Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (March 2009)

It's the end of the month and you know what that means. My regular readers (I wonder how many there really are) will know it's time for my monthly book reviews. Please feel free to recommend books to me as well or let me know what you're reading. As always, I'm in the middle of two books as well (one in Japanese - and this time it isn't an erotic photography book).
So, for your reading pleasure:

DOOMWYTE by Brian Jacques - Probably the weakest Redwall story to date. No danger to Mossflower, hardly any danger to Redwall Abbey. More of a treasure hunt with some bad apples thrown in. Or the main story of some bad apples - this time crows and ravens and reptiles with a treasure hunt thrown in. But as I've been reading this series since it started, I had to add it to my collection. This is the twentieth book of the series which started with the release of "Redwall" back in 1986. Anybody who loved "The Wind in the Willows" or "Winnie the Pooh" will love this series where the animals can be classified as good or as vermin (bad). The usual good gang are the mice, squirrels, otters, shrews, moles, hares, badgers. The vermin would include rats, weasels, ferrets, foxes, toads, snakes, and this time also includes ravens and crows. It's still a fun read though.

MAGIC BUS: ON THE HIPPIE TRAIL FROM ISTANBUL TO INDIA by Rory MacLean - I would have only been three years old during the "Summer of Love" and I certainly would not have been the child of hippies or flower children as my father was drafted into the military. I am an army brat. So I didn't know that a lot of young people headed to India by an overland route which took them through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and on to India and Nepal. But Rory MacLean knew and he decided to see if it was still possible to travel the overland route from Istanbul to Kathmandu. On his travels by bus, van, train, and plane (it's still too dangerous to travel by land through Afghanistan), he is joined by a menagerie of questionable but lovable characters including Penny - a 70yr old free spirit who made the trip in her younger days, an Indian business man who held a low opinion of the hippies and a host of others.

MY LOBOTOMY: A MEMOIR by Howard Dully - I'm sure we are all familiar with the joke, "I'd rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy". For Howard, it was no joke. In this heartbreaking memoir, Dully introduces himself thus: "My name is Howard Dully. In 1960, when I was twelve years old, I was given a lobotomy." He continues his monologue with, "My stepmother arranged it. My father agreed to it. Dr. Walter Freeman, the man who invented the "ice pick" lobotomy, performed it." One has to ask yourself what kind of parent would agree to such a procedure, and what kind of idiot would even suggest it in the first place. When you read this book, you will want to strangle or slap Dully's stepmother upside the head. She went to see quite a few doctors, and the majority of them said, the problem isn't with Howard, it's with her. Of course she didn't take kindly to that answer and when searching for a doctor who would accept her line of thinking. In reading the memoir, Dully doesn't do anything deserving of a lobotomy - perhaps, he may have been hard to handle, but he was only child growing up. Dully himself says he's never understood why he was given the procedure and more than forty years later, when he turned fifty-four - he went to go find out why. You seriously won't be able to put this book down as Dully takes you back to his childhood and that life changing event. I highly recommend this.

POMPEII・HERCULANEUM: PAST AND PRESENT by A. de Franciscis – A few years ago I went to Rome for my aunt’s wedding. And as there is no telling when I would be able to visit again, I spent a full week there. One place I was determined to go no matter what was Pompeii. I was an army brat who was born in France and lived in Greece and I can barely recall our family trip to Italy but for some reason Pompeii stands out in my mind. I cannot tell what you what my feelings were standing in the city that was buried for centuries. Just standing in the middle of the amphitheatre and contemplating that this was a city long before the time of Christ makes you wonder in awe. I bought this book on impulse, along with a couple of others, and only now have I got around to reading them. If I did a little more research for my trip, I would have made the effort to go to Herculaneum as well. I cannot wait to visit here again.

RAINBOW'S END: AN AFRICAN JOURNEY by Lauren St. John - What do we as Americans know about Rhodesia? Not much I imagine. Some of you may even wonder where it is and might be puzzled when you can't find it on the most current atlas. That's because Rhodesia is the former name of Zimbabwe and this is Lauren St. John's story of growing on a game farm in Rhodesia during the countries fight for independence. Not old enough to understand the politics of her country, she admits to enjoying actually War against what the Rhodesian's called "terrorists". She says everyday was an adventure and that the War was an abstract idea. Their family didn't think of the danger involved. They were more concerned about being bitten by the various snakes that frequented their farm. Rainbow's End is the name of the farm where St. John grows up with a menagerie of animals including a lot of dogs, a few horse, a couple of ostriches, and even a giraffe. It didn't seem to bother them that previous tenants were murdered by the so called "terrorists". It isn't until Zimbabwe becomes an independent nation that her eyes are open to how the rest of the world perceived Rhodesia. She couldn't understand how every African seemed to know the name Robert Mugabe and has a crisis of her own when she discovers that it wasn't the Africans who were "terrorists". It was her and families like hers, and the government itself. We may be familiar with South Africa and apartheid, but it appears that Rhodesia's all white government was just as racist as it's southern neighbor. Unfortunately for the people of Zimbabwe, their hero seems to have strayed from the path of economic success to become one of the world's poorest and most corrupt nations (but that's the story of another book.) The ousted Rhodesians are probably laughing with their buddies saying, "we told you so!". My dream trip to Victoria Falls will most likely be postponed indefinitely or until the nation gets a better leader.

OISHINBO A LA CARTE by Tetsu Kariya – Sometimes I find myself needing a break from regular fiction and non-fiction and I entertain myself with a graphic novel. Oishinbo is a comic about the world of cooking and food culture. How can I as a self-proclaimed foodie not indulge in a comic like this. This particular comic as been serialized in “Big Comic Spirits” continuously since 1983 and the writer and artist has won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1987. Unfortunately for the English version, the comic is split into a bunch of shorter stories, thus the a la carte in the title. The two characters you do need to remember though are the protagonist – Yamaoka Shiro, a journalist for the Todai News and is placed in charge of the newspapers special feature called “The Ultimate Menu”. And Kaibara Yuzan – a prominent artist and is also founder and director of the exclusive “Gourmet Club”. He also happens to be Shiro’s father and ultimate rival. The English series will all be featured in the a la carte format with the next volume will focus on good drink. Bon Appetit!

ROME: MONUMENTS: PAST AND PRESENT by R. A. Staccioli – One of my other impulse buys when I was in Italy. Aside from making a day trip to Pompeii, I had planned to check out all the major sites that were featured in Audrey Hepburn’s “Roman Holiday” – the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Bocca de la Verite. I also wanted to revisit the places that I had been to when I was a wee tot. My family was in Italy a week or so before me so the day I came to Rome, my parents and siblings were in Venice. So on my free day I ventured to the Basilica de San Pietro and rubbed the feet of the statue of St. Peter, I went to the Catacombs at either Saint Sebastian or St. Callistus (I forget which one.) Although I took a lot of pictures, I bought this book to read a little bit about the history of all the buildings – from the Colisseum and the Forum Romanum to the Pantheon. Aside from Pompeii, one other site that left me speechless was the painting by Michelangelo on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – Beautiful!!

DINNER WITH MUGABE: THE UNTOLD STORY OF A FREEDOM FIGHTER WHO BECAME A TYRANT by Heidi Holland – I still haven’t given up my dream of seeing Victoria Falls one day and for those of you who do not know where it’s located, it is on the Zambezi River which forms the border between Zimbabwe and Zambia. And now that we all know Zimbabwe was the former Rhodesia, I just had to read this book where the author managed to gain audience with the man who the Western media has been portraying as the 21st century Hitler. But reading this book, one comes away with the feeling that Robert Mugabe cannot be solely responsible for the tragedy of Zimbabwe that currently has the highest rate of inflation and unemployment. The country that was once hailed as the “Jewel of Africa” with a idealistic politician, who unfortunately succumbs to the cliché of “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” A man who places all the blame on his country’s troubles upon its former colonizers – Britain, as well as the White Rhodesians who ran a racist government in the same vein as Apartheid South Africa. The man refuses to take any responsibility himself for his corrupt government and actually condoned the violence against the White Rhodesian farmers who owned most of the land, albeit, land that was stolen from the Africans. A man who let his own government troop – the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade to carry out an operation called Gukurahundi which translates to “the sweeping away of rubbish” in Shona. In this context the “rubbish” being people who opposed Mugabe and his government. The operation was carried out in an area of the country called Matebeleland. Although Rhodesia’s former president – Ian Smith died “an unrepentant racist” according to Mugabe, his current policy is no better and is just as racist as his predecessor. What a travesty. And although I said Mugabe shouldn’t solely be blamed for what’s happened to his country, I think he is at least 75 to 80% responsible. Perhaps I will visit Victoria Falls by way of Zambia.

THE BLACK LIZARD AND BEAST IN THE SHADOWS by Edogawa Ranpo – The father of Japanese mystery. These are two classic stories from the golden age of Japanese mystery writing. “The Black Lizard” is about a master criminal who happens to be a woman and has voracious appetite for beautiful things who finds herself up against her biggest foe to date, a detective named Akechi Kogoro. “The Beast in the Shadows” is about a mystery writer who vows to protect a married woman he secretly loves, until he becomes the detective and finds answers to a mystery that leaves him a bit disturbed. Unfortunately for the stories, I don’t know if it was the era in which it was written or if there was something lost in the translation, I found the writing style not to my liking and the plot twists were just a little too far-fetched to be believable. Still entertaining though.

And so ends another month of the tomes I have chosen. Of course if I spent as much time writing as I do reading, perhaps the dream of having a book published wouldn't be a dream anymore. But I love reading as much as I love writing so what can I say. I'm currently reading "The Lost Throne" by Chris Kuzneski but I won't tell you about it until next month. The Japanese book I'm reading? It's called "Tsuki Ichi" by the popular duo of Puffy (you might know them as AmiYumi). Sit back, relax, and curl up with a good book.

Happy Reading!!

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Railway Museum / 鉄道博物館

A few weeks ago when Mikako and I planned on going to the Railway Museum, we mistakenly went to Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture which is not where the Railway Museum is located. This time, we unmistakenly went to Omiya in Saitama Prefecture to check it out. What is it about guys and things that move? I don't know but I seem to be one of those guys that loves museums featuring planes, trains, and automobiles.


Display of locomotive wheels at the entrance.


The D-51 Locomotive series / 鉄道マニアの憧れD-51

Maite 39 11 / マイテ (1930)

Maite 39 11 Interior / マイテのインテリア

Kumoha 40074 / クモハ 40074 (1936)

Interior with character


Time-slip journey.


Time slip journey continues.


DD13 1 (1958)

C57 135 (1940)

EF66 11 (1968)

ED75 775 (1975)

Remufu 10000 / レムフ 10000 (1966)

21-25 / 0系新幹線 (1964)

222-35 / 200系新幹線 (1980)

Bottom of the Shinkansen / 新幹線の下

Kumoha 484-61 / クモハ 484‐61 (1968)

Kumoha 101 / クモハ 101 (1957)

Kuha 181 / クハ181 (1965)

Snack cart from the mid-60s / 60年代の車内売店

9856 SL (1938)

968 (1904)

7101 (1880)

Carriage moved by man-power / 人車

Taisho Era Carriage / 大正時代の車内

150 SL (1871)

Imperial Carriage / 明治天皇専用の日本初の御料車 (1876)

The Imperial Carriage / 明治天皇専用御料車 (1891)

Bus used in areas without trains / 電車がない地域に使われたバス

Georama Room

The Shinkansen and Shuttle Lines

Cute miniature trains

Free mini shuttle to the north gallery

Mini shuttle modeled after the Hayate Super Express to Hachinohe

I hope you enjoyed the tour of the Railway Museum.


Sunday, March 29, 2009

[Edomae Gatten Sushi] / 「江戸前がってん寿司」

Edomae Gatten Sushi


As we unmistakenly went to Saitaima Prefecture where the Railway Museum is located, we decided to have lunch there as well. Mikako was in the mood for some sushi, so we were looking for a kaiten sushi shop. Instead we came upon this restaurant that served a sushi set menu for 1000yen which included miso soup and 19 pieces of sushi. We were served chu toro, squid, maguro, salmon, egg, and shrimps just to name a few. We also ordered some tempura as well.


Sushi Set with Tempura / 寿司セットと海老の天ぷら

Today's sushi plate / 今日の寿司ネタ

Tempura / 天ぷら

Miso Soup / 味噌汁

Bon Appetit!