Kendo and Ramen

Cherry Blossom Festival

Today I went down to Little Tokyo to grab some ramen for lunch, and happened upon the Cherry Blossom Festival. I only stayed a little while, to see some sumo and kendo performances.

I got there late for the sumo unfortunately, but I did get to see a few matches where Dan Kalbfleisch wiped the floor with some other guys.

The kendo demonstration started with sensei Cary Yoshio Mizobe performing tameshigiri—cutting a tatami omote with a katana. His students went on from there to show off their moves with shinai. Sensei Mizobe was explaining one of the moves: tsuki, a stab to the throat apparently difficult enough that he only lets his black belt students perform it, to lessen the risk of not having enough precision and injuring the opponents. He said he was hired to train Brittany Murphy to perform it for her new movie, The Ramen Girl. The only problem is, they wanted him to train her on this advanced move in eight hours. His only advice was to totally fake it out with camera tricks, or risk injury. Thought that was funny :)

CN 2009 recap

This year’s NSU Culture Night was incredible!

Opening up was Kyodo Taiko, performing their Swing and Black and White sets. Black and White is a new, powerful set created this year which I suspect will become a new favorite among fans. As always, Kyodo loves to have fun – doing funny skits in between sets, and always showing off their skill and good humor throughout their performance.

Next was the drama team. Drama always sets the theme for the show, typically about the current issues of the Nikkei community. This year their performance centered on recent buyouts in Little Tokyo, hoping to bring attention to what has been a decidedly stealthy move by corporations that may end up removing a large chunk of the culture from Little Tokyo. This year’s set had plenty of humor to go along with it, occasionally poking fun at rival Los Angeles college USC. They brought back a running joke from last year’s performance which really had the croud busting up. This performance was split into several parts, spread throughout the night.

The Odori (traditional dance) team opened up with their typical slow, exaggerated, meticulous dance. But something was different this year – for the first time I’ve seen, they are using a bit more modern music. They performed Gion Kouta, and expertly merged it’s more complex and slightly faster music with the traditional Odori style. This approach was a pleasant surprise, and puts them more in line with Kyodo’s traditional-modern hybrid style.

NSU Modern’s first set was their very energetic Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, which is a real treat to see live. Modern really shines here, showing a true passion for innovation in dance—these guys must sweat pure concentrated skill.

After a short intermission, Odori started the show performing the aptly named Matsuri, also a more modern upbeat song. This was evocative of a real matsuri (festival) in Japan and was very fun to watch!

Kyodo came back to perform Yonsei, Nanairo, and of course their signature finale Encore. Nanairo is a new set created by this year’s newbie class, but not to fear—this has all the energy you’d expect in a Kyodo performance. Kyodo holds a special place in my heart—the first time I saw them left me spellbound, causing me to fall in love with taiko and seek it out anywhere I could find it. I’ve been to many taiko performances since then—most of them featuring Kyodo—so I am quite familiar with Encore. Yet after all this time, it still fills me with the same glee as if I was seeing it for the first time.

Modern closed the night with their Tribal and Jazz sets, both of which I've never seen before. Tribal was typical Modern style—energetic, fun, super sexy, and good beats. Jazz took a completely different turn with a strong ballet performance, showing Modern’s diversity.

And that’s the night, it was a blast! I was happy to see Leech Sensei there, my awesome Japanese teacher from high school. Looks like he brought even more kids than when I originally came to a CN with him, so I’m glad to see Japanese is getting more popular! I just hope they aren’t giving him as hard of a time as I did, reading Dune in class and arguing with him about the merits of Quake vs. Diablo II ;).

Edit: added missing Kyodo and Modern videos, and updated the existing links to the CN2009 versions. Thanks zachirie!

NSU Culture Night 2009

NSU Culture Night 2009 flyer

There are only a few weeks left until the 23rd annual NSU Culture Night at UCLA. This is a really fun night exploring Japanese-American culture. There will be taiko (drumming), modern dance, drama, and odori (traditional dance) performances. These groups are university kids so they know how to have fun—every time I’ve seen them perform it has been a phenomenal experience.

It’s free and open to all so if you’re interested and can get to UCLA’s Royce Hall at 6:00pm on Presidents’ Day (February 16th), you can reserve tickets by sending an email with your name and number of tickets to nsuculturenight2009@gmail.com.

Nabe shuts down, in comes Shabu Shabuyo

Nabe entered Little Tokyo about a year ago, bringing with it a new choice for shabu shabu. I often went there instead of Shabu Shabu House simply because I didn’t want to brave the perpetual 45-60min lines. The food was good, and they had lots of decent appetizers. Despite having great food, Nabe was void of customers every time I ate there. Alas, nobody can compete with Shabu Shabu House: they where the first shabu shabu restaurant in the USA and have had a lot of time to grow buzz and perfect their flavor. It was only a matter of time. The monster has killed yet another competitor.

I went downtown last night and was woefully disappointed to discover someone in their place: Shabu Shabuyo. A small menu, split ceramic pots, electric heaters that don’t bring the water to a boil, crappy cheap chopsticks, and really really bad music playing. This place better find something good to provide quick or they’ll be going out of business in record time.

Odd new ramen place in Little Tokyo

Just tried this new ramen place inside Weller Court called Chin-Ma-Ya of Tokyo, right below the infamous Orochon Ramen. Their specialty is tan tan men, a fusion of ramen with Chinese dan dan mian. They serve it with three levels of spice, and I ordered the spiciest “original”. The broth was good – very thick and murky, lots of good flavor, and adequately spicy. It lost a bit in the toppings, coming with ground beef, ground pork, and only a few stray bits of spinach. I got a side of gyoza, which while not the worst I’ve had where definitely far from the best.

But where it really failed was the noodles. The first bite immediately made me think of something I never thought would come to mind in a ramen place: my mom baking cookies. Curiously taking another bite, I tasted it again. The flavor was almost like unsweetened cookie dough. I’m usually down for trying new things, some flavors need to just grow on you. But after eating half the bowl I couldn’t take any more – the heaviness of the noodles combined with such a strange flavor was too much for me.

Looks like Daikokuya gets to keep their crown, with San Sui Tei coming in second if the Daikokuya line is unbearably long. Last time I went to San Sui Tei, they cooked up some fresh chocolate-filled mochi balls for me. Not sure if they will be the norm or if they where testing them on me as a recurring customer, but they where good!

More on Japanese in Windows

If you just ripped your Japanese music collection only to find out Windows Explorer can’t display any of the tags, you probably used ID3 v2.4. Windows does not support 2.4—if you downgrade the files to ID3 v2.3, everything will display just fine. A good tool that can do this en masse is Mp3tag. This doesn’t only affect the UTF-8 fields: Windows won’t be able to read album art or anything else if you use v2.4.

Adding Japanese support to Windows Mobile 6.1

Windows Mobile with Japanese

The Windows Mobile 6.1 update just hit for my Blackjack II, and I’m liking it quite a bit. One problem, though, is that it seems to lack any Japanese fonts for the UI – everything shows up as those familiar boxes. Here’s how to add the Meiryo font from Vista to your phone.

Caveat lector: this involves modifying the registry on your phone. If you aren’t completely confident in your abilities with this, don’t do it. I’ve only done this on my AT&T Blackjack II running the Windows Mobile 6.1 update. Phones are pretty damned expensive, don’t blame me if you break yours!

You will need:

First you need to grab the font files from Vista, out of your Windows\Fonts dir. Explorer doesn’t let you do this, so you can go via command line or any other app with a Open File window or something similar. You are looking for meiryo.ttc and meiryob.ttc. Once you’ve got these, copy them to your phone’s Windows\Fonts dir.

Next you’ll need to perform some registry edits on your phone. Open up Mobile Registry Editor and go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft. Right click, and go to New->Registry Key. Enter FontLink for the name. Inside of the FontLink key, add another key called SystemLink.

Windows Media Mobile with Japanese

Inside the SystemLink key, right click and go to New->Multi-String Value. For the Value Name, enter Segoe Condensed. For the Value Data, enter windows\fonts\meiryo.ttc,Meiryo. To my knowledge Segoe Condensed is the only font used in the UI on Windows Mobile 6.1, but you can repeat this step replacing Segoe Condensed with any fonts you want to add Japanese support to.

Now go back to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft. Add a new key called FontPath. Inside this key, right click and go to New->String Value. For Value Name, enter FontPath. For Value Data, enter windows\fonts.

Now just reboot the phone and it should have Japanese support throughout the UI!

68th Annual Nisei Week has begun!

Nisei week is a festival occuring this week in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. If you’re in the area and looking for a good time, check it out—most of it is free! I will be attending the REMIX concert on Saturday, and the Taiko Gathering on Sunday. UCLA’s Kyodo Taiko and NSU Modern will rock the house :D.