The New Wave of Japanese Comedy

Owarai (comedy) is one of the big entertainments in Japan now. When you turn the TV on, you will see tons of Owarai Geinins (comedians).

The most general style is called Manzai, which is basically two people talking in front of a microphone. One person is called Boke. Boke person says something stupid, and another person called Tsukkomi corrects it (sometimes slapping Boke’s head).

Another type of style is Conto, which is known for being a short comedy play.

This also has Boke and Tsukkomi, but instead of talking in front of a standing microphone, Conto adds acting and pantomime.

There are many Pin Geinins (individual comedians), too. Many of them have some sort of strong expression or catch phrase called an Ippatsu Gei. They make strong impressions doing their Ippatsu Gei. If they can survive catching the capricious Japanese people’s attention and still keep showing up on TV three years later, then maybe they are successful. The biggest competition that improves their careers is “M-I Grand prix.” This is for Manzai Geinins. R-1 Grand prix is for Pin Geinins. R comes from Rakugo, which means traditional Japanese comedy talk.

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Saturday night’s at 10 PM, the show “The God of Entertainment Show” on Nippon Television, hosts many new comedians.

If you are a big fan of Owarai, then you should go to see it live. The M-1 Grand Prix and pre Grand Prix live shows are intense. The air is thick and you can feel the comedians’ tension and really understand how big an opportunity for them this contest is.

Comedy shows at Lumine the Yoshimoto in Shinjuku are frequent and more accessible.

Live shows are everyday and you get to see the comedians closer.

http://www.fandango.co.jp/lumine/index.html

And if you are really crazy for seeing popular and traditional comedy, I recommend you to see one in Osaka.

BlowFish Fins A Floating

I’m a sucker for any gimmick, so I tried the Fuguhire sake. This means hot sake with flame broiled blowfish fins floating in it. And well as I’m not a fan of hot sake, I prefer cold and if anything floating in it maybe a slice of cucmber, I was a little surprised by the taste. At first it tasted the same as regular ole hot sake, but as I got closer to the bottom it got a little more and more fishier. The last drop was a little too fishy.

Now I have heard that some take their blowfish fins home for further soaking , but for me I think I’ll stick with the old cold sake and a cucumber slice routine.

Fuguhire Sake

Fuguhire Sake

Fuguhire Sake

Yum!

Ramen Jiro

Ikebukuro – ignored, ashamed, malcontent. On most tourists’ to-do list, Ikebukuro ranks next to last (the lowest one being the unlimited number of McDonald’s so-called restaurants) and has little to offer to your average visitor. There are nothing but chain stores, more stores, your arcades and camera shops, suit companies and sub-par pizza shops. The supposed jewel of Ikebukuro, Sunshine City, collects a large number of foreign brand name stores that will do little to excite even the most consumer-hungry westerner. When a shopping district’s biggest attraction is its Burger King, you know that your time may well be better spent elsewhere.

This isn’t to say that Ikebukuro has nothing to offer – darker elements will find plenty of their special brand of enjoyment here. Once a former hub of Yakuza activity, Ikebukuro features a thriving sex market,  gaggles of pachinko parlors, and a sense of despair that can only be created by the number of homeless wandering between the metal clanks and cherub-skinned hostesses.  It is a ironic situation for these forlorn souls – living by the very institutions that had filled their greatest fantasies but took everything they had away from them. However, these ominous individuals do not scare away the crowds and long lines waiting patiently every morning for the pachinko stores to open, many of them young and clearly still in school. Gambling in Japan is a fruitless enterprise – the odds are worse than Vegas and the costs substantially higher. There’s not even a roller coaster around to fill the void of dumping hours of wages into a hyperactive neon version of plinko. And yet, with so many reasons to avoid places like this, it is as if the mere brainless activity of throwing balls offers some sense of security, a place of comfort, away from the hum and drum of daily life, adding brightness and colors to an otherwise black-and-white suit, concrete city. And despite all this, tucked away in seemingly random buildings next to unrelated stores and dodgy characters, lies some of the finest ramen shops in Tokyo.

A group of individuals as hungry for ear-crushing cacophony and cigarettes will no doubt require and equally suitable meal to go along side their downward destruction. What this entails are late night eateries that feature the fattiest and the juiciest, the savory and the salty, and above all, the cheapest eats. These restaurants have little to do with community – their aim is to satisfy in ten minutes or less. Besides, one can only spend but so many hours of the day to gamble or cozy up with a wage girl. To that effect these tiny establishments challenge conventional wisdom and rotate customers like an assembly line – buy your ticket, sit down, eat, and go. Anymore than that and you risk ruining the entire operation. Talking is kept to a minimum, and the joy of the food to come kept in confined ecstasy. Nothing exemplifies this more than a certain ramen shop that holds a cult-like status with its regulars. Ramen Jiro not only caters to this aesthetic, but embodies it in whole, enough to drive people from all walks to take the Jiro challenge.

As I walk down the street where Ramen Jiro is located, I take a moment to reflect on my surroundings and what I had just encountered. I had walked by occupied cardboard coffins and a man who had all but removed his pants entirely scratching his belly incessantly. In a town as strict on image as it is on discipline, a grown man with no regard to standing butt naked on the sidewalk is a resounding bitch slap across Japan’s infamous modesty. The street was littered with ramen shops, some with fanciful signs and traditionally designed interiors, offering all variety of ramen and desires before you even step within their door. The only marker that would indicate the presence of Ramen Jiro, besides the 20-person, male-dominated line waiting outside, is a dimly lit yellow sign with “Ramen Jiro” written across it in Japanese. The interior leaves little to be desired, only an assortment of former patrons leaving their business cards tacked along the walls. Patiently I wait in line for almost 20 minutes before arriving at the familiar ticket vending machine, but presented with only a few real options – little ramen, big ramen, with pork, without pork, 700¥ or 900¥. I continue to wait and warily look upon the ramen that I expect to receive – a large bowl, with a mountainous pile of vegetables inversely reflecting the depth of the bowl. Things began to heat up inside, with so little wiggle room and no A/C. I already began sweating, and I began to worry about eating such a hot meal on such a hot night. Most people seem to be able to finish their bowls, but several unfortunate people leave half of what they received, feverishly wiping their foreheads with tissue. Before I can decide if that is in good or bad form, I finally get a chance to sit down and eagerly give my ticket to the server.

What is set before me is a familiar site – a scene of Mt. Fuji, as envisioned using the medium of bean sprouts, lettuce, crushed garlic, and broth. All around this massive pile of stuff is a moat of light brown soup, with white globs floating on top. I had seen someone order extra fat in their bowl; I wasn’t interested nor had the constitution to order extra fat just yet. I puzzle it out in my mind how to approach this dish, and begin to pick at the vegetables until I could make a suitable pool to begin dunking the vegetables and even beginning to try some of the ramen noodles deep within. I swirl the large pile of garlic into the pool, grab some noodles, and swallow. The taste is immediate – salty, savory, brothy. This soup has been sitting in a deep vat of pork meat for quite some time makes no illusions about it. The noodles slip about uncontrollably, as they are thick and resemble something closer to udon than the stereotypical spring-coiled thin yellow noodles of Cup Noodle infamy. There’s only a slight hint of ginger underneath it all. I wonder where it comes from? Out of the corner of my eye, I see in the lone fridge bottles of ginger ale but no one drinking it. Is this perhaps a secret ingredient? Steam begins to fume out of the bowl and covers my face as I continue to dig and chew my way through the mountain. This is ramen, good ramen, but undeniably a depraved ramen. My coronaries were tightening ever so slightly with each greedy gulp of noodle and soup. Eventually I came upon a cheap cut of stew pork, carefully held together by a thick white sheet of fat. Eating around it, the brown meat fell apart like silk strings. And in this order, I stuck with this method as I carried out my attempts to finish the ramen.

I had finally reached half way through the bowl. My head was throbbing and I was sweating uncontrollably at this point. The combination of close-quarters eating, an unending steam bath for my face, and the disastrously hot soup coursing through my body, it had my glands pleading for a cold breeze of any sort. The un-iced water they provided was of little relief to me. And I was beginning to feel full. What was the appeal of this? Why were people willing to wait more than a half-hour for a torturous battle with a bowl that could one day end up on the “told-you-so” side of a heart attack? And why would you even dare smoke a cigarette after doing this kind of damage to your body? What were people getting out of this? I didn’t know, but I didn’t care. It was the taste, the decadence of the pork fat greedily sticking to each noodle, the almost absurd amount of garbage packed into a single dish. But it wasn’t an offensive bowl of ramen – they stayed within the bounds of traditional ramen and kept it simple and hearty. I don’t think I felt any sort of nostalgia or sense of home while eating, but maybe in its excess and savory flavor comes a deeper feeling of safety and satisfaction that something of this magnitude can provide. We gouge into the bowl, knowing full well on the other end we come out alive and free, safe from the frigid outside world, sharing a silent appreciation with those sitting around us, and most importantly, enjoying a well made dish. You test your own gastronomic limits, and your body happily accepts what could be a monumental mistake, but it doesn’t matter, because your vixen of a tongue is lasciviously engrossed in being covered in fatty brown stew. Fettered to her every will, that next bite is only in anticipation of the tastes to come.

And then I was staring at an empty bowl, with only a tiny pool of brown soup sitting at the bottom. I got up and grabbed a yogurt milk from the convenience store, went to a bar, and proceeded to drink the night away.

Ramen Jiro, 2-27-17 South Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku

Ramen Jiro
Ramen Jiro

Tokyo Bay – Vingt et un – Restaurant Ship Cruise

The Vingt et un restaurant cruise in Tokyo Bay was a great bit of fun for this posters birthday.  I won’t tell you which one it was though.  But I will tell you about the cruise and food.  The best time I think to go is in July or August during the Hanabi Season in Japan.  Almost every Saturday there are firework festivals throughout parts of Tokyo which you should be able to spot from the ship.  We were lucky enough to see one that seemed like it was in Odaiba, but even if you can’t see a fireworks show the skyline of Tokyo is fun and filled with such attractions as Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, and a giant multi-colored ferris wheel.

The Vingt et un Cruise lives up to it’s name. “Vignt et un” means twenty-one in French, like the game of Black Jack. But I think its more like 21st Century as the entrance to the ship made me feel like I was walking into a scene from Star Wars.

There are two cruises available one is 120min the other 140min.  The 120min cruise was just time to eat, so if you want to get up and look around go ahead and do so.  

The food was great and came in courses. There was a Hawaiian theme to the music complete with Hula dancer, which made the night a little more interesting. I got a few giggles out the dancer and ukulele player/singer, I will admit. Wine is extra but not so much as its under $10 a glass. And since it was my birthday, I did get a great tasting cake with my name on it followed by even more dessert.

For more information you can visit their site or call 03-3436-2121. www.vantean.co.jp. Sorry I think it’s only in Japanese.

The new view on Urban planning

blue_goals_spotWhat most mayors are realizing is that they have too many people and no way to get them in and out of the city efficiently. The world of the automobile making us mobile is over. It now is only a main source of frustration and congestion in most cities. And the automobile does nothing but hinder, pollute, and worsen the air quality for most city residents that don’t own a car. It is now the time to start planning for people not cars. Start rejuvenating our cities by turning old parking lots into gardens and places to park bikes. Make bike lanes and put sidewalks along roads for walkers. Add in some mass transit such as buses, trains, and subways. Then connect these cities together with high-speed bullet trains instead of highways.

It’s been proven in places where buses, subways, and trains are built that people make the switch from cars to mass transit. So what are we waiting for again? The traffic to clear?

Planet Earth is blue and there is something you can do

blue_goals_spotHere’s a short list of things you can do to live a greenier life and reduce your CO2 footprint.

  1. If you don’t have allergies try to hang your clothes outside on a line.  And if that is for some reason banned in your community you can get help here…Project Laundry List’s-Stop the Ban!
  2. Use CFL’s, compact fluorescent light bulbs.
  3. Adjust your AC.  Try a setting 10 degrees cooler than the day’s high temperature.  You’ll save 3 percent on your energy costs for every degree raised over 72 degrees. Or raise the temperature and use a fan to save even more.  
  4. Draw the blinds and curtains during the sunniest and warmest times of day. 
  5. Cut back on single-serving foods and beverages.  Buy items in bulk and portion them out into reusable containers.
  6. Buy concentrated household items, like detergent and cleaning supplies, so you get more product per package.
  7. Look for packing made from recycled materials.  The higher the percentage of recycled content the better.
  8. Plug your entertainment electronics and more into power strips so you can cut their power drain in standby mode. Miscellaneous appliances are just as guilty of pumping out greenhouse carbon dioxide when not in use.  So plugging them into a strip that you can cut off will save you money on your electric bill while and prevent the CO2 from being added to the atomosphere.
  9. If you water your lawn, set the sprinkler to a setting that gives off large drops low and close to the ground.  Water early in the morning, which will ensure the water soaks into the soil instead of evaporating.  Position the sprinkler so that all water falls on the lawn and not the sidewalk or driveway.
  10. Stop charging your cell phone overnight. The longer a battery is charging, the longer it’s exposed to heat, which can wear it down. Most cell phone batteries fully charge in under two hours, so as soon as all bars have been restored, unplug your phone. And while you’re at it, unplug the charger, which constantly drains power even when it’s not juicing up your phone.

In one word – Grain

blue_goals_spotGrain prices are increasing and reaching historical highs. International food aid flows are being slashed because of it. Added to that fact, there is water and land scarcity, so higher crop yields are getting harder and harder to achieve. The number of hungry people will possibly soar, if something isn’t done. The responsibility of the Ministry of Agriculture was food security, but it has lost its power to control grain supplies as the United States has discontinued setting aside cropland since 1996. In a world where cropland is scarce decisions are more important. Decisions made by governments on the production of crop-based automotive fuels are already affecting grain supplies and prices. What other decisions will be made in developing or developed countries that will affect the hungry and poverty stricken?

Everything is really a decision, when the size of car you drive to the supermarket is starting to effect the size of your grocery bill.

Don’t keep me on standby…

blue_goals_spotIs it time to get a more energy efficient TV, stereo, or computer?

As of 2007 the estimated share of electricity used by appliances in standby mode worldwide is up to 10 percent of total electricity consumption.  

Some governments are capping the amount of standby power used by products at 1 watt per appliance.  Is yours?

excerpts taken from Plan B 3.0 by Lester R. Brown

Energy Efficiency

blue_goals_spotMany people know that CFLs (those wonderful new light bulbs) use only one fourth as much electricity as incandescent light bulbs, but did you know other household appliances have a similar range of efficiencies?

Among industrial countries, Japan’s Top Runner Program is the most dynamic system for upgrading appliance efficiency standards. In Japan’s system, the most efficient appliances today set the standard for those sold tomorrow. With this program Japan planned to raise efficiency standards between the late 1990s and the end of 2007 for individual appliances by anywhere from 15 to 83 percent, depending on the appliance. This is an ongoing process that continually exploits advances in efficiency technologies.

excerpts taken from Plan B 3.0 by Lester R. Brown

Japan is closer than you think.