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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ultraman And Me

When I was a kid - pre-teen - somewhere around the age of seven or eight, I was lucky enough to have watched the Japanese kid sci-fi show Ultraman on television here in Toronto. That's Ultraman performing his special Ultra Beam (ウルトラビーム, Urutora Bīmu).

Ultraman was awesome.

My friend Umberto D. and I would watch it at either his place or mine - on Channel 29, back when we had to turn the main dial to UHF, and then use the TV's second dial to crank it around to find the station... and then adjust the other knobs to make it come in properly from its signal in Grand Island, New York.

While I was always intrigued by the Carvel ice cream commercials that were delivered by the monotone voice-over - probably the owner describing how delicious the ice cream Cookie Puss and Fudgie the Whale was, Umberto and I were fascinated by this weird Japanese television show, Ultraman.

I wish I could find the real old 1970s commercials for Carvel... still, this one has THE man. The fact that myself and my wife can still recall his voice - that tells you how effective it was!

Perhaps because Channel 29 was also in the habit of showing Chinese martial arts flicks and Japanese monster movies on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, we were not put off by the overdubbed English voices on these Oriental programs.

Yes, back then... and even through the early 1990s, we called such things "Oriental" rather than "Asian"... and to be honest, I'm unsure about when that change fully came about. It's like Colored, versus Black versus African-American... but I don't know how any Black person in The Netherlands is an African-American, which is probably why I appear to use a North American archaic term of "Black"... though none of my Black friends have any issue with the term as I use it. I know, because I asked them.

Anyhow... Ultraman (ウルトラマン, Urutoraman) is a tokusatsu (特撮 - a Japanese term that applies to any live-action film or television drama that features considerable use of special effects) that first aired on TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System) produced by Tsuburaya Productions (円谷プロダクション, Tsuburaya Purodakushon) back in July 17, 1966 to April 9, 1967, with a total of 39 episodes, or 40 if we count a pre-premiere special that aired one week earlier on July 10, 1966).

Because it's Japan, things are never as cut and dry as things ought to be. The Ultraman television show is the first show to feature an Ultraman character, but it is the second series within the so-called Ultra Series, with the first being Ultra Q (ウルトラQ, Urutora Kyū), a black-and-white show that appeared on TBS from January 2 to July 3, 1966 (though the final episode was preempted until December 14, 1967), with a total of 28 episodes.

As such, Ultraman appeared one week after July 3 on July 10, 1966.

In Ultra Q, a team of investigators would check out weekly reports on strange monsters appearing in Japan. It was originally akin to The Twilight Zone and/or The Outer Limits, but after a few episodes TBS asked Tsuburaya Productions to add more giant monsters, perhaps as a way to capture kids who were already into Godzilla and Gamera.

The show's title of Ultra Q was to have been "Unbalance", but all that changed after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Japanese female gymnast Endo Yukio and and male gymnasts Hayata Takuji and Yamashita Haruhito (all surname first) and the Japanese team as a whole won gold medals. At that time in the gymnastics world, an easy routine was rated A, a more difficult one, a B, and even more difficult one a C.

The Japanese team liked to call theirs Ultra C, as in even more difficult than C (or, the mathematically incorrect more than 110% effort). Nowadays, the ratings have increased to A to G.

Because of the team's success at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the term "ultra" had entered into the everyday Japanese lexicon, becoming one of those words people liked to use.

As such, the "Unbalance" show was renamed Ultra Q before it ever aired.

Q, by the way, was chosen as a link to another TBS television program, Obake no Q-tarō, an animated series based on the manga by Fujiko Fujio. The Q does stand for "question".

So... Ultra Q introduced a Japanese world where giant monsters were now part of the world, and Ultraman... well, it offered a new hope as a means to combat the giant monsters.

 The Ultraman show actually opens with the Ultra Q logo exploding into the Ultraman logo.

As for the Ultraman show itself, the premise is: Whenever Earth is threatened by alien invaders or  giant monsters, the Science Patrol will fight them with their cool 1960s high-tech weaponry and ultra-cool vehicles reminiscent of The Thunderbirds.

However, after one of the Science Patrol members, Hayata, is injured by a craft that was also chasing an orb carrying a giant monster, that other space craft's occupants - an Ultraman - provides Hayata with special abilities to change into the giant alien himself, Ultraman.

Here's something I wondered at, but now find confirmation... TBS wanted the actors on its show to look as "westernized" as possible... and they succeeded.

For example, the female character in the show has brown hair... and while not impossible in Japan, I saw only natural black hair when I was there in the 1990s.

After each episode, Umberto and I would wrestle with each other much in the same way Ultraman and whatever monster he battled that week - taking out tables and lamps as though they were buildings and bridges. We would each perform the Ultra Beam on each other as the finishing move.

We were good kids, each one of us got to be Ultraman during our weekly battles, and no living rooms were destroyed during the course of our battles. Maybe.

Anyhow... I watched the first episode of Ultraman on YouTube. And now, so cane you. Just click on the link:

The second episode I was able to embed - and what's impressive, is that it breaks the FOURTH WALL, as the Space Patrol folk talk directly to us, the kid, er viewer:

Enjoy. Ultraman's not rocket science, but it is fun. Other English dubbed episodes should appear on the right of the YouTube page!

Since this original Ultraman television show, there have been numerous spin-offs over the decades, with some saying Ultra Seven is the best, coming hot on the heels of the Ultrman show in 1967-68.

Since 1966, there have been 31 different series of Ultraman through 2017, with one new series each scheduled for 2018 and 2019. You can all the iterations HERE.

Even though these 1966 episodes were watched by me circa 1972, in 1990 when in Japan I mentioned to one of the classes of Japanese junior high school kids I taught in Ohtawara-shi, Tochigi-ken that I used to watch Ultraman... and everyone, from all the school's students, teacher and principals were soon chatting with me about the show!

Sometimes, alcohol need not be the only ice-breaker. Some times it's Ultraman.

Andrew Joseph

Monday, February 19, 2018

The Human Vapor

At work I sit beside a guy who has an OCD issue where he constantly has to rub his hands together every 20 seconds or so.

Despite him having a bottle of hand lotion on his desk, which he does use, the hand rubbing sounds rough and dry, giving it an audio appearance similar to snakes having sex while shedding skin.

Annoying for myself and others around him, we are at least respectful enough about the poor bugger.

But what about us poor distracted buggers? Tough noogies. I wear a cheap pair of earbuds I picked up at a convenience store for $15 out of my own money.

Of course, when I have the ear buds in, the cord floats centimeters over my keyboard constantly getting in the way of me when I type.
Wired! On the plus side, you can see the cool-looking bluejay and mallard duck made with LEGO bricks.
Anyhow, I now listen to music all day long at work in my attempts to drown out the scratchy palms… but because I don’t wish to go effing deaf, nor do I want to be completely oblivious of people around me needing to ask me questions, I wear the ear buds, listen to music at a low volume, can hear people when they talk to me, and can still hear the palms scratching back in forth - just not as loudly.

What do I listen to at work? Besides never wanting to hear the classic rock song Hand Jive, I listen to songs with a heavier rock and roll sound - like Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, and love listening to nasty funk from the 1970s. But I’m already running out of things to listen to as I have nearly gone through everything on the Internet.

Yes… nearly everything on the frickin' Internet.

A favorite Far Side cartoon!
I can’t listen to anything resembling Ted Talks or books or anything that takes away my already compromised concentration - I write creatively in my day job, too.

Anyhow, after rediscovering the hillbilly punk sound of the Reverend Horton Heat I used to listen to, YouTube suggested I give a listen to some weird group called Man or Astro-man?

Pleasantly surprised by this Auburn, Alabama, U.S. surf rock group from 1992 - present, I listened to the entire album of Destroy All Astromen (1994). 

I suppose by not including a hyphen in astromen, these are different astromen from the group which has a hyphen.

Do I pronounce the hyphen when I talk about the group?

Then I listened to their first album: Is It ... Man or Astro-man? (ASTRO is italics).  Have a listen:

It's largely believed the group took its name from the poster of the U.S. release of the Japanese film The Human Vapor, which includes the tagline “IS HE MAN OR ASTRO-MAN?”.

American movie poster for the Japanese flick now known as The Human Vapor. You can see where the rock group took its name... lower left...
Because I write a lot, I try and move all over the place in topics to give the reader several options to mull over per writing... like in this article where I talk about work, music and movies... though this might be the first instance of me doing that...I should do that...

The Human Vapor is indeed a Japanese sci-fi flick, released by Toho in Japan on December 11, 1960 coming in at 91 minutes in length, but with the Japanese name: Gasu ningen dai 1 gō (ガス人間第一号, with the literal translation of "Gas Human Being No. 1"). The Japanese movie poster can be seen at the very top of this article. 

It took a few years, but the film was later released in the U.S. by Brenco Pictures as The Human Vapor, with an English-language over-dub beginning May 20, 1964 and shortened down by 12 minutes to come in at 79 minutes when released.

It was probably done because the film was part of a double-feature (Drive-In anyone?) with another Japanese science-fiction movie called Gorath in the U.S. (but in Japan it was known as: 妖星ゴラス, Yōsei Gorasu, aka Ominous Star Gorath) about mankind's efforts to move Earth out of its orbit to avoid it from colliding with a runaway star.That actually sounds interesting.

Sure, but what is The Human Vapor about?

It's about a man named Tsuchiya Yoshio (surname first) and his love for a Noh (能) dancer... oh and his ability to transform into a gaseous state.

Here's what IMDb has to say on the plot:

A (REMOVED by ME) is subject to a scientific experiment which goes wrong and transforms him into 'The Human Vapor'. He uses his new ability to rob banks to fund the career of his girlfriend, a beautiful dancer. The Human Vapor is ruthless in his quest for money and kills anyone who stands in his way, especially police. He soon becomes Tokyo's most wanted criminal. Can he be stopped before he kills again?

IMDb spells "Vapor" as "Vapour", but I have edited to the American standard spelling.

Anyhow, today we've learned: that smart men can turn into criminals if a woman is somehow involved; how I spend my time at work, and; that more-modern surf music is kindda cool.

Wanna watch The Human Vapor? Click on the link HERE - it's in Japanese with English sub-titles.

The first thing I noticed, was the left-hand drive car! The next thing is that the first two women we see in this movie are absolutely drop-dead gorgeous! If Japan ever wanted something to boost tourism, this movie was a fantastic start!

Also... it only took about $200 to get him to undergo the experiment. $200. Of course, we'll learn why it only took that amount. Oh... but when he signs the papers, look at the room... the scene is shot at an angle... giving one the subconscious impression that something is askew.

Actress Sata Keiko (surname first), who stars as the plucky reporter in The Human Vapor, is also in Gorath, as the Prime Minister's secretary! She doesn't appear to have done much else in acting - a total of six movies between 1960-1962. I'm unsure if she's still with us.

She does a great job in The Human Vapor! Plus, I would have traveled to Japan to meet someone like her if I was around in 1960! Wowser!

As for actress Yachigusa Kaoru (八千草 薫) who plays the Noh dancer, she still about at the age of 87, and has a full-body of movie work. Gorgeous!

But... do you know what's really surprising?

The Human Vapor is a really, really good movie! Watch it in its entirety at the link above! I did!

Andrew Joseph

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Ku-Go Death Ray Rumor

First off, let's start by saying that the concept of a death ray is just that - a concept.

While it's true that we could have someone stand in front of a super hot laser beam stream and be killed by it, but as of yet, no one has turned it into a real weapon.

The same holds true for a death ray.

Nikola Tesla, one of the most brilliant men (generic) to have ever walked upon this planet claimed he had invented a death ray back in the 1930s.

Tesla so-called death ray was known as teleforce, and was supposedly invented in the 1930s…. and claims that continued until his death in 1943. Sure… but you know that if it existed, the American military would have swooped in and appropriated it… and surely after 75+ years we would have seen it in action in some myriad form.

Then there was the supposed connection regarding Telsa having created and tested a death ray in 1908 Siberia over an area known as Tunguska. You can read about that HERE.

While Tesla is the most famous, inventor Edwin R. Scott of San Francisco supposedly invented a death ray that could kill a person as easily as take down an aeroplane (airplane) with ground to air accuracy. This was 1923.

Harry Grindell Matthews tried to sell the British Air Ministry a death ray in 1924 but obviously failed in his attempts to give them a working model.

And then there was Antonio Longoria who in 1934 said he had a death ray that could kill pigeons from four miles away, though I have no idea why anyone would want to do that.

The only functioning death ray I ever saw was in the movie serials and Big Little Books of the 1930s - usually revolving around Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. I used to own all the Buck Rogers Big Little Books, and a few of the Flash Gordon comic books. If you were a kid in the 1930s, this was cooler than cool.
I think this is the 1934 edition. I bought all of them in the 1990s when the market hadn't caught on to these and sold them by 1999 making a very nice profit.
I still enjoy reading the Flash Gordon comics put out in the 1930s, 40s, 50s, and late 1960s (see image at very top - a top quality comic book series!) and 2000s from time to time.
A Flash Gordon comic from Harvey Comics circa 1950, from the same company that would later bring us Casper, Richie Rich, Sad Sack, Little Lotta, Little Dot, Little Audrey, and Baby Huey! I have over 800 Richie Rich comics for some reason.  Okay, I just liked Richie Rich.
Of course, the best known example of a death ray in science fiction is the Star Wars Death Star I and II.
Gotta love the Death Star!
Perhaps spurred on by the fantastic science fiction of Buck and Flash, the Germans during WWII had two separate projects trying to develop a death ray… and of course the Japanese would have been remiss if they didn’t have a program, too.

The Japanese weapon was known as "Ku-go" and involved using microwaves created within a very large magnetron.

Obviously having a weapon that could take out the enemy from a safe distance away would be ideal... which is what the American came up with with their atomic weapons program.

According to a tiny news brief from the October 8, 1945 edition of the Winnipeg Free Press, discusses that the Japanese were at the very least trying to create a death ray.

I'm not sure where this information comes from, but some believe that the Japanese began working on their death ray concept as early as 1939 in Noborito (登戸) is a neighborhood in Kawasaki-shi, Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo.

Okay, let's suppose this is all true... just how far are the Japanese supposed to have got in their quest for death ray dominance?

Well... there's a Japanese physicist named Tomonaga Shin'ichirō (surname first, 朝永 振一郎) who was a major domo in the development of quantum electrodynamics, gaining joining credit for a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1965... sharing it with Julian Schwinger and Richard Feynman... the latter a name you might recognize if you watch The Big Bang Theory on television.

Born in Tokyo on March 31, 1906, Tomonaga was the son of Japanese philosopher Tomonaga Sanjūrō (surname first), so it's at least easy to see where he developed his ability to think outside the proverbial box.

He went to Kyoto Imperial University in 1926. One of his under grad classmates, Yukawa Hideki (surname first, 湯川 秀樹), would also win a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1949.

Anyhow, in 1931 after graduate school, Tomonaga joined Nishina Yoshio (仁科 芳雄 , surname first) and his team at the Japanese Institute of Physical and Chemical Research (now known as RIKEN). He was called "the founding father of modern physics research in Japan". Nishina would later lead the efforts of Japan to develop an atomic bomb during World War II.

Then in 1937 Tomonaga worked at Leipzig University in Leipzig, Germany where he worked alongside the famous Werner Heisenberg, a major contributor to quantum mechanics (and as an alias for Walter White on the television show Breaking Bad).

But, when WWII broke out with Germany becoming the major problem starting in 1939, Tomonaga headed back to Japan. There, he completed his thesis on the study of nuclear materials and finished his doctorate at the University of Tokyo.

He was then appointed to a professorship in the Tokyo University of Education (a forerunner of Tsukuba University).

But when Japan became fully embroiled in WWII in December of 1941, Tomonaga began studying the magnetron, meson theory, and began to formulate his own super-many-time theory.

So... at least Tomonaga's research and the Japanese death ray project focus line up.

Apparently Tomonaga's team had built a magnetron measuring 20 centimeters (eight inches) in diameter with an output of 100kW.

According to someone else, that if this was the energy output, the ku-go death ray might have been able to kill a rabbit 1,000 yards (914.4 meters) away, but only if the rabbit stood still for five minutes.

But what is a magnetron?

Now called a cavity magnetron, it is a high-powered vacuum tube that generates microwaves using the interaction of a stream of electrons with a magnetic field while moving past a series of open metal cavities (cavity resonators).

Sure... but what we can determine is that this technology is now used in microwave ovens in the home... and yeah, one of those things could kill someone, as it cooks from the inside out meaning a person would boil their insides before exploding outwards.

What's brown and bubbly and knocks on the window?
A baby in a microwave.

Welcome to the stoopidist jokes kids created back in the late 1970s back when those type of jokes were making the round. Sadly 40+ years haven't dulled the memory.

The point of all this is that the Japanese did not have anything close to resembling a death ray weapon during the 1940s...

However, the United States Navy does posses its own Laser Weapon System (LaWS).

Its full name is the AN/SEQ-3 Laser Weapon System or XN-1 LaWS, and is a directed-energy weapon - making it akin to a death ray.

The Navy installed it on the USS Poncean Austin-class amphibious transport—for field testing in 2014.

In December 2014, the United States Navy reported that the LaWS system worked perfectly against low-end asymmetric threats, and that the commander of the USS Ponce is authorized to use the system as a defensive weapon.

Take a look at the CNN video below:

WHOOPS - They blocked me... whatever...

You can go to the Wikipedia page for Laser Weapon System (HERE) and look at the second image on the right - a video that may show a better example of the laser system on the USS Ponce.

So... 70 years later, we have a working example of a death ray or as the US Navy calls it - a defensive weapon.

Sorry Tesla. Sorry Ku-go.

Andrew Joseph

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Anime Song Used During Olympic 2018 Figure Skating

I enjoy watching the Winter (and Summer) Olympics... I do. While I certainly enjoy watching men's and women's hockey, I really enjoy watching long-track and short track speed skating, downhill skiing, skeleton, ski jumping, and snowboarding, Nordic combined, and even curling.

There's no sarcasm here, folks. If it's an Olympic sport, I'll watch it. Cross-country skiing, biathlon, moguls, luge, bobsled, 

And, much in the same way I enjoy the athletic grace and skill of gymnastics (men and women), I also enjoy figure skating.

The only thing I dislike is the frou-frou clothing some of the figure skating athletes wear... and that nude fabric which always surprises me when I'm not seeing skin.

Frou-frou does not equal sexy.  Look, I get it that the costuming of today allows for greater stretchability allowing the skaters to better perform their incredibly athletic leaps and spins. But man, oh man... the look.

Here's the awesome Peggy Fleming in 1968. Nothing frou-frou here.

I can't do any of these sports, save cross-country skiing (even did so when I was in Japan), and have curled only once (it was fun).

But yeah, I enjoy watching all aspects of figure skating. While I couldn't judge an event, I have, over many a decade now, picked up a keen enough eye to know when a routine is superb or sub-par.

Which brings me to these 2018 Winter Olympics being held in PyeongChang, Korea.

By the way... since when did we start capitalizing the "C" in PyeongChang? Shouldn't it just be Pyeongchang? That's what it it's called. 

I suppose putting the capital "C" in there makes it easier to spell and pronounce, when visually taking in the word.

Anyhow... figure skating... at these Winter Olympic 2018 Games, Japanese pair skaters Kihara Ryuichi (dude) and Suzaki Miu (dudette) - surnames first - they skated to a song from the anime series Yuri!!! On Ice (ユーリ!!! on ICE), a Japanese cartoon that is about figure skating and does indeed have three exclamation marks after Yuri.

The anime was produced by MAPPA, directed by Yamamoto Sayo and written by Kubo Mitsurō. Character design was by Hiramatsu Tadashi, and its music was composed by Umebayashi Taro and Matsushiba Taku.(All surname first)

How popular was the anime? Well, if you blinked back in 2016, you might have missed it. Just 12 episodes were produced and televised between October 6, 2016 and December 22, 2016, although there is supposedly an animated film in production.

No... I shouldn't be so snarky. The miniseries - because that's what it was - was well received, winning three awards at a Tokyo Anime Award Festival.

The series revolves around the relationships between Japanese figure skater Yuri Katsuki; his idol, Russian figure-skating champion Victor Nikiforov, and up-and-coming Russian skater Yuri Plisetsky; as Yuri K. and Yuri P. take part in the Figure Skating Grand Prix, with Victor acting as coach to Yuri K.

By the way... Yuri is not exactly a traditional Japanese name for men. Hence the katakana alphabet used in the Japanese title of the anime.

However, Yuri is Japanese for the flower we call a "Lily", so it is a woman's name.

As for our real life Japanese figure skaters, the team has used the song as part of their program before, performing it multiple times in 2017, but it is believed that this is the very first time an anime song has been used on the Olympic stage.

The actual song they skated to has the same name as the anime, IE "Yuri!!! on Ice".

Hmmm... the Japanese version of "Ice" in the anime title is all CAPS, but there is no reason for that - just like there is no reason for the exclamation points...


For those in the know, nowadays music from Japanese video games and from animated movies and television programs are highly complex, having come along way from the 1981 Donkey Kong video game theme, and the one from the 1960s television anime Speed Racer.

Be forewarned, the sound pick-up isn't the best, so you may have to put the volume up (you are wearing headphones at work, aren't you)... and fair warning... the music still makes me want to puke.

I still prefer my music - figure skating or other - to have a bit of bite... some élan (vigorous spirit or enthusiasm) at least. 

Andrew Joseph
PS: And because you know I have to present it, here's the theme song for Speed Racer:

PPS: And what the heck, Donkey Kong:

Friday, February 16, 2018

Weird Japanese Snack - Crunky Ball Nude

What we have here is a Japanese snack food company trying to capitalize in on the Japanese love affair with English.

No, they don't necessarily want to speak English, but they do enjoy being associated with things that sound westernized, such as the Lotte company's Crunky Ball Nude, aka Gianduja, which sounds like some sort of Spanish narcotic.

Now... Crunky Ball... I have no flippin' clue as to what that is. Ball, sure. Crunky, unh-uh. Nude? You bet your sweet bippy I know what that is... but WTF do all those words have do with a Japanese snack.

Featuring balls about the size of a standard Malteser, aka malted milk ball, they look pretty neat-o.

Apparently "crunky" is a malted crisp rice concoction, and these gianduja version of the Crunky Ball contains a hazelnut paste. So... it might actually taste sorta like a Ferraro Roche chocolate... though what the heck, just buy those.

There is no explanation as to why these things are called "Nude"... that means bereft of clothing... but since everything is covered in a chocolate and walnut paste - these ball aren't nude.

Perhaps it's just a marketing ploy to get people to purchase something that appears to be "naughty" but in reality is just stupid... but since you are here and have tasted our chocolate crunky balls, you might as well enjoy them.

Anyhow, all I can think about is the animated American comedy South Park:

And yes... I bought the CD soundtrack when it came out. I believe I loaned it to a waitress at a strip club just north of Toronto. I never got it back, but I slept with her in my car in the parking lot so... I win?

Yeah... you think dating a dancer at a strip club is tough... try a waitress at one of those joints. They see men at their worst. Me? I was normal to them... or about as close as it was going to get considering I was at one of those places... yes, I had another weird chapter of my life after I returned from Japan, lost Noboko, had my mother die... and then began working out at the gym with a ferocious lust while growing my hair nearly down to my waist. Also, my eyes glowed purple thanks to the anti-glare protection I had on them and the strip joint's black lighting.

That was me 20 to 25 years ago. Single and wild. A different me, to be sure.

Oh! The stories I could tell... I could do a blog... not just an article, but one like Rife... but sigh... no... maybe in another 10 years time.

And no... I still haven't had a Crunky. I don't even think they are still around anymore...

Always use protection,
Andrew Joseph

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Get Back - A Look At Her Majesty The Empress Michiko

After reading about the death on February 13, 2018 of Denmark’s Prince Henrik, consort to Queen Margrethe, I wondered about Japan’s non-linear royal, Empress Michiko - that's her in the photo above, on the right with her husband Akihito, the Emperor of Japan.

By non-linear, I mean that she is not in line to become the leader of Japanese royalty after her husband and current husband abdicates next year, and is officially known as the Empress consort of Japan (皇后, kōgō).

So… who is Empress Michiko?

Shōda Michiko (surname first, 正田美智子) was born on October 20, 1934 in Tokyo, a commoner, and second-child to father Shōda Hidesaburō who was the president and Nisshin Flour Milling Company, and mother Soejima Fumiko (副島富美子). She has an older brother, Iwao, and a younger brother, Osamu, and a younger sister, Emiko.

With most royal levels of hierarchy, a commoner woman or man can marry into royalty, but while Denmark’s prince Henrik, and the UK’s Prince Phillip could marry their respective Queens who were the leader of the country, they were not allowed to rule as  King.

In Japan, as evidenced by the recent marriage proposal of a Japanese commoner man to a female royal Princess, she has to give up her royal status if she is to be married.

A Japanese Prince, however, could marry a commoner female without having to renounce his royal titles.

Anyhow… that’s just FYI.

Her family was well-off, and cultured, which means they probably did not use the Japanese equivalent of the word “ain’t” in their everyday language.

Michiko’s education included learning traditional Japanese, as well as Western, which included learning English.

You can read a blog I wrote (July 22, 2017) about how U.S. president Trump didn’t know she could speak English, and how she didn’t bother to do so when presented with multiple opportunities: HERE.

Along with playing the piano, she can also play the koto harp, can paint and cook, but I suppose not all at the same time, because if she did it would be more of a circus act and less about dignity.
Michiko in 1958, playing the soon-to-be classic Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino. Kidding. How would I know what's she's playing... she doesn't have any of the keys depressed.
I Call Your Name
She attended Futaba Elementary School in Kōjimachi, a neighborhood in Chiyoda, Tokyo, but had to leave school in the 4th grade—no, not because of any disciplinary problem, but rather because of Japan’s disciplinary problem, as the U.S. began bombing Japan in WWII.

Her education continued in the town of Katase, now part of the city of Fujisawa in Kanagawa-ken, in Tatebayashi, home town of the Shōda family in Gunma-ken, and in the town of Karuizawa, where Shōda had a second resort home in Nagano-ken.

When the war ended, in 1946 Michiko returned to Tokyo and finished her elementary education back at Futaba Elelmentary School in Kōjimachi.

She then went to the Sacred Heart School for junior high school, an international multicultural Catholic school in Tokyo for kindergarten and grades 1-12 for the remainder of her schooling, graduating in 1953.

If you are wondering how a Japanese girl gets to attend a Catholic school, rest assured that she and her family are Roman Catholics.

While at the University of Sacred Heart (the university version of her middle and high school), schoolmates began calling Michiko by the affectionate name of Michi (ミッチ) (pronounced as Mitchy).

It was probably a relief for her, as she had been called Temple-chan in her younger days thanks to classmates unfortunately picking up on her having curly hair with reddish hues—similar to what American global movie icon Shirley Temple had.

In 1957 Michi graduated summa cum laude with a BA in English literature. Now, if you are like me and thought that the Latin phrase was a specially earned designation, it kindda is... it simply means, however, "with the highest distinction). Summa cum laude is the highest of he three (includes magna cum laude - with great honor - and cum laude - with honor). Really, I didn't know that... it never came up during my educational process. Not even close.

The Word
Coming from a well-heeled and well-to-do family, and her being a Japanese woman and all in the 1950s, when it came time to dating, which means marriage, Michiko was forced to bow to the whims and demands of her parents, with several men being introduced to her.

At least it seems that they allowed her the right to have some choice in the matter, as no arranged marriage appears to have been introduced by them.

So, when Michiko met then Crown-prince Akihito on a tennis court at Kurauizawa, it was love all around and game set and match for them both, becoming engaged on November 27, 1958.
Crown Prince Akihiko and Mitchy - the Prince is holding a couple of tennis rackets, but surely she wasn't playing wearing that outfit!
Of course that was only after the presiding officers of the two houses of the Diet of Japan; the Chief Justice of Japan; and two members of the Imperial Family formally approved the engagement on behalf of their Crown Prince.

There was some conjecture as to whether or not the union would be allowed, as some expected the Imperial Household Agency would select a bride for the Crown Prince one the daughters of the former court nobility, or from one of the former branches of the Imperial Family.

Also, there was whole "Catholic" thing that Mitchy and her family "suffered from".

Still... she was never baptized, so while she was allowed to attend Catholic school based on her parent's religious beliefs, she was never indoctrinated in the the religion. It sounds like the situation with my kid.

Apparently Empress Kōjun (香淳皇后, Kōjun-kōgō) - the Crown Prince's mom, and the wife of Emperor Hirohito who helped run Japan during WWII, she did not care for our Mitchy at all, and was the strongest opponent to their union. I'm guessing she wasn't one of the two members of the two members of the Imperial Royal Family who gave their consent.
Empress Kōjun - she thinks you are unworthy to gaze upon her magnificence.
Obviously things worked out, as an official engagement ceremony between the two took place on January 14, 1959.

This formal and traditional Japanese engagement is known as yunio (or yui-no), and involves the two families getting together to seal the engagement with feasts and a gift exchange of symbolic presents.

It's not much of a "thing" in today's Japan, but is perhaps more often celebrated amongst the more traditional families - of which anyone associated with the royals surely is.

Traditionally, the yunio gifts are:

The gifts are typically as follows:
  • Kinpou is gift money (I couldn't find anything on this "word" however.;
  • Hakama, the skirt given to the groom, and meant to represent fidelity;
  • Naganoshi, a clam shell to represent longevity;
  • Shiraga, a white thread of hemp, meant to represent the wish that the couple grow old and gray together;
  • Konbu, dried kelp, that represents healthy children;
  • Surume, dried cuttlefish, that represents a wish for a long marriage;
  • Suehiro, a fan, represents a happy future;
  • Katsuo-bushi, is a dried bonito—a type of fish representing meaning virility, and;
  • Yanagi-daru, a cash gift used to buy sake.
It all sounds quite nice, actually, and while one need not go over the top when purchasing such items as they seem like affordable gifts, I wonder why such a tradition has fallen by the wayside in Japan. I like it. I like it a lot. But then again, that may simply be the gaijin thinking different things are cool.

It's interesting that the hakama (representing fidelity) is given to the groom, as it is presupposed that only the man is likely to stray from the sanctity of marriage.

And, rather than a dried fish (even one that is somewhat long in shape akin to a mackerel), I would have though an eel would have been more apropos.

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (Life Goes On)
A pity, however, that there wasn't some sort of gift such as a wet blanket that the mother-in-law of Mitchy (the Empress) could have given, because even though her son was going to marry Mitchy, she still hated her.

Apparently, after the Empress dies in 2000, Reuters reported that Mitchy was constantly tormented and berated by her mother-in-law with comments that she wasn't good enough for her little boy.

Apparently it was so bad that Michiko began to suffer from depression.

Regardless of the Crown Prince's smother, the rest of Japan liked Michiko. Mostly.

After WWII, Japan had undergone a radical shift away from much of its traditions and had become much more democratic and modern, thanks to the influence of the U.S. I know... hard to believe considering the almost national socialistic look the country seems to be undergoing now thanks to its political leadership and followers.

Despite death threats being tossed towards Michiko Shōda's family, on April 10, 1959, a traditional shinto wedding ceremony took place, followed by a wedding procession through Tokyo attended by some 500,000 people over an 8.8 kilometer route.

Their wedding - parts of it - was the first Imperial Japanese wedding to be televised for the public, garnering an additional 15 million viewers.

As part of her admittance into the Royal Japanese family, Michiko was given a personal emblem (o-shirushi, お印) in the form of a Japanese white birch (shirakaba, 白樺).

The couple moved into Tōgū Palace (東宮御所, Tōgū-gosho), or "the East Palace of the Imperial House" in Minato, Tokyo living there until the Crown Prince became Emperor in 1989 following the death of his father the Emperor Showa.

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko have three children:
  • Naruhito, Crown Prince of Japan (皇太子徳仁親王, Kōtaishi Naruhito Shinnō, born 23 February 1960);
  • Fumihito, Prince Akishino (秋篠宮文仁親王, Akishino-no-miya Fumihito Shinnō, born 30 November 1965);
  • Sayako, Princess Nori (紀宮清子内親王, Nori-no-miya Sayako Naishinnō, born 18 April 1969), following her marriage to urban designer Yoshiki Kuroda on 15 November 2005, Princess Nori gave up her imperial title and left the Imperial Family as required by 1947 Imperial Household Law, took the surname of her husband and became known as "Sayako Kuroda" (黒田清子, Kuroda Sayako).
Between kids one and two, in 1963 the Associated Press reported that Michiko had a planned abortion owing to what was described as the then-Princess having impaired health due to continuous rounds of official and social functions. She was apparently three-months pregnant at the time.

Glass Onion
Being a modern family, the royal couple broke with tradition on many occasions - which probably caused the Empress/mother-outlaw to hate Michiko even more, probably blaming her for the failings of her son and his refusal to follow protocol.

For one, Michiko breastfed her own children. Holy smokes! Call the cops!

Crown Princess Michiko with son Naruhito (left) and sister Nori, circa 1971 at Togu Palace in Tokyo.
Secondly, they raised their kids themselves in their own house rather than send them out for care by court chamberlains. Those bastards!

The Reuters article when describing the torment of the Empress on Mitchy said the anguish caused her to lose her voice for seven months in the 1960s and again in 1983.

Lost it, or refused to speak?

In the Spring of 2007, Mitchy suffered from mouth ulcers, nosebleeds and intestinal bleeding caused by psychological stress, according to her doctors.

Current Crown Princess Masako (daughter-in-law to Michiko) has also developed sever depression to which they attribute the pressure of being a public princess as the root cause.

When Emperor Shōwa died on January 7, 1989 Crown Prince Akihito became the 125th Emperor of Japan, while Michiko became the Empress Consort, enthroned as Emperor and Empress on  November 12, 1990. I saw that.

The official duties of the spouse of royal leader, in this case the Empress' duties are to assist her husband at events and ceremonies, both within and outside the Imperial Palace, receive official guests including state guests, and to visit the social, cultural and charitable institutions and facilities.

When her mother-in-law, the Empress Dowager Nagako died on June 16, 2000, Empress Michiko succeeded her as Honorary President of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

In 2007, the Empress performed over 300 official duties.

Her Majesty
The Empress is expected to be the embodiment of traditional values such as modesty and purity.

So what does the Empress of like to do when she isn't involved in her Royal duties? She still likes to tinkle the ivories of the piano, likes to read—though I have no idea if she's into romance, murder mysteries, historical-bio, or hard science fiction. 

She's also responsible for the Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery, a silk farm on the Imperial grounds. She participates in the annual ceremony of harvesting silk, personally feeding silkworms with blackberries and is responsible for their care, the frames and the silk harvesting.

Empress Michiko enjoys feeding the silkworms at the Momijiyama Imperial Cocoonery on the Imperial palace grounds.
Since 1994, the Empress has been providing some of the harvested silk of the koishimaru variety (the oldest species now kept in Japan) to the Shōsōin Treasure-house in the Buddhist Tōdai-ji temple in Nara, which they use for restoration of its treasures.

You Know My Name (Look Up The Number)
While we now know that in her youth, Michiko was known as Temple-chan and Mitchy but officially as Shōda Michiko.

But after her marriage to the Crown Prince Akihito, between April 10, 1959 and January 7, 1989, her official title was "Her Imperial Highness The Crown Princess".

After her husband became Emperor, on January 7, 1989, her official title became, and is "Her Majesty The Empress".

Andrew Joseph
PS, obviously, all the subheds in the story are from The Beatles.
PPS: Image at very top: A wonderful photo of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko celebrating her 75th birthday in 2009.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Japanese Quail

In honor of Valentine's Day, I will provide a look into the birds and the bees - well, actually, just the birds, but a bit about how birds do it. "It" being "have sex". Beats me why I am envious of birds, but there you go.

I was reading the January 2018 issue of Livestock & Science—because I’ve never read it before—and I learned that better meat quality and lipid stability in Japanese quail could be achieved by simply adding a mushroom-based supplement to its feed.

What I took away from that, was “WTF are Japanese quail?!?!

The Japanese quail, Coturnix japonica, is a species of Old World quail found in East Asia.

Although I have never seen a live quail, I think I would have a 50-50 chance of correctly identifying one over say, a partridge, if you showed me a photo.

I'm pretty sure I've eaten quail at least a half-dozen times in my life, but since I've never had a great sense of taste, I couldn't tell you if it was spectacular or not, or if it tasted just like chicken... I wonder what people used as a comparison 150 years ago before chicken became such a mainstay of our human diet.

"Mmmm, that's good quail." (said in his best Johnny Carson character voice)
"That's chicken."
"El bomb-o." (said in his best Johnny Carson character voice)

Although around since Noah let the animals off the ark, the Japanese quail was only recognized as a distinct specials in 1983, as every foreigner visiting Japan before that thought the Japanese were being funny when they described the bird as a "Japanese quail."

(Editor's Note: Y'see, the Japanese like to tell you when certain things in Japan are true Japanese items, such as Japanese chopsticks, Japanese kimono, and Japanese rice. I was just making a jodan (joke). Ba-dum-bum!)

Wherefore Art Thou?
Nowadays, while being farmed for its meat in the U.S., the Japanese quail has a large wild population in Russia, India, Korea, China, and Japan, and has even been found in Turkey, Africa, namely Tanzania, Malawi, Kenya, Namibia, Madagascar and Egypt.

The Japanese quail, like all quail, is a ground-living species—usually (though it can fly short distances), and prefers the safety of dense vegetation to avoid predators, living in grassy fields and bushes near rivers, and tall agricultural fields like oats and barley.

While the bird can also be found in meadows, steppes and some mountain areas, there is usually a water source fairly close by.

Size Matters
The male and female of the bird do have marked differences.

For example,  the female's breast feathers have plenty of dark spots amongst the pale feathers, while the male bird's breast feathers are more uniform in showing a dark reddish-brown, and do not have any dark spots.

The same reddish-brown coloring appears on the male's cheek, while the female's cheek is more of a cream-color.
Japanese quail: Male on the left, female on the right.

And... the male Japanese quail is smaller in size (weight) than his female counterpart.

At an average of 90grams, the Japanese quail is slightly smaller than the common quail (96grams), but was famed for its ability to produce eggs at a high rate, laying up to 300 eggs each per year, with an efficient feed-to-egg ratio that makes it a profitable bird.

I've Eaten Quail, But What Do Quails Eat?
Hey - you ever wonder what a Japanese quail eats? I have and do! They eat grass seeds, such as white millet (no gluten - so it can be used in diets of people who can not eat wheat) and panicum (a species of tall 1-3 meter high grass of which there are some 450 different varieties) which doesn't answer my question. But, they also eat bugs, their larvae, and even small invertebrates such as mealworms.

Drinking is usually done at the beginning and end of the day, but will, depending on hydration needs, also load up at various points of the day.

Everything You Wanted To Know About Japanese Quail Sex But Were Afraid To Ask
Unlike the penguin, the Japanese female quail will partner up with one, sometimes two, and even more male counterparts.

The birds tend to breed more in the summer time, when the male testes increase in size... wait... is that a thing?

As for mating... the Japanese quail is kindda kinky.

The male Japanese quail grabs the neck of the female and mounts her, at which point the male then extends his cloaca by curving his back in an attempt to initiate cloacal contact between him and the female.

His what now? Cloaca? It's safe for work, but I'm going to let you look it up, if you wish.

You know that whole birds and the bees crap? Us humans aren't learning from most of the birds.

Most birds reproduce using their cloaca; this occurs during a cloacal kiss in most birds. Birds that mate using this method touch their cloacae together, in some species for only a few seconds, sufficient time for sperm to be transferred from the male to the female.

Now, not all birds use the cloaca. Some, such as the ostrich, cassowary, kiwi, goose, and some species of swan and duck, they have a cloaca, but do not use it for reproduction, instead using the old phallus.

Back to the Japanese quail:

If cloacal contact is achieved, insemination of the female will be exhibited by distinguishable foam present in the female's cloaca.

After successfully mating with a female, the male characteristically performs a distinctive strut.

Females will either facilitate the mating attempts of the male by remaining still and squatting in order to ease the access of the male to her cloaca or impede the attempts of the male by standing tall and running away from him.

Females can also induce the initial sexual interactions by walking in front of a male and crouching.

And, proving that I was wrong in my assessment earlier on the birds and the bees, male Japanese quail that act aggressively towards a female Japanese quail during the mating ritual have been shown to reduce successful matings.

Let that be a lesson to you. For humans, there's making love and then there's screwing. While reproduction can come from screwing, planned parenthood is usually the result of love... or in the case of the Japanese quail - sex.

Eggsactly So
Did you know that after eggs are laid, the female is the one that looks after the eggs over its approximate 16 day period before hatching. During incubation, apparently the female becomes highly intolerant of the male! Really! And no amount of foot rubs or pickles and ice cream seem to help diffuse the situation. (That line was a joke.)

Normal color Japanese quail egg and white Japanese quail egg. Image by メルビル
Now... as you can see from the image above, there are different colors top the Japanese quail egg. They are generally mottled, however with a background color of white to blue to pale brown. Egg size can depend on the size of the female, with the older bird laying a bigger egg.

Even though the Japanese quail is a water drinker at least twice a day, it does not bathe in it, as it will bathe in dust several times a day, using its legs and bill to rake the ground to loosen up the ground and then use its wings to toss the dusty mess up into the air while shaking its feathers to ensure it gets a good coating... it's like Shake and Bake.

But what it does do is help remove annoying parasites and prevent the same from adhering to it.

While not endangered, the Japanese quail is a "threatened species"... while there was a decent industry in Japan regarding the eggs, WWII played a large role in the demise of the bird stock... only this time the Japanese did not eat it into extinction. Read about that true story HERE.

Birds that had been bred for their egg production and birds bred for their song type - decimated.

In the wild, with the Japanese quail numbers down, researchers began breeding the Japanese quail with the common quail to boost wild stocks.

The Final Frontier
Lastly, Japanese quail have been and are used in biomedical research around the world.

In fact, the USSR had previously sent Japanese quail eggs into space aboard the Salyut 6 (1977), Bion 5 (1979), and Mir space station, with eggs on Mir successfully incubated and hatched in March of 1990.  

Andrew Joseph
PS: Image of Japanese quali: Ingrid Taylar - Flickr: Mikiko the Quail