Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Docchi no Ryori Show!

Aficionados of Japanese cuisine, and cooking fans in general, are probably already familiar with the over-the-top Japanese cooking show, Iron Chef. Now a standard program on the Food Network cable channel, the show also inspired an ill-conceived spin-off, Iron Chef America. The original Japanese broadcast of Ryori no Tetsujin (Iron Chef), set two master chefs against one another in a competition to create the most sumptuous dishes. The flamboyant host acted as ringmaster, who presided over a panel of celebrity guests who served as the commentators and judges, and ultimately sampled the chef’s creations. In the United States, it started airing on several local Asian networks in the mid 1990s as an untranslated telecast, which is when we at the Black Moon began watching. Despite the lack of translation, the show began to gather a large following, and soon to the delight of fans, English subtitling began to be provided. And as they say, the rest is history.

Screenshot from the Docchi Show
While Iron Chef presented a frenzied cooking competition that emphasized style, personality, and performance, a new cooking show already well known in Japan, places the emphasis on the art of cooking, sophisticated technique, and traditional ingredients. Docchi no Ryori Show! ("Which One!?" Cooking Show), now airing in the US as a subtitled broadcast in several major cities, is one of the greatest cooking shows ever produced. The show is hosted by Hiroshi Sekiguchi and his younger rival Yuji Miyake, whose teams of chefs prepare delectable presentations of food for the celebrity guest judges. Initially, the seven panelists are presented with two similar but different dishes that they must state a preference for, which then breaks them up into competing "Red" and "Yellow" teams. The cooks then have to sway the majority of panelists into their camp with their presentation of extraordinarily conceived dishes made from the best hand-picked ingredients. To add to the competitive atmosphere of the show, only the winning team ends up feasting upon the chosen dish, while the losing team must watch with empty bellies.

But it’s not because of the competitive nature of the show that we find ourselves tuned in every week (Saturdays at 8:00pm, here in Los Angeles). We are enthralled because each broadcast gives an in-depth examination of Japanese food, with insights into its history, production, and influence on Japanese culture. The foods prepared on each episode range from the simplest rice dishes to the most elaborate traditional concoctions, but also can focus on completely Western dishes, or Japanese-Western hybrids. Regardless of the dish however, the same care is always given to fully tantalize the audience. Camera crews will visit restaurants which specialize in the dish presented in a particular episode, and get first hand interviews and demonstrations from chefs who on a daily basis, please their clientele with their own unique version of the dish in question.

Screenshot from the Docchi Show
The winning stroke however, usually comes with the carefully selected "special ingredient" for each dish. Usually, this is an item made or harvested in the most traditional manner, employing practices handed down by small groups of individuals for generations. For example, types of seaweed that can only be harvested by hand at certain times of year, chicken that has been fed only the best ingredients and roam free in Japan’s misty hillsides, or a step by step look at the labor-intensive method by which Bonito fish flakes are traditionally prepared. These educational segments on the production of food, also sometimes include looks at the production of spices, the creation of kitchen implements and accessories, or whatever else is required for the team of chefs to take their dish over the top. These segments provide rare and unique looks at the traditional craft aspect of making Japanese food, and give insights into village life and age old techniques being lost in today’s fast-paced modern world. Often, even the panelists are not aware of how their favorite foods were originally produced, so the programs are as educational to them as to the viewers. There is a sense of genuine awe and deep appreciation for the remarkable lengths that the teams go to in order to create a superlative dish made from the best possible ingredients. In fact, Docchi is a one of a kind blend of history, education, and entertainment. Whether the dish at hand is French pastry, Mango Pudding, or BLT sandwiches… or Japanese fare like grilled eel, okonomiyaki, or a sumptuous noodle dishDocchi handles it all with flare. It’s a riveting show, and we recommend that everyone tune in if the program is available in their area. When faced with any number of mediocre cooking shows versus this Japanese classic, the choice is obvious. Or as they say when the two dishes are presented for the final judging - "Docchi?!" or, "Which one will you choose?" (posted by J. & M.)

Yasukuni Shrine

On May 16th, 2005, Japan’s Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, said that he saw nothing wrong with visiting the Yasukuni Shrine where convicted and executed war criminals form Japan’s World War II Imperial army are buried. In defending his upcoming visit to the controversial shrine, the right-wing Koizumi said, "We must not forget, even in these peaceful times, the sacrifice of those who went unwillingly to war and lost their lives. Even now I do not understand why it is improper to offer respect and gratitude to all the war dead." Perhaps someone should remind Mr. Koizumi that the Yasukuni Shrine outside of Tokyo is the burial ground for more than 1,000 convicted war criminals, including the executed wartime Prime Minister, General Hideki Tojo and 13 other class-A war criminals. It may be that Mr. Koizumi needs to be reminded that General Tojo commanded Japan’s military as it slaughtered hundreds of thousands in its brutal occupation of China and Korea, that Tojo was a far right admirer of Nazi Germany, or that Tojo ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. On the official website of the ultra-nationalist Yasukuni Shrine, it is explained that those executed were "cruelly and unjustly tried as war criminals by a sham-like tribunal of the Allied forces". If Mr. Koizumi cannot "understand why it is improper" for him to visit Yasukuni Shrine, there are millions of people around the world who would like to help him comprehend just why his visits to the shrine are infuriating and outrageous.

Bush & Koizumi

But it’s a certainty that Mr. Koizumi will not be getting any history lessons from President George W. Bush, who is elated Koizumi has ignored Japan’s pacifist constitution forbidding the projection of military power beyond Japan’s borders. Koizumi has deployed troops from Japan’s Self-Defense Force to occupied Iraq, and apparently Bush is so grateful that he’s even willing to forget that Tojo’s soldiers fired on and nearly killed his father during the second world war. George Bush Senior was a bomber pilot in 1944, and his plane was shot down by the Japanese air force off the coast of Chichi Jima, some one thousand kilometers from Japan. Bush’s two crewmen were killed and Mr. Bush paddled a raft for more than three hours before being picked up by a US submarine. You would think Bush the younger could explain to Mr. Koizumi why saying prayers over the grave of executed war criminal General Tojo is a bad thing, but as I said, the American Commando in Chief is happy to have a friend… any friend. Since it is now acceptable for politicians to visit the graves of convicted war criminals and mass murderers, perhaps Bush and Koizumi would like to reenact what former President Ronald Reagan once did. They could visit Kolmeshohe Cemetery in Bitburg, Germany and lay a wreath of flowers on the final resting place of Hitler’s Third Reich Waffen SS. (posted by M.)

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Artist Henry Sugimoto

Self Portrait by Henry Sugimoto
A rare series of woodblock prints by artist Henry Sugimoto are on display at Antioch University in Los Angeles. Sugimoto (1900-1990) was a prolific artist who immigrated to the US from Japan when he was 19 years old. He studied art in California, Paris, and Mexico and was already a noted artist when war broke out between the US and Japan. Sugimoto and his family were sent to the Jerome Internment Camp in Arkansas, along with the 120,000 other Japanese Americans who were unjustly imprisoned. The artworks on display at Antioch are the 32 block prints Sugimoto created documenting life in the US concentration camp. His family is featured in these artworks, especially his daughter Madeleine, who was present at the opening reception to share memories of her father.

The Antioch exhibit also includes other block prints Sugimoto created during his career as well as several oil paintings never exhibited. After the war, Sugimoto lived in New York City where he became active in the art community. His paintings are exhibited prominently in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. and in galleries and public buildings both in the United States and Japan. The exhibit opened on Wednesday, May 11 th, 2005, with a gala reception that included Sugimoto's daughter Madeleine Sugimoto, his sister-in-law Naomi Tawaga and his nephew, photographer Norman Sugimoto. The show runs until August 1st, 2005. For more information on this important exhibit, including directions to the campus, visit the Antioch University website at,

Saturday, May 07, 2005

The Chicago Peace Museum

The Peace Museum in Chicago is hosting the very first Japanese government-sponsored exhibition in the US of artifacts and materials related to the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The exhibit opened on May 6th, and runs until August 14th, 2005, coinciding with the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Japan. The Peace Museum’s exhibition features 41 photos and photographic panels, video installments, and 23 objects - including a melted Christian cross removed from a Church obliterated by the nuclear blast. At the opening reception held on May 6th, 73-year-old A-bomb survivor Katsuji Yoshida, talked about having lived through the terror of the Nagasaki bombing. He was a thirteen year-old high school student when the bomb went off a half mile from where he stood outside his school. He was thrown some 130 feet into the air and received severe burns to his body… but by some miracle survived. Today, as a member of the Nagasaki Peace Promotion Association, Yoshida does all he can to deliver the message that “Humans must never be made into atomic bomb victims. I pray these peaceful skies go on forever.” The Chicago Peace Museum’s exhibit is sponsored the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, and the citizens of Japan. The museum is located at 100 N. Central Park Ave., Chicago, Illinois 60624. The exhibit is open 10 am to 4 pm. Tuesday through Friday, and 9 am to 2 pm on Saturday and Sunday. The exhibit moves to an undisclosed location in California after its run in Chicago, and I’ll be sure to announce the details when they are made public. For more information, visit the Chicago Peace Museum website. (posted by M.)

[ This article originally appeared on Mark Vallen’s web log: ]

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Children’s Day and Flying Carp

Carp fly on Children's Day
May 5th of every year is Kodomo-no-hi, or Children's Day. Traditionally on this day, families fly colorful koinobori (colorful cloth carp streamers), from their homes, trees, flag poles, or other high places. The beautiful hand painted streamers swim in the air and present a lovely vision of spring. The carp was chosen as a symbol for children because parents wished to see their offspring grow as vigorous and strong as carp - who battle to ascend streams and even waterfalls. (posted by M.)

The May Fourth Movement

Wednesday marks the 86th anniversary of the May Fourth Movement of 1919, the first mass protest in modern China. It is considered a turning point in Chinese history, marking the birth of modern Chinese nationalism. After World War I, the victors convened a peace conference in Paris and hammered out the Versailles Treaty. The treaty handed the Asian colonial possessions of a defeated Germany over to Japan, which by that time was already occupying Korea and Taiwan. There was immediate mass protest in China. On May 4th, 1919, thousands of Chinese students gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to denounce the treaty, China's warlords, and Japanese imperialism. In today's atmosphere of tension between China and Japan, the anniversary of the May Fourth Movement is making everyone nervous. China's government doesn't want further mass protest against Japan to spoil trade between the two countries, and so has filled Tiananmen Square with police. May 4th., also marks another, darker anniversary for China... the Tiananmen Square Massacre of 1989.

The conservative Japanese government on the other hand has a different problem, it simply wants people to forget the May Fourth Movement of 1919 as a reaction against Japanese militarism and imperialist expansion... especially as right-wing Japanese nationalists are pushing for changes in the country's pacifist constitution. But some Japanese refuse to forget. Article 9 of the constitution forbids Japan's armed forces from becoming militararily involved in the affairs of other nations, a line already crossed when Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi sent hundreds of troops into Iraq.
Protestor in Tokyo carries a sign of Koizumi that reads -Mind Your Own Business, Rightist!
On May 4th, 2005, thousands gathered around Japan to demand that no changes be made to their country's pacifist constitution. Around 2,000 people gathered at Hibiya Kokaido hall in Tokyo at a rally sponsored by eight civic groups. Mizuho Fukushima, the chief of the Social Democratic Party, addressed those assembled and said "Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi should pledge to Asian countries that we will not change our Constitution!" An anti-amendment protest was also held at Waseda University in Tokyo, where Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Kenzaburo Oe, spoke to a crowd of 1,500. Oe recounted his own experiences during World War II, and told the audience, "What liberalized individuals was the Constitution." He was also highly critical of the moves by right-wingers to amend the second paragraph of Article 9, which states Japan will not maintain war potential and denies the Japanese state the right to declare war. Oe said, "The war-renouncing first paragraph and the no-military second paragraph should be together to be meaningful." Yet another demonstration was held by around 100 protestors gathered near the Shinjuku skyscrapers in Tokyo. They marched in a picket line holding signs that read, "Mind Your Own Business, Rightist!", "There IS reason to protest against Japan" and "Overthrow militarism." (posted by M.)

Interview with the Mayor of Hiroshima

The mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mr. Tadatoshi Akiba and Mr. Itcho Ito, were both in New York City as participants in a huge peace march demanding abolishment of all nuclear weapons. Around 60,000 people marched in New York on May 1st., 2005, the day before the UN met to review the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Pacifica Radio's Amy Goodman interviewed Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba for her Democracy Now! show, and the in-studio interview was broadcast live on Wednesday, May 4th, 2005. Goodman asked Mr. Akiba if he could "talk about the significance of the meetings that are taking place at the United Nations?" The mayor answered: "Well, NPT, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is the only international treaty that binds the hands of the nuclear weapon powers. In Article VI, although it is a very mild clause, that's the only international document which says that these countries must work very hard toward the elimination of nuclear weapons. And therefore, it is very significant, and we would like to strengthen this treaty so that by the year 2020 all nuclear weapons will be abolished. And that's the wish of hibakusha, Japanese word for the survivors of the atomic bomb. And that's why we're here. Oh, by the way, the mayors -- international mayors are here. At least a hundred mayors and city representatives are here to press the United Nations, representing the voices of millions of citizens around the world, and we are here to represent their voices, because that's the majority opinion in the world." Mr. Akiba's comments come at a time when the world community is experiencing a new atomic arms race. The Bush administration is developing a new generation of nuclear "bunker-buster" weapons, while threatening to attack Iran for its nuclear fuel enrichment programs. While criticizing the Bush administration, Mayor Akiba made it clear that his criticism applies to all countries who possess or are developing nuclear weapons -including North Korea and Iran. You can read the full interview with Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba at the Democracy Now! website. (posted by M.)

Japanese Kabuki Actor Prints

Though many people in the West are familiar with ukiyo-e, or the “Floating World” woodblock prints of Japan’s Edo period - few are familiar with shini-e. Literally meaning “death pictures”, shini-e art prints focus on the subject of death, particularly as it was portrayed in the theater by kabuki actors. These dark prints are filled with seppuku (ritual suicide), specters, evil spirits, phantoms, demons, and gallant sword fighters. They are also often memorial portraits of famous kabuki actors who passed away. The Stanford University Cantor Arts Center in California is presenting an exhibition of around 30 rare shini-e woodblock prints, from the collection of Stanford Professor Emeritus Albert Dien, a collector and expert in the little-known genre. The exhibit opened on April 13th, 2005, and runs until July 24th, 2005. For more information on the art of shini-e, or for details on seeing the exhibit, visit the Cantor Arts Center web page. (posted by M.)

Monday, May 02, 2005

Japan’s Peace Movement

May Day in Tokyo - 300,000 march for peace
On May 1st, 2005, close to 300,000 Japanese gathered across Japan to celebrate International Worker's Day. Protests held in more than 350 locations called for an end to the Iraq war and a global ban on nuclear weapons. May Day marchers also expressed their opposition to the growing militarism of the Japanese government, and demanded that there be no changes made to the country's post-war pacifist constitution. Right-wing nationalists are pressing to alter the constitution, allowing Japan to conduct military operations overseas. Organized labor had a strong presence in the demonstrations, with many activities sponsored by Japan's largest labor union, the Japanese Trade Union Confederation (Rengo). A crowd of over 43,000 gathered in Tokyo's Yoyogi Park for the May Day celebration, and Kiyoshi Sasamori, President of Rengo told them, "Peace is a basis of the labor movement. We never allow any war in order to fulfill our responsibility for global peace. Japan is now experiencing an increasingly bigger gap between the strong and the weak. Rengo will try to solve as many problems as possible as a representative of the weak." Many Japanese are fearful that the militarism of the past is returning, and so the Tokyo rally was held under the theme of "Peace, Human Rights, Labor, Environment and Coexistence." Japan's May Day focused on the issue of global peace, especially with the country marking the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

May Day in New York - 60,000 march for peace
Japanese peace activists, labor leaders, and politicians, also participated in a May Day march in New York city ahead of a May 2nd UN international conference reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Upwards of 60,000 people took part in the New York march, which was organized by American peace groups, United for Peace and Justice, and Abolition Now. Iraq war veterans and military families also joined the peace march. Marching in the massive protest were Tadatoshi Akiba and Itcho Ito, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A number of hibakusha (atom bomb survivors), were also in the procession, dressed in white and carrying banners against nuclear weapons. The huge demonstration went through Manhattan, marched by the UN building, and eventually ended in Central Park, where thousands of people formed a human peace sign that was photographed from an airplane. While possessing tens of thousands of nuclear weapons, and now developing new "strategic" battlefield nukes, the Bush administration hopes to "close loopholes" in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty that would allow it to go after Iran... which it says is "pursuing" nuclear weapons. That irony was not lost on the tens of thousands who marched in New York, chanting, "End the war in Iraq - No More Hiroshimas!" (posted by M).