IPPUDO’s Ramen King on What It Takes to Run a Ramen Restaurant

If you’re interested in trying out IPPUDO ramen, they’re going to be at Waku Waku +NYC! While the average anime convention can’t provide more than overpriced hot dogs for reasons beyond their control, at Waku Waku +NYC you’ll get to eat ramen so authentic you’ll make Naruto jealous. Buy your tickets today!

Shigemi Kawahara, also known as the “Ramen King,” is one of the prime players in the global popularization of the Japanese noodle soup dish, pushing its reputation beyond the “cheap eats” image of instant ramen. His restaurant chain, IPPUDO, has stores in Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Thailand, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Philippines, and New York City.

In this video, Kawahara not only shows his method for cooking delicious ramen, but also dispenses with some advice for living and pursuing your dreams.

Some choice quotes:

There are plenty of hopefuls who say, “I don’t have the money so I can’t start my own restaurant.” Well you can start a restaurant without money. What’s important is to think, “Let’s do it!” I think what’s most vital is how hard you’re willing to work to fulfill your dreams. That’s why, when people like that talk, I don’t even listen to half of what they say.

 

The starting point for my business was like this: “I want to eat the ramen I make! I want to create a particular space for my restaurant! I want to be the proprietor! I want to welcome customers in! I want to talk with them, have live discussions with them! About the universe, about family, about anything… that’s the kind of space I wanted.

Though ramen likely has its origins as an adaptation of a Chinese dish, ramen has over the decades become a distinctly Japanese food. There are countless variations, with different broths, ingredients, and even noodle types. Anyone who’s tried the real deal will tell you that instant ramen, while perhaps still delicious, pales in comparison.

 

Rozen Maiden and the Five Lolita Fashion Styles

Rozen Maiden and the Five Lolita Fashion Styles

Lolita Fashion can be a surprisingly complex subject, given all of the various permutations, trends, and personal touches that go into it. The video above, from famed Lolita Fashion line “Baby, the Stars Shine Bright” and Misako Aoki, helps to clarify the five main styles—Traditional, Sweet, Classical, Gothic, and Prince.

What I’ve come to realize is that the characters in the manga and anime Rozen Maiden, about living Victorian-style dolls who fight each other in order to become “Alice,” all correspond to these five Lolita Fashion archetypes. It’s allowed me to commit these categories to memory, so maybe it’ll help you too!

By the way, we’re having Baby, the Stars Shine at Waku Waku +NYC, including “Alice and the Pirates” Designer Masumi Kano. Order your tickets today for a chance to meet her and see the latest in Lolita Fashion!

Traditional Lolita

Described as consisting of “cute, girlish dresses made from plain, natural-toned fabric and lace,” the Traditional Lolita, appropriately, corresponds with the main doll in Rozen Maiden, Shinku. In support of this, Shinku sports both the signature headdress of the Traditional style, as well as twin ponytails.

 Sweet Lolita

 Characterized as emphasizing a childish look, “pink color from head to toe,” and patterns consisting of cute items, the doll Hina Ichigo embodies the concept of “Sweet Lolita” in both body and mind. Just remember her love of sweets (strawberry daifuku), and not so much her love of hamburgers topped with flower-shaped eggs.

 Classical Lolita

 Two characters in Rozen Maiden take cues from the Classical Lolita look: Suiseiseki and Kanaria. Both wear outfits that emphasize lace, delicate ribbons, and “mature elegance.” While it’s arguable just how mature and elegant these two characters are, just remember their outfits more than their personalities.

 Gothic Lolita

Perhaps the most well-known Lolita Fashion style, Gothic Lolita is known for its heavy use of black and qualities that evoke the image of a witch. Naturally, the darkest and most eerie dolls of Rozen Maiden correspond to this distinction: the disturbed Suigintou and the mysterious Kirakishou.

 Prince Lolita

 Also known as “Boy Style,” the key items of this particular look are short pants and a silk hat, as well as short hair either achieved naturally or through the use of a wig. Souseiseki, Suiseiseki’s twin, fits this description to a tee, being the only doll in Rozen Maiden to feature all three of those qualities.

Just as the distinctions between Lolita Fashion styles themselves can sometimes be fairly nebulous, in actuality the different Rozen Maiden dolls aren’t so rigidly categorized either, but I think this is a useful starting point for those wishing to learn more about Lolita Fashion.

So, which style do you prefer?

-Carl

In Japan, Ketchup is Not a Crime

Ketchup is as controversial a condiment as they come in the United States. While it’s as ubiquitous as it is red, ketchup also has a reputation for appealing to unrefined palates. It’s virtually considered blasphemy to use ketchup with a Chicago dog, and while the rules are more lax in New York City, mustard is the go-to standard at the Original Nathan’s Famous hot dog stand in Coney Island.

Given this contempt for ketchup, I find it rather fascinating that the stuff has been embraced by Japan as both a topping and as a key ingredient in a variety of dishes. While many of the foods that incorporate ketchup in Japanese cuisine aren’t the most refined, the following examples show just how far ketchup can go.

Spaghetti Napolitan

While spaghetti with ketchup was a staple of US Depression-era cooking, today it’s reviled as an affront to all that’s good in the world, and an easy way to offend Italians. However, ketchup on spaghetti continues to be popular in Japan. Spaghetti napolitan consists of onion, button mushrooms, green peppers, sausage, bacon, Tabasco sauce, and often uses tomato ketchup. It works partly because the ketchup is used in moderation and doesn’t overpower the rest of the flavors, a valuable lesson for just about any open-minded chef.

Omurice

Ketchup on rice almost sounds like an accident, but in Japan it takes the form of “omelet rice,” a bed of rice enveloped by delicious egg. You may have come across it in anime and manga, often served in maid cafes with a giant ketchup heart or messages on top. One thing that’s not as obvious is that ketchup is mixed into the rice, and much like spaghetti napolitan it is anything but excessive.

Ebi chili (Prawns/Shrimp in Chili Sauce)

Anyone who’s watched Iron Chef knows that prawns in chili sauce is Iron Chef Chinese Chen Kenichi’s signature dish. It’s also one of the most common Chinese dishes in Japan, alongside mapo tofu and chaahan, or Chinese fried rice. As revealed in the show, ebi chili was originally a Sichuan dish that Chen’s father, Chen Kenmin, introduced to Japan. However, Japanese people generally do not like spicy foods, so in order to mellow out the strong Sichuan spices, he used ketchup, and it’s been a part of the dish ever since. Again, we can see how ketchup was viewed as an ingredient deserving of respect, and that something unique and flavorful came out of it.

If you’re a fan of ketchup already, does this make Japanese food sound even better? If ketchup isn’t your thing, would you still give these dishes a chance?

And if you’re looking to try a wide variety of Japanese dishes, come to Waku Waku +NYC, an even that celebrates not just food but also anime, manga, film, fashion, and all aspects of Japanese popular culture! Tickets are on sale now.

-Carl

 

Marty Friedman, from MEGADETH to ANIME

To many, former MEGADETH lead guitarist Marty Friedman needs little introduction. However, did you know that he’s fluent in Japanese through self-teaching, lives in Japan, and has composed music for anime?

Friedman challenged himself to learn Japanese, finding a correspondence course at the University of Oklahoma and later forcing himself to only speak Japanese in interviews even if it made him sound foolish to a native Japanese audience.

As anyone who studies a foreign language extensively will tell you, immersion is by far the best way to learn a new language, and even if you can’t move to another country or town, you can find ways to try and produce an immersive environment. For example, artist Felipe Smith (Peepo ChooGhost Rider), in preparation for moving to Japan to become a manga artist, got a job at a karaoke joint so he could be surrounded by Japanese speech at all times. Friedman similarly dived head-first into immersion despite having a reputation to uphold as one of the best guitarists in the world.

In 2003, Friedman moved to Japan. In fact, as someone who’s not as well-versed in metal (though I recall a friend from childhood who breathed the stuff), my first exposure to Marty Friedman was through the late night show, “Rock Fujiyama.” A program dedicated to celebrating metal and rock from around the world, Friedman was a mainstay of the show as they brought out music guests from both inside and outside of Japan and essentially rocked out together.

So, what shows has Friedman composed for? You might think Detroit Metal City, or maybe something super intense and hardcore, like Blood C. In actuality, it’s nothing quite so metal. He’s credited for the following songs:

The Rock Lee & His Ninja Pals first opening, and the ending theme to the third series of Maria Watches Over Us, a yuri anime about a student council at an all girls’ school.

Gokigenyou, Marty Friedman.

-Carl

PS: While we can’t guarantee that Marty Friedman will be there, we’re running a convention this August 29-30 in Brooklyn, NY that will celebrate the intersection of various elements of Japanese popular culture, including music. Check us out at http://wakuwakunyc.com

Otaku Counter-Protest Against a Hate Speech Demonstration in Akihabara

May 17th saw a group of demonstrators in Akihabara, the otaku capital of Japan, rallying against the presence of foreigners living in Japan. Declaring that foreigners are “criminals” and should leave the country, as well as targeting international non-profit organizations in Japan, this hate speech was countered by another group who, in a show of camaraderie with the foreigners in Japan, declared that “otaku have no borders.”

Akihabara is no stranger to public displays nor traumatic events. In 2008, Tomohiro Kato killed seven people and injured 10 others in a violent rampage in broad daylight, which resulted in heightened security and a tenser atmosphere in Akihabara until 2011. At the time, criticism arose that the sense of isolation often associated with “otaku behavior” might be having a negative influence on Japanese society.

Although the anti-foreigner demonstration did not appear to have any specific ties to anime and manga fans, it is rather notable that the counter-protest was specifically under the banner of otaku against racism in Japan. While being an otaku does not automatically mean that one is a strong believer in cultural diversity, it does potentially speak to some of the values that underline Akihabara, especially as it has become internationally famous as a spiritual home for geeks and fans of Japanese popular culture over the past 15 to 20 years. It’s as if, by putting their self-identities as otaku at the forefront of the counter-protest, the otaku protesters were declaring that Akihabara is no place for close-minded racism, while also striving to show that being an otaku does not necessarily mean isolation from society.

More pictures of the counter-protest can be seen courtesy of Natsuki Kimura.

The Waku Waku +NYC Blog’s List of Top 10 Magical Girls

Magical Girls have for decades been a staple of anime and manga. They’ve gone from witches who use their powers to play pranks, to girls who embody the desire to become adults, to powerful warriors and more.

I’m personally quite a fan of magical girls and all that they represent (dreams, potential, transformation, etc.), so I’d like to go over my list of Top 10 Magical Girls.

mami

10) Mami Tomoe, Madoka Magica

Madoka’s mentor at the beginning of Madoka Magica, Mami makes an immediate impression with her flintlock weaponry and calm and confident demeanor. No one who has watched Madoka Magica can ever forget mami.

umi

9) Umi Ryuuzaki, Magic Knight Rayearth

All three of the Magic Knights are great characters in their own right, but Umi’s cool yet passionate demeanor makes quite the impression. Her personal magical robot, the Mashin Ceres, is also incredible.

potc

8) Himari Takakura (Princess of the Crystal), Mawaru Penguindrum

With a shout of “SURVIVAL STRATEGY” and a cover of a classic J-Rock song, the Princess of the Crystal makes things more surreal and contemplative than what you’d expect out of a show that features adorable penguins so prominently.

sucy

7) Sucy Manbavaran, Little Witch Academia

Studio Trigger’s (Kill la Kill, Ninja Slayer from Animation) entry in the 2013 Anime Mirai project was full of fun and vibrant characters, but the potion-obsessed Sucy stands at the top. Her Cheshire Cat-esque smile belies her desire to experiment.

ami

6) Ami Mizuno (Sailor Mercury), Sailor Moon

There are seemingly tons of Sailor Guardians to choose from, but Sailor Mercury’s smarts, love of literature, and candid hamburger photograph leave an unforgettable impression. “Douse yourself in water and repent!”

curesword

5) Makoto Kenzaki (Cure Sword), DokiDoki! Precure

Many magical girls transform from regular girls, but the Blade of Courage” was originally a magical girl who disguises herself as a human being. Makoto’s “pop idol by day, warrior by night” dual life is one of the most interesting parts of an already strong series.

comet

4) Comet, Cosmic Baton Girl Princess Comet

Comet has taken many forms over the years, including two live-action actors and a manga, but the 2001 anime features this magical girl at her best. An alien princess from Planet Harmonica, her love for the simple things on Earth is genuine.

kinomotosakura

3) Sakura Kinomoto, Cardcaptor Sakura

Coming from one of the best magical girl series there is, Sakura’s enthusiasm and never-give-up attitude (unless it involves ghosts) allow her to forge friendships with everyone she meets. Her path from regular girl to Clow Card master is a sight to behold.

aiko

2) Aiko Senoo, Ojamajo Doremi

The tomboy of the group, what makes her really stand out is her combination of confidence and honest consideration for others. She supports her family and her friends, but is willing to tell it like it is if they’re acting like idiots (which they often are).

curemarine

1) Erika Kurumi (Cure Marine), Heartcatch Precure!

A whirling dynamo of boundless energy, eccentricity, love of fashion, and passion for her friends, the boisterous Cure Marine frequently steals the show in an already astoundingly good anime series. She’s the perfect complement to her teammate and friend Cure Blossom, as both of them defy the standard expectations of their archetypes, helping each other to grow and mature along the way.

So do you agree with this list of great magical girls, or is there anyone I overlooked? Do you feel like the list is too biased towards “blue” characters? Feel free to discuss in the comments below!

And if you’re looking for an event in the New York City area where you can meet and talk with your fellow fans of Japanese popular culture, check out Waku Waku +NYC!

-Carl

Sailor Moon Was My Gateway into Japanese Food

I grew up with Sailor Moon. I remember waking up at 6:30am in the morning just to catch episodes, and increasingly found myself drawn into its world and its characters.

If I were to list my top 3 nostalgic Sailor Moon moments, they would be…

  1. The final battle against Queen Metallia
  2. Usagi (Serena back then) revealing herself to be Sailor Moon to Tuxedo Mask
  3. The curry episode

That last one might have you scratching your head, so let me explain.

Titled “Usagi’s Parental Love? A Curry Triangle Relationship” in Japanese and “A Curried Favor” in English, the episode was mostly just a self-contained bit of hijinks that ends with Usagi making a rather grotesque-looking curry that somehow turns out to be quite delicious. It was the first time I’d heard of curry in a Japanese context, and though that might not seem like much, I think it put me on a path towards wanting to try more Japanese food.

sailormooncurry

Japanese food in cartoons did not always get the best reputation. Sushi is now a big deal, but back in the days of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, for example, most kids followed the Turtles in expressing disgust towards “raw fish.” Perhaps one significant factor is that the sushi seen in TMNT looked nothing like the real thing. If anything, it appeared to be drawn by aliens who had only heard of sushi through satellite transmissions.

Even if Usagi’s curry didn’t look like “proper” curry, just the idea that it could bring such joy and was not contrasted with pizza or another familiar dish in the US left an impression on me. Looking back, it was also impressive that the old English dub translated it to “curry” instead of calling it “beef stew,” like how the Pokémon anime would call onigiri rice balls “donuts” and “popcorn balls.”

While curry isn’t exclusive to Japanese culture, Japanese curry is its own unique thing compared to, say, Indian or Thai curry. It’s more like a stew, tends to be much less spicy, and has a reputation as a real comfort food. I think that last aspect might epitomize Usagi’s curry: much like a favorite pair of jeans it might not look worn down, but you know that it just makes you feel at home.

By the way, in the past you could actually buy “Sailor Moon Curry.” I doubt it properly reflected that “disaster on a plate” look, though.

sailormooncurrybox

You can watch the curry episode of Sailor Moon available on Hulu. Check it out and see if it fills you with the desire to eat curry that’s ugly on the outside but wonderful on the inside.

And if you want to try some delicious Japanese food while enjoying some of the best that Japanese anime and manga, film, fashion, and more, check out Waku Waku +NYC this August 29-30th! Tickets are on sale now.

-Carl