I might take up shogi...

Good morning everyone,

Today is going to start out rainy, but it should stop and then it'll just be grey and overcast. Tomorrow will be the same and then Friday is looking rainy for most of the day. Saturday will see cloudy skies and the temperature will skyrocket-some parts of Japan are looking at a high of around 35C on Saturday! 

Shogi, in which two players use their 20 pieces to capture their opponent's king, is popular in Japan with an estimated 20 million people able to play the game and major tournaments run by the association throughout the year. It can trace its roots back hundreds of years and is thought to have originated from a game played in India.

Japan's youngest professional shogi player Sota Fujii not only made history by passing the game's longest winning streak earlier this week, but he has also sparked the interest of a new generation of player while driving demand in the brain games that have helped him achieve so much.

Inspired by the 14-year-old Fujii's effort in passing Hiroshi Kamiya's 28-game record, more and more elementary school pupils have taken to the traditional Japanese chess-like board game.

The number of children attending shogi schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area rose to 502 as of May, up from 366 a year earlier, according to the Japan Shogi Association.

In the Kansai region, numbers of young players taking instruction rose by about 50 percent this year, compared with the average, the association said.

Kai Nagasawa, 10, who joined a shogi school run by Fujii's teacher in Nagoya in January said: "Fujii, who ranks fourth dan, is so good and I admire him." A players' dan, or ranking, is a scale used for professionals with four the lowest and nine the best.

A shogi school in Aichi Prefecture where Fujii trained is also gaining popularity. The number of students at the school in Seto was about 15 when Fujii attended it between the ages of 5 and 10, but the figure has tripled in the wake of the prodigy's professional debut and his subsequent accomplishments.

"The number of shogi players is growing across Japan. We are seeing a tremendous impact," said Rikio Fumimoto, 62, who operates the school in Seto, Fujii's hometown.

The game's newfound popularity has also created a shortage of introductory shogi sets, known as "NEW Study Shogi." The sets are exactly what got Fujii into the game and the game's manufacturer saw a 1.5-fold increase in shipments in April, from a year before.

And it is not only shogi that is getting the Fujii bounce. A Swiss wooden marble game known as "Cuboro" is now seeing strong demand due to Fujii having played it when he was younger. The marble maze is said to promote focus and spatial awareness.

Toy shop Quartett in Aichi, which sells the Swiss toy, said orders for the product between January and May this year soared 30-fold from the previous year and it is advising its customers to expect a half-year wait before they can get their hands on it.

Experts attributed the game-buying frenzy to Fujii's outstanding mental strength and talent. "The thing that makes his story so interesting is that he can beat adults even though he is a junior high school student," said Kimiaki Nishida, professor of social psychology at Rissho University.

Official Fujii merchandise like a Japanese fan and autographed plastic sleeve are proving popular too, with some people even considering setting up a fan club.

Ryuichi Hayase, chief of a local Seto radio station, said he hopes to take advantage of the current shogi boom to revitalize the city. "Eventually I want to see something like a fan club for him," he said.

I definitely need the brain training...I wonder if taking up shogi would be a good pastime. The problem is finding someone to play with...if there are only 500 kids signed up in all of Tokyo, there can't be that many people playing it, right? Ha ha!

How about you? Can you play?

Have a great day!

About that Kyoto beef cutlet shop...

Good morning everyone,

Well, the weekend wasn't nearly as wet as they had predicted-with the exception of Saturday when I got soaked on the way home. To be honest, I couldn't care less about getting wet. But the thing that really annoyed me was the black splatter from the road. It has ruined many of my pants over the years-it just will not wash out...I have no idea what it is, but it's annoying as heck. Anyway, they are calling for rain tonight and saying that it's going to last for the next three days or so, before turning to clouds on Friday and then we can expect nice weather on the weekend.

So I went to the Kyoto Katsugyu restaurant that opened near the station a couple of months back...and don't bother going. It's a huge disappointment.

I don't even know where to begin...one of the things that I love about living in Japan is the restaurants. You have to be pretty unlucky to find one that's bad. Well, I guess I was unlucky yesterday, when I think of all the good places I walked past to go there.

When you first enter, the place feels more like a gyudon shop than a restaurant. There's no atmosphere at all. Just a couple of counters and some tables in the middle of the room.

We both ordered the a lunch special that included the beef cutlet, a mini roast beef bowl with rice and two other beef slices that were deep-fried and served drenched in a miso-based sauce.

The roast beef bowl was the best part-in fact, it was the only part worth the money. The beef cutlet was nothing at all like the picture. It was so thin that it barely tasted like meat at all...I swear that the beni-shoga tempura that I had in Osaka last year was thicker...ha ha!

If it was some cheap shop that I stumbled upon, then I would say, 'That's life' and forget about it. But this place has had line-ups for up to 3 hours since it opened. I wouldn't wait 1 minute for that place...has anyone heard someone say that it was worth it? Because it certainly wasn't. And it's not cheap...my lunch set was Y2,000 and it was so bad that I almost refused to eat it and wanted to send it back. But my friend didn't want me to make a scene, so I bit my tongue. But there's no way in hell I'll ever be going back there again or recommending it to anyone.

If that place is still there a year from now, I'll be shocked...there are too many good places with reasonable prices to choose from for anyone to go more than once and I will be telling everyone I know not to bother going even once...ha ha!

Have a great day...and if you're near EkiCity and dying for some beef, go to Nick Stock or MOS Burger or Yoshinoya...anything is better than the place I went to yesterday.

Have a great day!

Enjoy the taste of Country Ma'am cookies without getting fat

Good morning everyone,

The weather looks great, eh!? Maybe if you're a duck...or a rice farmer. Otherwise, I'm spending the day in bed. Don't call me...hopefully tomorrow will be sunnier...

It’s hard to think of a cookie that’s tastier than a Country Ma’am cookie, and if you’ve ever had the pleasure of trying one I’m sure you’ll agree. The brand, produced by famed Japanese confectionery Fujiya, has been delighting taste buds since 1984 with their moist, melt-in-your-mouth softness and rich flavor. While the standard flavors are vanilla and chocolate, you’re also likely to find seasonal and limited-time flavors too, and there’s even been a drinkable version.

If you’re not careful, it’s easy to go through an entire package of Country Ma’am cookies in one sitting, but thanks to a collaboration between Country Ma’am and the “Delicious Lip Cream” series, it’s now possible to satisfy those cookie cravings anytime they strike without worrying about how it will affect your waistline!

The Delicious Lip Cream series is also responsible for such scents as Hot Cakes, Apple Pie, Ramune, and Baked Sweet Potato, and on June 20, Country Ma’am Vanilla and Country Ma’am Cocoa joined the line of sweet and irresistibly-scented lip moisturizers. Not only do they smell just as edible as the real thing, they also come packed with olive oil, shea butter, jojoba seed oil, beeswax, macadamia nut oil, and more, to help keep your lips succulent and soft.

The Country Ma’am lip creams can be purchased online through Sun Smile for 540 yen, and they’re set to be sold in stores throughout the country as well. With the combination of sweet cookie scent and soft, butter-like texture, you may have to resist taking a bite!

I wonder if it'll be ok for men to wear it too...what do you think?

Have a great day!

Inspiration in sadness

Good morning everyone,

It's looking like the rain is going to continue on and off for the rest of today and into tomorrow. We may see some sun on Tuesday and then it's back to clouds and rain from Wednesday.

Though TV presenter Mao Kobayashi passed away on June 23 at the young age of 34 after a battle with cancer, she left behind many heartwarming episodes, honest moments of doubt, and heartfelt advice for those with similar illnesses and their families in the form of a blog she began a year ago.

On Sept. 1, 2016, several months after her husband, kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizo, announced that she was battling breast cancer, Kobayashi, a mother of two young children, started her blog "Kokoro." (Heart.) to discuss her family, her disease, and how she was dealing with it from day to day.

The title of her first blog post was "Becoming who I want to be." She wrote about being inspired by her doctor's advice not to hide in her cancer's shadow, and how that had motivated her to "decide to say goodbye to the me who was hiding behind cancer by writing a blog."

Kobayashi revealed in her blog that the cancer that had started in her breast had spread to her bones and lungs. In a May 29 blog post titled "Being released from the hospital," she said that she was switching to home medical care. "Home is the best place on Earth," she wrote. "The children are apparently returning from the park soon. I can't wait to see them."

On June 9, the first anniversary of the press conference in which Ebizo announced that his wife had "serious" breast cancer, Kobayashi published a blog post in which she looked back on how overwhelmed and scared she felt when it first became public that she had the disease. "Someone else took the wheel, so I hid and hid and it became completely dark. So I decided to take back control of the wheel in the form of this blog."

Kobayashi's blog was updated for the last time on June 20. Referring to the fresh orange juice that her mother squeezed for her every morning, Kobayashi wrote, "It gives me a smile first thing in the morning. Here's to hoping everyone has something to smile about today."

Kobayashi's blog drew a large following as a result of her frank admissions of regret and fear, and the courage with which she faced her illness. As of June 23, her blog had 2.58 million registered followers.

Meanwhile, Kobayashi's husband, Ebizo, posted on his blog about her passing on the morning of June 23, "It was the day I cried more than I ever have in my entire life."

I never met her or even knew much about her, but it's such a sad story, don't you think? I hope more cancer patients can fight the disease with inspiration from their fight.

Have a great day!

Eat healthy this summer with these foods.

Good morning everyone,

It's looking like we'll see some rain this afternoon and then it's going to continue off and on (or on and off) for the next couple of days. The next time we can see the sun is maybe Tuesday...

So, I know we are blessed with a ton of great foods for summer in Japan (although I have no idea why eel counts as one of them...ha ha!). However, here are some that you may not think of when it comes to good choices for the summer.

1. Cherries

Picked for their health benefits, these tasty summer superfoods do more than just satisfy your sweet tooth. Cherries are loaded with resveratrol, an antioxidant that packs some serious body-transforming powers. Researchers at Washington State University found that mice given high doses of resveratrol were able to convert the excess white fat on their bodies into brown fat, which can increase metabolism and help you burn more calories, and researchers at the University of Georgia, Athens, have found that resveratrol supplementation also reduced weight gain and bone demineralization.

2. Portobello Mushrooms

Bye-bye, burgers! This summer, the hottest choice for grillers is the portobello mushroom. A flavorful, low-fat substitute for meat that pairs well with heart-healthy ingredients like garlic and olive oil, the portobello is as good for your taste buds as it is for your waistline. Researchers at the University of Buffalo’s Department of Nutrition Science have found portobello mushrooms effective at stabilizing  blood sugar and minimizing insulin spikes, staving off cravings and keeping those unwanted pounds at bay. Need more inspiration for your next cookout?

3. Cucumbers