Michio Ihara

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from: http://www.rockefellercenter.com/art-and-history/art/light-and-movement/

I came across an article in the Japan Times this morning about Michio Ihara.  His quote from the article was very interesting:

“Asked if traditional Japanese designs inspire him, Ihara said he has ‘always consciously tried not to bring Japan to the surface’ of his mind, so if viewers detect Japan in his works, it is only because it exists in him ‘naturally.'”  Is this the equivalent of “you can take the girl out of the Bronx but you can’t take the Bronx out of the girl”?  except more tastefully said, I suppose!  I’m from Queens, myself, so I know what that’s all about!

Back to art…

If you have been to the International Building at Rockefeller Center, you may have seen Michio Ihara’s beautiful wall installation called Light and Movement.  His work can be found in many public buildings and spaces around the world.

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From the Rockefeller Center website:

“Nelson Rockefeller, a great patron of modern art, commissioned this sculpture in 1978 to update and enhance the lobby area of the International Building.  Although each element is unique alone, together the ten units are a single work of art, creating a haze of light that lessens the cold steel and stone of the modern lobby and entrance.  It involves nearly sixteen hundred rectangular metal leaves with gold patinas individually attached to vertical stainless-steel cables.  The sculptures embody the essentials of reflected light and movement, two qualities typical of Ihara’s work.”

Ihara has a new sculpture in Central Boston called, “Wind, Wind, Wind” which he says, “When the sun shines on this, it creates a very good effect.” (from Japan Times article)

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Beautiful pieces that are worth a visit next time you are in NYC or Boston!  Send us a picture if you’re there!

What the Wat?? Asian Americans in the NBA

Jeremy Lin

Linsanity has taken over New York. In case you are not a basketball fan, or an underdog story fan and you have been living under a rock, Jeremy Lin is an Asian American basketball player who has taken the New York Knicks by storm.  And we know, it’s not just him.  It seems that he has helped revitalize the whole team and everyone is playing their A game.  I haven’t had this much fun watching the Knicks since the early 90s when my brother made me forced me to watch it with him.

What a great story though.  This kid plays basketball and makes waves in high school but ends up going to Harvard for college even though they do not give athletic scholarships.  So he plays for the Harvard team, also doing well and somehow makes it to the NBA.  And apparently, that is not as glamorous as it sounds if you are warming benches.

Despite showing a lot of potential, he gets shuffled around a couple of teams, goes back and forth from the D league until he gets his break.  He makes it to the Knicks roster and since it seems they’ve run out of point guards, he gets the signal to get in the game.

 
And he shines. And he keeps shining! Yes, this guy is for real. Stop asking if he is!

 
I saw the article in the New York Times last week talking about Wat Misaka and how he was the first non-Caucasian in the NBA.  This was in 1947 right after World War II when racial tensions were still broiling over from the war.  This is the same year that Jackie Robinson became the first African American to play in Major League Baseball and Wally Yonamine became the first Asian American to play in the NFL for the 49ers. [Coincidentally, it is also the same year that Miya Company was incorporated in NYC by our founder, Mr. Chosuke Miyahira.]

 
So I googled Wat Misaka and found a documentary about him called, “Transcending, the Wat Misaka Story.” (www.watmisaka.com)  I promptly sent them my money to get a copy. I get excited about Asian American history, don’t judge me!

 
If you get a chance to see it, I highly recommend it.  It’s a bit slow in some parts but it’s quite an interesting story. He lived through the time of Pearl Harbor, Japanese American Internment, Japanese American conscription into the US Army against Japan, the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki and of course, all the racial tension that stemmed from all of this.  At one point in the documentary, Wat Misaka put into words the feeling of confusion and despair of many Nisei (2nd generation Japanese Americans) after Pearl Harbor.  He says that it was devastating thinking that his parents’ country was waging war on his country.

Wat Misaka in Utah

He was living in Utah and was able to leave the internment camp with a sponsor to play basketball for his college team.  The accounts of his time with his team with real footage from the games were amazing.  He gets drafted and ends up in Hiroshima close to where his mother’s brother lived.  They use a quote in the documentary about his wearing an American Army uniform in Japan saying that no matter where he was, he was seen as a traitor to his country – in the US, simply because he was of Japanese descent and in Japan because of his uniform.

Wat Misaka with John Starks in 2009 at Madison Square Garden. (image from http://www.watmisaka.com)

The documentary is a great story of his spirit and a nice overview of Japanese American history.  He was honored in 2009 by the Knicks in recognition of his place in Knicks’ history. He was 5’ 7”, Japanese and the Knicks’ first draft pick in 1947.  How incredible.
Wat Misaka is getting some press lately because of Jeremy Lin’s success.  You can see some similarities in their stories but, of course, both men should be celebrated for their own achievements.

As much as Jeremy Lin has become a hero to many kids, Asian American or not, who see him as their inspiration, imagine what it must have been like to see (or more likely, read/hear about) Wat Misaka playing at Madison Square Garden in the 40s. That is truly a story of the American spirit.

And excuse me but I must add in the gratuitous, “GO KNICKS!!”

Ku-ri-su-ma-su

There are some lovely things about Christmas in Japan – the dramas on tv that tell romantic stories of couples who may not have known how deep their love was until Christmas night when they find themselves realizing what the true meaning of Christmas is – it’s all about dating a cute girl in a fluffy outfit who is standing outside at night in a brightly lit Christmas scene with perfect makeup as snow begins to fall gently.   It is, as the Japanese say, ro-man-ti-ku.

In Japan, people also like a good Christmas Cake  –  these are usually wonderful concoctions of whip cream and strawberry goodness.   Sounds like a better option over sticky lumpy fruitcake.

Then there’s the KFC tradition of ordering a fast food chicken dinner with all the fixings to devour with your family on Christmas night.   Mmmmm….  I don’t know when this started but it’s not a bad idea!  Sounds pretty good about now as I think about the many hours of cooking I have ahead of me when my family comes over on Christmas.

Why is Christmas so popular in Japan?  Not sure, maybe because Santa’s outfit has the same colors as the Japanese flag?  In fact, KFC, Santa, Strawberries & Cream and the Japanese flag… Wait a second, what do these all have in common?  The color scheme!  Wow.  I can’t believe I just figured it out.  Now on to global warming!

But before I solve that, I also have a theory about why Christmas is a romantic holiday in Japan – because everywhere you go, you can’t get away from Mariah Carey singing, “All I Want For Christmas” and George Michael singing “Last Christmas.”  These might be the official Christmas songs in Japan, not “White Christmas” or “Jingle Bells.”  You’d be hard pressed to find a Japanese person under 40 who didn’t know either of these Christmas pop songs.

The holiday season is fun wherever you go.  It’s the end of the year so people all around the world feel a little nostalgic, a little rejuvenated and maybe a little stressed out.  For us, it’s the busiest time of year as we try to supply all our customers with all the sushi sets they need to make their holiday season successful.  With just a couple of more shopping days to go, it’s always nuts but we are thankful that we are busy.

Happy Holidays everyone!  Enjoy your Christmas turkey, ham, roast or fast food chicken!  And may all your holidays be bright!

The Making of a Kokeshi Doll

A couple of years ago, Bob, our fearless leader, went to visit a Kokeshi doll factory and was given permission to take pictures and video tape some of the steps to make a doll.

I had these videos on our old blog but since that old blog died accidentally, I thought I would dig them up again to show how much work goes into making a Kokeshi Doll.  But while Blogspot will let you upload for free, they won’t let you recover a blog you accidentally deleted (oops).   And WordPress, while pretty in its templates, will not let you upload videos without paying.  So you see, I am at an impasse.  I will have to add the video upgrade fee to our marketing budget for 2012 and see what happens.   But in the meantime, if you would like to check out the videos, please visit our YouTube Channel.

I’ll add some still images here just to show you how much of an art form this really is.  And when you see the work and craftsmanship that goes into one, you will want to start your collection immediately!

First the trees are cut and the bark is removed.  The types of wood used are Japanese dogwood, cherry tree and chestnut.  They can’t just begin cutting it up.  It has to dry in the sun for 6 months to a year before they can do anything with it.  Then the wood is cut into thick slices.  The wood is then compressed and excess pieces are removed.

Then it is put on a lathe where the master craftsman uses a special tool to shape the head.  I would totally mess this up.

After each piece is prepared like this, they go through 3 rounds of sandpapering.

Some of the pieces also go through multiple rounds of painting as well.  The details are handpainted on each doll.

Engravings or carvings are also done by hand.  Then it’s off to be finished with two coats of a glaze to seal everything in.  They are then put on these poles that move around the room to dry.

Then the pieces are assembled and voila!  A perfect Kokeshi doll.

The factory also has a collection of many of their products throughout the years.  This company is in its 3rd generation (like us!) and the business along with the master craftsmanship have been carefully handed down.

Some of these older pieces seen here are amazing.  Unfortunately, the original owner of the factory used to make these and after he passed, they have not been able to find someone with his skill level to make these same shapes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some others from their collection on display only:

These last two still have their original branches intact!

A beautiful art form!  And that concludes Art Appreciation Thursday.

Chopstick Etiquette

As one of our gift ideas, I wrote that our bowl sets with chopstick notches are great for those friends you may have who insist that you do not stick your chopsticks in your food when taking a break from eating.  You have a predetermined notch on which you can rest your chopsticks.  So I thought it would be a good idea to explain why sticking your chopsticks in your food is considered rude.

Bowl & Chopstick Set of 2 - complete with notches to hold your chopsticks! Fashion or Function? Why, YES!

Did you know there is an etiquette to using chopsticks?  And it’s different in each culture where one uses chopsticks so there’s a lot of thinking involved….  There are little ones I have heard of, such as not crossing the chopsticks, not sticking them in your food, not tapping them like drumsticks.  Please don’t tap them like drumsticks.  Unless you are Roger Taylor (I think I just gave away my age).

So I’ve researched a few and I have some links if you’d like to see some good ones but I’m going to copy the Wikipedia etiquette list since it is the most concise and I thought it would be interesting to throw in the Korean and Chinese etiquette when it comes to chopsticks too.  I’ve literally copied and pasted it so take it up with Wikipedia if you don’t agree with these!

Japanese etiquette

  • Food should not be transferred from one’s own chopsticks to someone else’s chopsticks. Japanese people will always offer their plate to transfer it directly, or pass a person’s plate along if the distance is great. Transferring directly with chopsticks is how bones are passed as part of Japanese funeral rites.
  • The pointed ends of the chopsticks should be placed on a chopstick rest when the chopsticks are not being used. However, when a chopstick rest is not available as it is often the case in restaurants using waribashi (disposable chopsticks), a person may make a chopstick rest by folding the paper case that contained the chopsticks.
  • Reversing chopsticks to use the opposite clean end is commonly used to move food from a communal plate, although it is not considered to be proper manners.Rather, the group should ask for extra chopsticks to transfer food from a communal plate.
  • Chopsticks should not be crossed on a table, as this symbolizes death, or vertically stuck in the rice, which is done during a funeral.
  • It is rude to rub wooden chopsticks together after breaking them apart, as this communicates to the host that the user thinks the chopsticks are cheap.
  • Chopsticks should be placed right-left direction; the tips should be on the left. Placing diagonal, vertical and crossing each stick are not acceptable both in home and restaurant manners.
  • In formal use, disposable chopsticks (waribashi) should be replaced into the wrapper at the end of a meal.

Chinese etiquette

  • In Chinese culture, it is normal to hold the rice bowl—rice in China is rarely served on a plate—up to one’s mouth and use chopsticks to push rice directly into the mouth.
  • It is acceptable to transfer food to closely related people (e.g. grandparents, parents, spouse, children, or significant others) if they are having difficulty picking up the food. Also it is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the dinner starts.
  • It is poor etiquette to tap chopsticks on the edge of one’s bowl, as beggars are believed to make this noise to attract attention.
  • It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick, unless the food is difficult to handle, such as fishballs.
  • It is considered poor etiquette to point rested chopsticks towards others seated at the table.
  • Chopsticks should not be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice because it resembles the ritual of incense-burning that symbolizes “feeding” the dead and death in general.
  • Holding chopsticks incorrectly will reflect badly on a child’s parents, who have the responsibility of teaching their children.
  • Serving chopsticks (公筷, “community-use chopsticks”) are used to take food from serving dishes. These chopsticks are to be returned to the dishes after one has served oneself, and are often a different colour from individuals’ chopsticks.

Korean etiquette

In Korea, chopsticks are paired with a spoon, and there are conventions for how these are used together.

  • The elders pick up the utensils first, then the younger ones do.
  • It is considered uncultured and rude to pick up a dish or a bowl to bring it closer to one’s mouth, and eat its content with chopsticks (except certain noodle dishes like naengmyeon). Dishes are to be left on the table at all times, and a spoon is used alongside chopsticks, if the food lifted “drips”. This is in stark contrast to Chinese and Japanese convention, which lifts up the rice bowl, often to the mouth.
  • When laying chopsticks down on the table next to a spoon, one must never put the chopsticks to the left of the spoon. Chopsticks are only laid to the left during the food preparation for the funeral or the memorial service for the deceased family members, known as jesa.
  • It is rude to use the same hand to hold both chopsticks and a spoon at the same time and laying the spoon down on the table while one uses chopsticks.
  • Use a spoon to eat soup, stew and liquid side dishes, and chopsticks for solid side dishes. Either may be used for eating rice.

Here are some links to fun sites that elaborate on Chopstick Etiquette:

Just Hungry where it really needed to be said:  don’t stick your chopsticks up your nose.  very gauche.

All About Teaching English in Japan has a succinct list that includes a very important one – there is no 2 second rule when it comes to dropping your chopsticks on the floor.  Please, people, that’s gross.

What Japan Thinks – that features a fun poll about chopstick etiquette.

So, now you know.  And knowing is half the battle.

How to Care for Your Donabe

Many a cold winter’s night has been survived in Japan with a nice hot pot of something good cooked in a donabe.  I’ll add some recipes later but the most important thing about a donabe is to learn to care for it.

The donabe is a clay pot.  It can be used right on an open flame but you have to make sure the exterior of the pot is completely dry before it gets heated.  Otherwise, the material may expand and crack the pot.  Yikes.

The interior is usually coated so one can put liquids in there but please make sure that you do not start cooking anything on here with a very high flame.  This pot is not for flash cooking!  It’s for slow cooking stews and soups.

And please make sure there is some liquid in there when you have it on the flame.  You don’t want to heat it up empty.

When you first get a donabe, some places will tell you to boil water in it for a long time and let it dry completely before using it for the first time.  I’ve seen other places where they tell you to actually cook some leftover rice in it with water, making a porridge.  After an hour, let it cool, throw out the rice and rinse the donabe out.  Dry with cloth and let it air dry completely before using it the first time.   Other manufacturers suggest simply let some water sit in it overnight before using it.  And if you haven’t used it in a while, it may be a good idea to retreat this way.

But the reward for all this care in handling your donabe?  Good home cooked comfort food!

All our donabe can be used on an open flame with some liquid in the pot.  Please note only the base is oven proof.

Iroha

Hiragana Sake SetOne of our favorite sake sets is the “Hiragana” set.  The lettering on the set reminds us of the Iroha poem written back possibly when they only needed 3 digits to refer to the year.  This poem is especially unique because it uses each of the letters of the Japanese alphabet exactly once.  That’s called a panagram folks!  A panagram in English would be, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” which, with the exception of using the word “the” twice, uses each of the 26 letters of the alphabet just once.   Yes, that’s right, I remember something from school!  Go NYC Public Education!  The things I don’t remember are filled in by Wikipedia.

Anyway, the Iroha poem, because it is a panagram, was also used as an ordering system of the Japanese alphabet.   One can still find this ordering system in theaters where the seats are “numbered” in this way and musical notes are referred to as, I-Ro-Ha-Ni-Ho-He-To as opposed to A, B, C, D, E, F, G in English.  (straight from Wikipedia.)

So, I hope we all learned something today.  The least of which is that not only are our products beautiful to look at and practical to use, they also often have cultural value (that can be confirmed on Wikipedia….)

Why?

I just want to know why….
WHY?!! and WHO??!!

Talk about Curry in a Hurry!

I love Japanese curry.  Almost as much as my brother who devours it.  We used to call him Goldfish because of his curry addiction.  We heard somewhere that goldfish will eat and eat if there is food in front of them until they die because they don’t have any reflexes to tell them they are full.  Not sure if this is true or not, never researched it but it just makes us laugh.

Anyway, I love curry as much as the next guy but I look at this picture of perfectly good curry put in a dish that is shaped like a squat toilet and I can’t imagine ever craving curry again.  This image may stop actual goldfish from eating their own food.  I’m definitely showing my brother.

Japan is fun and a little kooky.

Kosui Series

Choosing a favorite design from our collection is like choosing a favorite child.  You can’t do it (well, you can, but you can’t really tell other people or they will think you are a terrible parent).

But one of our most popular series is the Kosui Series.  It’s been part of our product line for many many years but still manages to find their way into the hearts of new buyers everywhere.

The series is named for its color.  “Ko” is lake in Japanese.  You’ll find that names of lakes in Japan end in “-ko.”  For example, Lake Nojiri in Nagano Prefecture is called “Nojiri-ko.”  “Sui” means water.   The inspiration for the color of the series came from the color of a lake in the mountains.  Ko-sui = Lake Water.

 

The artisan behind this series is named Katsuro Takai.  He began the company which is now headed by his son, Hidenobu Takai.  Another family business!

 

The bisque is first made in a mold which is covered with a thin brown glaze.  Then the artisan sprays the green color glaze in the center and then edges the plate with another dark brown glaze.   The plate then goes into the kiln at about 1200 degrees celcius.  The result is a serene gorgeous piece that provides a nice backdrop to your favorite food.

 

Perfect to use for votive candles in your bathroom. The larger plate acts as a tray for the smaller square dishes that hold the votive candles.

The color of this series, as well as the Cobalt Blue made by the same company, has also captured the imagination of our bath accessories customers.  Many of the shapes and sizes are perfect for candles and soaps and blend nicely with bathroom designs.  I’ve even heard that they inspired the types of tiles chosen in bathroom renovations!

 

Enjoy the Takai family’s Kosui Collection!  Let us know how you like to use it!