Friday, December 16, 2005

 

Ken Watanabe at Aburiya Kinnosuke

By now you know that I am somewhat obssessed with the wonderful restaurant Aburiya Kinnosuke. Earlier this year, I took my mother for her first visit. While in Japan last week, she said she was watching news reports on Ken Watanabe's recent marriage -- and the footage included shots of Mr. Watanabe at Aburiya Kinnosuke! So, there you go. If you live in New York and like Japanese food and haven't yet been to this restaurant, what are you waiting for?

Monday, December 12, 2005

 

The Internet is a Strange World

I fell in love with the Internet pretty quickly. I've found each evolution so interesting -- message boards, news sites, e-commerce and blogs. And let me tell you -- it really is a world.

There are a few great gossip sites which have developed over the past year or so. In fact, these gossip sites are so good, traditional magazines have been forced to start to credit blogs as sources, and I have read some articles which state that people are cancelling their subscriptions to gossip rags like US Weekly and In Touch because the blogs deliver the news faster (certainly this is how I get my gossip). Blogs can also analyze the reason behind the headline on a magazine, giving readers a sense of the "drama" that goes into planning a news story. You don't have to live in New York anymore to hear the buzz. ;-) (This is true of news blogs, by the way. Japundit wrote about racist manga months before the New York Times covered the story).

So, I've been sort of captivated this year by watching PerezHilton develop his blog. There was drama earlier this year when Perez initially named his site PageSixSixSix as an homage to the famous Page Six gossip column. He changed his name once PageSix threatened him with legal action.

Now, all good gossip columnists have their favorites. Lainey, for example, is of Chinese descent and I can count on her to let me know if there is a decent Asian actress on the horizon. She has her favorites -- Gwyneth Paltrow -- and her not-so-favorites -- Jennifer Aniston. Perez is a little less biased. But his message board has been bombarded over the past few months by someone spewing racial epithets and "supporting" the cause of Jennifer Aniston. (As an aside, there is even "Team Aniston" and "Team Jolie" merchandise for sale for people who care about these things, and think that siding with a celebrity in a divorce is important).

The "spam" became so bad that Perez posted the ISP numbers of the spammer filling his message boards "with hate," as they say. And lo and behold, he found out that physical address, name and phone number of the spammer. And he posted it on his message board. The ensuing discussion can be read here. As it turns out, the spammer runs a fellow celebrity gossip site -- perhaps this is all the result of professional rivalry? After all, Perez has managed to turn an online gossip blog into being on a first name basis with Paris Hilton et al.

There is just so much to say about this. For as goes gossip, so goes the rest of the world.

First of all, what are the issues of privacy here? Perez posting the spammer's name appears to be legal. What are we to make of all the angry readers of Perez's blog who are thrilled that the spammer has been caught and are now calling the spammer's home? What are we to make of the spammer taking it upon himself to spend hours and hours posting ridiculous and insulting garbage on a gossip site? What is to become of true privacy?

Second, I love how the Internet has democratized information. I understand that there are pros and cons here. I really do. But how amazing was it during the election to track the electoral college, and to track in real time who was probably going to win the election (though the election definitely didn't go the way I wanted it to).

I haven't been to pleased with the mainstream press lately. On the face of it, I support the idea of an enlightened editor pushing his writers to report on and tell the truth and act as the check on the federal government that the media is supposed to be. But I sort of feel like the media has fallen down -- and keeps falling down -- on the job. Blogs are giving us a much richer picture of what is actually happening in the world -- even if you don't agree with everything that is being said. And if it means that someone like Perez can leverage a lot of hard work to become a gossip maven without having to trawl through the politics of a traditional news machine, well then great!

Those who have known me for a while know that I had a baptism in the Internet world in late 1999 and the early part of this century. I worked at Blades and Bolt, and while both experiences were exhausting, they were fascinating and the issues we dealt with are still very much the issues that matter to the Internet. At Bolt, Jane Mount used to tell us that research made it pretty clear that Internet uses are more honest about who they are online than in the real world. This actually makes sense to me. There is this strange mix of anonymity and openness about the web. Jane also used to talk about a book called Snow Crash, which I have read, and which she and then CEO Dan Pelson really captured the possibility and spirit of the Internet. I have my issues with the book, but I take their point.

Certainly I've had the experience of expression an emotion I was feeling at one particular moment and hitting the "Submit" button only to regret it later. In this way, the Intenet contains some very raw emotional spewing. Plus, as the New York Times has told us, the Internet can also be very, very addictive. You feel as though you are communing with hundreds of like-minded people. The mode of communication is text. If you are at all shy, the Internet is kind of comforting -- you don't feel put off by a dozen people laughing at stupid jokes at a party who seem to have a stranglehold on how to be cool. In the Internet world, you just chat.

Of course, online gaming fosters a similar kind of community with the added benefit that you are in a fictional world where you can accomplish great heroic acts. Once upon a time, fantasies took place just inside one person's mind -- or in the reader's relationship to a book. Now, fantasies have a place to run wild, so to speak, and people form strong emotional bonds within these communities.

On the political front, it means that someone like Josh Marshall with his muckraking undraiser or DailyKos can marshall forces -- no pun intended. This strikes me as a very good thing in the long run. It's a brave new world out there. What's going to happen? People who have always been prone to engaging the fictional and/or imaginary world -- lovers of Star Trek and speculative fiction -- will probably the first to fully "get" what this new world means. Ignore the 'net at your peril.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

 

Worldwide Bento

Once upon a time my mother used to send me to school with a carefully prepared bento. This was before the days of the Internet, and certainly before Japanese culture was so "cool." My evil second grade teacher took my bento out of my hands, and made the kids pass it around for inspection. By the time my beloved bento returned to me, it had been handled by about 25 people and I didn't want to eat it any more.

This story still makes me sad.

Now, the bento seems to have reached an almost mainstream status.



If you had told me when I was a child that a sign like this could be placed on the street and make sense to people, I don't know that I would have believed you.



The American bento does look a little bit different from the classic Japanese eki-ben, but the principles are still there, I suppose.



However, there are many times when I am traveling that I wish I could pick up a lovely bento like this. We just don't have them here in the States.




Mmm. Getting hungry?

First posted over at Japundit.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

 

The Year of the Dog Is Coming

I just got my kagami mochi for the upcoming year of the dog. Of course, I got my Christmas tree too, but didn't feel like the season's decorations were complete without my rice cakes.



Wikipedia gives a nice description of the kagami mochi.
The two mochi discs are variously said to symbolize the going and coming years[2], the human heart[2], "yin" and "yang", or the moon and the sun[3]. The "daidai", whose name means "generations"[4], is said to symbolize the continuation of a family from generation to generation[1].
Traditionally the kagami mochi was placed in various locations throughout the house[3]. Nowadays it is usually placed in a household Shinto altar, or kamidana. It has also been placed in the tokonoma, a small decorated alcove in the main room of the home.
Contemporary kagami mochi are often pre-moulded into the shape of stacked discs and sold in plastic packages in the supermarket. A mikan or a plastic imitation daidai are often substituted for the original daidai.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

 

Iceland Again

My friend Isao used to tell me that Japanese people really like Scandinavian design. I realize that Iceland isn't "officially" part of Scandinavia, but certainly there is some relationship between these two parts of the world. Having now been to Iceland, I can see the affinity that Japanese people have for the north of Europe. Certainly I feel compelled (again) to try to have some nice furniture and reduce clutter, although the latter is difficult if you are the kind of person who loves books as much as I do. I mean, pick up any home decor magazine, and every beautiful shot of a room professionally decorated is not likely to include a lot of books.

But I digress.

What impressed me most about Iceland -- other than the people -- was the incredibly exotic quality of the place. Here is a land full of tectonic plates, lava, volcanoes, glaciers and the northern lights. We had about 6 hours of sunlight, and the sun passed very low over the horizon, so the whole day went by like a dream. Sunrises and sunsets took forever, and I kept hearing the overture to Das Rheingold in my head.



Believe it or not, this photo was taken around 10 AM when the sun was just crawling up into the sky.



Pfingvellir is the site of the Icleandic althing, or Viking parliament. It is an incredible place, and you can see the American plate pulling away from the Eurasian plate. I hope that this is not a sign of what will inevitably happen between these two parts of the world.



Look at how low the sun still is -- and this is probably around 11 AM.



We also visited the geysir, which is the only word to have made it from Icelandic to world-wide-usage.



Gulfoss falls is a two-tier waterfall. It is impossible for me to convey how cold it was. It was also very slippery and I fell down -- something I rarely do. But I like this photo because it looks like a rainbow and I are playing tug-of-war.



I love how this ice-covered grass almost looks organic. And, again, look at the quality of the sun coming through the ice!



Sunsets take forever. You can see the Blue Lagoon spa brewing in the distance.



The water really is blue at the Blue Lagoon.



I like the fact that every meal we ate was accompanied by candles. Actually, there was a great deal of glass/candle work for sale. In such a dark place, you really do value light. I plan to have more meals at home with candles to cheer me up when the upcoming New York winter seems to go on forever!



I would be remiss if I didn't point out that every breakfast included a nice serving of herring. I admit, I ate some every morning.

 

Christmas in Reykjavik

I like Christmas in European countries. It always looks a little bit more tasteful than what we do in the US. Don't get me wrong -- I like all the American lights. But there is just something *right* about how decorations are done in Europe.



Here some men are taking a truck laden with pine trees through Laugavegur street in Reykjavik.




They put these trees up with little lights on stores.



I like the window displays in Europe too. Here is a little coffee shop which I visited for a wonderful latte.



The streets are tastefully decorated with lights. You can see Hallgrimskirkja church looming in the background. This church was is meant to look like a volcanic eruption, which is fitting when you consider how much of Iceland is an interplay of elemental forces -- tectonic plates, volcanoes and ice.



And here is the church again

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