Saturday, January 29, 2011

Japanese Sake, rice wine or beer?

Sake is an alcoholic beverage of Japanese Origins of which rice is a principal ingredient. The Japanese sake (酒) or o-sake (お酒) is usually translated as alcoholic drinks in general, the specific term for the traditional beverage being Nihonshu (日本酒), meaning "Japanese sake".

 Japanese Dragon Sake Set
Japanese Original Dragon Sake Set

Sake can be translated also as "rice wine", but it is a beverage produced by brewing, so it is more closer to beer than wine, but with higher alcohol content: 15–20%.

The "Food and Agriculture Museum" at "Tokyo University of Agriculture" displays a great sake bottle collection.

Food and Agriculture Museum, Sake museum collection

Tokyo University of Agriculture - Sake bottle collection

The rice in Japan is kind of centerpiece of almost every meal, rice agriculture being introduced to Japan more than 4000 years ago. The rice used for brewing sake has larger grain (called shuzo kotekimai / sake rice) which contain a starch component (named Shinpaku or Shinpaku-mai) in the center. The "multiple parallel fermentation" process is distinguished by other brewing methods by combining the conversion of starch in sugar with conversion of sugar in alcohol (using yeast). This is the reason why the sake has such a higher alcohol content. The taste depends by the proper combination of malt, yeast (koji-kin / koji mold / Aspergillus Oryzae), steamed rice (named koji) and water (mizu) 

Japanese Rustic Green square Sake Cups - made manually
Japanese  Rustic Green square Sake Cups - made manually

Sake is not a distilled beverage, is non carbonated and usually free from additives and preservatives. 
In the making of sake, it is necessary to polish the rice (to remove the protein, oils from the exterior of them), leaving behind starch convert grain starch into sugar, and then convert the sugar into alcohol by means of yeast. Sake brewing combines these two steps by a simultaneous conversion that results in Sake having an 18% higher alcohol content than any other fermented drink.

Sake is generally almost transparent, and sometimes, if is properly kept for six months,  has a light amber color (if sake is allowed to age more than a year - it will turn a darker color and is better to avoid it). Pasteurized sake can be kept at room temperature, but always refrigerate your unpasteurized sake.

Sake can be served cold or warm in small ceramic cups (named ochoko / ja:猪口). The best taste is achieved when is served slightly chilled.  Sake sets are commonly ceramic and have a server and 4-6 cups. The server (a flask called tokkuri / ja:徳利) is bulbous with a narrow neck.  Nowadays you can choose from a large variety of sake sets ( the flask and cups may be bought as a set or individually) usually decorated with floral (spring blossoms, cherry blossom, orchids) and Asian motifs (dragons, landscape, geisha, written characters)

Samurai drinking sake

Kanpai !

Friday, January 21, 2011

Game of GO - Art and Diplomacy Strategy

These days the "Game of GO" became more than a "Game, Sport or Art" and ... the reason why the GO community is crazy over, is because Chinese President Hu Jintao visited White House.

Well, last year, The US president Barack Obama brought as a present when he visited China to the Chinese President Hu Jintao an Go board made by Frank Salantrie, glass bowls and Go stones (donated by Feng Yun 9P) .
These days, when President Hu returns the visit, The President Obama included as welcoming people few members of the American Go Association.

Media channels detailed the agenda of the visit of China's President Hu Jintao in US and enlightened the importance of this game for both nations, used as a symbol of the mutual respect between them.

Go / Weiqi/ Baduk diagram of a famous game played in 1846 between Shusaku and Gennan Inseki
Game of GO is a fascinating board game invented in China about four thousand years ago (that's right 4,000 years ago!), where it is known as "Wei Qi" or "Wei Chi".  Later was introduced to Japan and it became a game of samurai, being known as "GO", "Igo" or "Ranka". The most recent was imported to  Korea, where Go is called "Baduk". In the 20th century Go became more and more popular outside of Asia as well, being a very popular international game nowadays.

The Game of GO is the oldest board game still played today in its original form. It is a game of strategy with very simple and intuitive rules, older than Chess, teaching about how to be patient and respectful, to concentrate,  to be organized and competitive while learn how to develop and share profit.
It is known as the "king of the games" and millions of people all over the world play this game regularly.

19x19 shin-kaya board used as Go / Baduk/  Weiqi board

Some basic rules of this game are detailed bellow:
Go it is played by 2 opponents, usually on a 19x19 grid rectangular board (playing on smaller boards 9x9 and 13x13  is also possible). The playing pieces, called stones, are played on the intersections of the lines. The two opponents play alternatively, one move (placing a stone in a vacant point / an empty intersection) each time. There are 181 black stones and 180 white stones. Black plays first move. The stones remain in their positions once placed on the board, until getting captured and eliminated from the board.  One stone has 4 liberties if placed in an empty intersection  (4 open points - 4 possibilities to add new stones).
9x9 wood board used as Go/ Baduk/ WeiQi rectangular board
 Placing stones close together helps them support each other and avoid capture. Adjacent stones of the same color placed on board lines (not diagonals) form a chain that shares its liberties. They may be connected together by placing a similar stone on adjacent intersection of two chains of the same color forming simple elements: square and circles. Groups of stones cannot subsequently be subdivided and must have two liberties to be "alive".  Sometimes one or more stones of the opponent get to have no liberty (are surrounded by other players stones).  All stones with no liberty are captured and eliminated from the board for the rest of the game.

There are many ways for stones to be captured and removed from the board. It is not allowed to place a stone in such a way that one of your own chains is left without liberties (situation named "suicide") . Also, in a fight it is not possible to make a move that returns the game to a previous position and to recapture immediately the opponent stones in same position on the grid ( situation named "Ko").

There are also many styles of playing Game of GO. You can play "Atari GO"  in which whoever makes the first capture wins the game (very appreciated by kids and beginners or Classical GO - the goal of the game is to surround territory (empty board locations). In the end of the game, when both players pass, territories are counted and the winner is decided. Captured stones are placed inside matching color territories in the counting phase, so each captured stone values one point of territory.

You can see a short video documentary about GO in modern Japan:

The Go board (named also Goban) is not square, typically measures 45-48 cm in length and 42-44 cm in width. The traditional Japanese Goban is made from protected species of trees as Kaya tree(Torreya nucifera) and California Torreya (Torreya californica). Less expensive woods often used nowadays to make table boards are: Hiba (Thujopsis dolabrata), Katsura (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), Kauri (Agathis), and Shin-Kaya (various varieties of spruce).  Chinese boards are slightly larger, as a traditional Chinese GO stones are slightly larger to match.

The traditional Japanese Go stones (named also Goishi) are double-convex, and made of clam-shell (white) and slate (black).  The most prized stones were made of jade, often given to the reigning emperor as a gift.

You can play GO online, here: KGS, DragonGOserver, Pandanet, or on Xbox Path of GO

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Kusunoki Family Samurai Loyalty

Kusunoki Masashige -bronze statue - Tokio Palace Gardens
The Kusunoki family fought to gain power and support over the shogunate for the Emperors: Go-Daiko and his 12-year old successor, Go-Murukami, during Japan's Nanbokucho Wars (Wars between the Southern and Northern Courts).

The Samurai: A Military History
"I could not return, I presume, 
So I will keep my name
Among those who are dead with bows."
Kusunoki Masatsura farewell poem wrote with an arrowhead on the Nyoirinji temple's door - according "The Samurai: a military History" by Stephen R. Turnbull 

 "I have a feeling
   I will not be returning,
   so among the names
   of those who died by the bow
   I inscribe my own.
" Kusunoki Masatsura death poem according to wikipedia.

Kusunoki Masatsura (1326-1348) was one of the primary military leaders who revived the Southern Court in the 1340s.  As the entire Kusunoki family (he was son of Kusunoki Masashige), he was supporter of the Southern Imperial Court during Japan's Nanbokucho Wars.   Kusunoki Masashige (1294-1336), his father, was a 14th century samurai, called Nanko or Dai-Nanko, who fought for Emperor Go-Daigo in his attempt to wrest rulership of Japan away from the Kamakura shogunate and is remembered as the ideal of samurai loyalty. His statue made by bronze, still watching over centuries the Tokyo Palace Gardens.

Kusunoki Masatsura, No. 31, by Chikanobu
Kusunoki Masatsura - Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Kusunoki Masatsura - One great Chikanobu (1838 - 1912) illustration depicting the brave warrior Kusunoki Masatsura as a boy, fending off evil creatures. The inset shows Kusunoki Masatsura as a grown man reading his death poem on a temple door before the Battle of Shijo, where he lost his life at 22 years old.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Bear, Jean-Jacques Annaud

Wandering on Youtube, I rediscovered a fabulous movie " The Bear" made by Jean Jacques Annaud.  After so many years, it has still a charming appeal as in my childhood. The movie was very interesting edited to create invisible threads between the human and animal worlds.

This full of suspense movie make an interesting insight in bears behavior, and not only as you will discover later. When I saw it, my mind ran to the Greek Mythology that taught us that the bears are the followers of Callisto and Arcas, and they have powerful feelings - inherited from Callisto's former human feelings.

Ovid (the great Roman poet known as Publius Ovidius Naso) told us their story in his book "Metamorphoses": Callisto (translated as "most beautiful") was a charming nymph of Nonacris in Arcadia.  She was seduced by Jupiter and gave birth to a son, Arcas. She was turned into a bear by Juno, Jupiter's jealous wife, when she gave birth to Arcas. After 15 years of wandering around the fields that had once been her home, they became the neighboring constellations at the North Pole: .
"All-powerful Jupiter ...  set them in the heavens and made them similar constellations, the Great and Little Bear."  Ovid, "Metamorphoses", Bk II:496-507 Arcas and Callisto become constellations

Well, going  back to "The Bear".  The original story was narrowed in "The Grizzly King: A Romance of the Wild "  book  by James Oliver Curwood. Now, in public domain, it can be read here for free.

"The Bear" movie released in 1988 was a big success and was nominated for numerous international film awards. Its action was set in the stunning scenery of the late 19th-century British Columbia, Canada (close to Vancouver area). This great movie, without dialogues but with a lot of special effects, tells the story of an orphaned bear cub and a adult grizzly, pursued by hunters in the wilds. In some of the filmed scenes, were used animated puppets, but the greatness of this movie is represented by the spontaneous scenes realized by trained animals.

As a tag-line for the movie, I like the film director's quote "So, for the man that is in bears, I felt that it was perfect for man to feel the bear in him".

The Bear         The Bear [VHS]         The Odyssey of the Bear: The Making of the Film by Jean-Jacques Annaud 

The wild actors: a pair of pumas and the bears (Bart, Douce, Griz and Doc)  were trained with competence and ability long time by trainers to make the glacial mountains to became their territory, while prepared them  for the movie scenes. It is really magic to see how people and animals can reach across the species barrier and really communicate. This movie offers a perfect opportunity to talk with your kids about natural habits, to show them the wildlife through the animals point of view.

"The greatest thrill is not to kill but to let live" James Oliver Curwood

Merci, Monsieur Annaud!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Flash 3D object movie embedded in Blogspot

3D Object movie is a perfect choice to display interactively on the web, a product, an art object, collectible, antiques or museum pieces, even miniature landscapes or bonsai. It allows the viewer to manipulate an object with mouse and analyze the object from all the sides and different directions. It is an interactive photograph, a sequence of photographs taken of a product from every angle that gives the impression of a tangible, three dimensional real object.

There are many software programmes existing in the today market having as input a set of high resolution pictures and output an embeddable object. In the software used by us, you can create high quality 3D object movies (Flash or QuickTime format) which can be rotate 360 degrees. The view at a given angle can be animated or manually selected. When take pictures it is mandatory to fix the photo camera on a tripod and to use a turntable to rotate the object at the desire angle (10, 30, 45 degrees) until  rotate completely. Of course, higher quality pictures translate into a higher quality 3D object movie. A photo studio with controlled light and a professional camera and lens ... helps a lot, but you can obtain good results even with an ordinary photo camera.

Chinese Porcelain Fishbowl on marble turntable
Chinese Porcelain Fishbowl on marble turntable
Object spins can be single-row (rotating around the vertical axis), or multi-row (able to be rotated around both the horizontal and vertical axes). It is quite difficult to make a multi-row object movie and for sure you'll need a professional equipment for this (photo camera, tripod, turntable and special accessories, photo light kit) - you need to take many sets of pictures at same distance to the object but in different vertical planes, maintaining same angle when rotate the object in horizontal plane. With a two-axis movie, the user is able to tilt the object to see it from above and below the horizontal while also turning it about its vertical axis.

Slik Sprint Pro II Tripod in Gun Metal With Quick Release Ball Head & Case    Fujifilm FinePix S2800HD 14 MP Digital Camera with 18x Wide Optical Zoom and 3.0-Inch LCD  EZspin 14" White Turntable - by Tabletop Studio / EZcube

Another exciting possibility of this software is the user enabled zoom, with buttons that allow the user to zoom in and out. Also you can add multiple buttons to rotate object, to change spin direction or to maximize the image to a full screen.

Till today, Google Blogspot doesn't allow you to upload and host a Flash file, but there are multiple other ways to host such a file on a third party provider. Once you uploaded your file (with .swf extension) you can embed your Flash application into your post as a HTML code.

As we already said in our first blog post, we are also enthusiasts about oriental art. So we chose for today demo an amazing old Chinese Fishbowl  / planter made from Porcelain with height - 26cm and width - 32 cm.  This piece of art was hand painted with vivid floral motifs to the exterior and with Koi fish and aqua-plants to the interior.  Use your mouse to spin / change spin direction / zoom  the object.

If you want to showcase your product as a 3D Flash Object Movie on your website, we can help you to identify the right solutions that are best for your business. Contact us at if you want to learn more about this technology and how may suits your needs.

Send us a sequence of pictures taken by yourself and we'll provide you the embeddable Flash file and as a promotional offer we will make the first 3D object movie for free.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Welcome to Samurai Leader

Samurai leader painted on a Chenghua miniature porcelain vase
Hello readers and welcome to our new blog !

We started this new project as a place for
  • discoveries; 
  • assistance in web design, e-commerce, marketing
  • enable on-line interactive 3D web-based object movies for us and for our customers.
We are a small team of computers, telecommunications and new technologies enthusiasts who share with passion and pleasure their knowledge and we hope this blog will provide you a good insight into our work in a relaxing manner.

Samurai leader painted on a miniature porcelain vase marked Chenghua on bottom

We are also enthusiasts about nature, travel, art (in any form of it) and we intend also to share with you
  • inspirational stories about honor, courage, loyalty, honesty,  appreciation of arts and self-control.
  • Game / Sport / Art of Go / Baduk / Wei Qi
  • Zen and Oriental philosophies
  • observations and reflections 
  • Code of the Samurai
  • multipurpose tips, 
  • photos and movies, 
  • the latest about the World around us. 
Of course we hope you will enjoy our new blog and we look forward to receive your feedback. Keep one eye for upcoming posts  or through RSS and Atom feeds - also available. We hope to became a guide for succeeding in today's very complex World. On that note, we welcome your input regarding possible topics, wishes or suggestions and invite you to contact us at

Thanks so much for visiting our blog!  
Samurai Leader Team