Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Destination JS: Macaron Edition

Destination JS explores the sites, shops, and eateries surrounding Japan Society.

How many times have my friends and I argued over the difference between a macaroon and a macaron? More than once, but fewer times than the number of flavors available at Macaron Café NYC. Its brand new location between 46th and 47th streets on Third Avenue, just one avenue from Japan Society, specializes in its namesake confection and also offers a wide variety of sandwiches and “lunch boxes”.

Not surprisingly, given their bright color, diminutive package and delicious flavor, macarons (マカロン or makaron in Japanese) are extremely popular in Japan, not only to eat at any given time (they’re sold at Starbucks, among many other chain eateries and cafés), but also for their adorable form. You can buy mobile straps, stickers, pillows, and nail decorations all in the little sandwich shape. It isn’t surprising to see a young woman with a decorative macaron attached to her keitai these days.

Parisian-style macarons are said to have been invented by the brand Laduree in the early 20th century, and have experienced a boom in popularity since the early 2000s. Japanese makaron differ slightly from French macarons, but the difference in taste is pretty subtle. Many times a Japanese makaron contains actual fruit inside the whipped middle, whereas the French version does not. A type served in Japan replaces the typical almond flour with peanut flour, prepared in a wagashi flavor.

Being the dedicated macaron lover that I am, I decided to make a quick stop at Macaron Café to see what they had. Even though it was a gray and muggy day, walking into the shop immediately lightened my mood. Maybe it was the pale pink, the chic French-inspired décor, or the smell of hundreds of delectable sweets right before my very eyes, but I was instantly transported to my own little Candyland heaven.

Patrons are given the option of either a 6-piece, 12-piece or 24-piece box. I went for the six box, and spent maybe a little too long trying to pick out which would be the perfect representative collection. I ended up leaving with a box of Matcha, Dark Chocolate, Cassis, Honey Lavender, Rose and Blackberry. My absolute top recommendation is the Honey Lavender flavor. It’s intensely aromatic and just the right blend of sweet and musky-floral.

You can follow Macaron Café on Twitter and tumblr, like them on Facebook, or, the best possible option, visit their new store on your way to Japan Society. They also ship anywhere to the U.S. and Canada.

Paris, daisuki desu!

--Sarah Anderson 

The new boutique in Midtown East. Via.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Nuclear-Free Plea Intensifies In 67th Anniversary of Atomic Bombings

Hiroshima, August 6, 2012. Via.

The inscription on the cenotaph at Hiroshima’s Peace Park reads “Rest In Peace, for the error shall not be repeated.” Tens of thousands came to the park Tuesday on the 67th anniversary of the atomic bombing to stand in solidarity with victims and to uphold this message.

With representatives from over 71 countries, including Ambassador John Roos--marking the second consecutive year a U.S. representative was in attendance--the ceremony commenced with one minute of silent reflection and prayer, followed by the ringing of the Peace Bell at 8:15 am, when the atomic bomb was dropped.

Among the speakers were Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui. Both spoke at length about the importance of Japan’s pushing the world towards complete nuclear disarmament, and both shared a common sentiment: that the event never be forgotten or ignored.

"We must never forget the horrors of nuclear weapons and we must never repeat this tragedy that has been engraved into the history of mankind," said Noda. "As the only country to be victimized by an atomic bomb and experiencing its ravages, we have the noble responsibility to the human race and the future of the Earth to pass on the memories of this tragedy to the next generation."

Matsui read the Peace Declaration, saying, “We pledge to convey to the world the experiences and desires of our hibakusha [atomic bomb victims], and do everything in our power to achieve the genuine peace of a world without nuclear weapons."

A main focus of the ceremony is always to strive for a nuclear-free world, but as with last year, an equally pressing matter is related to modern nuclear technology.

In his speech, Mayor Matsui likened the survivors of the recent Fukushima disaster to the hibakusha, saying, "Here in Hiroshima, we are keenly aware that the survivors of that catastrophe still suffer terribly, yet look toward the future with hope. We see their ordeal clearly superimposed on what we endured 67 years ago. Please hold fast to your hope for tomorrow. Your day will arrive, absolutely."

He continued by not only urging the country’s government strongly towards the abolition of nuclear weapons, but also to “promote a safe energy policy”.

Noda responded in his speech, saying, “Based on the fundamental principle of not relying on nuclear power, we will aim in the mid- to long term to establish an energy structure that will assure the safety of the people.”

Meanwhile, attendees were also vocal about their hope for a nuclear-free world, holding an anti-nuclear rally outside of the Peace Park the days before and after the memorial. Many felt that the promise “the error shall never be repeated” had been broken when the nuclear meltdown happened in March 2011.

One of the remaining hibakusha, 87-year old Sunao Tsuboi, spoke to AFP to warn against the usage of nuclear power. “In terms of being nuclear victims we [from Hiroshima and Fukushima] are the same,” he said. “Nuclear technology is beyond human wisdom… I want to see a nuclear-free world while I’m still alive.” Another hibakusha, Toshiyuki Mimaki (70), added “We want to work with people in Fukushima and join our voices in calling for no more nuclear victims.”

This ceremony was different from many of the years before because of the controversial status of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima--Sachiko Sato, a Fukushima evacuee said, “In my mind, Fukushima is like a third nuclear victim following Hiroshima and Nagasaki."--but it was also different because of the presence of one of the attendees.

Clifton Truman Daniel, 55, is the oldest grandson of Truman and the first member of the Truman family to ever attend the Hiroshima memorial. Although he declined to comment on whether or not he agreed with his grandfather’s decision, he did tell Kyodo News at an earlier press conference that the reason he came this year was because he “needed to know the consequences of his grandfather’s decisions as part of his own effort to create a nuclear-free world.”

“I’m two generations down the line. It’s my responsibility to do all I can to make sure we never use nuclear weapons again,” he continued.

August 9 marks the 67th memorial of the Nagasaki bombing, and similar services will take place. John Roos plans to attend, marking the the first time an American Ambassador has visited Nagasaki. Clifton Truman Daniel will also join him as representatives of the U.S.

--Sarah Anderson

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Japan’s 2012 Olympic Flips, Dips and Kicks

Japan's "samurai gymnast"Uchimura in flight. Via.

Gymnastics played an important role in the evolution of postwar Japan, notes a recent New York Times magazine article profiling Kohei “Superman” Uchimura. Between 1960 and 1978, Japan’s men’s team won five consecutive gold medals in the Olympics and five consecutive world championships at a time when it was “a really important way for japan to establish itself in the world as a country that stood for global peace,” according to article author Lisa Katayama in an accompanying video. Somehow the state of Japanese gymnastics withered and is only now starting to re-assert itself on the national stage, with wunderkind Uchimura at the helm.

Many experts believe Uchimura may be the best gymnast that has ever lived, with NBC commentator Tim Daggett telling The Times, “A lot of gymnasts are colorful, aggressive, dynamic—but they don’t have the look that he has… His legs are always pencil straight, his toes are always perfectly pointed when he’s doing these crazy, crazy things.”

But Uchimura’s performance during the London 2012 qualifications round got off to a shaky start when he seemed to fall from the pommel horse during a dismount to fourth place. An appeal by his coaches was accepted and bumped him up to the silver, pushing Great Britain to the bronze.

Uchimura eventually proved his reputation in the men’s all-around competition and won the gold with a 92.690 score. In addition, he won a silver medal in the floor routine, and Japan won a collective silver medal in the Men’s Team category.

In Judo, the only Olympic event that originated in Japan, the men won two silver and two bronze while the women won one of each medal. Gold went to Kaori Matsumoto in the -57 kg weight class after Romanian challenger Corina Caprioriu was disqualified for attacking through the back of the legs. The comparatively low overall performance from previous years prompted some Japanese journalists to proclaim “Japanese Judo is dead.”

Of the games to date, Japan has won the most medals in swimming, which does not figure as prominently in Japan’s international esteem as judo or gymnastics. The men have won silver  in the 200m backstroke, the 4x100m medley relay, and bronze  in the 200m butterfly, 200m breaststroke, 100m backstroke, and the 400m individual medley. The women have won a silver in the 200m backstroke and four bronze medals in the 200m butterfly, 100m breaststroke, 100m backstroke, and the 4x100m medley relay.

Rounding out Japan’s achievements thus far are medals in archery (men’s individual silver, women’s team bronze), hammer throw (men’s bronze), badminton (women’s doubles silver), fencing (men’s team foil silver), weightlifting (women’s 48kg silver), wrestling (men’s 60kg Greco-Roman bronze) and table tennis (women’s silver).

But all eyes are on the women’s soccer team, the Nadeshiko, looking to repeat their success at the Women’s World Cup last year. At the time of this writing, they are preparing to face the United States in the final, having defeated France 2-1 in the semi-finals.

Unfortunately, the men’s team lost to Mexico 3-1 on Wednesday, ending dreams of a “Double Japan” soccer final.

--Lyle Sylvander