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thomas

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My favorite approach to study a country's culture is food. Last time I was in Japan I tasted a local speciality from Miyagi Prefecture called "sasakamaboko". It seems to be a very popular little present for everyone passing through Sendai.

Sasakamaboko is a boiled fish paste made with ground white fish and is produced all along the Miyagi coast. Has anyone ever tried it?

Oh, why am I posting that? Probably I'm getting hungry. ;)
 

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tosh

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Domo. I knew that i was thinking of something the other day (and i forgot to write it down). ...Has anyone ever tried Fugu? I understand that it's for the adventurous..or suicidal.
 
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thomas

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Unfortunately, I have never tried fugu before. Apart from the adventurous aspect, it's pretty expensive. I suppose it's one of those things you can only appreciate whole-heartedly if you're born in Japan...
 

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Hi Thomas,

A personal request: could you kindly refrain from posting pictures of mouthwatering food. Some of us reside at a part of the world where the zenith of the local culinary arts is honey cured beef tripe and all the Japanese restaurateurs are Malaysian. For us such a posting is pure torture:p.

Like it would not be cruel enough that your constantly mentioning the Sacher-Torte... (BTW, why you did not write テ」The land of the Gewナクrzguglhupf?テ?..:p
 
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thomas

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Yair,

rest assured, posting such pictures shows certain masochist tendencies. :) Oh, but despite the fact that most Japanese sushi bars and restaurants in Vienna are Chinese or Korean-owned there are also a lot of Japanese grocers and bars, since Vienna has a quite considerable Japanese community (mostly music students).

Hehe, I might change our location to "Guglhupf" soon. :)
 

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hehe ... kamaboko + mayonese + 7 spices hot seasoning isn't that bad.

kamaboko is pretty bland though.
 

kinjo

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Thomas,

Speaking about Japanese music students in Vienna, I wonder how they cope with their culture shock. Those who come to the US are more or less prepared because the American ways have already deeply perfused today's Japan. But Vienna is still Europe. If nothing else, how do they survive on the rich Austro-Hungarian-Bohemian food, the very antithesis of the Japanese cuisine.

Another - admittedly controversial - question: can a classical music student, rooted in the East Asian culture ever hope to learn to give a truly convincing performance of European music (and vica versa). In general: can someone be creative in another culture?
 
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Yair,

if it's the first time Japanese students come to Europe, they will certainly have to face some sort of cultural shock. Especially if it's their first time abroad and/or the first time they are seperated from their parents. Quite natural.

You are absolutely right in regard to Austro-Hungarian-Bohemian kitchen: it is pretty heavy, but not that spicy. So Schnitzel, Gulyas etc. are very popular among tourists, even the whole range of fried sausages you usually find in Southern Germany, Austria and Northern Italy. One spice my wife absolutely detests is caraway seed which is very frequently used in A-H-B kitchen. I don't know if that's just a question of personal taste or a general Japanese aversion. ;)

Another - admittedly controversial - question: can a classical music student, rooted in the East Asian culture ever hope to learn to give a truly convincing performance of European music (and vica versa). In general: can someone be creative in another culture?
That's a difficult question. I personally believe that music requires a certain amount of talent. So if you are gifted your origins do not matter. Perhaps there are foreigners who excell in taiko or gagaku music, there are certainly Asians excelling in classical music. (On a side-note: the director of the Vienna State Opera is Japanese).

I always wondered why classical Western music enjoys such a widespread popularity (or shall I say craze?) in Japan. I met people in Tohoku who were not able to converse in English, but they recited Schubert's "Forelle" in German!

The usual point of critique from Western musicians is that Japanese play "too robotic" and "too perfect", without adding personal sentiments and character to their performance. I really cannot say anything about that, so I'm just referring to what I initially said: it's a question of talent. I just read about one way of teaching the piano, the "Suzuki method" (there are also others). I admit that sounded slightly mechanic. Music should never be approached too technically or mechanically.

Perhaps that's the reason Japanese students come to Vienna: too add heart and soul to their already admirable skills. :)
 

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Chinese celloist -- yo yo ma ... is great!
There's also the Japanese conductor, seiji ozawa ??? quite a famous gentleman.

Hmmm I wonder if it's a climate type of thing. Not that many old buildings where I live. There's something about the oldness that seeps throughout Europe that makes a difference I bet.
 

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I was referring to Seiji Ozawa, he's musical directory at the Vienna Opera.

Hmmm I wonder if it's a climate type of thing. Not that many old buildings where I live. There's something about the oldness that seeps throughout Europe that makes a difference I bet.
Aaaah, the glorious decadence of yesteryear! ;)

As European you live with that oldness without noticing it. Also depends on where you live. Some German towns for instance had been completely reconstructed after the war (as in Japan).
 
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Thomas,

Yeah, I have heard the same opinions about the robotlike or "too perfect" play by Japanese classical artists. At the same time I also noted that these opinions seldom came from first-rate artists. The usual professional objection is rather specific (and genre-limited), namely that rubatos and cadenzas in romantic pieces are played/written by Japanese artists like they were classicist pieces. In other words, they play a Schubert passage like it would be from Haydn. This seems to be true even within the classicist oeuvre. If one compares the Mozart piano concerto recordings by Uchida and Brendel, the dry, intellectual Brendel raises a storm of passion while Uchida - who, being a lady, is expected to be more emotional - plays absolutely beautiful but perfectly reserved passages. Someone should have written on the staff with huge red letters: Ano ne! Go-enryo naku ne!! :) This may also be the reason why it is so rare to hear Japanese artists ever playing such musical hissyfits like Rachmaninoff's C-sharp Prelude or Liszt's Totentanz. Or it may explain why the person in Tohoku you mentioned was reciting The Trout and not the Winterreise's Leiermann or the Mナクllerin's "Mein Shatz hat grナクn so gern".

My feeling is that Japanese esthetics seems to prefer beauty to raw emotions and this affinity may account for the apparent coldness of Japanese performances.

>Perhaps that's the reason Japanese students come to Vienna: too add
>heart and soul to their already admirable skills.

I think this is very true. And they must have a tremendous courage to do so.
 
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moyashi

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Yair Lahav
Nicely stated!!!

I've always had problems with trying to put into words what you just did.
Thanks!

My feeling is that Japanese esthetics seems to prefer beauty to raw emotions and this affinity may account for the apparent coldness of Japanese performances.
Close, definitely true that the Japanese prefer to keep emotions to themselves, but ... it's not the beauty but rather the "form" of beauty. Just a slight difference here.
 

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Moyashi,

I am unsure if I can fully understand that "it's not the beauty but rather the "form" of beauty. Just a slight difference here." Could you illustrate this for me through some examples?
 

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ooops sorry for the bad wording.

I just meant that "many" Japanese believe FORM (the way you do something) that is the most important.

Look at kyudo (Japanese archery) the pull of the bow is the most important rather than the target. Oh course, hitting it helps though.

Skiing. I live in Hokkaido and have to ski in the midst of the latest skiwear and newest skiis (of course this equipment is like almost professional level) but these skiers are the ones that fall down the most.

Nothing at all wrong with this just seems a bit strange to me that many/lots of Japanese pay lot's of money but still can't do that particular activity.

I've asked many folks about this and they just respond that you gotta do it right from the start.

Oh well ....

hmmm .... newly purchased things = beauty???
 

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Yair,

thanks a lot for your wonderful post. You helped me to better understand the "Japanese approach" to classical music. You seem to be an aficionado yourself.
;)

I have heard the same opinions about the robotlike or "too perfect" play by Japanese classical artists. At the same time I also noted that these opinions seldom came from first-rate artists.
I would like to add that by no means does this reflect my own opinion, I was just quoting stereotypical comments I had picked up before. I'm in no position to judge or to criticize classical musicians.

My feeling is that Japanese esthetics seems to prefer beauty to raw emotions and this affinity may account for the apparent coldness of Japanese performances.
Another reason for the coldness you mention could be an urge for perfection ("robotic"), thus the alleged lack of passion (this urge does not only apply to music, I have noticed it too among language students and teachers).

I think this is very true. And they must have a tremendous courage to do so.
Japanese students actually follow well-trodden, perfectly organized paths; but hats off to all of them, it generally needs a lot of ambition and courage to study abroad.
 

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Thomas,

I was referring those professional classical music reviewers here who tend to sneer at Japanese musicians. But their ilk has a long and sorry track record テ just read the contemporary critics on Beethoven, Berlioz or Mahler.

Aficionado?

He he. The only area where I consider myself aficionado is eating. The great tragedy of my life is that I could not become one of those lucky duck journalists who are paid to visit various restaurants and eat themselves through the entire menuテ

Perhaps liking music and food comes together. Look at Rossini who retired at age 37 to spend the remainder of his long life by composing superb recipes. He was said to be more proud of his Tournedos ヒ la Rossini than his William Tell. He knew what real art isテ?)
 
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kinjo

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Moyashi,

I donテ付 know how much the amateur skiersテ pro gear has to do with beauty but I tend to believe that a good part of it can be ascribed to our quaint human psyche. Some of us, having decided on doing something, prefer to do it to perfection. Because we cannot buy experience, at least we buy the perfect gear because that we already can control. Since we have also been taught that when one has decided on doing something, one is expected to finish it, we subconsciously feel that locking ourselves in by spending a large amount of money is a kind of an insurance against the failure of giving up. It is a kind of テ暖ambatte insuranceテ :)

Another point may be our penchant for uniforms which seems to be based on the following thought process: skiing might be pleasure, but being a part of the group of fellow skiers is definitely a good portion of the fun. If we want to be accepted by the group we need to identify with the group. Appearance often is a part of such identity: the more I look like a skier, the more other skiers will accept me. Therefore I will buy the perfect skierテ不 uniform.

How strongly tthis train of thought is ingrained is demonstrated by looking at nonconformist kids: in order to show the world they reject being part of any group, they grow long hear, put on baggy pants, and so on テ so before long and without noticing, they parade around in a uniform that shouts out: Hey, I belong to the great fellowship of nonconformists!

>Look at kyudo (Japanese archery) the pull of the bow is the most important rather than the target. Oh course, hitting it helps though.

Which would be very true if kyudo were a competitive sport. But it appears to be much closer to the tea ceremony: a celebration of perfection as an art form. The quotes テ鱈e style cテ鋲st lテ鰭omme mツ仁eテ and テ探he medium is the messageテ may come to mind in this context. As Thomas just observed in the previous post, perfection, or the attempt to attain perfection, is a central theme in all things Japanese. And one of the factors that made that culture so superb.
 

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Originally posted by Yair Lahav
But their ilk has a long and sorry track record テ just read the contemporary critics on Beethoven, Berlioz or Mahler.
I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, the same seems to apply to literary criticism. It may sound low-brow, but I consider any amateurish review on amazon.com much more informative than a NYT critique.

He he. The only area where I consider myself aficionado is eating. The great tragedy of my life is that I could not become one of those lucky duck journalists who are paid to visit various restaurants and eat themselves through the entire menuテ閏/b]
Eating and cooking are my most favorite pasttime too. Being paid for eating, well, too good to be true. I wonder how to get one of these fancy positions with Gault-Millau or Guide Michelin, yum, yum.

Perhaps liking music and food comes together. Look at Rossini who retired at age 37 to spend the remainder of his long life by composing superb recipes. He was said to be more proud of his Tournedos ヒ la Rossini than his William Tell. He knew what real art isテ
Perhaps music and food require a certain inclination to hedonism and sensual pleasure, but it probably depends on a composer's character and style. I cannot image a Liszt or Mahler indulging in Tournedos.
:)
 

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Great comments Yair !!!

Yes, how true! The Japanese truely have a never ending quest for perfection!
 

thomas

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Originally posted by tosh
Domo. I knew that i was thinking of something the other day (and i forgot to write it down). ...Has anyone ever tried Fugu? I understand that it's for the adventurous..or suicidal.
Everyone, please forgive me to add a few lines about fugu to this thread.

I watched another docu on Japanese cuisine yesterday (thanks World Cup!). The only poisonous parts of the fugu are the intestines. They are usually removed, but some fugumaniacs insist on devouring the liver resulting in a numbness (?) of lips and palate. It can also lead to nervous paralyzation and eventually to death. In 1999 3 (three!) people died after eating fugu, but 27 suffocated after having mochi (a rubber-like rice cake) during New Year!

Btw, Yair, since you are a declared gourmet: fugu is usually served cold and in very thin slices. It's served on traditional china (with leek and shoyu), so that the plate's decoration shines through the pale slices.
 

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Thomas,

The literary critics of the New York Times? Well, the general opinion among the few American readers whose interest extends beyond Danielle Steel or Stephen King is that they are a marketing branch of the large publishers. Those columns テ and their bestseller list テ have nothing to do with actual literature but everything with bestselling.

Blessed are the amateur critics on the Internet because theirs is the future. :)

Concerning fugu, it tastes like nothing. Admittedly, it is eaten more for its texture than for the taste. And, of course, for the cheap thrill of the low probability Russian roulette. (Except, it is everything but cheap).

As far as I know, it is primarily the ovaries that are poisonous, especially in April, the mating season (please shoot me if I am wrong). By the way, probably that is how the famous French fish platter テ単oison dテ柊vrilテ got its nameテ

Actually, fugu is one of the symbols of Japanese masochism. Have you ever thought about why, instead of the excruciatingly painful seppuku, Mr. Samurai did not walk over to the next-door restaurant and ask for a large order of fugu innards ヒ la Lucrezia Borgia?

You wrote thhat one of your favorite hobbies is cooking. What cuisine do you prefer? Do you make anything local?
 
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thomas

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Well, then I guess fugu is finally off my shortlist of things I still have to try.
;)

Actually, fugu is one of the symbols of Japanese masochism. Have you ever thought about why, instead of the excruciatingly painful seppuku, Mr. Samurai did not walk over to the next-door restaurant and ask for a large order of fugu innards ヒ la Lucrezia Borgia?
Masochism, and probably a spoonful of machism too. Corrida de fugu, hehe.

Experimental cooking, yes, you could call that a hobby. As for preferences, there aren't any. I can't think of anything I dislike, big problem.
:)

I appreciate local food, but don't prepare it myself. A French friend just happened to visit us for 2 weeks, that's why at the moment my culinary senses are switched to "mode francophone". I also adore Italian, Indian, Chinese, Korean, of course Japanese, and in particular Middle Eastern food, with Lebanese as clear favorite.

What about you, any preferences or dislikes (apart from fugu)?
 

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hehe ... a "good arm" (Japanese phrase for being skilled, especially with the hands) is the most important with deciding to eat raw fugu.

ughhh ... mochi death ... ughh horrible way to go. I wouldn't really consider it rubbery but more along the lines of really thick and pasty dough. although, dough has some kind of flavor to it ... :D

Yair, you'd really like Tokyo since that seems to be the gathering arena for the latest cusine wars.
 

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Moyashi,

>>... Tokyo ... seems to be the gathering arena for the latest cusine wars.<<

Probably this is why our TV broadcasts years' old reruns of the Iron Chef...
Nevertheless, I still watch it.

>>you'd really like Tokyo<<

Yes, and I would really like Kyoto and Nagoya and Fukuoka and (a long enumeration of Japanese placenames follows) or anywhere there. I would even prefer to stand in the mile long line at the border control at Narita... But, instead, I have to look at the huge pile of work on my desk. Life is unfair...
 

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Thomas,

Well, my favorites are the Japanese cuisine (except desserts and Kyushu "sakurazushi"), Mexican, Russian and Central European food. My dislikes are Indian cuisine (almost all variety) and Polish/Silesian cooking. Most other stuff (French, Chinese, Italian) is between these two ends of the spectrum. Like you, I also very much like Middle Eastern food, but my exposure has been limited to Israeli Arab and Druse restaurants. The Israeli cuisine itself is very close to the surrounding states' cooking.
 
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