Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ern's Monthly Page Turners (February 2012)


So this year is Leap Year and it's the 29th of February.  In keeping with my promise from last month, I have written my reviews for books read in February.  An interesting variety this time around (actually I think I say that all the time), I like providing reviews for an eclectic collection.  This month features the life of an interesting couple, a journal of food writing and a history of American breakfast cereals, a young adult series who's main character is a paper finger puppet of Yoda from Star Wars, a debut novel from a young Chinese writer, music, and a children's photography book of lowriders.  Enjoy!

SONG OF HAITI : THE LIVES OF DR. LARIMER AND GWEN MELLON AT THE ALBERT SCHWEITZER HOSPITAL OF DECHAPELLES by Barry Paris – “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth. Something like hell was created later by man, on a Caribbean island which heaven and earth had combined to make a tropical paradise before the Europeans arrived. By the time they withdrew, Haiti’s native population was exterminated, its land exhausted, and its brutally imported Africans left to rot in poverty.” This is just a prologue of the fascinating story of how Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon created the Albert Schweitzer Hospital of Deschapelles. I picked this book up for two simple reasons. One, it was a bargain book. And two, Haiti sounds like a fascinating place. I once watched a program where the object was to find out how many Haitian nationals were living in Japan (there were only 8 when this program was aired). And I had actually met one of them whose name was also Ernest. My sister also had a chance to go to Haiti with some medical doctors to help after a recent natural disaster (her husband forbid her, but I don’t blame him.) Anyway, I had no idea who the Mellons were, but Larimer’s great grandfather had founded a banking empire. His uncle had developed the Aluminum Corporation of America (Alcoa) and his father was the founder and president of the Gulf Oil Corporation. Larimer was born into money, but wealth did not satisfy him. In fact it rather embarrassed him. To try to separate himself from the wealth of his family, he first becomes a rancher in Arizona. But what changed his life was an article in Life magazine titled “The Greatest Man in the World”. It was about a medical missionary in Gabon named Albert Schweitzer. Following in the steps of Albert Schweitzer, the rancher Larimer gave up ranching and put himself through med school. His wife Gwen followed him into the health business and studied at becoming a medical technician. Once they graduated and Larimer finished his residency, they had traveled the world seeking a place that could benefit most with a new hospital. They had chosen the Artibonite Valley in Central Haiti. Follow their trials and tribulations having trying to set up and run a hospital in one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. If only the world had more people like Dr. Larimer and Gwen Mellon, the earth would be paradise indeed.

LUCKY PEACH Issue 2 : The Sweet Spot – This is a quarterly journal of food and writing and is edited by Peter Meechan, Chris Ying, and David Chang – food lovers and chefs in their own right, well David Chang is but I’m not sure about the other two! Two of my favorite things!! Seeing how this is a journal a.k.a. a magazine, you really don’t have to read from page one but can skip around and read articles which catch your attention first. However, I’m one of those people who even reads magazines from beginning to end without skipping around. It’s just me. Lots of fun articles on food, food, and more food. There is even an article by Anthony Bourdain writing about “Road House”? You know, that movie that starred Patrick Swayze as a bouncer and also featured Jeff Healey. The first article was awesome. A culinary journey starting in Kyoto and savoring kaiseki dining. And then on to Kentucky to visit the Van Winkle bourbon distillery. And then to Copenhagen where they met and dined with the chef from Noma, voted the best restaurant in the world for two years running by San Pelligrino. And speaking of world’s best restaurants, there is also an article about the man who changed the face of cooking. Of course you know who we are talking about – Ferran Adria of El Bulli fame and the introduction of foam into the culinary world. And of course there are recipes of all kinds. An article on the variety of misos. Also, the variety of apricots from Tajikistan, which is also produced at an orchard in California. And even more food related stuff – dry aging, Japanese knife making, ikejime. But wait, there is also something for the literary foodie as this issue includes excerpts from Russell Chathams’s 1988 book “Dark Waters”. I can’t wait for the next issue. I must also go in search of the first issue as well.

THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA by Tom Angleberger – Whenever I encounter anything “Star Wars” related such as the commercial for Cup Noodles featuring Yoda or the R2D2 happy meal toy (which I missed out on), or a book with a title like this, the first thing that comes to my mind is my good friend and self-professed “Star Wars” nerd and local music connoisseur – Matthew Brown. The strange thing is I was friends with his mother before we became good buds. He even bought my Hell Mobile which I don’t think he ever drove (and currently still does not have a license to drive). And whenever I see the “Star Wars” related merchandise, I find that I miss having a beer or two or three with my bud. The perils of living life as an ex-pat. Then again, he had also left the Pacific Northwest for a spell as well. Anyway, what we have here is a quick read and fun beginning to a young adult series. Our story starts with our main narrator Tommy. A sixth-grader at a middle school. He has decided to compile a case file to research the truth about “Origami Yoda”. “Origami Yoda” was created by Dwight, what everyone might call the class nerd. No one really likes and no one really hangs out with him, and certainly no one would ask his advice about anything. However, his classmates are willing to ask “Origami Yoda” and Dwight would respond in his Yoda voice and dish out advice. However, there is one skeptic, Harvey, who wants Dwight to admit that Origami Yoda is nothing but a green paper wad on his finger. So, is “Origami Yoda” real or not? You must read and decide for yourself.

DARTH PAPER STRIKES BACK : AN ORIGAMI YODA BOOK by Tom Angleberger – It’s another year at Ralph McQuarrie Middle School and Tommy and friends are now 7th graders but there is trouble afoot. Origami Yoda wisdom doubter has gotten Dwight suspended from school and there is to be a private school board meeting on dispensing disciplinary action, which could mean Dwight being transferred to another school. Tommy once again enlists the help of his friend to create another case file to support Dwight and argue that he should not be expelled from school. Harvey, who has successfully gotten Dwight to admit the Origami Yoda is only a piece of paper has not created a rival – “Darth Paper”. Not only is he alienating his friends by telling them to join the dark side, he also plans on attending the school board meeting as well to counter Tommy’s case file. What’s going to happen to Dwight and Origami Yoda? A must read for the “Star Wars” nerd in you.

FEBRUARY FLOWERS by Fan Wu – This is the debut novel by Fan Wu and set in contemporary China. The story starts off in the present as a recently divorced Chen Ming talks to her mother on the phone. Her mother wants her go get re-married but Ming has other plans. She is headed to her university’s Alumni Administration Office to pick up transcripts of her grades as she is applying to a graduate school in the U.S. She meets another alumni who is planning on emigrating to Canada and finds that they were at university during the same time. And it’s here where the real story starts. The bulk of the story is about the relationship between the 17 year old first year university student Cheng Ming, an introvert who keeps to herself and lives in a world of books and innocence and 24 year old Miao Yan, a free spirit from Yunnan who is the complete opposite of Ming. It’s a story of love, passion, betrayal, family and friendship. I have mixed feelings about this story. At times, it seems Ming is the more adult of the two, yet her inexperience in life makes her actions annoying as hell as well. And although Yan is 24, she acts more like a selfish high school teen. Still, the story is well told, the city of Guangzhou is easy to imagine, and no matter how annoyed you get at the two main characters, the story keeps your interest.

THE GREAT AMERICAN CEREAL BOOK : HOW BREAKFAST GOT ITS CRUNCH by Marty Gitlin & Topher Ellis – While I was reading “February Flowers”, I was also concurrently reading this particular book as well. Great design for the spine (it mimics an actual cereal box complete with nutritional facts and ingredients. If you ask any American what would be a standard American breakfast, I imagine the majority of the responses would be cold cereal (especially if you were to ask any baby boomer). This is a great book on the history of breakfast cereals. It also a great design book as it features the packaging designs of the various cereals that were marketed. Here are a few things that you may not have known if you didn’t read this book, That the first cereal was created in 1863 at a sanitarium and called Granula. It was developed to give it’s a patients a more healthy diet. But it was William Kellogg that made it more available to the American public and he renamed his product Granola. Here are some other facts that my father would probably enjoy as well. Nabisco was originally called the National Biscuit Company. My dad’s favorite cereal – Wheaties was originally called Washburn’s Gold Medal Flour Whole Wheat Flakes and came out in 1922. The name was changed to Wheaties in 1924 (ha!, the cereal is older than my Dad!!). Then of course there were all the cereals I grew up with and ate – Cheerios, Fruit Loops, Trix, Rice Krispies, Super Sugar Crisp, Cap’n Crunch, Raisin Bran, Lucky Charms and my favorite – Buc Wheats (which I was saddened to discover went out of production in 1985). Of course once I graduated from high school I didn’t eat cold cereal as much anymore so I was never taken in by all the movie tie-in products. I think I may have to send this book to my father as I’m sure he will get a kick out of seeing illustrations of the packages of cereals between the years 1916 and 1948 (Dad was born in 1930). This book also lists the various spokes characters and slogans as well. Just a fun book to read and browse through.

CLASSIC ROCK PRESENTS FILL YOUR HEAD WITH ROCK : A SELECTION OF THE WORLD’S BEST ROCK WRITING by Various – This small booklet was given away free with the February 2012 issue of “Classic Rock” magazine. It features excerpts from nine different rock related titles – “Butterfly on a Wheel : The Great Rolling Stones Drug Bust” by Simon Wells; “No Regrets : A Rock ‘N’ Roll Memoir” by Ace Frehley; “Jack Bruce : Composing Himself : The Authorized Biography” by Harry Shapiro; “Bad Reputation : The Unauthorized Biography of Joan Jett” by Dave Thompson; “Don’t Stop Believin’ : The Untold Story of Journey” by Neil Daniels; “Glenn Hughes : The Autobiography from Deep Purple to Black Country Communion” by Glenn Hughes; “You Really Got Me : The Story of the Kinks” by Nick Hasted; “Overkill : The Untold Story of Motorhead” by Joel McIver; and “Beatlemania : The Real Story of the Beatles UK Tours 1963-1965” by Martin Creasy. Great stuff – Ace Frehley talking about what a mistake it is to release something like "The Elder".  Lemmy getting fired from Hawkwind and decides to start his own band.  Journey's manager's decision to find a new vocalist, etc.  The booklet makes you want to buy and read all the titles. 

LOWRIDERS by Thomas Kristian Adamson – This book reminds of when I first moved to Japan. Lowriders? Japan? Let me explain. Back then I spent my weekends drinking and making merry with a bunch of my new friends around Shibuya. I don’t know about now, but back then there used to be these Japanese wannabe East L.A.ers who would cruise around in their lowriders. Yes! Lowriders in Japan!! I didn’t know if I should be awed or if I should laugh (I think I did a bit of both). These were incredible cars – Chevy Impalas with the whole hydraulics and all (but for the narrow road of Tokyo). Getting back to this book though, it’s a children’s book. Library binding at that (which just means it’s a hard cover) published by Capstone Press and is only 24 pages long and features full color pictures of various lowriders. You don’t have to be a fan of lowriders to enjoy the pictures. Or any cars for that matter, perhaps it’s just a guy thing.

YUKO-CHAN AND THE DARUMA DOLL : THE ADVENTURES OF A BLIND JAPANESE GIRL WHO SAVES HER VILLAGE by Sunny Seki – This is an interesting children’s picture book of how the Takasaki Daruma doll was created. For those of you who are not familiar with what a Daruma doll is, here is a short description taken from Wikipedia: [The Daruma doll (達磨 daruma) also known as a Dharma doll, is a hollow, round, Japanese traditional doll modeled after Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism. These dolls, though typically red and depicting a bearded man (Dharma), vary greatly in color and design depending on region and artist. Though considered an omocha, meaning toy, Daruma has a design that is rich in symbolism and is regarded more as a talisman of good luck to the Japanese. Daruma dolls are seen as a symbol of perseverance and good luck, making them a popular gift of encouragement. The doll has also been commercialized by many Buddhist temples to use alongside goal setting.] As to the goal setting, a lot of daruma dolls are sold with blank eyes. As one sets a goal, one of the eyes is drawn in. When that goal is met, then you would draw in the other eye. Remember, this is a children’s book, so this story is not the official history of how the Daruma doll came to be, but it does make for a nice story. Yuko-chan is a small orphan girl that lives at Daruma Dera in Takasaki in Gunma Prefecture. One day as she was travelling in the mountains, she stumbled and lost her way along one of the snowy cliffs. But she discovered something strange. The gourd which held her tea would always land right side up when she dropped it. The tea had frozen in the gourd. This inspires her to create the Daruma doll, which in turn became a success and saved from village.

AEROSMITH : THE ULTIMATE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE BOSTON BAD BOYS by Richard Bienstock – My first exposure to Aerosmith was when my brother came back from New York in the summer of 1976. He was 16 and spent the entire summer with our uncle who lived in Manhattan. Which means I was 13 when he brought back 3 or 4 albums that he bought in New York. “Aerosmith”, “Get Your Wings”, “Toys in the Attic”, and “Rocks”. I was still a diehard Sabbath fan at the time but my love for hard rock and heavy metal would soon grow, mostly because of my brother’s influence. My first Aerosmith concert was for the “Draw the Line” tour in 1977 where I skipped school and went with my brother’s friend. We were at the front of the stage for that show. I even remember the opening act – Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush. I bought Mahogany Rush’s “Live” album the next day. Also, as a wedding gift from one of my good friends, my wife and I were given tickets to an Aerosmith show that was scheduled the day after our wedding ceremony. That would have been the “Honkin’ on Bobo” tour with Lenny Kravitz opening the show. So, as you may have surmised, Aerosmith has been a part of my life for quite a while. The excellent illustrated hardcover coffee table book covers Aerosmith’s career from Steven Tyler’s Chain Reaction days to Tyler becoming a panelist on the popular American television show, “American Idol”. Of course it covers all their albums from their 1973 through “Honkin’ on Bobo” and of course the Perry and Whitford-less “Rock in a Hard Place”. And as this is an illustrated history, the book is filled with full color pictures! A must have for any Aerosmith fan.  And speaking of Aerosmith, I had to pick up Steven Tyler's autobiography, "Does the Noise in My Head Bother You" and have started reading that as well.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Walk around Hibiya (Part 2) / 日比谷の散歩 (パート2)

Before I went in search of the Hibiya Godzilla, as I was walking around I discovered that the Tokyo Takarazuka is also located there.  I didn't know that Tokyo at their own Takarazuka theater.


Takarazuka star? / 宝塚の人?

The current shows playing at the Takarazuka Theater.


Then of course I went to find Godzilla (which I featured in my last post).  And as I said, it was really cold that day, so I continued my walk inside the Imperial Hotel.

そのあとはもちろんゴジラを会いに (前回のネタ)。その日、凄く寒かったので散歩の続きは近くにあった帝国ホテルへ。

It was still Christmas time when I went to the Imperial Hotel, but as its now near the end of February I decided not to add the pictures of the Christmas decorations and I already wrote about the Sweets Festival as well.


Inside the hotel lobby you can find the model of the original hotel which ran from 1890 - 1919.

ホテルの中で初代本館の模型があります。1890 (明治23年)開業でした。

In 1923, the American architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed the second generation Imperial Hotel which stood until 1967.


And the current building.


From the sign: [The present main building, built in 1970.  At the rear is the Imperial Tower, finished in 1983, comprised of upper floor accommodations, middle floor office space, and shops and restaurants on the lower floors.  The complex was the first such large scale multi-function structure of its kind in Japan.]

サインから:「1970年 (昭和45年)開業の現本館。後方は1983年(昭和58年)開業の帝国ホテルタワー。高層部のホテル、中層部のオフィス、低層部のショップ・レストランが一体のなって機能する日本初の大型複合ビルとしてオープンした。」

They also had a model of the Imperial Hotel Osaka as well which opened on March 15th, 1996.

帝国ホテル 大阪の模型もありました。帝国ホテル大阪は1996年(平成8年)開業しました。

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Walk around Hibiya / 日比谷の散歩

A couple of months ago I was reading a book by a French illustrator Florent Chavouet titles "Tokyo on Foot".  Its a graphic memoir and sketchbook of his time spent in Japan.  What caught my attention was his illustrations of Hibiya and in particular, an illustration of Godzilla!  This I must go see for myself.

二ヶ月前フランス人イラストレーターフロランシャヴエの本「Tokyo on Foot」を読んだだら、気になることを発見。日比谷のイラストを見たら、ゴジラの像があると描いてた!これは自分の目で見るしかないと思い、自分の休日に日比谷の散歩を実行。

Oh no!  Is it because of the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster?  Godzilla really is in Tokyo!!

え~!福島原発事故のせい? ゴジラが東京に現れるよ!!

Godzilla is about to attack something or someone!


I think Godzilla is hungry for salarymen!!


Bigger than Bigfoot!  It's Godzilla!

ビッグフットよりデッカイ! ゴジラだ!

Okay okay, the Godzilla in Hibiya is not the giant monster you see on tv.  I don't know what I was expecting, but as you can see from the picture below, you might be surprised as well.

わかった、わかった、日比谷にあるゴジラの正体を暴かす。 下記の写真見れば、がっかりするかも知りません。

Its a tiny little Godzilla!


It was so cold outside though, I continued my walk inside the Imperial Hotel where they were having a Sweets Exhibition (which I wrote about a while ago).


Saturday, February 18, 2012

Hamburger and Beer Diner [Turtles] / ハンバーガー & ビールダイナー 「タートルズ」

On one of my walks a few months ago, I was wandering around the Sakuragaokacho area of Shibuya and discovered yet another burger shop that I haven't been.  So to remedy that situation, on one of my days off, I decided to head out to Shibuya to have a burger at a place called [Turtles].  I ordered their Turtle Burger.  By the way, there are no Wimpy Burgers here but I thought the sign was cute.

二ヶ月前ほど渋谷の桜丘町の周辺を散歩したら、また行ったことのないバーガー屋を発見しました。バーガー & ビールダイナー 「タートルズ」。自分の休日に行ってきました。注文したのは店と同じ名前のタートルバーガー。話しが変わりますけど、この店に“ウィンピー・バーガー”はありません。ただ、そのサインが可愛いなと思っただけ。

What is that hiding underneath the tomato?  It looks like a couple of shrimp.  Yes, yes it is!

トマトの下に何が隠れているの? 海老ではないか。その通りです!海老がバーガーに入ってます。

The Turtle burger is actually quite a simple burger.  A beef patty, lettuce, tomato, and shrimp.  And the patty is topped with the shop's special sauce.  To be honest, not one of the best burgers I've eaten.  I also took a peak into the kitchen which didn't seem so clean.  I don't think I will be going back to this place any time soon.


But the fries were tasty!


Bon Appetit!


Friday, February 17, 2012

Japanese Microbrew Tour - Aomori Prefecture / 日本地ビールツアー 青森県

I haven't not forgotten my Japanese microbrew tour.  I'm still trying to find craft beers from all 47 Prefectures, without buying them from the internet.  Its funner to find them while traveling or at antenna shops.  On my last trip to Aomori I discovered a few more craft beers that I haven't tried.


I started off with an Ozorezan Stout.  I've tried their lager.  As I prefer dark beers over lager and pilsners, this was quite to my liking.


Aomori Prefecture is known for its apples so someone had to make a craft beer with it.  Not as good as the Belgian fruit beers I've tried. 


Do you know what else besides apples that Aomori Prefecture is known for?  Garlic!  This is an Aomori Garlic Dark Beer.  And no, this beer doesn't give you garlic breath after you drink it.

青森県は林檎の他にもう一つの名物もある。それは青森産のにんにく! これは青森ニンニク黒ビール。飲んだあとにニンニク臭い息にはなりませんよ。

Another fruit beer, this time made with cassis.  Nothing to write home about.


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Aomori Trip 2012 (Final Day) Aomori products and heading home / 青森旅行 2012 (最終日) 青森名産と東京の帰り道

Eating at the [Asari] ramen shop was on our final day as well.  I also tried my hand at a little snow clearing off the driveway of the house.  Also before heading back to Tokyo, I bought a bunch of products that are only sold in Aomori Prefecture.  And of course we will be buying another ekiben for our trip home.


This is hard work.  I only lasted 10 minutes.  I wonder if I will actually be able to live in Aomori through a full winter.


Trying to be a northerner / 雪国の人間になろうとしてる

Leaving my mother-in-law's house / そろそろ帰る準備を

This was interesting.  A vending machine where you can try 5 different kinds of Aomori Nihon-shu.


And now for some Aomori products I bought:


Hakkoda Milk Pie / 八甲田のミルクパイ

One year anniversary sake for the opening of Shin-Aomori station.

東北新幹線 新青森開業一周記念の酒。

Ekiben for the trip home - Hotate meshi

帰りの駅弁 ‐ 津軽手造りほたてめし。

Not as great as the ekiben we had on our way to Aomori but we bought for half-price.


For dessert - Joppari Daiko


Stamina-gen Tare is a popular sauce sold in Aomori.  I had to try this stamina-gen flavored furikake.


I also found a miso curry gyunyu ramen furikake and had to buy that as well.  Unfortunately, it isn't as good as the original ramen.


Dake Kimi from Hirosaki (yes, it's an ear of corn, but it's darn delicious)


Yet another snack - Patissier's Apple Stick

もたお菓子です ‐ パティシエのりんごスティック

Tsugaru Rice Cracker / 津軽せんべい

And so concludes are latest trip to Aomori.