready to be tossed”,
and throw them away at my destination hotel.
“Now I have space for souvenirs.”
is the kind of cheapwad calculation I’ve come to master.
When travelling like this, packing a single-lens reflex camera is almost impossible,
so it’s best to take a relatively compact mirrorless camera + a small digital camera.

Use a mirrorless camera when you want to capture scenery or create camera effects.
Pop a compact digital camera in your pocket when visiting ruins by bicycle, when dressed lightly,
or for walking the streets at night and around slums that gullible Japanese folk should avoid.
Isn’t it always the case, though, that the scenes you want to capture most with your camera,
always come along when they’re least expected?
That’s what makes the iPhone camera is indispensable.
I depend on this little guy a lot for those chance shots.

As for this mirrorless lens camera, there is one problem.
The body is white. I bought it thinking it looked cool.
Each trip ends with having to clean it.
Just call me a “war(sh)time cameraman.”

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MODERN ART.

アート

What is it? The arts. Art.
The more I ponder it, the less I understand it.
Enter modern art. Art that doesn’t need to be contemplated, can be enjoyed for its aesthetics, and is found everywhere around the world.
It knocks you out, and having your breath taken away is something that is somehow necessary in life.
Furthermore, the majority of that genre of art leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction after you’ve seen it.
At times, even a very serious-themed piece will provide the same sensation.
Kind of like when a piece of laundry caught on a branch is suddenly blown off by a gust of wind,
whatever thing is stuck in my mind, it’s set free.
The more we mature, those feelings similar to enlightenment, or rather, those instances when we’re completely blown away,
are what we must be occasionally yearning for.

Sometimes, I’m surprised at how moved I am by an art piece that doesn’t seem to have any meaning to it.
What on earth is behind the creation of this piece and what is the meaning behind its presentation? I’ll wonder
about the artist’s circumstances, proclivity and other influences that nurtured the ideas for the piece.


The “Setonaikai “, “Echigo-Tsumari” and “Yokohama” art festivals are held every three years,
and I have attended the triennials without fail over the past 7 years.
Without using audio or print,
the manner in which feelings or intentions are presented, it’s amazing.
When I drink, ideas just overflow.
“Now that’d make it interesting.”
Then, sometimes I’ll make notes to myself like crazy, but then find myself
the next morning, looking at what is 80% useless and 20% fairly interesting.

I sure would like to enter a piece. The Triennials.
Slightly digressing from “the arts”, I remember taking an extra year to prepare for the Tokyo University of the Arts entrance exams, and then failing them.
Just for the heck of it. …Brings back memories.

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CERAMIC WARE.

器

One night while drinking, I was struck by the thought,
“Why does sake taste so good when I drink from this cup?”
Riedel wine glasses are said to be crafted in a variety of shapes to specifically
accent the bouquet of different wines,
so I can assume that there is some “scientific” legitimacy to it.
Then I imagine that my wife (though I’m still single) is fast asleep and
I’m looking down at some food in a tupperware bowl,
comparing it to how it would look elegantly served in an early Imari ware dish
and I have not doubts that it’d be much less appetizing.
As for the white rice served in those plastic bowls at fast food restaurants,
absolutely awful.

There is no doubt that taste is influenced to some degree by “mood”.
I’ve always liked ceramics. I make trips to the Mashiko and Kasaama pottery festivals and
usually pick up some attractive pieces when I’m travelling, but
last year, I had a chance opportunity to go to places like Karatsu, Arita, Nabeshima, Kyoto and Mino and,
it was as I was visiting all these traditional pottery villages that,
I was suddenly impassioned by an indiscriminate “pottery collection”.

From an excavated Mino ware rice bowl
to a national treasure beer mug.
Regularly slurping noodles out of an exquisite bowl that comes from the a kiln that goes back 14 generations,
I’ve begun to broaden my collection to tea ceremony bowls, no doubt due to the influence of my mother, a tea master.
Even as I tell myself that only eccentric geezers are into such things, I can’t help myself.
It’d be one thing if I had an inkling to open a Japanese style bar, but
what is particularly troubling is, it may only be a matter of time before I start wanting my own kiln.

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「釣り。」

釣り

From the 3rd through 6th grade,
a young boy spent his days hanging out at the “Jyoshuya Fishing Tackle Shop” in Kawasaki, an almost one hour bike ride from home.
Upon entering junior high, he moves to Shonan.
With the sea now just a little over 10 minutes from home,
that young boy, who was so enthralled with “video games”, with “fishing” and “real estate magazines”,
gives them all up without hesitation.
Looking back, I must’ve thought that “video games” and “fishing” were a waste of time when life was so short.
I remember watching my older brother playing video games all night and thinking to myself, “This is not the way to go.”
Being rather aloof,
and realizing that there’ll be times when I’ll have spent an entire day with my line dangling in the water, staring at the ocean, not a thought in my head, catching nothing,
I probably thought, “Fishing has to be the biggest waste of time.”
As for being an avid reader of “real estate magazines”,
I probably lost interest because I had already moved and purchased a home.
It was during the bubble economy after all.
Thousands and millions of properties continually changing values in just one month.
Scrutinizing the values in the same way that an annoying kid looks at the prices of video game cartridges, come to think of it,
my parents ought to have been more concerned.
(Incidentally, had I not been poring over those weekly real estate magazines, I wouldn’t be living in my current home.)

Well, back then, that boy may have distanced himself from fishing, but
at some point, he developed a body that would perish without delicious sashimi and sake.
In the spring, grilled kinki fish in Hachinohe,
in the summer, bigfin reef squid in Yobuko.
In the fall, fresh mackerel in Miyagi,
In the winter, lip-smacking blackthroat seaperch from the Japan Sea.
When I mulling over how I might eat more delicious fish,
I’m faced with having to move to Tsukiji or take up fishing, and I choose “fishing”.
I started out with a small van that I used exclusively for fishing, but my fishing tackle gradually outgrew it and
now I find myself looking for a camper van.
Once while travelling, I stopped to catch some migrating frigate tuna.
Sitting on the Numazu sea wall, I dipped it in soy sauce and wasabi and
complimented it with some beer, wine and appetizers I whipped up using the sardines I caught off the pier in Misaki.
I order recipe books by Chef Ochiai and Alain Ducasse on Amazon
and dabble in stylish dishes as I have fun on my second fishing kick.

So why is it that I can’t catch any fish?

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SAKE.

酒

Sake is great. I have the prestigious title of “Japanese sake master” and, although it’s of little use career-wise,
it does double as business card that says, “For this guy, it’s sake or death.” so
I end up receiving gifts of sake from all kinds of people, making me think the high membership fee is worth it.

Here’s an example of what I mean. One day, watching an old man who knew a lot about sake, it occurred to me that
when it comes to Japanese sake, the more of a connoisseur you become, the more you become really bad at offering good sake to people who say, “Japanese sake, no thanks!”
That is why,
for 7 years I have served as Chairman of the “Organization for Whispering to Those who Think Japanese Sake is Not for Them, that They Ought to Try a Sip of cool non-filtered raw unprocessed sake” (Members: 3 to 4. I guess it’s just a handful of people I know.)
Also, through an unexpected turn of events, I was able to appear in a “Clear Asahi” beer commercial in which
my job was to exchange jabs with the wildly handsome, Osamu Mukai.
It convinced me that I had a deep connection with sake.
Japanese sake is a domestic drink. Shochu is a domestic drink.
“Japanese beer”, loved and consumed most by the Japanese people, is also a domestic drink.
Cheers to domestic drinks!

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CARS.

車

Cars are great, aren’t they. Cars.
I have no idea how many I’ve driven, but whether it was
a beat-up, old Mercedes,
a beat-up old Porche,
a beat-up old Jag,
whatever old luxury car it was that I’d worked so hard to get, it turned out to be a clunker.
Am I a masochist?
As for domestic cars, I’ve had
a Gloria formerly used as taxi and with 450,000 miles on it, and even
something similar to a second-hand moving van.
Domestic cars are amazing. They never breakdown.
The older men in Dubai and Brunei like me simply because I’m “Japanese”.
They toss me a “Japan – Cars - Best!”
But in the end, I’m sure you’d agree that imported cars do have some sex appeal.
Why is that?
Every time one breaks down, I think, “I’m scrapping this piece of junk to make tin cans!”
But after I’ve cooled down, I end up wanting another one.

They say the younger generation is one of non-driving youngsters.
What a strange generation.
They should at least try it once.
An unusual car.

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BASEBALL.

野球

Normally, when middle-aged men get bored, they’ll swing their umbrellas and unconsciously being practicing their golf follow-through, but
as for me, even after becoming middle-aged,
I can’t break my habit of shadow pitching or practicing my batting swing.
The other day, I went to the batting cages and won a “strike out” consolation prize of cheap snacks.
I felt pathetic.
Baseball, I love it, but in high school I couldn’t stand the thought of having to cut my hair short, so
instead of trying out for my school team, I organized a baseball team with a gang of riff-raff
and practiced on the grounds of a local shrine.
Naturally I didn’t improve.
I did try out in uni, but I had a classmate named Kenshin Kawakami, or something, who was completely in a different league.
I gave up and joined the “Tokyo Big 6 (sandlot) Baseball League” (<--It’s a real entity!).
I was pitcher, but
one day during my second year, in a match against Keio University, a lanky guy with glasses who looked like “driftwood”
drove a 2-base hit to center and, in that instant, I decided to retire.
That jerk. He didn’t even come in uniform. Just orange sweats.
Wiped out all motivation.

Born in Yokohama, raised in Shonan. I played a little ball,
and before I knew it, I’d been a die-hard fan of the local Taiyo Whales for a quarter of a century.
I’m a special member of the Baystars fan club or whatever,
and in 2015, I’m not sure if I was upgraded or something, but for some reason I was sent a silver card in the mail.
The system is a mystery.

Losing is a given. That is the omen passed on from Taiyo.
The occasional thrill of victory.
Go Taiyo! And I root for them again this year.

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