Flying Cards

By Ana Nguyen

March 11, 2017: The DC Inishie Karuta Club visited our class and we played a simpler version of karuta and a game called “Pick Up Priest.” Karuta is a card game in Japan that uses the “one hundred people” poems. In its simplest form, karuta is played by two players with cards laid out on either player’s side. A reciter reads a poem out loud and the players must grab the card with the poem on it first. That card is then removed. The person who is able to remove all the cards on their side wins. For our class we played in groups of four to five, with scattered cards in front of us; grabbing the card with the poem recited. Pick Up Priest however, is a game based on luck. Each player takes a turn picking a card, and each card will have a drawing that means: keep, take cards from person on the left, put your cards in the center, etc. The winner, like in karuta, is the person with the most cards in the end.

This was my first time seeing an example demonstration of karuta. I’ve heard of the game before but never understood the rules and just knew it requires reflexes and fast reading. Half of which, I didn’t have. The two players bowed to the reciter and then to each other. The first poem is read. No one moves yet. Then the second one is read, in a louder, quicker pace, then… ε=(ノ*^*)ノ三█ !!! The card, flew across the room. I think it hit the wall that was about 3 feet away.

I never knew how serious this sport can be taken. This game requires a lot of reflexes and speed. Which I didn’t have. I’m only a fast reader. I paired up with people with slow reflexes like me, hoping it’ll balance out the game. The reciter slowly read the poems for us, and scanning the hiragana…..failed. There were so many cards scattered around. I’m amazed by how the players before were able to find them within seconds of hearing the poem. Amazingly. I won! I was able to pick up 11 cards, with my slow reflexes. My only advantage was that I’m a book nerd who can read quickly. I enjoyed the whole event, and hope to play again.

Karuta and Pick-Up Priest (PUP)

By Dakharai Murray

Saturday we learned how to play an INTENSE card game, called Karuta. Karuta is a traditional Japanese card game revolving around a theme using poem clue cards and the answer (e.g., a picture) on separate cards. In the game, there are two players who play against each other and a third person who reads off Japanese poems. The players have to listen to the poem and SLAP the corresponding card into oblivion. Onlookers have a slight chance of being pelted by cards, but it’s worth it, as the game is very interesting and competitive. A winner is declared when one person has no cards left on their side. The game is very fast paced, requires mastery of Hiragana, and can only be won with lightning fast reflexes.

After watching the professionals go head to head, the class was split into groups for our own mini Karuta competition. Our Karuta reader read different Japanese poem cards and we all had to slap the life out of the correct card to claim it. I won the game within my group and received a box of oishii (delicious) Green Tea Kit-Kats.

Following the Karuta game, the Priest made his return when we played a game of Pick-Up Priest. In PUP, a deck of cards with different pictures of Japanese cultural figures [The Priest (my “favorite” card), Semimaru, A Lady, Tengu, Gentleman, Gentlemen on special mats, and Ladies on special mats] are placed in five decks, arranged in a circle. Each card has a special ability, (except for the regular Gentlemen), such as the Priest who makes the person who drew him put all their cards into the pot, which is in the middle of the card circle. Other cards, such as the Lady, allow you to take all the cards from the pot, and if some had crazy card stacks, but lost it all, IT’S PAY DAY!

PUP is a very fun game and entirely based on luck. Due to my nickname, Priest, my luck is a little on the bad side. However, PUP is a game that anyone will enjoy and play for hours on end.

In-Class Karuta

By Bryson Torgovitsky

This past Saturday, Ms. Matsumi Stone visited our class with two members of her Karuta-playing group, the D.C. Inishie Karuta Club. I had previously attended a Karuta competition that was sponsored by Ms. Stone, but I could not participate because I did not know any hiragana at that point (for more on the Karuta competition, please view my previous blog post “Priest”). However, I have since learned hiragana over the past few weeks along with my classmates, so now it was time to put those skills to the test.

Karuta is, at its core, a test of simultaneous reading and listening comprehension. A speaker reads one of the hundred set poems and it is the job of the two players (or teams, as was the case on Saturday) to identify and slap the card which has the hiragana of the poem’s second half. Since there are one-hundred poems, Ms. Stone demonstrated a few mnemonics to us so that the game would be easier. Personally, I was confused and stuck to listening to the words and connecting them to the cards. In the end, my team won the game (and a box of Matcha KitKats, which we shared with everyone at our table). After we had played Karuta, I got to revisit Pick-Up Priest! Unfortunately, the Grand Priest Dakharai was not in my group this time, but I got more than enough priests to make up for his absence. I still won a round though, and Ms. Stone gifted me with a beautiful fan with a picture of a dragon on it!

Ms. Stone also described to us how European card games, collectively named as “trump,” are popular in Japan. While I do enjoy a game of War or Mao, I would much rather play Karuta or Pick-Up Priest!

Iki

By Chi Onyeka

Iki is the concept of doing well, but not in an effort to stand out. For instance, comparing two rich men, the one who wears expensive clothing with the biggest house, the most security guards, and the shiniest shoes, would be less iki than a rich man who doesn’t show off his money, but is still doing well…maybe even more than the aforementioned rich man.

This is completely different from the American perspective, because here we strive to stand out and are admired when we do. For example, take the rich man scenario. The man with most expensive items (bling if you will) would be admired more than the one who’s modest. Iki is a concept I admire because it demotes conceitedness. Braggarts are more common in American society because they seek admiration without thinking of how cocky they might sound. Iki would be a good thing to introduce into American culture just so that no one feels less important than another.

Japan and Work Ethic

By Bryson Torgovitsky

In my most recent post, I reviewed the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and the work ethic exhibited by Yoshikazu Ono, the son of renowned sushi chef Jiro Ono. I expressed how impressed I was by Yoshikazu’s tenacity when learning how to make tamagoyaki and how that tenacity was explained in the documentary as a shining example of Japanese work ethic. When I discussed the documentary with my teacher, she recommended that I read a section of A Geek in Japan by Héctor García about the apprenticeship system in Japan. After hearing from the (Japanese) food critic in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” that Yoshikazu Ono was a prime example of how the Japanese operate in their jobs, I was impressed but skeptical that such tenacity was such a widespread phenomenon. Once I read Geek in Japan and learned about the three-step Tao-Zen philosophy, I was assured that the food critic was speaking honestly and not from a patriotic bias.

The steps of the Tao-Zen philosophy are fairly simple.

  1. A set of ideals, patterns, or behaviors (culminating into a lifestyle called kata) has been set prior to the beginning of an apprenticeship.
  2. That kata is practiced by the apprentice for many years, with each part being practiced via daily repetition.
  3. The beauty of the kata is found through the perfection of its multiple parts over time, then fit into its continued practice, thus leading to personal enlightenment.

While García exemplified the practice of Tao-Zen through references to Buddhism (from which the philosophy originated) and martial arts, it is also apparent in how Jiro taught his son how to make tamagoyaki. As I wrote previously, Jiro had Yoshikazu practice by making over 200 practice tamagoyaki dishes and found faults in all of them before finally deeming his son’s cooking acceptable enough to be sold to their customers. That amount of daily repetition is part of the second step of the Tao-Zen philosophy. Jiro’s application of Tao-Zen to the teaching of his son is made more evident by his visit, with his son, to a Buddhist temple during a trip to his childhood home.

While the Tao-Zen philosophy being prevalent in how Jiro Ano taught his son is clearly evidenced by Jiro having Yoshikazu repeatedly make tamagoyaki as practice, and his Buddhist roots, I want to avoid making a generalization that all Japanese people follow Tao-Zen. Jiro Ono himself complained that people are doing less disciplined work in his documentary, citing parents who allowed their children to return home if their job did not go as planned or young people not establishing a lifelong career until their 20s or 30s (he began his apprenticeship in sushi-making at the age of 10 and was told by his father to leave home for work in the first grade). Thus, I am still uncertain about the true extent of Tao-Zen in contemporary Japan despite what the food critic claimed. When I finally get to see Japan for myself, I plan to pay close attention to working people and ask how they were prepared for their jobs so I can obtain a firmer comprehension of Japanese lifestyle.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

By Bryson Torgovitsky

I took the SAT multiple choice test (and essay) on March 1st, and my AP Language and Composition teacher kindly decided to let my class and me watch a documentary rather than write our weekly practice essay when we came to her class the next morning. After some debate about which documentary we could watch on Netflix (our teacher wanted us to choose one from which we could identify what the film was asking of the audience), we chose the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” This hour-and-then-some film catalogues the daily life of Jiro Ono, an 85 year-old Japanese man who is renowned as the greatest sushi chef in the world. Being in a Japanese class, this film naturally intrigued me.

A large portion of the documentary followed the day-to-day chores of Sukiyabashi Jiro, Jiro Ono’s restaurant with only 10 seats and a ¥30,000 month-in-advance reservation fee (which does not include the price of a meal). Seeing all the different types of sushi and the careful preparation made me, a person who is not a huge fan of seafood, hungry for sushi!

tamagoyakiA small section of the film was dedicated to Jiro’s eldest son and future successor, Yoshikazu, describing his experience with learning how to make tamagoyaki, a dish made from pan-fried egg. I have had tamago sushi rolls at the Wasabi sushi shop in Tysons Corner Mall, and they are my favorite kind since I don’t like seafood very much, but still want to eat sushi with my friends! Yoshikazu’s tamagoyaki looked so good that I plan to learn how to make it, and the discipline that he put into his work made me appreciate what a food critic, who frequents Sukiyabashi Jiro, calls the Japanese work ethic.

Yoshikazu explained that he had ten years of training with other types of sushi prior to being allowed to attempt making tamagoyaki for the customers. He had assumed that tamagoyaki would be easy to make compared to other sushi types, but as his father tasted over 200 of his practice dishes and had disapproved of each one, he recognized the difficulty of making tamagoyaki. Regardless, he persisted and came to make tamagoyaki that his gourmet father approved for sale. Not once did he consider quitting his efforts or arguing to his father that his dish was good despite what he said. He absorbed each criticism and kept working and improving. This kind of trait is one I wish to learn more about, since I can be argumentative when my work is criticized. If it truly is a staple characteristic of the Japanese workforce, then I believe that I could learn how to take criticism better by studying or working in Japan, so I will keep working and improving my Japanese!

yoshikazu

Yoshikazu in the workplace says, “I have been practicing
making the egg sushi (tamagoyaki) for a long time.”

Iki

By Charity Chukwu

Do you know someone who seems to be amazing without even trying? They’re wise, skillful, well-rounded, and know it, but are very humble and try to avoid unnecessary drama. This is iki, a Japanese term used to describe people, things, and situations that excel and express individuality without being too flashy or always striving for perfection. An example would be a simple dress with a jacket and flats. Gluing sparkles all over the dress would not be iki. A minivan is iki, but any car from the “Fast and Furious” franchise is not. Baking a cake for your friend’s birthday party would be iki. Baking a huge, multi-layered cake with their face on it for every guest is not.

You get the point.

I seriously relate to this term. It is a crucial part to how I live my life. When you know that you’re truly doing great things, you don’t have to show off because everyone else probably has already taken notice. Iki is, in a way, what everyone wants to be. Always trying to get people to pay attention to you for things like beauty, money, and grades is exhausting. It’s nice to be appreciated for the real you.

Because iki is definitely not average.