Japanese Sushi Police Crack Down

Japanese food, and sushi in particular, has become very popular around the world, and inevitably the word has managed to screw it up. So much so, in fact, that many Japanese citizens are coming back from traveling abroad and calling their government with complaints about soggy seaweed, limp noodles and sushi with toppings that are far from traditional.

As Japan is a culture that values its tradition and national identity, the Japanese Agriculture Ministry has responded by putting together a blue ribbon panel of experts and tasking it with evaluating and certifying the world sushi restaurants. The panel is set to unveil its standards for certification by the end of February, and starting next April, inspectors will spread out around the world to give restaurants either the all-important stamp of approval or the dreaded stamp of shame.

Some people think it’s not right for the Japanese government to impose their rigid standards on restaurants in other countries, but I disagree. Perhaps it’s just that I’m more interested in Japanese culture than the average person, but when I go out for sushi, I’m also trying to learn something about Japanese etiquette. Should I ever find myself in Japan, or any other country for that matter, I would like to have some idea what I’m doing so I’m not seen as just another stupid American tourist.

I Like Full Metal Panic

To make a long story short, I love Full Metal Panic. I have watched both the Japanese TV series, and Fumoffu, and I’m left wanting more.

Lately I have become tired of “regular” movies and TV shows. Perhaps this is because they have become less interesting, or simply because I just want to see something different… No matter. About a year ago I began looking for something new, and along came anime. I rented a number of disks, but found that I didn’t really like any of them. Eventually Zach loaned me his copy of Neon Genesis Evangelion and I loved it. I watched the entire series in one weekend and then went looking for something new.

I checked out THEM and found that the Full Metal Panic series was highly rated and had received some very good reviews. It was listed in the category I like (big robots and romance), so I decided to drop the cash on the first disk in the series. After watching it, it was all I could do not to run out and buy the next disk. The characters were incredibly likable and the plot was compelling, if not a bit recurring. Hey, it’s anime.

Eventually, I bought the remaining disks from amazon, along with the nice box to put them in.

The plot pretty much goes like this:

Kaname Chidori, the lead female character is among a small group of people known as “Whispered”. These are a kind of human databases of “Black Technology”, which allows them to understand complex weapons technology without ever having been taught.

Clearly this ability would be convenient in the hands of the bad guys. Enter Mithril, an altruistic military group that is tasked with eliminating terrorists and drug labs all over the world. Sensing that the bad guys are out to kidnap Kaname, Mithril assigns a very very serious and dedicated sergeant named Sousuke Sagara to protect her.

Kaname falls in love with Sousuke, but he’s usually too consumed with blowing things up and over-reacting to benign events that he perceives as threats to notice. He ends up loving her as well, but is not quite sure what to do about it, which builds a romantic tension that lasts the entire series. Amazingly there is some heart warming dialogue at the very end which gives the series a little more closure than we find in most other anime series.

While many complain that FMP is simply an amalgamation of other anime series, I feel that it is one of the best out there… Or at least the best that I have seen. The artwork is amazing, and the characters are very well developed and likable.

Japanese Bonsai Terminology

After reviewing my score sheet from my recent bonsai show, I realized how few of the Japanese bonsai terms I really knew. I had always been familiar with the more common ones like jin, shari, nebari, shohin, and so on, but there were a number that I had never heard of before. Not wanting to find myself in a conversation and not know what the other person means, I decided to do a bit of research and learn more of them.

  • CHOKKAN formal upright form
  • MOYOGI informal upright form
  • SHAKAN slanting form
  • FUKINAGASHI windswept form
  • SABAMIKI split-trunk
  • SHARIMIKI driftwood
  • TANUKI ‘cheats’/form where sapling is attached to deadwood/ also known as a ‘Pheonix Graft’.
  • HOKIDACHI broom form
  • KENGAI cascade
  • HAN KENGAI semi-cascade
  • SHIDARE-ZUKURI weeping
  • BUNJIN literati form
  • NEGARI exposed root form
  • SEKJOJU root over rock
  • ISHI SEKI planted on rock
  • SOKAN twin-trunk
  • SANKAN triple-trunk
  • KABUDACHI multiple-trunk
  • NETSUNAGARI root connected
  • YOSE UE group planting
  • SAI-KEI landscape planting
  • PEN-JING landscape planting
  • SHARI deadwood on trunk
  • JIN deadwood branch
  • NEBARI trunkbase/ surface roots
  • YAMADORI collected material
  • SUIBAN shallow water tray for display rock plantings
  • TOKONOMA traditional Japanese display area
  • BONKEI tray landscape containing rocks and small accent plants as well as trees.

Size classifications: exact sizes for each individual class varies from one authority to another; those below are taken from the 20th Grand View Bonsai Exhibition / Nippon Bonsai Taikan-ten.

  • MAME bonsai less than 7cm in height
  • SHOHIN bonsai upto 20cm in height
  • KIFU bonsai between 20 and 40cm in height
  • CHU bonsai between 40 and 60 cm in height
  • DAI bonsai over 60cm in height

How To Make Miso Soup

We have a wonderful Japanese restaurant near my home called Moritomo. We go there often for sushi, and I’ve always been amazed with the quality of their food, especially their miso soup.

I’ve tried a number of different recipes in an effort to make a soup that tastes similar to theirs, and after a dozen or so failures, I finally feel that I have come close. The trick, as it turns out, is adding just the right amount of bonito flakes to make the soup stock. This is my variation to a recipe that I found printed on the back of a block of shiro miso which I bought from an Asian food store in Burlington, VT.

  • Start with four cups of water in a sauce pan, and add two inches of kombu kelp. Bring this to a boil, and remove the kombu just as the water begins to boil.
  • Next, reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil and add 1/4 cup bonito flakes (lightly packed). Leave them in for 5 minuets
  • Prepare a colander lined with coffee filter material and run the soup stock through it to remove the bonito flakes. Add the stock back to the sauce pan. This is your soup stock. Known as dashi, it is the base stock for most Japanese soups and broths.
  • Add 3/4 cup soft tofu, cut into 3/8 inch squares, and three inches of wakame seaweed cut into 1/4 inch strips. Bring to a rolling boil for seven minuets to cook the tofu and wakame.
  • While the tofu and wakame are cooking, remove one cup of the soup stock, and place it into a bowl. Let it cool for one minuet and dissolve 3 and 1/2 tablespoons of shiro (white) miso, making sure that no little chunks remain.
  • Remove from heat, and allow to cool for two to three minuets.
  • Add the dissolved miso, garnish with chopped scallion rings and serve.


Little Japanese Trucks

With the ridiculous price of fuel these days, combined with the fact that I’ll be needing a new car soon, I’ve been thinking about what type of vehicle will fit my driving needs by handling well in mud and snow, but still get decent gas milage. I was excited to find that Best Used Tractors is importing “Japanese mini trucks” for the American market.

I was incredibly disappointed to learn, however, that the newer trucks cannot be used on US roadways, which brings me to the point of this story. If you wish to import a Japanese mini truck and use it on American roads, it must be made in 1980 or earlier to avoid restrictions. While I’m sure that the the government would claim that this is due to safety standards, or any of a hundred other bureaucratic reasons, the fact remains the same. Four wheel drive vehicles, made by respected manufacturers such as Honda may not be used on US roads even though we are entering a global fuel shortage, and they are among the most fuel efficient vehicles on the planet. Evidently, we can drive as many Hummers and Lincoln Navigators as we wish, but try to use something that sips fuel rather than guzzles it and the D.O.T. will put you in your place. It’s really a shame.

According to Best Used Tractors, the Japanese have restrictions that discourage the use of aging vehicles, so most of these mini trucks have only about 6,000 miles on them when they are decommissioned. Needless to say, these little trucks have a lot of life left in them, and a more or less steady supply of them is virtually assured.

Due to regulations Americans are unable to import a Japanese mini truck manufactured in 1998 or later. However, the average number of miles driven per year in Japan is only about 6,000, so these vehicles usually have a lot of remaining usability.

I wonder what it would take to get the U.S. government to accept them. I can imagine the person who fights these restrictions would do well in the court of public opinion with petroleum prices as high as they are.

Here are some more details about the trucks:

Starting in the sixties the Japanese manufactured what they termed “Kei class” vehicles (now generally called “K-class”). Kei means “light weight”. These were built as a less expensive, fuel efficient, shorter, narrower, and lighter alternative to the standard size and weight vehicles termed “joyousha”. The K-class vehicles have included passenger cars, vans, and mini trucks. Best Used Tractors imports used K-class mini trucks, but not the vans or passenger cars. The Japanese have used these small off road trucks to perform a myriad of burden carrier tasks. They have often equipped the rear truck beds of these little trucks with specialized industry specific equipment. When many consider their special purpose vehicles options they often find used mini trucks from Japan to be their best choice.

Zach points out that safety standards need to be imposed by government agencies, and that the restrictions prohibiting the use of these trucks are reasonable. I maintain, however, that the government is overstepping its bounds by limiting what I can buy. For instance, believe that it is reasonable for the FDA to regulate the contents of my food. Should these regulations not be in place, it could contain dangerous levels of any number of toxins without my knowing it. This does not change, however, the fact that I can still buy bleach at the market. I am free to drink it if I wish, but I would do so knowing that it is poison because the government requires that the bottle be labeled.

When a motorist buys a motorcycle he or she does so knowing and accepting inherent risks of riding it. If these little trucks are deemed to not meet American vehicle standards that is fine. Inform me about it, but let me happily drive away in my new – used little truck.

UPDATE: They’re not little japanese trucks, but Casey over at maisonbisson has a story about a really cool little electric car.

2005 New England Bonsai Show

Last Saturday, New England Bonsai Gardens held their annual Fall members day and bonsai show. For years now I’ve been attending this event, but it was only this year that I finally decided to enter my best tree into the show. I’ve owned the Japanese Maple I entered for six years now, and have taken a number of private tutorials with John Romano and Kenji Miyata to get the tree where it is today.

Going into the show, I had very high hopes for my tree to do well. After all the scores were tallied, however, I received no awards. Reading the score sheet I was extremely interested to find that my tree scored quite low on surface roots, which are known as nebari. I was surprised not only because the nebari on the tree is quite pronounced and prominent, but because I had always felt that the surface roots were one of the strongest points about the specimen.

Talking with the judges, I discovered that, while the nebari is nice where it is present, there are not enough surface roots surrounding the trunk to create an overall pleasing effect. Because the tree has only one truly pronounced surface root, it gives the impression of a “foot” and not the general effect of age and strength found in trees with truly exquisite nebari.

Nebari, being one of the most difficult features of a tree to develop, is a major factor when selecting bonsai for the purposes of show. In many cases, the Japanese, always looking to the future, will select a tree based almost entirely on the quality of its nebari and resolve whatever other aesthetic problems the tree has by pruning and wiring over time.

To resolve my tree’s nebari problems, I will need to do the following:

Year 1: Root cuttings from the tree
Year 2-3: Grow out cuttings
Year 4: Graft cuttings to base of trunk
Year 4-5: Allow graft to take
Year 5: Bury grafts, remove foliage, and get them to sprout roots
Year 6-Futire: Grow out roots and let them grow bark

Gallery Update: 2005 New England Bonsai Show

Gallery Update: The 2005 New England Bonsai Show

Album Inlcudes

66 photos

All trees entered in the show

Photos of Master Kenji Miyata doing Extreme Bonsai Makovers

Photos of the Japanese Maple I entered into the show