Book Review | Wrong about Japan : a father’s journey with his son by Peter Carey

wrong about japan peter carey.jpgCarey and his son travel to Japan and meet with various anime and manga experts, artists/writers and publishers. This delightful little book is a quick read, which highlights the essences of Carey’s “interviews” and thoughts. From meeting Mr. Miyazaki and Mr. Tomino, men behind some of Japan’s most popular anime, to a traditional sword maker and a teenage Mr. Donut, Carey has created a book of interest to pop culture fans and the general Japanophile.

I picked up this book to get in the groove for an upcoming trip to Japan. I laughed aloud as I read about dining experiences and appreciated cultural references that may be helpful during my travel. Having seen most of the referenced animes certainly provided me with a background for better understanding and relating to the text, but one does not have to be an anime nerd to get something from this book. This nonfiction is fun and easy to digest. Check it out from a library near you!

*If you’ve enjoyed reading Wrong About Japan, you may be interested in The Ramen King and I: How the Inventor of Instant Noodles Fixed My Love Life by Andy Raskin (2009)

Exhibition | Minidoka on My Mind: Paintings and Prints by Roger Shimomura at KSU’s Beach Museum of Art

 “I offer this exhibition as a metaphor for the impending threat posed by current times, and as a warning and reminder that during international crises our government seems to consistently lose its memory regarding past mistakes.” 

-Roger Shimomura
Shimomura began the series “Minidoka on My Mind” in 2008. The paintings and prints are based on his experience and his grandmother’s journal about their time in an internment camp during World War II. Shimomura offers a uniquely Midwestern point of view on being Asian American and racial discrimination at the time. Most of the images in this collection include the barbed wire present in the camps and imitate more traditional Japanese artistic styles.
The exhibit is on display in the Beach Museum’s Hyle Family Gallery from April 5 through July 17, 2016.         

Book Review | The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

book cover the strange library by haruki murakami english edMurakami followers are psyched about this month’s English release of illustrated novella The Strange Library. Previously released in Japan in 2005 as Fushigi na toshokan, the work was a revised edition of 1982 story Toshokan kitan. At just about 100 pages, this book is really a bedtime story for adults. The story follows a student to the public library. He’s looking for some books about tax collection in the Ottoman Empire when the librarian refers him to a research room that he hasn’t previously heard of. Upon entering the room, he’s greeted by an eerie old man who fetches the books he’s after, but then imprisons him deep in the bowels of the library.

Long time Murakami fans will be delighted with the return of the sheepman from the “Trilogy of the Rat”: Pinball, 1973, A Wild Sheep Chase and Dance Dance Dance. More recent fans will appreciate stylistic similarities and textual magical realism or surrealism. This book will get you laughing. Though this story could be thought of for children, it may also make them afraid of the library or older librarians – beware. Check to see if this book is available at a library near you. After you’ve finished reading it, hop over to the New Yorker’s page to read Murakami’s short story Scheherazade that they published in October.

Book Review | Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

book cover Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki MurakamiMore than a year after its release in Japan, Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, debuted in English last month. The wait had been a long one for Murakami fans who quickly devoured the previous tome, 1Q84, after its English release in 2011. Colorless currently tops the New York Times hardcover fiction list, just as Japanese sellers struggled to keep up with buyer demand for the release in April last year. The sales may be more of a nod to Murakami’s successful career and fan following than a reflection of this book’s greatness in comparison to others he’s written.

Main character Tsukuru Tazaki is an engineer in his mid-30’s working to update and build railway stations near Tokyo. He’s dating a slightly older woman and finds it to be one of his first meaningful relationships, but seems stuck with how to progress. As they get to know each other better, she deduces that his current emotional troubles have deep roots going back to friendship bonds formed in high school. Through the book, we witness Tsukuru battling past and present demons in a meaningful and mostly straight-forward way.

This book left me wanting more. Of course, as a fan, I’d like each new Murakami book to be better than the last, but this novel wasn’t better. Murakami does a great job laying a difficult story line and keeping the serious and somber tone without over-dramatizing, but something seems missing. Colorless does not have some of the same elements of magical realism or surrealism as other Murakami favorites like A Wild Sheep Chase or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but it has a few missing connections that don’t quite come together, like in After Dark. Overall, I enjoyed the book. The characters were realistic and many Murakami-isms came through – classical and jazz music, Cutty Sark, swimming, dreams and interpersonal relationships. The novel allowed the reader to pass into the life of another (slice of life), a realistic portrayal of what someone else might have struggled with. For Murakami fans, or those interested in a serious, somewhat psychological read, check out Colorless from the library if you can handle the hold queue, or buy the ebook on Google Play.

Food Review | Ramen Bowls – Lawrence, KS

Lunch at Ramen Bowls left me with ramen on the brain all afternoon. Let me talk about a fabulous bowl of ramen. I’ve lived in San Francisco and Los Angeles and this is the most memorable bowl of ramen I’ve eaten to date.

Ramen Bowls Kitchen

Ramen Bowls Kitchen

It was by chance that my partner and I discovered Ramen Bowls just off Massachusetts on 10th Street. It was opened in September of 2013 by a couple who had lived in Hawaii and, now in Kansas, missed authentic ramen. I missed the myriad of ramen places on the West Coast and read through the menu (pictured below) in the window. Though there are other menu offerings beside ramen, all I could think was: Hot ramen, yum!

Upon entering, we were offered a table downstairs (there are just a few) or seating in the upstairs loft. We chose the loft, which offered an inviting island feel with colored paper lanterns and light wood. Our server was a delightful Japanese girl who attended to us promptly and with a big smile. My partner ordered the Veggie Ramen and I ordered the Haole Ramen with braised tofu instead of chicken and no onions. The ramen arrived much faster than I had expected and we both enjoyed our first bites. Our server asked if we would like to add some spice and offered Sriracha and house-made chili oil. The addition of the chili oil was really what made the dish outstanding.

Chili oil

Chili oil

Veggie Ramen photo by Stephie G. on yelp.com

Veggie Ramen (by Stephie G. on yelp)

Haole Ramen by John M. on yelp.com

Haole Ramen w. extras (by John M. on yelp)

The Haole Ramen had straight house-made noodles, a chicken and fish broth, and expertly cooked braised tofu (plus the spinach I stole from my partner’s bowl). Add the chili oil and I couldn’t stop eating until the solids were gone and I’d slurped up just about all of the remaining broth. My partner’s veggie Ramen had squiggly noodles, veg broth, spinach, mushrooms and green onions. His broth was tastier than I’d expected and the fresh spinach was great, I just wish his noodles had been cooked 30 seconds or a minute longer. I could not shut up all afternoon about how much I loved the ramen.

Further Reading: