Bradcat’s Personal Focus… Bradcat’s Birthday Bash!

January 23rd saw the “Bradcat” turn 28. That’s right, I’m edging ever closer to that dreaded 3-0. But birthdays are a time for celebration, so what better way to celebrate, than to visit a Japanese themed restaurant? The venue of choice? Woktastic in Birmingham.

I’d contacted the restaurant earlier in the week via email, to enquire about large parties, and not only did they reply in record time, they were more than welcoming. However, there was one thing that clinched the deal for me… Takoyaki. For years I’ve seen Japanese people walking around with these hand-sized trays of battered balls, being picked at with cocktail sticks. Woktastic had these on their menu!

Takoyaki are little portions of octopus, deep fried into a ball shape.

As a part of my main meal I went for my usual ramen fix, but decided on chicken this time. Not too adventurous, but delicious none the less. I washed this down with a few glasses of Asahi beer. I was tempted to try a few of the dishes, but I had to save something for my next visit. The service was great too. The food came out in good time, and all the staff were helpful when shifting the tables around.

Asahi dry beer
I would’ve liked to have seen more choice of Japanese soft drinks, not just Japanese beer. Perhaps something like Ramune would’ve been nice, to help enhance the Japanese authenticity? I would’ve also loved to have tried Japanese mayo with my takoyaki (My friend who lives in Sendai said it’s essential with takoyaki) but sadly we were told there wasn’t any. But these are minor gripes with an otherwise fantastic visit.

Chicken ramen

Thanks to all the staff at Woktastic that helped cater for the fifteen of us, and ensured our drinks were always full. If you want to check out Woktastic for yourself, you can find them here on Twitterhere on Facebook, or via their own website.

Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… Peace sign

If you’ve ever flicked through one of your Japanese friend’s photo albums, you will have no doubt come across a photo of them holding up the “V” fingers. You see it in anime, manga and the media. One of the questions I seem to get asked a lot, is why do Japanese people (mainly the younger generations) do this in their photos?

Blogger Danny Choo showing the “V” or “Peace sign”

There seem to be many origin stories, with no definitive answer. Even some Japanese people don’t even know what it means, or where it originated from. Some responses to the question I’ve heard range from “My parents used to do it” to simply “Everyone does this pose!” 

Some people claim it originated from an American ice skater called Janet Lynn. In the 1972 Sapporo Olympics, Lynn fell half way through her free-skate show, yet calmly dusted herself off and carried on her performance with a massive grin on her face. She ended up placing third, and became a celebrity over night with the Japanese people due to her persistence and cute grin. As Lynn was a well known peace activist, she would often be shown holding up the peace sign with her fingers in many of her photos, so it’s said that Japanese people began adopting this pose in their photos too.

Janet Lynn’s 1972 performance

Others claim it comes from various celebrities and advertisements in the 1970s when it became popular to pose with the peace sign and say “PEACE!” The most notable of which came from Jun Inoue in a Nikon commercial.

Bob in front of Arashiyama, Kyoto

Some say that the “V” is nothing more than a “pose enhancer” to indicate they’re having a great time. Other “pose enhancers” may include a finger in the air (to indicate a good idea), fingers on the cheek dimples (to enhance cuteness), or fingers under the eyes (to indicate sadness) 

Tomomi from Scandal showing she’s upset!

In all honesty, I don’t believe there is any one true origin to the Japanese “V” and it will forever be just one of those things that Japanese people do in their photos. 

Just like in the west we have the “duck face”… *sigh*

What are your thoughts on the “V” sign? Do you strike this pose yourself in photos? Let me know in the comments!

Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… Japan Earthquake & Tsunami of 2011

On March 11th 2011, a magnitude 9 earthquake struck the north east coast of Japan. As if the damaged caused by the Pacific tectonic plate moving under the North American plate wasn’t bad enough, the country was hit by something even more devastating; a tsunami.

Due to a gross underestimation of the tsunami, no one was fully prepared. The only previous experience the Japanese people had of tsunamis were of ones no more than a few feet high. Even though Japan had invested a lot of money into coastal protection and evacuation centres, they were not designed to withstand a tsunami of this size. Many people who took refuge in the evacuation centres were lead to a false sense of security and lost their lives to the tsunami.

I’ve already covered the effects of the tsunami at Fukushima on a previous blog. But I wanted to dedicate this post to how the people of Japan feel almost 3 years on. Even now, there are roughly 300,000 Japanese citizens living in temporary housing with a large amount of the £92bn relief money being misspent, the Japanese government have said. 

With much hype surrounding the 2020 olympic games being hosted in Japan, we have to ask, is this the right time? Should the government be putting money into the olympics while so many families require assistance getting their lives back? Will the olympics generate more money for Japan, which they can then use to help support the victims? Or will that be a case of too little, too late?

I have had the chance to get the opinions and accounts from some of my friends who live in Japan which I can share with you here.

“It was 2011, almost 3 years have passed since then. It was the biggest earthquake I’ve ever felt. I had just graduated from high school and I was 18 at the time. That day, I had a graduation party with my friends, and I was heading there on foot, when the earthquake hit. It was so scary and lasted a long time, but once the shaking had stopped, I thought nothing more of it and had fun at the party.

Then when I got back home, I saw the news bout the tsunami. I had no idea how much damage had been caused. My friends also thought that earthquake was just an earthquake. I could not believe what I saw on TV I was so surprised, and upset, that I began to cry. I thought to myself “What can I do for them? What can I do to help the relief effort?” I prayed for them everyday. I never thought I’d forget about the disaster. 

Talking about it now has made me realise that the events of the disaster had receded in my memory. I can’t relate to the families affected by the tsunami as I wasn’t there at the time, and I didn’t lose any of my loved ones. I can only imagine the experience they went through.” 
Riho Adachi, Yokohama

“Unfortunately I do not know a lot about politics and news. The government may plan to use the profit made from the Olympics to help the revival, but 2020’s a long time to wait. I think that they should help the victims as soon as possible!” 
Natsumi Maekawa, Hirosaki

“That’s really nice of you that you’ll work on a blog about this subject. I was a bit excited to hear about the Tokyo Olympics but myself and many people didn’t know that Japan was even nominated as one of the Olympic nominees! The government and media say that the Olympics will help rebuild the areas affected by the tsunami disaster. Perhaps the sponsor money from huge companies will help generate money for the people of the north east.

I didn’t know 300,000 people are still homeless, I feel bad for not knowing that. It’s been 3 years since the tsunami and some areas are back to normal, which often makes me forget about the disaster. However I must never forget, and I will have to visit the north east again soon.”
Nami Inoue, Osaka

That’s an awful fact. The misspent money could’ve helped the victims of the tsunami for years to come. As for the Olympics, we can expect economic effects and the government should have more money to help the victims. However, that’s a long way off, and it’s a fact that many people are suffering right now from the aftermath. So I want the government to use the money effectively for helping those people.”
– Naoko Okamoto, Osaka

“Sean! First of all, thank you very much for sending your love to Japan. We really appreciate you and your encouragement from all over the world! I also would like to research how the situation has been changing in Fukushima after the tsunami.”
– Yasuko Ohashi, Tokyo

You can watch the breathtaking documentary called “Japan’s Tsunami: Caught on Camera” which inspired this blog post, right here:
Japan’s Tsunami: Caught on Camera captures the impact of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan in March 2011, using amateur footage filmed by those caught up in the disaster.

What are your thoughts on the disaster? What actions would you like the Japanese government to take? Do you think the 2020 Olympics will help Japan? Please leave your comments below, I’d love to hear all of your opinions.

A huge thank you to my Japanese friends for sharing their experiences of the tsunami with me, and allowing me to share them with you all.

Bradcat’s Japanese Culture Focus… Fukubukuro

The new year in the UK usually brings the highly anticipated January sales, where retailers drop the prices of their extra stock they acquired over Christmas. In Japan, things are a little different. While they still have clearance sales, they offer customers something called “Fukubukuro” which are essentially, lucky bags. The term is formed from Japanese fuku (福, good fortune) and fukuro (袋, bag)

Fukubukuro were introduced during the Meji era (Late 19th century) and have become a Japanese tradition ever since. They can range drastically in price depending on the retailer. While the contents are hidden, it’s usually understood that the goodies inside are worth more than the sale price. 

There were reports this year that one store was offering a one-week visit to Brazil during the soccer World Cup! While Apple, not to be out done, were shipping their fukubukuro with iPads, iPods and iPhones. On the other end of the scale, some stores even advertise “utsubukuro” which are “depressing bags” sold for low prices, usually between  ¥500 – ¥1,000

If the UK offered a similar concept, would you buy one? What would you like to find inside your fukubukuro? Do you live in Japan, and bought one for yourself? If so, what did you find? Please leave a comment below!

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