Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas Around the World: Christmas in China

In the past few days, we've visited Korea and Japan.  Our last stop for Christmas around the world is Christmas in China. Although Christmas has presence in China, it is not as widely celebrated or acknowledged as it is in Korea or Japan. Most shops, schools, and offices remain open -- as it is not considered an official holiday. 
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Despite this, some elements of Christmas found in the West can be found in China. Large shopping centers and department stores are often found decked out in Christmas decorations around this time of year. Everything from Christmas trees, to lights, to other various decorations are put up around the end of November to welcome the holiday season. 
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Even a few households get into the spirit of Christmas, hanging Christmas lights around the outside of the house and putting up a small tree inside. China even has their own version of Santa Claus, who visits hotels and malls across the country. Rather than being accompanied by elves, the Chinese Santa travels alongside his sisters -- women dressed in red and white skirts. Traditionally, the Chinese Santa does not leave presents or accept treats of milk and cookies but he will pay a home visit to take pictures with excited children
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Celebrations around Christmas are steadily increasing in China. Many families now gather together on Christmas Eve for a special Christmas dinner with friends. Close friends and family often will exchange cards or small gifts. Hotel restaurants and Western restaurants will almost always feature a traditional Christmas dinner and other festive treats during this time. Many Chinese love to go on shopping sprees during Christmastime. Another seasonal favorite, ice skating, is available at special locations that are set up exclusively for the Christmas season, such as at Weiming Lake at Peking University in Beijing.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Around the World: Koreans Celebrate Sung Tan Jul

Although Korea is officially Buddhist, today about 30% of the South Korean population is Christian. Korea has become known as the only East Asian country to recognize Christmas as a national holiday

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Despite many similarities to how Christmas is celebrated in the West, Christian Koreans still put their own cultural spin on the holiday. Christmas, or Sung Tan Jul as it is called in Korea, is considered primarily a religious holiday, so although some families do put up a Christmas tree and exchange presents, most of the celebration revolves around attending mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas day

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Santa Harabujee is very popular with Korean children and gives out presents to children wearing a red or blue suit. Around the holiday season, many stores employ Santas to hand out chocolates and candies to shoppers. Some families celebrate Christmas dinner with gatherings at home but traditionally many Korean families prefer to go out for dinner.

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Christmas, considered a romantic holiday for couples, is one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants. One of the major differences between Christmas in the West and Christmas in Korea is that often times in Korea Christmas is a time to celebrate and party with friends and their significant other, especially for younger people, and New Year's is the holiday spent with family. Christmas presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve and rather than receiving piles of presents, it is customary for people to each receive one present, often times a gift of money. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christmas Around the World: How Japan Does Christmas

Although the most important holiday of the season in Japan is New Year's Day, Christmas is not forgotten. In Japan, certain Christmas symbols, traditions, and practices are similar to Western Christmas traditions -- just with a Japanese flare- while others are uniquely Japanese.

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Even in Japan, 6,314 miles away from the United States, the holiday spirit of spreading happiness and the gift of giving is still very strong during the Christmas season. Participating in worship and giving to the sick and poor is the main focus of Japanese Christians around this time of year.

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Christmas day also shares many similarities to what your family's typical Christmas may be. Family members gather together over a turkey dinner to exchange cards and gifts. A Christmas tree can still be found in the house, decorated with an abundance of lights and ornaments. A special corner of each house is reserved for a Nativity scene -- even mistletoe and evergreens are a symbol that Japanese Christians hold dear for this holiday. Hoteiosho, a Buddhist monk who is the Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus, showers the well behaved children with presents on Christmas morning. 

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Despite following some of the more common Christmas traditions, the Japanese have their own spin on the holiday. The Japanese incorporate their rich tradition through their unique Christmas cakes, fried chicken, and Daiku. Their traditional Christmas cake is made from sponge cake decorated with miniature figures of trees, flowers, and Hoeiosho or Santa Claus. In addition to turkey, fried chicken has become a traditional meal for the holiday meal. The music favorite of the season, the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, Daiku, can be heard playing in many houses  and at many holiday get togethers. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

What "Chi" Means to China

Chi, traditionally spelt qi, is a concept in Chinese culture dating all the way back to 5th century BCE. Ancient Chinese philosophy describes chi as a life force or energy which binds all things together. Even today, it is believed that chi is the flow of energy through the body that forms cohesion and balance. Ancient Confucian scholars believed that life was the result of the accumulation of chi, without it we would simply cease to exist. Even through advances in science, technology, and medicine, Chi still remains an active part of Chinese culture and tradition. Chi acts as the central underlying principle in traditional Chinese medicine as well as martial arts. 

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Traditional Chinese medicine, dating back to ancient times, is still practiced throughout China today. The belief behind these traditional practices are that illness and disease are the result of blocked or unbalanced channels, referred to as meridians. The unbalanced within the meridians stops the correct flow of chi, resulting in deficiencies in organs or other parts of the body.  Traditional Chinese medicine seeks to reverse these imbalances by restoring the flow of chi. This is done through countless methods such as eating or drinking specific herbs, massages, physical training, food therapy, and acupuncture. 

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This alternative form of medicine is as easy to find in China as Western medicine. Many hospitals and clinics in China will have Western medicine and Traditional Chinese medicine being practiced side by side. Incoming patients are given the choice of whether they wish to be treated with standard Western medicine or opt for an alternative treatment. Often times, Chinese patients will combine the two, for example, alternating between daily doses of Traditional Chinese herbs and prescribed drug regimens. One of the core beliefs in Traditional Chinese medicine that differs from the traditional Western Biomedical model is that being healthy is not strictly having an absence of illness of disease, but possessing overall mental, physical, and social wellbeing

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Forbes to Disney: How to Make Star Wars Awesome Again

Due to George Lucas' recent sale of LucasFilms to Disney, including the rights to Star Wars, fans can expect a whole new trilogy on the way by 2015. For some, this is fantastic news but others have their doubts. Some feel that the series has ended on a good note and Disney is going to "mess it up". So how should Disney go about making these next three Star Wars episodes in order to continue on Star Wars' legacy and not ruin it? 

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Forbes believes in order for the the upcoming trilogy not to be a flop, Joss Whedon should be put on for writing and directing. Thanks to Whedon's fantastic directing and writing, The Avengers was on of the best super hero movies to hit the theaters in years. Hopefully Whedon's talent for weaving together action and humor and his admirable ability to make the audience truly care about the characters, captures Disney's attention when selecting a director for Star Wars. 

Forbes' next piece of advice -- bring in Pixar. The people at Pixar are very creative and have a tremendous talent for storytelling. Pixar director Andrew Stanton and others would be very beneficial additions to the film project. Plus, the combination of Pixar and Whedon would promise some truly incredible results.

The next important tip to make Star Wars a big hit instead of a big disappointment -- build it around the characters, not the events. One of the problems that was evident in the prequel series was the lack of development of the characters or their relationships with the other characters. For the audience to care about the characters, they need to be able to relate to them or understand them. Imagine if in the prequel series they had built up the friendship between Anakin and Obi Wan, going deeper and more emotional- it would have made the betrayal so much more significant. Anakin's transition to the dark side was confusing, it would have been better to have gone deeper into his emotions to show his slow deterioration into Darth Vader. 

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Forbes also stresses the importance of hiring talented actors, not just people for their big names. The brand is already widespread and major, so having star power for the sake of it is unnecessary. Bringing back some of the old cast would also be a nice touch. For example, bringing back Luke Skywalker and other characters from the original series, but in their sixties or seventies. Due to the span of time that has passed since the original Star Wars, this would be realistic option given that by now that would be the actual age of the original actors. One of fans' biggest fears, and what would be the biggest mistake by Disney, would be to bring back the same characters, but played by new actors. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Wonder Girls Hot on Psy's Heels [VIDEO]

Psy's 'Gangnam Style' may be in for some competition with Wonder Girls quickly catching up. The five member South Korean group has been heating up ever since their tour with the Jonas Brothers back in 2009. Recently they released a cover of Cyndi Lauper's 'True Colors', which demonstrates their more laid back and mellow musical side.

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Group member Yeeun told Daily News that their goals for the new rendition was to give it some more energy and rhythm to give it a new sound of their own. The group continues to ride the K-pop train to the United States with a futuristic hit "Like Money", created with R&B artist Akon earlier this year. Yeeun also adds that their inspiration comes from a variety of artists and genres including those in the 60s, 80s, and 90s and is extremely excited to see K-pop growing in other parts of the world. 

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Will Mickey Mouse move into Star Wars?

Star Wars fans are all shocked, and many angered, by Disney's recent announcement of their $4.05 billion purchase of Lucasfilm LTD, which includes the Star Wars franchise.

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Disney's additional revelation of their intentions to create a Star Wars Episode 7 created another wave of mixed responses from fans. The target release date for the new film is set for 2015 and Disney tells the public to expect a continuation of the Star Wars saga "well into the future"- up to three more films! 

Starting with the release of Star Wars Episode 7 in 2015, Robert Iger, Disney's CEO, says there are plans in the making to have a new Star Wars episode released every two to three years

Disney's Bob Iger with George Lucas (R)
He adds that Disney also sees the saga as having the potential for a great T.V. series. Under Disney, Lucasfilm co-chairman Kathleen Kennedy will become the new president of Lucasfilm and serve as the brand's manager. 68-year-old founder of Lucasfilm, George Lucas, plans to retire but will still serve as a creative consultant to the new direction of Star Wars. 

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Regarding the sale of Lucasfilm to Disney, George Lucas says it is one of his "greatest pleasures to see Star Wars passed from one generation to the next. It's now time to pass Star Wars on to a new generation of filmmakers.

But will fans agree with his statement and decision to sell their beloved Star Wars saga to Disney? 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

How Asian Countries celebrate Halloween

Halloween is the most popular holiday in the United States, but did you know that other countries celebrate it too? Countries around the world have ways of honoring and remembering the dead during this time of year. Even different countries in Asia like to celebrate Halloween, but not in the traditional costumes-and-pumpkins way we might think. 

Each October 31st, people across China celebrate Halloween, or Teng Chieh, by offering food and water to the dead. They also light lanterns with the belief that they will help to guide deceased loved ones as they make their visit to the "land of the living" in Halloween night. 

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The Japanese also utilize lanterns for their Halloween customs. The lanterns are traditionally colored red and are hung in every house. These red lanterns are also placed on boats and float through rivers to guide the spirits of the dead back to the homes of their families for the night. It is also traditional for Japanese families to clean the gravestones of their ancestors and prepare special dishes to honor and remember them. These customs and traditions are all referred to in Japan as the Obon Festival. 

Halloween is not big in Korea, but offerings of food and flowers are still made to their ancestors to show respect. 

Hong Kong remembers their lost loved ones through a traditional festival known as the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. During this time, pictures of fruits or money are burned with the belief that these images will reach the spirits of the dead and provide comfort. 

Although many of the Halloween traditions in Asia are different from those in the United States, certain countries are beginning to pick up many Western Halloween traditions. For example, Halloween recently arrived in Japan. Now around this time of year, decorations such as jack-o'-lanterns can be seen around town of in shop windows and every year Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan puts on extravagant Halloween shows and events. Trick-or-Treating is still not a common practice in Japan, but costume house parties aren't that uncommon. 

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Besides the traditional and culture-rich Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, Hong Kong also likes to celebrate the more commercialized side of Halloween. Each year bars all across Hong Kong are decked out in Halloween decorations in an attempt to increase local interest in the holiday. Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park also host a Halloween Bash each year to promote and celebrate the holiday. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sung Bong Choi in Los Angeles UPDATE [VIDEO]

For much of Sung Bong Choi's life he lived in the streets, orphaned at only three years of age. He was dropped off at an orphanage, but was often badly beaten, so he ran away to live alone in the red light district of Daejeon -- at just five years old. Many nights he would sleep in a public bathroom or cardboard box on the side of the road, selling gum and energy drinks to get by. Until he was 14, Choi did not even know his own name- fast forward eight years and he is a YouTube sensation. 

In the summer of 2011, Choi's heartbreaking story and raw talent brought him through finals on Korea's Got Talent  and got him 66 million views on YouTube. But what has happened to him since these life changing events? 

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Since gaining second on Korea's Got Talent, Choi's popularity has exploded, even being nicknamed the "Korean Susan Boyle". Only one year after his performance, Choi took America by storm, performing on stage for the first time in the United States. He took part in the international concert at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, a concert dedicated to promoting peace and unity. Surrounded by an ensemble of internationally acclaimed musicians, Choi performed, along with the others, "We Hear Your Voice." This ballad was written by international singer/songwriter Shani, with the goal of inspiring hope and unity. 

In response to his newfound fame and his recent performance, Choi stated, "I felt the performance went really well. I'm so grateful to make my U.S. debut here. I know that many Americans saw my video on YouTube, so I was glad when I saw them at the concert." 

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The concert at the Greek theatre was Choi's first performance in America, but certainly not his first time on stage. This past year, Choi has performed in countless concerts, including a performance at Korea's Blue House. He has also appeared on T.V. shows and participated in many lectures. He now also has an autobiography titled "Just Live Without Conditions 'Cause You Only Live Once", telling of the hardships he faced before his fame, which moved its way right to the top of Korea's bestsellers list shortly after its release this past summer. Later this year he plans to release his first album, which will finally fulfill his long-awaited dream. 

For those of you new to Sung Bong Choi's story, click here to see his inspiring performance on Korea's Got Talent- and be sure to have some tissues ready!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Japan's Shiraishi Island strives to teach Compassion

On Shiraishi Island, an island in the Inland Sea of Japan, the teaching of compassion for all living things to their children has become a priority

The campaign for compassion began when the dean was troubled by the increasing number of students leaving the island to go to the mainland on weekends and swimming in the local pools and the decreasing number of students swimming in the sea, fishing, kayaking, and just spending time playing in nature. 

To begin the movement towards teaching compassion, Amy Chavez was called in to give a speech to the third and fourth year students of Shiraishi Island Elementary School about the nature on Shiraishi Island and having a true appreciation and compassion for everything within nature. 

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She described to the students some of the unique and beautiful sites the island had to offer. She picked the seasons and had the students describe to her what came to mind when when they heard words like "autumn". The students responded with words such as bamboo, chestnuts, figs, and leaves. 

Chavez then taught the students the importance of being in nature and appreciating all it has to offer. She concluded her lesson by having the children each write down what they thought the point of the discussion was. 

Responses included things like "I didn't realize that most people don't see the sun set over the sea in the evenings" and "Shiraishi must be a beautiful place if Amy came all the way from America to live here."  

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Even after Chavez's lessons had concluded, the school is continuing their project for promoting compassion by having the kindergarten students participate in the raising of animals such as rabbits and chickens. Each grade stretching from kindergarten all the way through elementary school has a garden which the children are in charge of growing and maintaining fruits and vegetables.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Meet Momofuku Ando, inventor of Ramen Noodles (Series Part 4 of 4)

Kids love them, college students live off them, they make a great on the go meal -- but do most people know the inventor behind the beloved Instant Noodles? 

Well, Taiwanese-Japanese business man and founder of Nissin Food Products Company, Momofuku Ando, can take that title. Originally Nissin was a small family-run company that produced salt in Ikeda, Osaka, Japan after the bankruptcy of his first company. 

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Ando's idea for Instant Noodles came during the post-war era when Japan was suffering from a shortage of food. Ando dedicated months of trial and error experimentation before finally on August 25, 1958 when he marketed the first package of precooked noodles, calling them Chicken Ramen. 

Originally the revolutionary instant noodles were considered a luxury item, priced around six times what the traditional noodles were at the time. Once prices began to drop, Instant noodles popularity took off at a rapid rate. 

In 1964 he became the chairman of the International Ramen Manufacturers' Association. There is even a museum (Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum) dedicated to him! 

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The efficiency and low prices of Instant Noodles and Cup Noodles created a fortune for Nissin. Ando lived to be 96 and when asked the secret to his long life he said that it was playing golf and eating Chicken Ramen nearly every day

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ramen Noodles: Discovering the Truth [Series: part 3 of 4]

Everyone is familiar with Maruchan Instant Ramen Noodles, especially college students, but not everyone knows about traditional ramen or the significance it has to Japanese culture. 

Ramen is a traditional Japanese noodle dish. Consisting of Chinese-style wheat noodles, it is often flavored with soy sauce in a fish flavored broth. Pork is a popular topping for the dish, but other toppings can be used as well. Almost every different area in Japan has a variation of ramen, for example Kyushu's tonkotsu, or pork bone broth

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Although ramen's significance lies in the Japanese culture, its origin is in China. Throughout the 1900s the popularity of ramen increased, but it was still a dish considered to be reserved for a special occasion. 

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Until 1958 when Momofuku Ando invented a dish dubbed the "greatest Japanese invention of the 20th century." This invention was instant ramen noodles. 

The founder and chairman of Nissin Foods invented a way to make ramen noodles by simply adding hot water. This invention is still incredibly popular today, consumed by people all over the world. A ramen museum was even been opened in Yokohama in 1994. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Ramen Noodles: Knowing Your Noodle [Series Part 2 of 4]

Ramen noodles have been a popular dish for centuries, allowing the development of  endless variations throughout regions of Japan, and even other parts of Asia. Most of the noodles are made from the same four basic ingredients: wheat, flour, water, salt, and kansui (an alkaline mineral water). 

Adding the kansui to the ingredients gives the noodles their yellowish tint and firm texture. Different recipes substitute eggs for the kansui. Despite the similarities in ingredients, the noodles can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes - some may be fat or thin, straight or wrinkled, or even ribbon-like. The broth generally calls for ingredients such as niboshi (dried baby sardines), onions, beef bones, kelp, also called kombu, and katsuobushi (tuna flakes). The flavors that are then added to the soup are what creates the different variations. There are four main variations to ramen noodles. 

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The first, and most likely oldest, is Shio, salt flavored ramen. It consists of a pale, clear broth made with chicken, vegetables, fish, seaweed and then flavored with salt. Pickled plums, chicken meatballs, and kamaboko are also popular toppings for this kind of ramen. Occasionally pork bones are used, but they are never boiled to ensure the soup keeps its pale color. 

The second variation is tonkotsu, or pork bone ramen. This soup has a cloudy, white colored broth. The broth is thicker than other types of ramen. Its thick broth, due to boiling pork bones, fat, and collagen for hours over high heat, rivals milk or gravy. This ramen is served with pickled ginger (been shoga), crushed garlic, and sesame seeds. Often times, small amounts of chicken and vegetable stock are blended into the pork broth. 

Shoyu, the third variation of ramen, is soy sauce ramen. The broth of this soup is typically a clear brown. Chicken and vegetables are added, sometimes beef or fish as well. Bamboo shoots, green onions, boiled eggs, bean sprouts, and sometimes Chinese spices make up Shoyu ramen- and of course soy sauce. Plenty of soy sauce is added to give the soup its tangy, salty taste. 

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The fourth type of ramen, Miso, is a relatively new recipe. This Miso is unique because it is the only type of ramen out of the four that is strictly Japanese. This soup features a broth that combines chicken broth with miso. The addition of lard to the list of ingredients makes the soup very hearty and thick. Spicy bean paste, bean sprouts, onions, ground pork, cabbage, sesame seeds, white pepper, and chopped garlic are all added to give Miso its tangy flavor. The noodles are most often thick and chewy. 

Ramen Soup: Tasty Variations by Region [SERIES Part 1 of 4]

Standard variations of ramen have been perfected over its centuries of popularity, but since the Taisho era regional variations have been popping up throughout Japan. Five of these regional variations have established national prominence.

The first of the five is Sapporo, the capital of Hokkaido, has become very famous for ramen. They are most well known for the variation of Miso ramen, which was also where it was invented. Sapporo miso ramen differs from other miso ramen with its additions of local seafood such as squid and scallop, as well as sweetcorn, butter, finely chopped pork, garlic, and bean sprouts. Other cities in Hokkaido are known for ramen as well, such as Hakodate - famous for their salt ramen- and Asahikawa, who prefers soy sauce flavored ramen dishes. 

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Kitakata of northern Honshu is known more for their unique noodles rather than their flavors. In Kitakata, you'll most likely be served ramen with thick, flat noodles in a pork-niboshi broth. Ramen is so prominent in this area that it has become the highest per-capita in ramen establishments. They even refer to ramen as soba, rather than actual soba- which they refer to as "Japanese soba". 

Tokyo's ramen differs in choice of noodle as well as broth. If you were to eat ramen "Tokyo style" you would be served a dish with thin, curly noodles in a chicken broth with a hint of soy. Their broth is unique due to the addition of a splash of dashi. Toppings can include chopped scallion, sliced pork, egg, nori, spinach, and menma. The three main areas of Tokyo famous for their ramen are Ogikubo, Ebisu, and Ikebukuro

In Yokohama, it is tradition for customers to call the shots. During preparation customers are given the choice of the softness of the noodles, the amount of oil they want to have put in, and the richness of the broth. Their ramen specialty is referred to as le-kei. Similar to tonkotsu, le-kei consists of thick, straight noodles in soy flavored pork broth. Toppings include pork, spinach, shredded onion, and a soft or hard boiled egg. 

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Rich, milky, pork-bone broth and thin, straight noodles make up Hakata ramen of the Hakata district of Fukuoka City located in Kyushu. A unique feature of Hakata ramen is that the toppings are often left on the table for the customers to pick and choose. Customers are left a variety of toppings to choose from such as pickled ginger, crushed garlic, sesame seeds, and pickled mustard greens. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

In Bhutan Happiness is the Measure of Success

Most countries' primary focus is increasing their national wealth and Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, but Bhutan is a different story. The Kingdom of Bhutan, a landlocked state in South Asia tucked neatly between the Himalayas, the Republic of India, and the People's Republic of China, prides itself not on their GDP, but on something else- a term they dubbed GNH. 

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GNH is a term coined in 1972 by Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan's fourth Dragon King. It stands for "Gross National Happiness". The term, GNH, serves to show Bhutan's dedication to building an economy based on Buddhist spiritual values

The leaders of Bhutan wished to prevent the loss of culture that seemed to occur with a country's increase in economic status. To prove their seriousness about this new development, Karma Ura developed a survey instrument designed to measure the population's general level of well-being.

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The "Four Pillars" of GNH are the promotion of sustainable development, preservation and promotion of cultural values, conservation of the natural environment, and the establishment of good governance

The government in Bhutan believes spiritual and psychological well being and happiness are far more important to a nation than wealth based on materials and economic status alone. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Takazawa Restaurant gives love to Japan with local Flavor

One of Tokyo's best kept secrets is also one of its most delicious, Takazawa Restaurant. With only three tables and a maximum of ten people served at a time, Takazawa is much more talked about than actually visited. Chef Yoshiaki Takazawa works virtually solo to whip up each customer some of Japan's most delicious dishes. 

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Chef Takazawa's wife Akiko works by his side warmly greeting and serving each customer. Akiko's fluent English makes the restaurant very tourist friendly. Recent changes have been made, but Takazawa's precision still remains the same. Changes include more use of local ceramics and chopsticks rather than knives and forks. Akiko explains these changes saying, "We wanted to give our love to Japan, to focus more on Japanese ingredients, flavors, and techniques." 

A night at Takazawa means eleven breath-taking courses, all specially prepared by the owner himself. The first dish of the night is a dish named "Sea", which includes a selection of percebes barnacles from northern Kyoto, a tiny pink crab, and honmirugai clam cooked in fish sauce, and strands of crunchy Okinawan umi-budo seaweed. 

The second course offers another selection of seafood, including soft white crab meat and green and red seaweed.

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Typically the next course would be the finale- but not at Takazawa, there are still eight courses left! Other dishes served during the meal include turtle soup, batter-fried sweetish, and sansai-mountain vegetables. The last course is dessert of tea, chocolates, and lime infused cheesecake

With ingredients changing seasonally, the Takazawa always has fresh, new dishes to liven up your night. 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Origins of Buddhism: India to China

Without remembering our past, we can never clearly step forward while remaining on our path.  

India, who had been practicing Buddhism for over 500 years, brought more than goods to China as they traveled along the silk road. 

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During the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD) , enlightened missionaries and hopeful traders were anxious to engage China and then move on to Europe as well.The Indians brought religion or a philosophy as well - specifically Buddhism.

The Han Dynasty was a time of strict Confuscian beliefs.The Han Dynasty did benefit from Confucianism. Because of it, the Han Dynasty improved and established the system of ruling the land by morals and ethics, something that the Qin Dynasty overlooked. The establishment of a Confucian state has helped Han Wudi rule for 54 years, making him one of the longest rulers in China’s history.

Many forms of buddhism had evolved within India, but the one that took hold in China was Mahayana Buddhism. Forms of Mahayana Buddhism include Zen Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism, and Tibetan Buddhism. 

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Mahayana Buddhism played an extensive role in the shaping of Chinese civilization- and as Buddhism spread to China, the Chinese civilization played an extensive role in how Buddhism could be developed and practiced! 

The religion has such an influence in China, large amounts of money and other human resources have been dedicated to the establishment of beautiful and elaborate temples and works of art. Today an estimated 100 million people in China follow Buddhism -- making it the largest religion of China! That's a lot of Buddhists!   

Friday, September 21, 2012

National Day starts China's Second Golden Week from Oct 1- 7

The start of October welcomes a very important week in China, a week filled with excitement and tradition. This week, starting October 1st and ending the 7th, is known as the second of two Golden Weeks. The beginning of this Golden Week is marked with the National Day of the People's Republic of China, which is celebrated October 1st. 

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The purpose of National Day is to acknowledge the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949. Despite recent controversies about whether the Golden Week should be kept of not, the tradition lives on and it will continue to be celebrated this 2012. This important holiday is celebrated throughout mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau

The streets are all a buzz as they are decorated to perfection and filled with people of all ages. An estimated 120 million people flock to China during this week! 

Many festivities come along with the holiday, such as concerts and breath taking fireworks displays. The beginning of Golden Week is officially marked with parades, political rallies, and a flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square

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A quarter of a million people travel to be at Tiananmen Square to witness the raising of the flag. This ceremony is representative of when Mao Zedong stood in the square and waved a red flag, officially announcing the new republic 63 years ago. Families show their national pride by decorating their homes with red flags, lights, and posters. This is a very exciting but very chaotic time in China as the people honor and celebrate their country. 

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sept 22 Japan Celebrates Autumnal Equinox

Autumnal Equinox Day is a public holiday in Japan, falling on the date of the Southward equinox in Japan Standard Time. This year the holiday will be celebrated on September 22nd

Originally related to Shintoism, the holiday was reconstructed to be a non-religious holiday -- for the sake of the separation of religion and state

It was officially declared a public holiday in 1948. In many cultures equinox day simply marks the changing of seasons, but to the Japanese it represents a way to pay respects to parents, grandparents, and other loved ones who have passed. 

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The Japanese refer to this period of time as "higan", meaning "other side of the river". Lasting for seven days, beginning three days before the equinox and ending three days after, higan is a time when the Japanese pray for their ancestors and visit family graves. This tradition has roots deep within the Buddhist tradition. Higan represents a side of the river in which people live, the other side is the realm where the souls who have passed live on.  

The Japanese people pay their respects in various ways, including cleaning the tombstones of their loved ones, offering flowers and food, praying, and burning incense. One of the more popular and traditional foods to offer is ohagi, adzuki-bean paste or soybean flour covered rice. 

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Bon, which occurs in August, is a time in Japanese culture when the souls of their ancestors come to visit them, so it is important to honor them by returning the visit during higan. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Respect for the Aged Day -- Sept 17

The Japanese people have always been some of the longest living people in the world, so to honor that longevity and the elderly people, Japanese people have a national holiday known as Respect For the Aged Day

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Every year this celebration falls on the third Monday of September, this year it is September 17th. The Japanese have traditionally referred to national holidays as "red days" due to the fact that they are marked in red on the Japanese calendars. 

In Japanese culture, the elderly have always had a very important place within society, being viewed as the most wise and knowledgable people. It is for this reason that Respect for the Aged Day, also known as keiro no hi, is a holiday taken very seriously by the people of Japan, young and old. 

Volunteers gather to distribute obento boxed lunches to the elderly people in their neighborhood, grandparents of elderly friends are treated to lunch, tea and sweets after the a special performance, called a keirokai ceremony, is held in their honor. 

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At the keirokai shows children and young people perform special dances and songs dedicated to the elderly people in their lives. Japanese tradition believes that after 60 you become a baby again because 60 years is one cycle on the Japanese calendar. So it is a tradition in Japan for people to wear red on their 60th birthday, being that in Japan babies are called "akachan", or red ones. This holiday is an opportunity for the people of Japan to spotlight the well-respected and much appreciated elderly members of their community. 

Due to the high number of people in the nation that are aging, Respect for the Aged Day is only going to become increasingly important as the years go on!