Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Mens' Fashion in Traditional Japan

In my last post, I shared some photos of my vintage yakuza Aloha shirt, which I like to wear.  It's by no means the only article of Japanese clothing that has been passed down to me.  In today's blog, I'd like to share some pictures of an antique juban and obi I received for my birthday last month.  I also wanted to talk for a little bit about the history and culture of such clothing back in traditional Japan.  I want to go into this in much greater length and detail sometime, but for now, please enjoy the photos!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Traditional Arts, Crafts, and Culture of Okinawa

Have you ever wanted to visit Okinawa?

Perhaps you said "no", or you don't know what Okinawa is, but after seeing that, I'm sure that you, like me, are now filled with an overpowering compulsion to go there as soon as possible.

Now that it's approaching summer time, and it's getting warm without being scorching, I want to get outside and go to the beach, and Okinawa is the best place to go.  The breezes are cool, the sea is calm, and, well... did you SEE that commercial?!

Okinawa is to Japan like Hawaii is to the United States.  Okinawa and Hawaii have a lot in common, culturally, but my meaning is that Okinawa has always had a very rich and unique culture all its own, and now that it is a part of Japan, it strives to continually be aware of the history and influence its people have always had, and classifies itself as an entirely different place from the mainland.  Stepping onto Okinawan soil, everything just looks and feels different.  Most people speak the Okinawan dialect, but still present is the Okinawan language itself, which is entirely different from Japanese.  There are also distinctive religious differences, and they even have their own brand of yōkai, which I'll touch on later.

The birthplace of karate, most likely derived from Okinawan and Chinese martial arts, the Ryukyu islands themselves, as well as several other key phrases and words are derived from the Chinese language, since the two are considerably close to one another.  Okinawa's climate is subtropical, filled with interesting fruits and plant life, as well as fish and reefs and some of the best scuba-diving, fishing and surfing that you can ever experience.  But I'm not going to sit here and give you a history lesson.  Much information can be found via a quick google or wikipedia search.  But I would like to share some key cultural factors that I find interesting.

Okinawan food is delicious.  Pork is a common meat used in dishes (and my favorite besides seafood), and they are famous for a wide variety of very distinctive types of ramen.  Also known for their brand of soba soups (though the noodles are udon-style with a different broth) many ingredients are imported into the cuisine and make for interesting and unique flavour.  At times even overpowering, being a fan of spicy food, Okinawan cuisine introduced me to the Mexican and Thai brand of dishes.  Another famous ingredient is called goya, or bitter melon, the most bizarre fruit I've ever tasted, and that's saying something.  The name is accurate, to say the least.  There's even bitter melon-flavoured drinks, noodles and candy.  Along with that, a type of doughnut, called sata andagi, is another culturally significant dish.  The sugary fried buns are often recommended as a sweet treat to those who are visiting or would like to try Okinawan cuisine.

But to really get a good idea on the history, culture and interesting places in Okinawa, you'll honestly just have to visit.  I'll just take you through some notable places as if you were having a holiday there, but to do so, I'll need my assistants who help me explain all the most traditional and exciting aspects of Japan.  I speak, of course, of Kagrra,.