Monday, December 21, 2009

Ramen Girl Dead at 32

It was a cold Winter’s Solstice of 2009 that I was saddened to hear the news of the untimely death of the actress Brittany Murphy. She had passed away after collapsing in her Hollywood Hills home by natural causes at the ripe young age of 32. I can’t say that I had been a really big fan of hers or that I didn't know her name until five months ago. But after some reflection after leaving the Koyasan Temple, I felt that I should weigh in on this and express my thoughts on this tragic passing. As you are probably aware, I like to watch many Japanese films and television dramas and as a result I tend to dominate the film picks around here. But as a fair exchange with my girlfriend Tinahime, I will now and then screen film picks she finds and every so often she finds a winner or two that I wouldn’t have otherwise shown interest in or heard of. So there we were on summer night last August having our usual debate about Samurai Dramas and the occasional chick flick she tries to sneak in when we came across a curious little film that starred Brittany Murphy called Ramen Girl.

At first I was not sure I was even going to like this film but Tina insisted I give this film a chance. American “chick flicks” generally do not interest me and often let us down but this turned out to be more than just a chick flick. This actually had a cool story that had all the familiar Japanese elements that you would hope for. In this film, the late Brittany Murphy plays a young American girl named Abby. She goes to Tokyo to be with her boyfriend Ethan who dumps her there while he bails off to go to Osaka. Heartbroken, she goes to a Ramen shop which is in the process of closing for the night. The chef played by Toshiyuki Nishida and his wife played by Kimiko Yo do not speak English and try to their best to turn the sobbing American away but to no avail. In an attempt to calm the girl down they serve her the last bowl of ramen for the night and she instantly loves it. It is in the midst of her palletary delight that she hallucinates that the lucky “Maneki Neko” cat seen at the entrance of the ramen house beckons her to come closer which leads to her grand epiphany to become a ramen chef.

Ramen Girl is a delightful film where Brittany Murphy played the role of Abby with the heart and passion worthy of a Japanese production. Cross cultural tension plays it’s hand as the performance of Toshiyuki Nishida and their Sensei / Student relationship really draws you in. So much so I want to own a DVD copy. Nishida almost reminds you of the late Toshiro Mifune with his intimidating grunts and hot temper but ultimately his sympathy for his student’s desire to become a true ramen chef.

And in this cross cultural exchange a transformation begins from kohai to sempai. If you wind up becoming involved in these characters you really wind up rooting for them as they warm your heart to the point I got really into cooking Soba and Udon noodle after this.

The film had been compared to the Karate Kid but I would give it better props than what it received. Ramen Girl is in both English and Japanese and was release in 2008. It was a truly a memorable stand out performance by Brittany Murphy that brought a rare smile to face. I’d like to think that there was more of Brittany’s true personality and charm infused into her character. And that is why I so saddened to hear of her death being so young and full of life. And now that we just come to know her in Ramen Girl it is such a loss. Brittany Murphy is better known for other roles in 8Mile, Uptown Girls, and Clueless but for me she will always be the quirky the Ramen Girl who will continue to live on in my heart.

Rest in Peace.
Sayonara Brittany,

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Gaikoku no Higeki Story Update

I have been working on my current novel for some time now. Originally I wrote the first Act of Dorama Haiku - Gaikoku no Higeki aka a Foreign Tragedy as a thirty page screen play. Over the last six months it has evolved into a three story screen play and then a full blown novel in three acts. By mid September 2009 I had Dorama Haiku read by a copy editor who advised me to rework it and lengthen the story. I am happy to have taken this advice for I now have a stronger and far more detailed first act. It was my original intention to release A Foreign Tragedy as a stand alone book. After much addition and major rework I have decided to return to that plan. Dorama Haiku will just be known as a trilogy in which each act will be released as it's own book in the series. Otherwise it will take me another year to have all three books ready for publication and I don't want to wait that long. And for my friends who have been waiting for me to complete this I am sure they don't want to wait that long either. The Depth of Echoes and IISHIMARU for the time being will have to wait.

The Complexities of Man have lead to tragedies far and abound.
Time bears no malice for Ego is the fodder of Great Deception.
Only Truth redeems us all.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tachiuchi no Shinkendo

Japanese swordsmanship has always been a favorite of mine. And as such, I have sought out the Samurai Arts and have trained over the last year and a half at the Shinkendo Honbu Dojo located in the heart of Little Tokyo under it’s founder master swordsman Toshishiro Obata. I consider myself fortunate enough to train under such a renown swordsman of Samurai liniage who once held the title for seven years in the All Japan Swordsmanship Championship. And train we do six days a week!

Under the instruction of both Obata Kaiso and Mrs. Obata Sensei (seen to the right here), I have learned much of what it takes to learn the Samurai Arts. In order write Samurai fiction as I have chosen to do, it is often recommended to walk a mile in your characters shoes or in my case learn the ways of the Samurai in the most practical of means. To do this watching Akira Kurosawa Samurai films with Toshiro Mifune was not going to be enough. For this reason I chose to live Bushido by actually applying it. Though initialy, I did not plan to become a writer. It was by chance during a period of transition in my career that the process of learning swordsmanship had come about. It is often suggested to write about what you know. I knew Japanese history but not the way of the sword. Since I had started my training, my writing has only since benefited from first hand knowledge of leanring how of what goes into actually weilding a sword and the power that goes with it.

It was the works of Yukio Mishima that inspired me to take art and unite it with action. With that ideal I trained in Kendo at Osaka Sangyo University Learning Center in Studio City but felt unsatisfied with my training. In Kendo, we work with Kendo Bogu (armor) that was loosely based on Samurai armor and bamboo Shinai sword. In that year I was only taught three strike points of men, kote, & do. This was fun at first but after some time I became frustrated with some of the kenshi I trained with. It seemed there was less focus on the art of Japanenese swordsmanship and more focus on wining kendo tournaments. I do not blame my former Sensei’s but my own lack of understanding. Neither my limited understanding at the time in Zen Buddhism or the Gorin No Sho could answer this. I had joined at age 37 roughly the age that Yukio Mishima had started. But at 37 competing with 18 year old kids who didn’t work for a living and had never smoked or downed enough sake to kill a horse, didn’t appeal to me. I felt like the odd man out and so I left.

Being away from any dojo can be painful and the older you get the harder it is to return. But to return to kendo didn't seem right. I felt there was more to swordsmanship than just attacking three strike points. I wanted to learn more realistic Japanese swordsmanship but didn't know where. I had considered Iaido but there were no dojo’s that called out to me. I did find an awesome looking school hidden somewhere in Little Tokyo but their hours made training with them impossible. I had considered the Aikido Center in East LA but something told me to hold off on that. During this period in 2007 I had started to watch the NHK Taiga Drama Furin Kazan which I loved ever since seeing the 1969 film version starring Toshiro Mifune.

It was the way Kunske Yamamoto stared at the Kai Domain with great pride and his love for the banners of Shingen Takeda. Swift as the Wind – Silent as the Forrest – Fierce as the Fires – Immovable as the Mountains. It was something about those diamond mon and the Furin Kazan banners itself that awakened the yearning to seek out the right dojo. And in doing so I had found the Shinkendo website while I was doing research on the Takeda Clan.

As fortune would have it, Obata Kaiso descended from not only the Heike Clan but one of the famous 24 Takeda Generals Obata Masamori, Lord of Kaizo Jo Castle. Being a huge Furin Kazan & Takeda fan the lure of being connected to them was quite applealing.

To quote Pulp Fiction, Shit! That’s all you had to say! 
So it was in March of 2008 that I petitioned and was accepted into the Shinkendo Shinkage by Mrs. Obata Sensei. I have trained rigorously since that time and in August of 2008 I had passed my first test and achieved the first rank of Ichimonji in Shinkendo. I did not qualify to take my exams in 2009 due to some unrelated injuries I sustained and some personal drama. However, I am in the running for my upcoming exams for Jiho rank in February 2010 as well as my Kyu Rank in Toyama Ryu. In order to do this Kaiso says ”Practice, Practice, Practice!”
Here to the right I am seen recieving Ichimonji no Shinkendo August 2008. Shinkendo has its liniage in various Ryu such as the famous Yagu-Shinkage. Shinkendo is truly the masterwork of its founder Toshishiro Obata. We primarily work with wooden Boken, Bokto, and now and then Iaito Sword. Should a student qualify or is of higher rank then they can participate in Tameshigiri which is live test cutting with real Katana Shinken Swords. This is exciting to watch especially when Obata Kaiso does this with two swords. I can’t but think of Musashi at Ganryujima when I see him slice through a pair of targets with both swords in hand.
Shinkendo is practical sword art combining coordination, technique, timing, and overall safety. In the time since I had first started my training I have learned multiple techniques in Tarengata (prearragnged solo practice forms) and tachiuchi (carefully choregraphed sparring) Despite some moves being choreographed we learn them for safety. In the days of the Samurai, accidents were both life altering and in some cases fatal. Accidents still take place particularly in the act of chiburi or blood flickering. For this reason the Shinkendo emphasizes heavily on saftey and has one of the best safety records of any weapon based martial art. As a “Shindoka Kohai” we are also taught Toyama-Ryu which was a sword art devised by the Japanese Imperial Army. Toyama-Ryu includes such moves as Batsu-Jitsu and Gunto-Soho. Toyama-Ryu and Shinkendo are tested as two separate arts. Obata Sensei is one of the few people outside of Japan you can learn this from which he has included this into the Shinkendo curriculum. This is awesome when we do this in demonstration style in large groups. If you are at a Japanese Matsuri and see Shinkendo listed under demonstrations, this is something you will not want to miss.
Aside from Toyama Ryu, The Obata’s also teach Aikido/Aikibujitsu as well as Bojitsu – the art of the Bo Staff. What’s good to know in regards to Aikido is that Obata Sensei was the instructor for the Tokyo Riot Police in Aikido and Aikibujitsu. They train in hand to hand combat, work with Bo staffs, Tanto, Sais, and bokto. The Obatas employ strict discipline and a heavy emphasis on safety and tradition. So when considering an Aikido instructor you may want to consider training under the Obatas.

The Age of the Samurai may be gone but the Spirit of the Samurai and the arts that made the Samurai are still with us beyond the shores of Japan. That spirit known as Budodamashi lives on in dojos around the world. I am lucky enough to live close to Little Tokyo to be in range of the Honbu Dojo for Shinkendo.
If you are not in the area, lament not for there are other Shinkendo Dojo’s in America as well as others around the world which you can easily find at the Shinkendo website. It is available in both English and Japanese.
To find out more about Shinkendo
Please visit their website at or visit the Honbu Dojo.
333 Alameda in the Little Tokyo Shopping Center.
Until then,
Jinsei Shinkendo!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sunday, November 15, 2009

侍映画 - Eiga no Mifune

As you might have guessed, I love Samurai films. Particularly Samurai films with Toshiro Mifune. Now and then I am lucky enough to catch a classic Samurai film in Little Tokyo or when they have a Samurai Film Festival at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. I am a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Film Society. As such, I am fortunate enough to see many film screenings and meet many industry professionals. Recently I have been running into Samurai film buffs and have been engaged in many great conversations. At the recent screening of The Last Station ( a film about the final days of Leo Tolstoy ) I got into a deep talk about amazing scenes from classic Samurai Films. There are so many memorable scenes largely with the legendary Toshiro Mifune and other greats of his era that if I had to name one for this month I will refer to the 1957 Akira Kurosawa classic THRONE OF BLOOD aka Kumonosu-jō - The Spider Web Castle.

If you are not familiar with THRONE OF BLOOD it's basically Shakespeare's Macbeth set in feudal Japan. Toshiro Mifune plays Washizu Taketoki who essentially murders his way to becoming lord. He will stop at nothing to attain power and with the manipulations of his power hungry wife he is driven over the edge by the prohpecies of a ghostly encounter in the Spider Web Forrest. A phantom ghost has promised Tatetoki "You shall reign until the tree's rise against you." This quote comes back to haunt him when his castle is under siege. During the final siege, a moment of cinematic genius fills the screen when Mifune's Tatetoki looks out a gun port and sees in literal LSD vision tree's encroaching on his castle. This freaks Mifune's character out and sends this murderous lord into a panic and ultimately seals his doom.

Now I am not sure if Kurosawa was experimenting with hallucinatic drugs at the time or it just happened that this was a popular theme during the 1960's. But I can say the blurry sight of trees rushing the castle while the quote from the ghost plays out brilliantly!

I am glad I didn't see the tree scene when I was a teenager!
I would have freaked! In any case Throne of Blood is a brilliant use of the Macbeths framework and an excellent adaptation. This film was made on the slopes of Mount Fuji and makes an extensive use of fog in many of the exterior scenes. Filmed in black & white, Akira's creative use of natural elements and dramatic effects gives you a sense of being there.
If you see this for the first time be sure to screen a copy of Akira Kurosawa's RAN. But we'll talk about that another time! In the menatime I highly recommend Throne of Blood. You won't be dissappointed!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Kobo Daishi Statue Dedication Ceremony

It had been well over a month since the new statue of Kobo Daishi had made it's appearence at the front entrance of the Koyasan Buddist Temple located in the heart of Little Tokyo. It was a generous gift to the temple which had long served the Japanese-American Community since just before the outbreak of war in 1941. After some careful planning, the dedication took place this month before the monthly Goma Fire Ritual.

Kobo Daishi is credited with bringing Shingon Buddhism to Japan during the Heian Period. The statue depicts Shugyo Daishi at the age of 42 before he became known as Kobo Daishi.

This statue was described as not neccessarily being historiclly accurate to the physical appearence of Kobo Daishi, rather the image of the founder of Koyasan Buddhism that resides in the hearts of it's followers.

The Kobo Daishi Statue Dedication Ceremony was well attended by many people and we were fortunate enough to be there for this most rare and special occassion. Magnificently cast, this statue will greet both visitors and worshipers alike to the Koyasan Buddhist Temple for many years to come.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kabuki – Backstage to Hanamichi

One can never underestimate the power and majesty opera can have on one’s senses. As clearly demonstrated with last year’s visually stunning Noh Theater performance at the Aratani Theater in Little Tokyo - Los Angeles, language barriers or lack of spoken language proves to be no barrier at all when it comes to Kabuki. Performances here in the United States are rare and not to be missed and last night was no exception. The Shochiku Company came to the renowned Aratani Theater in Little Tokyo to perform two sold out performances of this most rare and exquisite art.

In 2005 I had the unique pleasure of seeing the Shochiku Company’s performance of The Grand Kabuki featuring national treasure actor Nakamura Ganjiro III in a performance of Chikamatsu-za’s The Love Suicides. There, I had seen something that had exceeded my own expectations as demonstrated during the show’s tearful finale. But last night’s presentation was quite different. Now after seeing The Grand Kabuki you have to wonder, well how can you top that? Honestly, there is no way you can make such comparisons. All one can do is behold and allow onself to be captivated by the magic that is Kabuki.

As true to it’s advertising, the event was truly a behind the scenes look at how Kabuki is put together. Now I have seen many films from Japan showing the makeup process but never have we seen anything on the other elements involved. We were treated to an introductory lecture from the lead actor Matanosuke Nakamura who explained how the various instruments are played and how they are used to provide to the overall imagery. Such as for example the sound of snow falling with the use of a large Taiko drum or the use of flute and shamiesen. This presented a greater understanding to Kabuki that had I seen this lecture would have made the 2005 tour even deeper for me. What we bore witness to in 2009 was far different from the 2005 tour and yet equally entertaining.
But it didn’t stop there. We were treated to a live on stage demonstration of how makeup is applied complete with all it's symbolism explained in intricate detail. The wardrobe demonstration provided us with a glimpse of how the actors embody the soul of their characters. It was truly fascinating to see so many key elements come together before our very eyes and there were still there were performances to behold.

When I watched the Grand Kabuki in 2005 I was treated to a comedy and a tragedy. This year’s presentation offered us something completely different yet equally dramatic. The first performance was Sagi Musume (Heron Maiden) that was first performed in 1782. This was a solo performance of a maiden who dances on a frozen pond in what was billed as “A play of unrequited love.” This involved the actor demonstrating the various female poses and gestures while the effects of snow petals fell from the ceiling while the Taiko drum dazzled our auditory senses. The actor would go through several costume changes on stage characterized as transformations of torments and pleads of pity. It was visually stunning as it was dramatic.

I was truly mesmerized by Sagi Musume but the show did not end there. As with the earlier Kabuki there would be a fifteen minute intermission followed by another lecture this time involving the mechanics of the stage hands and how contribute both on stage as well as behind the scenes.
The performance that followed was Shakkyo (The Stone Bridge). This was the famous Lion Dance I had seen in documentaries about Kabuki which reminded me of Noh Theater in its elaborate character design. This dance based on an ancient Buddhist fable featured both male and female lions with their large elaborate colored wigs. White for male and red for female. This featured shishi (soul stirring) and Keburi (swinging of long hair) – One can honestly say SUGOII NE'!
I can not say when we will be fortunate enough to see another Kabuki performance here in Little Tokyo but what I can say is if you get the rare opportunity to see a Kabuki performance outside of Japan, Do not miss it! It was an incredible night out and good to see so many people dressed in elaborate kimono especially the few Americans in Kimono at this very special sold out performance. I love seeing other Americans who appreciate Japanese culture as much as I do. It was good to even run into a fellow Shinkendoka James Huang at the performance as well as meet Miyuki Sohara -the director of the new Geisha Documentary HANNARI. I would like to thank the JACCC, The Consul General of Japan, and the Shochiku company for both enlightening us as well as culturally enriching us with this most rare and beautiful art.

Domo Arigatou' Gozaimasu!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Oda Nobunaga Invades South Park?

So there I was searching for some cool Takeda gear when I came accross this mug over on Cafe Press. Lil' Nobunaga? Nani???? I almost about spit up my drink at this silly South Park characterization of the legendary warlord. Who knows if the real Oda had a sense of humor but if you do you can score this and other items at:

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Gaijin-Gourmet

I have to say I've had fun making this blog. So why stop there?
Be sure to check out my Cooking Blog - The Gaijin-Gourmet

Friday, October 2, 2009

Dorama Haiku - Preview of Act I

I'm pleased to present as my first official post a preview of my debut novel Dorama Haiku. My book is set in three acts in three different time periods covering three different dramas.

Act I - Kaikoku no Higeki - A Foreign Tragedy.
This is a historical drama set in Japan of 1866 during the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Tragedy Needs No Translation.

Act II - The Depth of Echoes aka The Passenger
Is a modern day ghost story set in contemporary times in New York City. A requiem for the restless!

Is a Science Fiction story set in the far reaches of space dealing with love, and loss that only desolation knows.

I've been working on it all summer and some of you have been dying to read it so here is just a preview from the latest draft from Act I : Kaikoku no Higeki - A Foreign Tragedy.

I hope you enjoy!
- One paragrah from Chapter 3 - Kaikoku no Higeki - A Foreign Tragedy

This scene takes place at the American Consulate in Hakodate' Ezo May 1866. In this scene William Merrick who works as a translator for the American Consulate is briefed on his precarious new assignment. His mission is to escort the stranded Wayfield Party safely from Shimoda to the capitol in Edo. What complicates his task is the newly imposed state of martial law implimented by the Bakufu Government in Edo. This has restricted travel to and from Edo while the Shogun leads a doomed army to attack the powerful Choshu Clan. This story is set during the Second Choshu Expedition of 1966.

- From Chapter 3
A look of concern appeared on Merrick’s face as he looked around the room as the men understood the serious implications of the situation. “What of the Bakufu Navy?” inquired Merrick. 1st Officer Ichiro looked to Superintendant Okuda who nodded with caution. “The battle will be on land. There is little we can do,” expressed 1st Officer Ichiro as the Elder Okuda sat in silence. Vice Consul Bertrand interjected; “There are many factions in Edo and Kyoto that are aligning against the Tokugawa Shogun.” The grim faced Colburn added; “The Bakufu assures us they have control of the situation but the reality is that the Bakufu in Edo may collapse and the consequence of that collapse could have serious implications for all westerners here.” Merrick had seen the banners reading “Sonno-jōi” – Expel the Barbarian’ along the outskirts of the foreign quarters of Edo. He had been well aware of the anti-western sentiments that existed in various parts of the country. Merrick could only look around then room and come to ask the most dreadful of possibilities. “And what if the Shogun is killed?” asked Merrick. “Chaos,” replied the Elder Okuda in a deep reserved voice. “Absolute Chaos.”



Welcome to my new blog!

This will be my new blog that will cover my interests, rants, and general news for all my current endeavors. As some of you may have guessed, Japanese culture and history play a large part of my everyday life. When possible I will share things here from time to time. I hope you will find this blog to be informative as well as entertaining in the time to come.