Japan – White Mountain

Gamesmanship

Simply put, without Japan, we wouldn’t have the video games we know and love. Companies like Nintendo, Sony, Sega, Taito, Namco, Capcom, and Konami all originated in the land of the rising sun and gave birth to many of the most popular systems, games, and characters ever. Here are some little known facts about those great gaming corporations:

Nintendo

Nintendo has provided my favourite gaming systems growing up and even into my adult years. Titles starring the likes of Mario, Link, Donkey Kong, and others have made me a fan of the company that began operations all the way back in 1889 as a trading card enterprise. Nintendo even ventured into the love hotel business in the 1960’s, as well as a block building product meant to compete with LEGO. One of Nintendo’s first big releases, Donkey Kong, prompted legal action from Universal Studios, as they believed the character was too close to King Kong. Nintendo won the case, claiming the King Kong story and characters were part of the public domain. Finally, the company was a one-time owner of the Seattle Mariners… can you imagine a mascot Mario warming up in the on-deck circle!

Nintendo Raising

Sega

Originally a manufacturer of pinball machines, Sega entered the video game console market with the SG-1000 in 1983. While I never owned a Sega system, it was a treat to occasionally try exclusive games on it while visiting friends who owned them. Sega’s mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog was originally to have fangs, be in a band, and have a human girlfriend named Madonna, but those features were removed. Unlike Nintendo, Sega chose not to censor the bloodshed in the violent Mortal Kombat game, creating the Videogame Rating Council in response to the controversy that followed. After failed systems including the Saturn and Dremacast, Sega left the console world and became a game developer for other platforms, such as Nintendo, which is exclusively getting Sonic the Hedgehog releases.

Taito

Broski Sip and I loved a number of Taito games, particularly Bubble Bobble and Rainbow Islands. When a collection including these titles was released for PCs and other consoles in 2005, we were quick to snatch it up and spent hours reliving our childhood memories (and frustrations!). As a company, Taito moved from vending machines to jukeboxes, before finally settling on arcade games. In 1978, Taito released Space Invaders, which is one of video game history’s most popular titles and one which launched the ‘Golden Age of Arcade Video Games’. Today, Taito has been incorporated by Square Enix (developers of famous titles such as the Final Fantasy series) and operates a number of arcades throughout Japan, known as Taito Stations. I miss arcades, although I can’t say I ever frequented them.

Sony

Sony entered the video game console market when Nintendo ditched a partnership between the two to distribute a CD-ROM drive that would work with Super Nintendo systems. Sony decided to continue down the path they had already started and in essence, Nintendo created their own competition when Sony released the Playstation to compete with the Nintendo 64. The company’s name comes from ‘sonus,’ the Latin word for sound mixed with the slang term ‘sonny’, which for the Japanese meant smart and presentable young men, an appearance founders Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka believed they exhibited. Of course, we also recognize Sony’s branding from their Walkman and Discman music delivery devices and in other parts of the world, Sony even has financial institutions under their umbrella.

Sony Box

Namco

Namco originated as operators of children’s rides on the roof of a Yokohama, Japan department store and entered the arcade game business in 1970. In 1985, Namco would bid to purchase the struggling Atari for a whopping $800,000, dwarfing other offers, such as Sega’s $50,000. Namco’s Pac-Man, released in 1980, was one of the industry’s most famous creations, although the game could also be cited as a cause of the 1983 Video Game Crash, as Atari rushed to release the game on their home console and it failed to sell as well as hoped. Namco had plans to compete with the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis in the late 80’s and early 90’s and released the SuperGrafx console, which was another failure. In more recent years, the company has entered the amusement park business, as well as merged with Bandai in 2005.

Capcom

Capcom’s biggest title is arguably the Street Fighter series of games, which produced one of the most legendary gaming myths of all-time. In Street Fighter II, when you were defeated by Ryu, his taunt of “If you cannot overcome the Rising Dragon Punch, you cannot win!” was mistranslated to read “You must defeat Sheng Long to stand a chance.” This caused many players to theorize that Sheng Long was a hidden character in the game. Capcom eventually included the character in games years later and background graffiti in Wreck-It Ralph states that “Sheng Long was here!” Other popular series produced by Capcom include Resident Evil, Mega Man, and Devil May Cry. Capcom titles have been cited as some of the worst video game to movie adaptations ever, although the films are commercially successful.

Konami

While they have produced an extensive and memorable video game line-up, their Blades of Steel hockey release will be forever cherished by anyone who had the privilege of strapping on those virtual skates. The company’s name translates to “be creative” and they have certainly followed their own credo. Konami has dabbled in everything from health and fitness clubs around Japan to trading cards, anime, slot machines, and a slew of other products. Konami is also recognized for their Castlevania, Metal Gear, and Silent Hill franchises and even the most popular cheat code of all-time can be attributed to the company. Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A was usually good for some bonus power-ups and extra lives, which were usually necessary.

Japan: White Mountain

May 8

  • Rim glass with Coconut Shavings
  • 2 oz Sake
  • Top with Milk and Pina Colada Mix

While I’ve never been the biggest gamer, I definitely have a place in my heart and mind for video games. Last year, I did a two part series on my favourite releases ever and it was a wonderful trip down memory lane. You can check out those articles here and here.

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (??? Sips out of 5):
xxx

Japan – Sake Bomb

Rolling Along

Japanese culture has actually offered us so many things. Narrowing down what I was going to cover for the country wasn’t easy and I considered writing about everything from manga comics to game shows to freakin’ origami! There is one Japanese export that has grown more popular than Godzilla and frenemies and that’s sushi. So, grab you chopsticks and join the Sip Advisor for a fine dining experience:

Well, let’s drop a bomb from the start: sushi didn’t originate in Japan. Although we all recognize it as coming from the land of the rising sun and that is in fact where the rolls and cones we enjoy today originated, the act of combining fish with rice (meant to preserve the meat) was invented in Southeast Asia and came to Japan in the 8th century. Sushi in Japan began as a fast food, served at stalls on the street before moving into restaurants and bars.

Cat Licks Sushi

Let’s keep the game changers rolling along (get it? A sushi pun!) with this doozy: sushi doesn’t necessarily mean raw fish. It actually describes the rice, mixed with vinegar, sugar and salt, to make sticky rice, although actual sticky rice is a completely different creation. Still with me?

If you have aspirations of becoming a sushi chef, you likely want to do it anywhere else than Japan. There, hopeful cooks spend two years learning the ins and outs of making the rice, followed by three years working with the fish before their apprenticeship is passed and they can go to work behind a sushi bar. The honour and traditions don’t stop there. Sushi knives come from legendary samurai swords and the blades are sharpened and reshaped each day.

While westerners recognize sushi as being made up of rolls, the Japanese more commonly equate it to the nigiri pieces. Sashimi, of course, means sliced meat and can come in varieties such as beef, chicken, and various vegetables, to go along with all the seafood choices.

The preparation of octopus for sushi often includes a full-body massage by chefs, while the animal is still alive. This proves, once again, that food lives better than the Sip Advisor does!

How To Use Chopsticks

Although I dislike any ginger or wasabi with my sushi, I may have to reconsider. The ginger acts as an antibacterial for the raw fish, killing parasite which may exist, while also cleansing the palette between pieces. Wasabi, meanwhile, has anti-microbial assets and can decrease the risk of food poisoning. Researchers have even used wasabi as a smoke alarm for the deaf, spraying its vapors into a test room, where subject awoke promptly, much like the effects of smelling salts has on a person. This discovery was awarded with the 2011 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In most western sushi restaurants, the wasabi you are served isn’t actually wasabi at all. It is a combination of horseradish, mustard, and food colouring. Real wasabi powder is quite expensive, ranging from $50-$100 per pound, making it likely that you would only find it in an upscale joint, if you’d find it at all. I’m not a fan of the green stuff, so this has no impact on me whatsoever, but it kind of makes me feel bad for always throwing out the booger-looking lump… it may have intrinsic value!

Nyotaimori is the act of eating sushi and sashimi off of a naked female model, while Nantaimori, refers to the same practice involving males. Models have to be trained to lie still for hours at a time and be made accustomed to the cold food that will sit on their torso. The deed is popular with members of organized crime in Japan. I once asked Mrs. Sip to be my sushi tray… poor girl ended up with soy sauce in her eyes!

For most young westerners, their first experience with sushi may have been the episode of The Simpsons, ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Blowfish, Blue Fish,’ where Homer is introduced to the Japanese fare and falls for it so hard that he even requests the poisonous fugu (or puffer fish), which must be dissected perfectly in order to not poison the eater. Although the staff believe that Homer ate the poison (12 times stronger than cyanide) and has only hours to live, he survives his brush with death.

Fugu Funny

That happy ending was not shared by Bandō Mitsugorō VIII, a Japanese Kabuki actor and ‘National Treasure,’ who died after consuming four servings of fugu liver, believing that he was immune to the toxin. Each year, a handful of deaths occur after fugu servings and by law, only licensed chefs should prepare the potentially poisonous fish. Even the Emperor is banned from eating fugu.

Even when not taking the fugu challenge, folks should be cautious about their sushi consumption. Large doses of tuna can lead to mercury poisoning and should be avoided by women who are pregnant or planning to be and young kids. The warning makes it sounds like an amusement park ride… one that I want to be on! All raw fish portions come with the inherent risk of parasites, but it’s a risk that must be taken.

Speaking of tuna, it was once very unpopular and was looked down upon in Japan for being bad luck to eat and a lower class food item. Once a sushi chef named Hanaya Yohei began marinating the ‘chicken of the sea’ in soy sauce, it became a popular menu option.

Today, many places around the world have contributed a roll to the sushi lexicon, including Alaska, British Columbia (hey, that’s where the Sip Advisor gets his sushi!), California, Philadelphia, Seattle, Michigan, Hawaii, etc. Does it say something about the eater depending on which location they choose to order for and represent!?

Nemo Sushi

The seaweed wraps used to bind sushi rolls were originally formed from algae scraped off docks, but nowadays, the element is mass-produced through farming and sold to restaurants in packaged sheets. The seaweed is edible on its own and is sometimes served as a snack closely resembling potato chips, I guess. I mean, I’d much rather have potato chips, given my affinity for the grub, but who am I to criticize.

I absolutely love soy sauce and probably use way too much of it while eating sushi. Interestingly, there is actually soy sauce etiquette… protocols which I have certainly broken and likely offended sushi chefs. First, eaters should only coat the top of their piece with soy sauce, as the condiment is meant to enhance the topping, not the rice. Also, the rice absorbs the sauce quickly and can crumble as a result of getting wet. Finally, sushi prepared with other sauces should not be dunked into soy sauce.

The most expensive sushi ever served was five pieces of nigiri garnished with diamonds and wrapped in 24-karat gold leaf. It was made but chef Angelito Araneta, Jr. in the Phillipines and came in at a whopping price of nearly $2,000 US. Araneta has gained a reputation as the ‘Karat Chef,’ for his lavish creations.

Beginning your meal with a nice hot bowl of Miso Soup seems common, but the Japanese actually end their feast with this dish, as it aids in digestion. Now, enough of this talk about food. Let’s get to some drinking, while we wait for our order to be served!

Japan: Sake Bomb

May 5

  • 1.5 oz Sake
  • 1 Sapporo Beer
  • Garnish with Lime Wheel

Sushi combos have grown in leaps and bounds as the western world latches onto the fad. I once had a chicken strip roll that was drizzled with honey mustard sauce and was spectacular. There are also known recipes for mac and cheese, hamburger, beef, and chicken rolls. The Sip Advisor’s favourite sushi order includes the California Roll (especially if it’s deep fried), Dynamite Roll, and Beef Teriyaki Roll. I know, how very North American of me! What’s your preferred sushi choice?

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
It should be noted that a Japanese beer like Sapporo or Asahi is preferable for a Sake Bomb to truly bring that taste of Japan to your meal. Simply drop the shot of Sake into your brew and slam that sucka! To be honest, I didn’t even notice the Sake while chugging this drink down. I think it would have been pretty light regardless, but all you really get is the beer.