Posts Tagged ‘okonomiyaki’

My third trip to Japan: Day 04

September 15, 2017

After another interesting Japanese breakfast (click pix to embiggen),

No natto

I walked over to the railway station, took one last look at the castle,

Last look at the castle

and got on the shinkansen for Osaka. Half an hour later I was there. 92km in 29 minutes, including a stop at Kobe — not quite 120mph. The shinkansen are absolutely tremendous. I will have a whole esay on them later.

At the Himeji Shinkansen

Met my former student Ayumi with no problems. Like all Japanese women she dresses like she just stepped off the cover of Glamour magazine. We took the train from Shin Osaka to plain old Osaka Osaka station and went to a nearby electronics store where I spent about $100 on games and manga. We then had lunch at a place that served the traditional Kansai cabbage and egg pancake called Okonomiyaki.

Cooked at your table.

Got back to Shin-Osaka about noon and of course I was dragging; not just hip pain but back pain and heat exhaustion as well. We picked up my backpack at the train station where they have coin lockers all over the place. They are not like the US, but they do have rules.

Forbidden articles in paragraph 5

We then headed over to the MyStays hotel, about a quarter of a mile. In typical Mario fashion, we found that my reservation was in the other hotel. I am booked into the MyStays hotel in Tokyo but here I am booked into the Shin-Osaka Station Hotel. After that bit of embarrassment we turned around and walk back another half-mile to the new hotel, tucked out of the way down a side street and hidden well enough that they had to put up a sign.

Go back! You missed it!

Here it is!

The room is about the same as all the other rooms. They have free water and a little jacket and such for you to wear around the room, with a note that you should not wear it outside of the room; interesting, because in Himeji they had the same sort of thing only they encouraged you to wear it outside the room. Since I was about four sizes too large for the Japanese clothing I just wore my regular stuff.

Yet another typical Japanese travel hotel room

Towards sunset I went back over to the Shin-Osaka station for dinner. On the way out, I talked to the front desk about extending my stay four hours tomorrow, which they were glad to do — at the rate of $20 an hour. Since I was likely going to be exhausted by that time I thought it was a pretty good deal.

It was still warm out — lower 80s– and humid. I ate at a nice little restaurant called Tamago to Watashi, which is Japanese for The Egg and I.

Tomago to Watashi

Their speciality was Omurice (omelet over rice) and it wasn’t bad, but not as good as the ones in the Gourmet Girls anime.

Omurice Curry

It came with a tasty custard, and a small jar of what looked like cream for the custard, but was actually ranch dressing for the salad. Consider yourself warned.

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Cultural Appropriation

June 29, 2017

Lauren Orsini, the always-interesting Otaku Journalist, recently raised the issue of cultural appropriation, and pointed to an article by Jarune Uwujaren at Everyday Feminist. I’ve read both articles multiple times, and still have trouble wrapping my head around some applications of the definition, and not just because I’m a fat old Euro male. I think they are overlooking a fundamental difference between what goes on inside a country, and what goes on outside of it.

Uwujaren makes a strong case for cultural appropriation as part of an ongoing power imbalance within a country/society, specifically, the US. The dominant white culture (mine), demands conformance to its ideas of dress and behavior, on pain of not being thought serious, or worthy, of dealing with. This, by the way is true within the culture, as well as without. Bill Gates famously went out and bought a business suit so he could convince IBM he was a serious businessman when he met to sell them DOS. It rejects the elements of the other cultures (African-American, Native American, Hispanic, etc) as having no place in a white-dominated world.

Cultural Appropriation, as I understand their discussion, is when that dominant culture then turns around and adopts elements of the rejected subcultures in ways that are not respectful of their origins. The frat-boy type wearing the Native American head-dress in the Uwujaren article. Portrayals of traditional Hispanic dress (sombreros, decorated jackets) in commercials. The majority culture appropriates elements of a subculture for humor or commercial gain. This is all understandable when you are talking about the actions of the majority culture inside a country. It is a blatant flaunting of the unequal power relationship.

Between countries is a totally different thing.

My position is that there can be no Uwujaren-style appropriation between countries because there is no cultural coercion. The dominant culture in a country is dominant, and it doesn’t care what you think. If you go into a bank in the US wearing Arab robes, you will be stared at, if not strip searched. That goes double for an airport. If, on the other hand, you are in Riyadh, then everyone of importance wears robes, and you are the semi-despised foreigner, sweating in your business suit. Your cultural dominance in the US doesn’t matter. If you then change to robes, you are seen as a still-despised foreigner, aping your betters.

As a way of thinking about this, let’s turn our concerns about cultural appropriation 180 degrees, and look at other countries’ appropriation of American culture.

Consider Japan, which worries Orsini so. If you live in Japan, and have Japanese friends, and own a dark suit, then you might be called upon to officiate at a faux-Christian wedding ceremony in a building like the one below.

Not really a church

That’s not a church. It’s a commercial establishment that is rented out for couples who want to be “married” in a “church”. Is that cultural appropriation, or simple adoption? In America, there are several dominant religions that would be insulted. In Japan, with a Christian population of less than 3%, it’s looked on as kindof trendy.

Then there’s anime, the wellspring of all things otaku. Neon Genesis Evangelion is considered a seminal anime from twenty years ago, which totally rewrote the rules on how one portrays giant robots and parenting. The title can be translated from the Classical Greek as Gospel of a New Century.  In it, the robots battle Angels, using weapons like the Spear of Longinus (now suffering from additional exploitation), to prevent the destruction of New Tokyo, as foretold in the Prophecies of the Dead Sea Scrolls. This is far more than appropriation — it borders on looting and pillaging.  Actually, it’s director Anno grabbing whatever sounded good to him and sticking it in.

Or consider the Spring 2017 anime season just ending. There’s an anime titled The Seven Mortal Sins, that trivializes Christian and Jewish concepts of sin by re-casting them in the bodies of buxom babes. Exploitation? Certainly. Cultural appropriation in the Uwujaren definition? I’m not so sure.

Yet another example is Christmas, that most sacred of Western holy days (even though the commercial aspects sometimes overshadow the sacred). The Japanese have appropriated it and turned it into a totally commercial holiday. Unlike New Year’s, probably Japan’s most culturally significant holiday, Christmas in Japan is more like Valentine’s day in the US. Decorations may go up early, but they come down the day after.

So, I think what’s going on here is the application of one phrase to describe two different things: cultural appropriation inside a country as opposed to appropriation across country borders. Part of this may be the confusion of the word exchange as a business deal, as opposed to exchange as an intellectual process. The labelling of a cultural exchange as a material transaction. A cultural exchange is an exchange of ideas, not of material things. “This is how we fry flour and eggs and cabbage, and we call it Okonomiyaki“.  Which might or might not be followed by “Oh, that’s interesting. This is how we fry flour and eggs, but no cabbage, and we call it “Hot cakes“. It’s an exchange of ideas, not a material transaction. As Thomas Jefferson said, “He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.” There’s really no way to pay another culture for the use of their ideas, even if we didn’t explain to them about hot cakes. All we can do is expose them to our way of doing things, and let them pick and choose and adapt as they see fit. And if the way they see fit to adopt and adapt something of ours is totally outside of our vision, well, that’s not something we can control. That’s not something we can do anything about.

In fact, that’s not something that’s any of our business.

And since the reverse is true, you can go on practicing yoga, or eating Salisbury Steak on Baps with Red Sauce without feeling guilty.