QI: quite interesting? or quite inciting?

7 02 2011

Recently the BBC announced that it cancelled plans to send Stephen Fry to Japan to make a documentary. This greatly saddens me, as I am a huge Fry fan, I love his work and I would be sure to enjoy not only one of my favourite personalities, but starring in a show about Japan. However I agree with the BBC. I think it’s a smart decision, because recently the BBC and Stephen Fry have come under fire in Japan over the following segment from a QI episode.

So, why has that got the BBC/Fry into trouble? Well, that’s something I’m still trying to figure out myself. Most native English speakers would probably agree that the show isn’t being insulting or offensive about or towards Yamaguchi, and is in fact being quite complementary about the Japanese rail system. On the surface the easy answer is that the majority of Japanese people don’t understand English and therefore don’t understand what’s going on in the program. If you can read Japanese, a lot of the comments are about the fact that the audience is laughing, and that this program is trivializing the horror of atomic weapons. So, in a way it’s true that the language barrier is one of the problems, but it also runs deeper than that.

The atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are considered a taboo subject in Japan. It’s not that they are never talked about, I have been to both the Hiroshima Peace Memorial museum and the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb museum, and I can say they are the most sombre and reflective places you can visit in Japan. However in everyday life, the bombs and World War Two are just not talked about. And personally, as an Australian, it’s not a topic I would bring up with a Japanese person, although once I had a Japanese man apologise to me for the war, and another time a student was reading a book about a Harvard debate of wether the US should apologise for the bombs (incidentally, she’s 15 and doesn’t think the US should apologise).

The Japanese seem to feel a certain ownership of the bombs. The tragic loss of approximately 250,000 people within 5 years of the bombing and continued effects are a pretty damn good reason to be strong advocates against nuclear weapons. The impression you get when you go to the museums above is that this should never happen again.

And after a bit of thought, you would have to admit that certain parts of the segment are insensitive. For example, joking “the bomb landed on him, and it bounced off” and “it was the wrong(right) kind of bomb” certainly leave an opening for misunderstanding. To be honest, even I don’t understand some of the humour towards the end of the segment (which is probably more indicative of the decline in my English ability more than anything else). The BBC did issue an apology for ‘Japanese atomic bomb jokes’ and ‘any offence caused’ which was the appropriate thing to do.

However, none of the program was intended to be malicious, and the show did raise the level of awareness about Yamaguchi and other double bomb survivors, which most people would never have even known of in the first place. Yamaguchi and his fellows certainly were either very unlucky or lucky, depending on which way you choose to look at it. It was a topic fitting for a program whose name is an acronym of quite interesting, but maybe it’s not appropriate for a comedy show. I might not think that there was any harm in what QI did, but I will still try to understand why there was.

Kyushu Photo Blog

5 01 2010

My apologies for the irregular postings over the last few months.  Between the parental unit invasion and travel I’ve hardly been on the internet.  But I finally got around to sorting out my photos from Kyushu, and without further ado, here’s the photographic evidence. (warning, very image heavy!)

Day one in Nagasaki:

Oura Catholic Church, which is Japan’s oldest standing wooden church.

Glover Garden, a garden that is the home to 7 western style residences from the Meiji period.

Kakuni Manju, BBQ pork in a steamed bun.  Very very yummy!

Dejima is the island where Dutch traders were allowed to trade with the Japanese during the Tokugawa period.  Due to the Shogun closing Japan to westerners, Dejima was built to allow trade with the Dutch to continue.  Over the years the island was lost to reclaimed land, but recently the island and the buildings have been restored.  I found Dejima to be really fascinating.

Saru Udon

Champon, a Nagasaki speciality, is a cross between Japanese and Chinese food.  Many of the dishes in Kyushu have Chinese influences.

Day Two in Nagasaki:

A visit to the Peace Park, which is just up the road from the hypocenter of the atomic bomb blast.

Here is the monument (on the right) which marks the hypocenter, and a piece of the Urakami Cathedral that survived the bomb blast.  The Atomic bomb museum is only a short walk from here, and really, I can’t use words to describe it.  Going to a museum like this is one of the most sobering and somber experiences you can have.  If you have the chance, go!

Another relic of the bomb blast, the other half of this Torii gate was knocked down by the explosion.


Nagasaki City night view, said to be one of the three best in Japan.  Here you can see Nagasaki Station in the center of the picture.

Day 3 from Nagasaki to Kumamoto via Shimabara:

We caught the train from Nagasaki to Shimabara this day, and had a quick look around Shimabara Castle.  Shimabara is the peninsula where many Japanese Christians were killed in a revolt, and the castle had many relics of hidden Christians in the area on display.  However, the castle was nothing compared to the one at Kumamoto, so I won’t post any photos apart from this –

A Shimabara food, Rokobe Manju, a black steamed bun with sweet potato inside.

After that we went to the ferry and were in Kumamoto by sundown.

Day 4 in Kumamoto:

We started out by going to Kumamoto Castle, which was built by Kato Kiyomasa (above).

A castle turret with the walls of Nimaru and Honmaru (inner and second circle of the grounds).

A close up of the stone walls.

The main tower of the castle.

View from the main tower, looking at the reconstructed palace.

The guided meeting room of the lord of the castle (inside the palace).

Although a lot of the building are reconstructed, there are a few originals, and plenty to see.  We literally spent all morning there, and didn’t even realize we had missed lunch!

Next off to Suizenji Jojuen garden, which was first started in 1632, and depicts the 53 stations of the old Tokaido highway.  You can even see a miniature Mt Fuji.

Dinner that night was Kumamoto ramen.

Firstly Tonkotsu ramen.

Then a salt flavored broth.

And finally a Chinese style simmered pork on rice.  All very very yum!

Day 5 in Kumamoto:

We wanted to make a day trip to Aso, but unfortunately the weather didn’t agree with us, and instead we went to the Former residence of Hosokawa Gyobu, a Samurai house.

Mum and Dad found it really interesting because they had never been into a Samurai house like this.  There were quite surprised at how big it was.

Day 6 returning home:

Finally, on the plane home we were able to see Mt Fuji, and final treat to the holiday.

To see some more photos, please check out my Flickr set!

Kyushu- Nagasaki day 2

16 12 2009

Oh I’m so tired! you are lucky to get a blog update today!
Okay, anyway, Nagasaki day 2! Today was a little slower, and certainly more introspective (not sure if that’s quite the right word…). We started the day out by catching a train to Urakami and the Peace Park. This park is built to commemorate peace and has a large statue to represent atomic weapons, peace and prayers for the victims of the atomic bomb blast. Down the road from here is also the epicentre of where the atomic bomb over Nagasaki exploded. And then right next to that was the Atomic Bomb Museum. Words really can’t describe what these places are like. It’s amazing that so much distruction occurred there, and yet now they are healthy clean places. And being able to see the affects of the bomb, walk around the few exsisting ruins. It’s a very sombering experience. Sad, but if you do ever go to Hiroshima or Nagasaki, the atomic bomb museums are a must visit.
We then walked a little further to the one legged Torii gate which is pictured below. The other half of the gate was blasted down by the bomb, while this half remains standing. Quite surreal really.
After having some lunch (no remarkable foods today) we went to some temples, and then back to our hotel. This was to rug up as just before dusk we caught the rope way up Mt Inasa to see the view of Nagasaki. Nagasaki is said to have one of the top three night views in Japan. You can also see a picture below. We have been to Hakodate (another one) and although Nagasaki doesn’t have such a nice shape as there, the city was quite clear and beautiful.
Tomorrow we will be travelling to our next city, so goodbye to Nagasaki!

Kyushu day 1- Nagasaki

15 12 2009

Well, I’ve been a little lax with updates these last couple of weeks, but with good reason! School exams have been happening, the JLPT was on the 6th, and my parents have come for a visit! Right now we are holidaying in Kyushu, where it’s surprisingly colder than Tokyo!
So our Kyushu trip has started in Nagasaki, home of Champon, Plate Udon, and Castella, to name a few food items. Today we went to Glover Garden, which is the site of a former residence of a foreign businessman. The gardens have been expanded and a number of other historically significant western style buildings have been moved there. It was very beautiful and reminded me of English gardens. Nearby is the Oura Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic church in Japan.
From there we walked to Dejima, the site of the former Dutch settlement. This tiny island was the only official contact Japan had with the western world during it’s isolation period. The original island and buildings had been lost due to land reclaimation and construction, but the reconstruction of the site is really well done. The best word I can find to describe it was fascinating. Quite a mix of Japan and the west.
Next it was a walk along the local shopping arcade and a quick look at Sofukuji Temple, a temple built in Ming dynasty style. It has surprised me how much Chinese infulence there is in Nagasaki. Not only is there a Chinatown, but it also appears that they have dragon dances quite like lion dances. And there are Chinese style restaurants everywhere!
Which brings me to food. Nagasaki is famous for Champon, a ramen soup dish with very salty broth, lots of cabbage, and mixed seafood. The other dish it’s famous for is Plate Udon, which is dried noodles with cabbage, seafood and sauce served on top. Both are very yummy! I’ve tried to attach photos, but as I’m doing this from my phone I don’t know how successful I’ll be.
The other things we tried today were Castella, a sponge cake with a slight sweet cheese flavour, and a type of manju (of which the name escapes me). The manju is unusual as it’s savoury not sweet. Instead of bean paste in a steamed bread bun is was a very juicy, tender, fatty piece of pork. Oh it was yummy!
Okay, that’s all for tonight, more adventures (and food) tomorrow!