It’s been awhile since my last post, reasons stemming from school and life. This post is in memory of the Japanese jazz/hip-hop producer, composer and DJ genius, Nujabes, aka Seba Jun. I was a fan of his since the days of Samurai Champloo, my favorite anime series ever, in 2005. He produced three soundtrack albums together with the likes of Fat Jon, Force of Nature, Tsutchie, Shing02, and Minmi for the show.

I hadn’t listened to his songs for awhile after that, until about 6 months ago when I rediscovered him and this time broadened my scope and listened to his other amazing albums, especially Modal Soul and Hydeout Collections. I was really saddened when I heard about his death in a car accident in Tokyo last month. I’ve seen tons of memorial videos and discussions online, and am really glad that so many others enjoyed his music.

If you haven’t heard his songs before, you should definitely take a look. They are masterpieces of modern-day composition and mixing, and set a peaceful and relaxed tone.

This is for your Nujabes, rest in peace.
Some of my favorites:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2O0kuoiAm2A (Counting Stars)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4pwdw3_Azc (Song of Seasons feat. Minmi)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VGJP_eI3j_g (World’s End Rhapsody)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dZI6LAceH_0 (Windspeaks feat. Uyama Hiroto)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FtuoEtohPv4 (Mystline)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6z1Bm3iINQ (Light on the Land)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dBYDcZMCRnY (Sea of Cloud)

Here’s a somewhat comprehensive list of all the anime series I’ve watched or am currently watching. The ones in orange are ones I really like, and the ones in green are my all-time favorites.

Currently Watching
Dance in the Vampire Bund
Durarara!!
Honey and Clover
Inuyasha Kanketsuhen
Kara no Kyoukai
Naruto Shippuuden
Seirei no Moribito
Spice and Wolf

Completed
5 Centimeters per second
Akira
Aoi Hana
Bakemonogatari
Basilisk
Black Lagoon
Black Lagoon: the Second Barrage
Blood+
Canaan
Chrome Shelled Regios
Claymore
Code Geass
Code Geass R2
Darker than Black
Darker than Black – Ryuusei no Gemini
Death Note
Dragon Ball Z
Ergo Proxy
Escaflowne
Eureka Seven
Fullmetal Alchemist
Gake no Ue no Ponyo (Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea)
Higashi no Eden (Eden of the East)

Inuyasha
Jigoku Shoujo Mitsuganae
K-On!
Kiki’s Delivery Service
Kurozuka
Michiko to Hatchin
Mnemosyne
Mobile Fighter G Gundam
Mobile Suit Gundam 00
Mobile Suit Gundam 00 S2

Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: Endless Waltz
Mononoke
Mouryou no Hako
Mushishi
NANA
Naruto
Peace Maker Kurogane
Princess Mononoke
Rurouni Kenshin
Samurai Champloo

School Days
Sengoku BASARA
Speed Grapher
Sword of the Stranger
The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi
The Place Promised in Our Early Days
Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0
Toradora!
Trigun
Trinity Blood
Umineko no Naku Koro ni
Utawarerumono
Voices of a Distant Star
Welcome to the NHK!
Xam’d: Lost Memories
Zoids
Zoids Zero

For the past 15 years, the Japanese Kanji Aptitude Testing Foundation has held an annual poll, the Kanji of the Year (今年の漢字). The poll invites anyone within the nation to vote for the kanji that best characterizes the past year.

For 2009, about 160,000 people participated, with an interesting slew of results. Some poll experts predicted that 民 (“min” , people/citizen) would win as an indication of probably the most important national news last year: the huge victory of the Democratic Party of Japan over the Liberal Democratic Party which had previously ruled the government since 1955. Another top ten candidate was 鳩 (“hato”, pigeon/dove), the first kanji in the family name of the new ruling prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama.

Near the top of the list was 病 (“byou”, sick/illness), clearly a manifestation of Japan’s (and the world’s) paranoia concerning the H1N1 influenza (swine flu). If you went traveling last year and happened to see Japanese people with white masks around their mouths where no one else was wearing them, you should have been in Japan itself. You would have thought the country had gone overboard with their production of surgeons.

Continuing with the swine flu scare, the number 2 most-voted kanji was 薬 (“kusuri”, medicine), seeing as there was a worldwide shortage of H1N1 vaccines. And finally, the kanji champion of 2009 was… 新 (“shin/atarashii”, new) signifying the birth of a new regime, the DPJ.

There you have it! We’ll have to wait and see what 2010 has in store before any predictions can be made on what kanji will take the crown next year!

A person’s reasons for leaving their country and moving to another range far and wide. We leave in pursuit of dream jobs, or maybe just dreams. We leave because we’re escaping something from our own society. Those we leave behind regard our departure as abandonment, thinking we don’t appreciate what our country has done for us and instead choose to pack our bags to a foreign land. What they might not realize is that to some people, even if they live a comfortable life within a free environment, that doesn’t mean they are at home. The status quo may appeal to some; they enjoy the life they have. A decent job, perhaps a relationship. They go through life just as a current flows. They are carried away by the raging waters, never stopping to discover their own feelings, their own purpose. But what of those who resist the current? They don’t resist as an act of rebellion, but rather they feel lost within the flow. That’s just how Gabriela Stanton, the female protagonist of Sara Backer’s American Fuji, feels.

American Fuji serves up a story driven by two polar-opposite characters. On one hand there is Gaby Stanton, an American professor turn “fantasy funeral” saleswomen living in Japan. And then there is Alex Thorn, an American psychologist who’s come to Japan to uncover the truth about the sudden accidental death of his son (an exchange student at Shizuyama University). Alex stumbles through the customs of Japanese culture as he is diverted from the truth (in true Japanese fashion) time and time again. Gaby comes to Alex’s aid as his interpreter, though what follows for the two of them is a looking glass straight into the core of the Japanese. Nothing is what it seems on the surface, and no one is who they say they are.

Backer casts the story against the backdrop of quaint Shizuoka and Mount Fuji itself. The sheer entertainment and bittersweet humor of Backer’s writing sheds light on the mysteries of such a society. You can almost feel the pressure of being a gaijin (外人), or foreigner, within the sentences as Japanese girls cover their mouths with their hands every time you pass by.

I recommend American Fuji to anyone who sees themselves in Japan in the future. Some are drawn simply by the neon culture of Tokyo and the obsession with otaku-ism. But there’s so much more to Japan, and any other country for that matter. People flock to these kinds of abstract cultures and metropolises, but what do they really find? The beauty of living, working, or traveling to another country is to experience something that makes you stop and really think about what makes you happy. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with living a high-octane life at times, seeking out new opportunities, experiences, and pleasures. But eventually, where do you feel at home? While Japan is indeed ambiguous and withdrawn, some people, like Gaby, find comfort within that very rigidness.

I learned a lot while reading this novel. I’ve been studying Japanese for about three years, and hope to participate in the JET Programme after I graduate, and maybe even end up working in Japan. While reading the novel, I at first began to feel scared of and hesitant about working and being in Japan for a prolonged stay. I always hear people telling me, “The Japanese love it when you visit their country… as long as it’s less than three months.” Staying any longer would be “infringing upon the isolated culture of Japan”. But as the story progressed and I got to see more of Gaby’s courage and stubbornness to stay in Japan, all of my fears vanished. Of course I’ll still be nervous and awkward, but this is what I want to do. Not all of Japan is hellbent on the concept of uchi-soto (内外), or inside vs. outside. But the fact that there is such a mentality actually gives more reason to go. Foreigners never fit in Japan. But because of that, they can find a sense of purpose and uniqueness they may not back in their own country. For the most part in other countries, such as the US, people have some sense of equality. And yet that very equality removes the individuality of each person as they are cast into where everyone else is. In Japan, the distinctions between Japanese and foreigners in fact enables some to feel special; to truly feel they remain in that land out of choice, not obligation.

I hope you get a chance to read this book, and check out Sara Backer’s website and her blog!

– Image source @ http://americanfuji.blogspot.com/

Welcome to my blog, Two Bowls of Ramen! I blog with one hand as I feast on some bowls of ramen noodles with the other. As you’ve probably noticed, the header image only has one bowl of ramen. No, I’m not blind. The one bowl resembles what you may think you know about Japanese culture. In Japan, you see one thing, while the true meaning is the complete opposite. Nah, I’m just messing with you. While that is probably true, I’m basically too lazy to have found an image with two ramen bowls, and I like the title as it is.

This is my first blog ever, and being really excited about it may make things on the site a bit ephemeral as I keep playing around with styles and layouts. But it’s time to get bloggin’!

This site is a place where I share anything (literally, anything) I find interesting about Japanese culture. Whether it be a new anime series that’s got me hooked, a crazy story about a panchira-stealing otaku, or my thoughts on a book I’ve read dealing with Japan, I hope to spark that same attraction with the Land of the Rising Sun within you viewers.

This is by no means an anime blog – there’s plenty of those (and some very good ones, note: RandomC). I’ll post anything that strikes my attention as an interesting tidbit about Japanese culture. I hope whoever reads this blog enjoys, laughs, and learns something new.

If you have any comments, criticism, suggestions, or ramen recipes, feel free to leave a comment here or contact me @ tworamen AT gmail DOT com .

Expect more posts soon as I delve into the world of otakus more interesting subcultures of Japan!

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