Tag Archives: japanese

Mind Over Manga

Sailor Moon

Image via Sailor Moon Wikia

I came across an article about Microsoft’s recently launched Windows 8 which placed two packaging versions side-by-side. One was the “regular” version, which had vibrant and colorful elements while retaining a minimalistic and elegant look. The other was starkly different. It was the Japanese packaging, and it features an uber colorful, slightly over-the-top look, with a couple of manga characters thrown in for good measure.

Windows 8 regular packaging. Via IT Pro Portal.

Via NeoWin

Via Neogaf forum

Manga, the distinctly Japanese comic book illustration style, called anime once it is given movement through various animation and filmmaking techniques, has become so much a part of Japanese pop culture, inspiring a worldwide obsession among grownups and kids alike. It has seeped into the mainstream culture, and we see hints of it in Western movies, cartoons and comic books. Sometimes cute, sometimes dark and edgy, but it always reflects the unabashed quirkiness we have come to associate with J-pop, or Japanese pop.

I grew up watching Japanese animation. The earliest one, which I only remember vaguely was Voltes V, an anime in the giant robot sub-genre. It featured 5 pilots of 5 ships that in crucial moments somehow manage to come together to form one kickass giant robot.

Voltes V titles. Via Ghost Lightning.

Another one I remember following was Candy Candy. The main character was this nice blonde girl who had a lot of problems. She cried a lot. But she was good, sweet, and non-violent. I had a pencil case that had her face on it.

Via Poc and Poch

Anyway, I remember being so fascinated with these characters when I was a kid, and that I drew their likenesses on my notebooks, textbooks, and random sheets of paper that I found lying around. So, in a bout of nostalgia, I decided to revisit the old days and try my hand again at drawing manga style.

I found some resources online, such as Manga University, which has a whole lot of very useful tutorials. I also found Mark Crilley on YouTube, who has made a lot of videos on how to get it right when drawing manga style.

Want to see the results of my efforts?

Here are a couple. They are still kinda rough. And you can still see the guide lines. Hope make a better one this weekend, something worthy of coloring in.

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged ,

Oodles of Noodles

It’s Foodie Tuesday!

What’s your comfort food? I’m a total carb addict, so noodles are what I often turn to in order to soothe my soul. I usually whip up some pasta with tomato sauce or maybe gooey mac n’ cheese when I’m at home but when I crave something like pho or yakisoba, I head out to a restaurant.

asian noodles

Image: Wheatflourbook

I don’t know why I am hesitant to make these dishes; most large grocery stores stock both a wide variety of Asian noodles and the necessary condiments to recreate them at home. It’s not like I have to make the noodles by hand, which really is an art:

Video: Chef Danny Yip Makes Noodles

My favourite noodles are soba, thin strands of pasta made with buckwheat flour. Despite the delicate texture, they have a hearty taste and texture. Unfortunately, Japanese restaurants in North America rarely offer many soba dishes; one might find a cold salad of noodles tossed with vegetables or a hot soup of noodles in broth but that’s about it.

Image: Full Fork Ahead

This time of year I’m looking for something heartier and this recipe for Stir-Fried Pork and Sugar Snaps with Soba Noodles sounds both easy and delicious.

udon via spoonImage: Spoonful

As much as I love the nutty flavour of soba, sometimes I miss the toothsome texture of a thicker noodle. This is when I turn to udon, another Japanese noodle. In addition to its larger size, udon is made with regular wheat flour and therefore has a much more neutral flavour profile. Like soba noodles, udon are traditionally served both cold and hot, and often in a broth. When I start to come down with a cold, I crave miso soup instead of chicken noodle. I will have to try New Asian Cuisine’s recipe for Udon Miso Noodle Soup the next time I start to feel poorly.

Image: Carey Jones, New York Serious Eats

In China, rice noodles are more common and these have spread to several other parts of Asia. One dish that I have heard about from foodie traveler friends is Char Kway Teow (“Stir-fried Ricecake Strips”), which is popular in the night markets of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.

Image: Ooh, Look…

Flat rice noodles are stir-fried with sausage, seafood, and egg; I think this would be the perfect street-snack after having a few drinks. Since we don’t have night markets in Louisville, I will have to try to make it at home. The Chinese sausage might be a challenge but MasterChef Australia contestant Poh Ling Yeow has a recipe that is otherwise fairly easy to put together in the home kitchen.

Steamy Kitchen Vietnamese Pho Noodle SoupImage: Steamy Kitchen

Rice noodles are also the star in Vietnamese pho, a soup made with either beef or chicken. The broth is fragrant with spices (including cinnamon, cardamom, star anise, and cloves) and brightened with fresh cilantro and mint. When you need a sensory pick-me-up, this dish is the one try. Steamy Kitchen’s recipe isn’t the easiest but I bet it produces a fantastic pho.

Seattle Chocolates Savory RamenRamen noodle chocolateImages: Seattle Chocolates

My other go-to comfort food? Chocolate. I’m not sure that I am ready to mix my two faves but if you are braver than I am, you can try Seattle Chocolate’s Ramen Noodle Bar, a mix of uncooked ramen and dark chocolate or the even bolder Savory Ramen, with onion, garlic, and soy sauce added to the mix.

Image: Simply Reem

This winter, when the going gets tough, this girl will be going for the noodles. Who’s with me?

Posted in Culture, Food | Tagged , , ,

Getting Hooked on Amigurumi

crochet hook amigurumiAmigurumi Crochet Hook via Nerdigurumi

Amigurumi is the Japanese craft of making animals and anthropomorphic objects out of crochet. The sculptural capabilities of crochet has drawn many artists to the medium. Today we’ll be looking at some traditional crocheted creations and a few examples of artists who have used crochet and amigurumi to create tactile and sometimes subversive works of art.

adorable mamma and baby amigurumi via tournicote... a cloche piedimage via Tournicote….a cloche pied

Cuteness is one of the most prevalent attributes of amigurumi, and there is certainly plenty of it to spare in this doll duo. Although amigurumi originated in Japan it has spread all over the world; these dolls were made by French doll and crochet artist Lisenn Cabane.

collection of crocheted pearscrochet pears pattern via salihan

Food is a common subject for amigurumi, people have stitched everything from sushi to happy meals. These pears would be an easy first project for anyone starting amigurumi, and I love how much charm they have with their broad smiles.

Amigurumi Toy DesignAmigurumi Toy Design by Chity Soy Yo

Chity Soy Yo is an amigurumi designer who creates friendly-looking toy sculptures that look like they would be perfectly at home in a Studio Ghibli film. I find it amazing how such simple shapes can have so much personality with the right facial expressions and details.

Nathan Vincent's amigurumi taxidermiNathan Vincent

Combining taxidermy and amigurumi, Nathan Vincent creates textile sculptures that are touchable, but also slightly unsettling. Along with these amazing animals, Vincent has also fashioned gas masks, guns and lawnmowers using stitchery, all of which can be seen on his site.

boobs and dinks by Shannon Gerrardboobs and dinks exhibition by Shannon Gerrard

Toronto artist and craftster Shannon Gerrard created these anatomical crochet sculptures as teaching aids to promote early detection of cancer; inside these miniature body parts are small ‘lumps’ that can be found through careful checking.

sculpture by Shawna RichardsonSculpture by Shauna Richardson via Juxtapoz

You are looking at the world’s largest crochet sculpture, made by Shauna Richardson. This lion is one of three that she made out of a mountain of wool for her project Lionheart. You can find out more about Richardson and her work here.

Once you’ve mastered a few crochet stitches you can create anything your imagination can dream up. All you need is a couple crochet hooks, yarn and some stuffing. Two great tutorials I’ve found for creating basic amigurumi shapes can be found here and here. There are places online where you can find free patterns but some of the best patterns can be found in Japanese craft books.

Happy Friday Everyone!

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , ,

Massage, Asian Style

Chinese Tui Na Massage

Tui Na Massage. Image via City College of Acupuncture.

There are not a lot of bliss-inducing activities that would equal a good massage. The cares and worries fade away and the world is reduced to the another human’s touch.

We all need to be touched — and it isn’t just a psychological need, but a deep-seated biological need. Babies need it to flourish, and grown-ups are no different. Asian cultures accept this and have embraced massage not as a relaxation technique, but as a healing tool.  It was considered part of health care in China as far back as 3,000 BC. Massage is said to unclog or unknot the body’s life force, or Qi (chi), thus restoring health and well-being.

Massage, the way Asians do it, is a product of centuries, even millennia, of learning and developing. No wonder it feels so good. And there’s a certain simplicity and unfussiness about it — no special beds or tools, no oils are applied to the skin, and you stay fully clothed.

Chinese painting depicting Tui Na massage. Image via Lands of Wisdom.

Tui na (“push”, “grasp”), is part of the arsenal of traditional Chinese medicine, and involves touching and kneading key points in the body, using a similar anatomical road map as acupuncture.

Japanese doctor giving anma massage. Image via Yotsume Dojo.


Shiatsu massage. Image via Zen Shiatsu.

These Chinese techniques eventually found their way to Japan, which is geographically a stone’s throw away. Japanese an ma (“press”, “rub”) which later gave birth to shiatsu (which translates to “finger pressing”) massage, is largely derived from the Chinese way.

Thai Massage. Image via Worldwide Health.

Illustration of Thai massage points. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Thai massage is locally referred to as nuat phaen boran, which means “ancient-manner massage”. This one’s my favorite — mostly because it feels like doing yoga, only somebody else is doing it for you. It is sometimes called “yoga massage”. Thai massage draws on different massage traditions from different parts of Asia, but its Chinese and Indian origins are the ones most clearly felt.

The interior of a Thai massage spa. Image via Trip Advisor.

Giving a Massage

If you want to try giving a massage, there’s no reason why you can’t be good at it. Touch is a universal language, and you only need practice in order to speak it well.

I am by no means a professional masseuse, but in my family, I am the go-to girl for massages. So here are a few pointers I’d like to offer for a successful first try:

  • Set the atmosphere. Get help where you can. The recipient of your massage will more likely not notice your inexperience if their other senses are involved. Create a spa-like ambiance. Dim the lights, light up a scented candle or incense stick, play some soft music.
  • Get a few massages yourself. They’ll familiarize you with what feels good.
  • Massage muscles, not bone — this is wisdom from my Dad. Muscles appreciate a massage more. Concentrate on fleshy parts — butt, calves, shoulders. Don’t press on the shoulder blades, but rather the muscles around it; not on the spine, but on the parts on either side of it.
  • Remember that pressure is distributed equally in the area of contact. So use more when using your palms or the length of your forearm. Ease up when using smaller points, such as thumbs, fingertips or knuckles.
  • Look out for reactions. They’ll give you hints on whether what you’re doing feels good or not.
  • Read up and watch videos. Whatever massage style you’d like to try doing, there are tons of how-to vids and articles out there.

So that’s my two cents’ worth on this. Good luck and enjoy your massage! I had a blast “researching” for this post!

Posted in Culture | Tagged , , ,


It’s Foodie Tuesday

fancy lacquered chopsticsImage via A La Mode

Chopsticks really are an icon of Asian culture.  It’s easy to see why when we stare down at our own place setting. Two tapered sticks to replace both fork and knife. Chopsticks seem to embody grace and exoticism for many in this neck of the woods.

It’s believed that chopsticks made their appearance about 5000 years ago in China, born out of necessity in the woods, two slim twigs were broken from a tree and used to remove food from a pot cooking over an open fire.  But it was when a very popular vegetarian named Confucius proclaimed that knives had no place at the dinner table, linking their use with aggression, 500 years ago that their use and place in Asian society was permanently elevated.

Chopsticks made from silverImage via Etsy.

In the days of yore chopsticks were often a marker of wealth, some fashioned out of precious metals including gold and silver or emblazoned with beautiful calligraphy or carvings. Emperors in China even used their silver chopsticks to test foods for poison, believing that the silver colour would tarnish in the presence of toxins.

Antique chopstick holdersAntique Chopstick Holders from Greentea Design.

Shape and decoration  evolved by country and today there are lots of conventions, from culture to culture, that dictate good manners and proper etiquette around the table.  And that evolution continues today with all sorts of modern design and expanded functionality.

The chopstick spoon combo

The combination spoon and chopstick

Chopsticks that dispense sauce - ingenious!

Sauce dispensing chopsticks for the perfect amount of soy sauce!

Images via Toxel

chopsticks shaped like twigs

Beautiful reimagining of the original chopsticks

Image via Anthropologie

And it’s not just modern designs that have emerged.  Fascination with chopsticks have led designers to use chopsticks as a building material.  Here are some transformations of this ubiquitous eating utensil:

Tina Baine's Chopstick Fruit BowlOver at Ready Made, Tina Baine posted this beautiful fruit bowl she fashioned out of chopsticks.  It’s striking and sculptural.  It’s also collapsable when not in use, for quick and easy storage.  Directions to make your own can be found here.

Chopsticks are used to make these Sea Urchin LightsOver at Weirdomatic I saw these Sea Urchin Lights fashioned from chopsticks by LaCor Furniture.

collapsing and expanding chopstick sofa called sofa xxxx

Image via Curbly

And finally the piece de resistance: the expanding contracting chopstick sofa-chair, called SOFA_XXXX by Yuya Ushida, made from 8000 chopsticks.  Visit Freshome for a video of this sofa’s transformation.

If you’re among the many here who haven’t quite mastered the use of chopsticks, perhaps one of these projects is for you.  Put those takeout chopsticks taking up all that room in your drawer to good use!