November 25, 2007
e-obento.com — Mari Miyazawa's lunchbox art
Ms. Miyazawa, one of the most recognized lunchbox artists in lunchbox art-crazy Japan, has hosted e-obento.com since 2004, guiding it to its preeminent position as one of the country's premier Internet destinations for all things bento-related.
More on the subject in Chisake Watanabe's March 20, 2007 Associated Press story, which follows.
Japanese mothers turn lunchboxes into high art
Kazumi Shimomura's kitchen table is cluttered with tools not usually associated with cooking: A pair of tweezers, a razor knife and a digital camera.
Her culinary style is just as unique.
She sculpts rice colored with egg yolks into the shape of a dinosaur, fashions its eye with sliced cheese and strips of seaweed. Star-shaped pieces of okra adorn the belly.
"I just wanted my son to have fun when he goes to day care on Saturdays," explains Shimomura as she uses tweezers to place tiny teeth-shaped bits of cheese in the dinosaur's mouth.
Spending hours meticulously perfecting a meal that will be gobbled down in a school cafeteria by her 6-year-old son hardly seems like time well-invested.
But lunch-box art marries the age-old Japanese penchant for precision and aesthetics with the country's modern, shrinking, affluent nuclear family, where fewer children mean moms have more time and money to lavish on their little emperors. The intricate presentations are also a public way for mothers — who often forgo careers to cater to their families — to demonstrate their devotion to motherhood, dedication to their children's nutrition and creative skills.
"This is rather about my pride," acknowledged Miho Tsukamoto, 41, the mother of two in the western city of Osaka. "My son boasts about my cooking to his friends, so I can't stop doing this."
The boxed lunch — known in Japan as "bento" — has been around for a long time.
The prototype of modern bento dates back to the late feudal period between the 17th and 19th centuries. With industrialization came mass production: office workers buy them in train stations, convenience stores and food courts.
Nursery schools typically require children to bring home-cooked bentos and some wives make them for husbands. But the creations of Shimomura and others go way beyond the humble arrangement of fish, rice and vegetables that Japanese subsisted on in the past.
The lunches — like other types of Japanese art — often feature a seasonal motif like fireworks in summer or snowmen in winter. Others recreate popular cartoon characters or famous people such as the popular Japanese pop duo Puffy, or even Mozart.
Details are prized. Slivers of carrots are sculpted into a crab on a bed of rice; avocado slices, fried tofu and black sesame seeds morph into Frankenstein's face — with seaweed stitches on his forehead.
"I never make the same thing twice. I just think about what to make next time," said Shimomura, 38, as she leafed through albums of digital photos of her own work at her home outside Tokyo.
Housewives have taken their lunchbox exhibitions online, where Internet journals feature up-to-date photos of the latest works. Cooking books catering to the trend are proliferating, and companies even host contests.
The blogs provide a forum for mothers to exchange esoteric tips such as how to dye egg white blue. The answer? Add purple sweet potato powder and cook in the frying pan.
The trend has struck a chord with stay-at-home mothers, many of whom retire early when they have children, but still have plenty of creative energy to spare.
"Beside wanting to create things, you also have other motivations, like you want to please someone, or be famous for what you make," said Kunihiro Nakazato, editor for Tokyo-based publishing company X-Knowledge Co., which has put out at least one bento cookbook.
Mari Miyazawa, the host of a popular site, e-obento.com, since 2004, said she started making bento to save money, but now it's become a full-time job: she's authored three cookbooks and is one of the most recognized lunchbox artists in the country.
45, a former computer graphics artist, says that making bento art is more demanding because it's impossible to edit — you either get it right nor not.
"I finally found the perfect medium," she said.
'Good morning, madam' — Stephen Fry will wake you up
A bookofjoe World Exclusive™, just in from Simon Carr:
"Dear Joe: You were very nice about my clocks earlier in the year, and I'm emboldened thereby to send you news of the new version "Good Morning Madam" (also voiced by Stephen Fry). It's quite fun. 'Don't make it too girlie!', female customers said, and I hope it's not."
Your wake-up call's at www.voco.uk.com.
Tell Simon I sent you and he might even give you an autograph.
It's hard not to do whatever Simon says... wait a minute, that's rather catchy — but I digress.
Back in May, after I featured Simon's first speaking clock, he wrote, "The book of Joe. It's a sort of Elysium Fields. You aren't the eponymous Joe, are you, by any chance?"
Be still my heart.
Elysium Fields is precisely what it's all about.
Odd thing: I ventured over to MTV Desi only to learn that "MTV Desi is off the air...."
Wonder what's up wit dat?
And is there a relationship between MTV Desi's going dark and this new website popping up?
Here's Jurgensen's story.
- Music: South Asian Sounds
A new Web site aims to help introduce Indian culture to a Western audience
Globalization introduced the business culture of South Asia to the West. Now, a Silicon Valley Web site is trying to do the same for the region's music.
Desihits.com, launched by a former headhunter of Indian descent and her husband, a former London DJ, has become a clearinghouse for all sounds "Desi," the colloquial term for people and things with South Asian roots. The site's streaming radio shows include songs from Bollywood films, melodramatic Indian musicals marked by thunderous drums, surging strings and traditional vocals that slide like mercury. Another genre category, Urban Desi, features songs geared for clubs that are propelled by hypnotic vocals, indigenous drums, hip-hop beats and raps in English.
Popular acts featured on the site include Sona Family, a London-based quartet that sounds like the Black Eyed Peas infused with traditional Indian bhangra music.
But because the site targets the Desi diaspora, its coverage is salted with U.S. acts. This week, for instance, the Desi Hits blog interspersed news about rapper Kanye West with gossip about Bollywood starlet Aishwarya Rai. Desi Hits Chief Executive Anjula Acharia Bath says Western listeners are "bored" with hip-hop. "The Indian influence just gives it a new flavor," she says. She launched the site in January, several years after moving to San Jose, Calif., from London with her husband, Ranj Bath, to work for an executive search firm.
She says 700,000 unique visitors from 68 countries came to the site this month, a 35% rise in traffic over the month before. Now she is aiming to attract U.S. entertainers hoping to gain a foothold in India. Ahead of his first concert appearance in India this month, rapper 50 Cent sat down with a Desi Hits host for a video interview.
Mini Maraca Key Chain
Now you can form your very own conga line at the office on the cheap.
From the website:
- Mini Maraca Key Chain
Give your keys a little shake, rattle and roll with these wooden maraca key chains!
Each 3" maraca has a bright painted design.
The good news is they cost 41¢ apiece.
The bad news is you have to buy 12 of them, for $4.95.
Take up a collection, you'll be glad you did.
Dusuasa I — by El Anatsui
by the great Ghanian artist
caused a sensation when it was shown
this past summer at the Venice Biennale.
"In the Arsenale Venue, two great walls of what appear to be fabric or tapestry hang between columns."
"In fact, El Anatsui's works are made from bottle labels, tags and caps, copper wire, washers
and aluminum detritus, recycled into these tessellated, heavy, glittering fields of imagery."
The piece has just been acquired by the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri.
DVD Video Boombox
From the website:
- DVD Video Boombox
Boombox with DVD/CD player and 7" color screen is perfect for the road, campsites, or kid's rooms — this 3-in-1 boombox has it all.
Includes foldout legs for optimal viewing angle and a full-function remote for DVD and CD modes.
The 7" color LCD widescreen shows movies played on the built-in DVD player.
USB input allows playback of MP3 music, MP4 video, and JPEG picture files.
Audio and video out jacks let you play the DVD on a larger TV screen.
Or use it as a stereo boombox to listen to CDs or the AM/FM radio.
Powered by 110V AC or 8 C batteries (not included).
16" x 9" x 6.7".
• Dynamic Stereo with Bass Boost
• Dual Microphone Input Jacks
• AM/FM Stereo Radio
• DVD/CD Player
• 7" Widescreen
• Fold-out Legs
• USB Input
That's what I said the first time I happened on his name.
Then I read John Kelly's July 30, 2007 Washington Post column about Gates (above) and found out.
If you prefer, head straight to elmergates.com, a website created last year by 65-year-old Lee Humphries of Minneapolis, Minnesota to bring belated attention to this forgotten idiosyncratic genius, who from 1896 to 1908 in Chevy Chase, Maryland ran what was said to be the largest private laboratory in the U.S.
Here's Kelly's piece.
- Scientist Gets a Hand With Inventing a Legacy
Elmer R. Gates was the most brilliant scientist you've never heard of. He taught dogs to see color. He studied the way emotions affect human breath. He had 43 patents to his name. He spent each waking moment intensely studying his own consciousness, going so deep inside himself that he was certain he had changed the very structure of his brain.
And he did it all in Chevy Chase in what at the time — 1896 to 1908 — was said to be the largest private laboratory in the United States. Yet today, even the folks at the Chevy Chase Historical Society haven't heard of this idiosyncratic genius.
Idiosyncratic genius or crackpot?
That's the problem. Some of Gates's theories were so outlandish at the time — exercising the brain as if it were a muscle? — that he was embraced, if he was embraced at all, by the fringiest of knowledge-seekers.
Lee Humphries of Minneapolis wants to change that. Last year Lee, 65, launched http://www.elmergates.com, a Web site devoted to all things Elmer.
Gates seems to have been more concerned with how something was invented than what was invented. He was convinced that people could put themselves in the right frame of mind to be creative, possibly by adjusting their physical surroundings. And so he paid special attention to the conditions when he was most creative.
Said Lee: "He kept voluminous records on his own physiology, taking urine samples several times a day and blood samples. He would take his temperature. He was doing this to find out what his physiological state was when he was most productive."
Sometimes Gates would do his thinking in a special chamber in which he could regulate the temperature, humidity and electrostatic charge of the air. All to discover how external forces affected his thinking.
Except he didn't call it his "thinking," preferring the expression "mentative process" or "psychurgy."
Although he lectured at the Smithsonian and his lab played host to esteemed visitors, it was a mention in the book "Think and Grow Rich," by power-of-positive-thinking huckster Napoleon Hill that kept Gates's name alive.
That's where Lee, then a curious high-school student, first encountered him.
"I'm interested in creativity," Lee said. "I felt in my own meager way I had replicated some of [Gates's] results, essentially using the same introspective procedures for problem solving that he used."
Lee tracked down Gates's heirs and gained access to original papers, which he put up on his Web site. Gates "thought that ultimately he would synthesize all of this stuff and he would write his great work," Lee said.
Except he never did. He was in the fine tradition as such iconoclastic — and doomed — American inventors as Philo T. Farnsworth. Gates didn't publish, and he spread himself awfully thin. His dozens of inventions include ore separators, an electric iron and an early chemical fire extinguisher.
He trained dogs to walk down a darkened hallway where tiles of certain colors were electrified, in the process becoming perhaps the first researcher to use negative reinforcement.
He had people in various emotional states breathe into a glass tube, collected the condensate, treated it with various agents and examined the precipitate. Newspapers at the time announced that Gates had declared that the color of sin was pink, one of many misinterpretations of his work, Lee said. In fact, Gates had discovered that a person's emotional state could affect his or her body's chemistry, something we take for granted now.
My favorite Gates invention is from 1903: Patent No. 741,903, "Educational Toy or Game Apparatus." It was a box whose lid had different shapes cut into it — circles, triangles, squares — and an assortment of similarly shaped blocks to go into it.
Elmer R. Gates invented the square peg for the square hole, the round peg for the round hole.
None of his inventions made him rich, though. He was too busy plowing money back into his lab, which he eventually lost. The pages of his diary from the spring of 1911 show an increasingly desperate man. Money had dried up, and Gates's journal alternates between desperation and inspiration. "My idea for artificial wrapping for sausages and bologna has leaked out," he laments. "I saw these goods for sale in the market recently!"
Then later: "10,000,000 dollars can be made on a non-magnetizable watch."
He decided to try to invent one. If he had, maybe you'd have heard of him.
Decanter Cleaning Beads
From the website:
- Decanter Cleaning Beads
Clean your decanters with these ingenious stainless steel beads — all you do is add water and gently swirl.
The high grade stainless steel pellets smoothly roll over and gobble up stains and deposits.
Even hard-to-reach places will sparkle.
Rinse and re-use over and over again.