Here is Takeda Shingen's statue in Kofu, Yamanashi.

The banner he carried into battle was inscribed with these words:

"Swift as the Wind, Silent as a Forest, Fierce as Fire and Immovable as a Mountain"

The words that inspired Shingen came from a Chinese literary work, Sun Tsu's The Art of War.


Takeda Shingen--a story

Did you remember that name?

If you travel to Yamanashi, you will find a certain product at every souvenir stand. It’s called Shingen mochi, and it’s delicious. It’s a sweet named after Yamanashi’s greatest hero, Takeda Shingen.

The family name is Takeda, and the hero’s personal name is Shingen. Let’s call him Shingen in this story, though he had many names throughout his lifetime. Shingen became head of the Takeda clan back in the 16th century. That was a time known as The Warring States Period in Japanese history, because at that time Japan was less a nation and more of a motley collection of feudal domains.

The most famous story about Shingen concerns him and his arch rival, Uesugi Kenshin. They fought each other a total of five times, once in hand-to-hand combat. Neither one could defeat the other. When Shingen died of illness in late middle age, the rival cried inconsolably. Life wasn’t fun any more without a worthy rival.

Remember the part about Yamanashi being a landlocked province? One of the problems Shingen had to solve was finding a source of salt, the major food preservative in the days before refrigeration was invented. A rather romantic legend has it that Shingen led a party in search of salt down the Fuji River to the sea, where he came to a salt-making village. It was his plan to capture the village and secure an eternal source of salt.

However, Shingen’s reputation as a poet traveled well ahead of him.

The villagers’ idea was that if Shingen could not be defeated in battle, they would have to get him another way. Each night, a villager with a flute would play his most beautiful music. Each night, Shingen would come out of his camp to listen to the music and compose poetry. When this became established routine, the flute player dropped his flute, picked up a bow and arrow, and mortally wounded Shingen.

I read this in a novel (Japanese Inn, by Oliver Statler). I have no idea of whether or not it is true. It could be true, and that is good enough for me.

I like the idea that the only thing in the whole world stronger than a samurai is music and poetry.


A Prefecture that isn't Okinawa

Yamanashi Prefecture—I can see its mountains when I look out my west-facing windows, and one of those mountains is the fabled Mount Fuji.

Mount Fuji stands alone. In the background are the Japan Alps. On the flat places between the various mountains are vineyards the equal of anything Italy, California—even NJ—have to offer. Yamanashi is prize winning wine country and is as famous for incredibly luscious peaches as it is for grapes. In early spring, the peach blossoms are so thick it looks like the land has been covered with a hot pink carpet.

The one thing Yamanashi does not have is a beach. Although Japan is an island country, and if you have all day you can drive across it from sea to shining sea, Yamanashi is landlocked. And that is the key to its place in the nation building history of Japan.

More on that later. For now, remember this name—Takeda Shingen.


Just for Fun: Japanese Cultural Quiz

?????? Quiz Time ??????

Japan’s titular head of state is:
(a) a president
(b) a king
(c) an emperor

The head of state rules:
(a) with an iron fist
(b) with the help of an elected congress
(c) in an honorary capacity only

The next head of state will be:
(a) elected in November
(b) appointed by Congress
(c) none of the above

[Click on comments to find the answers.]


News Flash: Quiet Time for Uncle Sam's Kids

-------- Yes! -------

Looks like Uncle Sam really does want to know where his people are, so he's making them stay home. US military personnel and their families in Japan are all being given a time out to reflect on what it means to live in a country that doesn't belong to them, a country that believes in peace.

A curfew was put in place on Wednesday (2/20/2008).


Uncle Sam: Do you know where your soldiers are?

One of my Okinawa friends gave a party, and when she woke up the next morning, she noticed an extra pair of shoes in the entryway. [note: in Japan, everyone takes off their shoes when they enter the house and leaves them in the entryway until they leave] She figured one of the guests probably walked home wearing house slippers instead of shoes. It happens sometimes.

However, when she went into the living room, surprise! There was the guest, sound asleep on the couch. She set an extra place at the breakfast table, and they all shared a laugh with the guest who forgot to go home.

It’s a cute story that will surely be retold with a merry twinkle in the eye for years to come.

How about this version?

In another part of Okinawa, a family woke up to find a uniformed US Marine asleep on their sofa—big, smelly, and drunk as the proverbial skunk. What do you do when you, as pater familias, tip the scale at a little over a hundred pounds, and there is a 300-pound uninvited guest who doesn’t speak your language snoring in your family’s living room?

That is a problem no one should have to face in a country that is at peace. But it happened, just the other day.


A Reason to Love Japan: Naps!


It's true. The Japanese government promotes napping.

In an official report, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said people can improve their health (OK, and their work efficiency, too) with a 20-minute nap. Just remember to take the nap before 3 PM.


Is this any way to protect human rights?


You be the judge.

The last time US military men stationed in Okinawa--three of them--did this to a young girl (13 years old) with the help of liberal applications of duct tape, their commander scolded them for their stupidity in not "hiring professional services". Then he whisked them out of the country. They may be living in your neighborhood now.

This time, the old goat is claiming he should be let off because the girl (14) was rescued when he'd only gotten as far as forcing her down in his car and kissing her against her will.

Here is an excerpt from today's wire service story:

Hadnott (38), a Marine staff sergeant, is alleged to have offered to take the girl to her home on his motorbike on Sunday, but then took her to his house instead, another local police official told The Associated Press.
When the girl started crying, he said he would drive her home, but he is accused of then raping her in a car, the official said, also speaking on condition of anonymity in line with policy.
Hadnott told investigators he forced the girl down and kissed her, but that he did not rape her, the official said.

Tell me again, why was this miserable excuse for a human being let loose on peaceful people's streets in the first place? Something about safeguarding human rights?


Japanese Holidays: Hina Matsuri

Girls' Day, also known as the day of the doll festival, is on March 3. In Japanese, it's called Hina Matsuri, and the main event is setting up a collection of hina dolls.

The hina dolls represent the Emperor, Empress, and members of the court. What you see in this photo is an emperor doll (on your left, top row), empress doll (top row, right) and three ladies in waiting.

Decorations include lanterns with paper shades (bonbori, in Japanese) and peach blossoms. Due to the historic lunar calendar's becoming skewed over the ages, peach blossoms are not naturally in bloom by March 3, but that is why commercial florists were invented, right?

The dolls can be set up any time after the New Year holidays are over, but they must be packed away as soon as the doll festival is finished. Superstition has it that to leave them out after March 3 is to doom your daughter to a life of spinsterhood.


Another Holiday--Feb 3

The first months of the year are loaded with holidays. Some are serious, and some are just for fun.

February 3 is one of the fun ones. It's technical name is "setsu-bun", and it is the calendar date for the first day of spring according to the ancient lunar calendar. Just because it snowed this year is no reason not to believe spring will eventually arrive.

The way to celebrate is, um, different from what you might expect. First, you put on your devil mask. Then you arm yourself with handfuls of dried beans. And then you throw the beans.

You are supposed to shout "Devils out!" and throw the beans outside. Then you screech, "Good fortune come in!" as you throw the beans around inside the house. Of course, kids are doing most of the throwing, and that is why you need the devil mask to protect your face from flying beans.

The celebration ends when you scoot around picking up the beans from inside the house. The rule says you have to eat the same number of beans as your age.

I, for one, don't plan on playing this game when my teeth are 101 years old. Those dried beans are pretty crunchy.

Another fun one comes on March 3. March 3 is Girls' Day, the day of the doll festival or "Hina Matsuri". More on that (plus a photo!) next time.


Just for Fun: Japanese or Chinese Food?


Japanese Cuisine Trivia

Have you ever tasted gyoza? (a dumpling, sometimes called pot sticker in English)
How about ramen? (home-made, instant, or cup noodle type)
Cha-han? (fried rice)
Fortune cookies?

Except for the fortune cookies, all of these are super popular in Tokyo and probably in Japanese restaurants overseas. Can you guess which ones are really Chinese, and which ones are truly Japanese?

Scroll down...



and the answer is

... only sushi is a Japanese original.

Fortune cookies are ALMOST a Japanese original. Surprise!

According to The Japan Times, the first fortune cookies as we know them were produced by a Japanese restaurant in America and sold as a Chinese food.