Monday, February 28, 2011

Performing Kabuki at PSU- Kabuki Part 3

Every other summer at Portland State University, Professor Larry Kominz offers a class on Kabuki in which the students spend about a month preparing for and then actually perform a short Kabuki play. My class performed a play called "Uiro Uri" (The Medicine Peddler) about a famous hero named Soga Goro. Goro is best known from the Soga Monogatari (Soga Tale), which tells how Goro and his brother get revenge against their father's murderer. The play we performed is a short excerpt from that story, describing Goro's attempt to disguise himself as a medicine peddler and kill his father's murderer on his own.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Top 5 Reasons To See Kabuki- Kabuki Part 2

5. Japanese Culture

This should probably be the number one reason, but I think there are many, many ways to learn about Japanese culture while in Japan-- I have more specific reasons why I think Kabuki is worthy of attention which get a higher ranking. That said, learning about Japanese culture and history is the most valuable thing you can get out of going to see Kabuki. You will encounter many of Japan's most fundamental beliefs, discover how they see their heroes and villains and get a glimpse into Japan's past. The best thing I got out of studying Japanese theater was a deeper understanding of Japan itself.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Kabuki- Japanese Theater II

Kabuki, the flashiest and most popular type of Japanese theater

The best known and most popular form of traditional Japanese theater is Kabuki. The word Kabuki (歌舞伎) is made of three Chinese characters; the first means song, the second dance and the third skill. However, the actual root of the word is the verb "kabuku" which means "to lean", because of the weird "leaning" poses of Kabuki dancers. Only after it became popular were the kanji used to write it.

Izumo no Ibuki, the founder of Kabuki

Japanese Theater

Uirou Uri Kabuki performance by my class at Portland State University
Before majoring in Japanese, I knew absolutely nothing about Japanese theater and honestly wasn't particularly curious about it. For all that I love costumes, I've never been much of a theater geek. I enjoy going to see it occasionally and I love to read playwrights like Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, but that's the extent of it. But my degree required a number of Japanese cultural studies electives, and in addition to studying things like history and literature I also took several classes on theater. 

Monday, February 21, 2011

Travel Photos!

Matsushima Bay, Miyagi Prefecture
One of my big projects that I finally got some major work done on, was backing up my photos on Picasa. I've made 22 albums so far of my best photos from various places I've been in Japan, America and Canada.

Locations include: Sendai, Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Kamakura and Yokohama in Japan, the Pacific Northwest, Chicago and Key West in the U.S., and Banff, Canada. Please enjoy the photos, there will be more to come as I continue my travels! My plans for this year include: Kyoto, many places in Tohoku, South Korea and Texas.

I've also added a slide-show up top of my Tokyo album. Check out the rest here!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Giant Squid Theft! Floating Pirate Cities! Mosquito-People!! Book Reviews: China Mieville

I only discovered China Mieville about 2 or 3 years ago, but he's become one of my favorite fantasy authors. What always draws me back to his books is his amazing ability to completely change his style to suit the story he's telling. He has a fantastic ability to play with language that never fails to impress and entertain me. What ties all of his very different stories together is a common theme of surrealism and urban landscapes. And as the title of this post might suggest, he tends to deal in the bizarre.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Attack of the Deranged, Crazy Mutant Snow Monsters!!

So on the last day of my 3 Day Weekend of Awesome (see the prev. post for part 1), I took a bus tour to see the famous "Snow Monsters" in Yamagata. The "monsters" are actually trees which are covered in snow and ice, and then made into strange shapes by the extremely strong winds on top of Mt. Zao. Because of special weather conditions not found on most mountains, a great deal of snow and ice accumulates around the trees and they can grow to be quite large.

From Sendai it takes about 1 hour to get to Mt. Zao in the neighboring prefecture of Yamagata. On the way there, our bus stopped at a little omiyage (souvenir) shop, where we were provided lunch as part of the travel package. The lunch was super-Japanese: we ate Imoni Soup, a kind of savory potato and vegetable soup, made Yamagata style (shoyu, ie soy sauce, flavor). We also had pickled vegetables, a common side dish with traditional meals, and salmon filled onigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed). I say super-Japanese because in addition to the food, we listened to traditional music and had a view of a very pretty, snow-covered garden.

Lunch: Yamagata-style imoni soup and onigiri

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Good Times in Japan

One of my New Year's Resolutions for 2011 is to spend more time getting to know the Tohoku Region. I've been living in Sendai for almost a year now, but I still haven't seen much beyond the Miyagi Prefecture. Tohoku, which means North East, refers to the northern part of Honshuu, the main island of Japan. It's not a very well-known area among tourists, but it has a lot to offer and like all of Japan is rich with history.

Tohoku (NE Japan)

In keeping up my resolution, I've taken a couple of day trips recently. I've got a limited budget, but fortunately Japan has amazing bus tours that you can take for very little money. I know the phrase "bus tour" will probably inspire images of a truck-load of old people and tourist traps, and there's some truth to that- but in Japan at least, they're also a great, inexpensive way to travel.