... in japan

Ōmiya Keirin

09 Aug 2008 | 470 words | japan cycling popular culture photos

So on my last day in Japan i ventured out to see a Keirin race somewhere on the finges of the Tokyo metropolis (big thanks to Fumi for figuring this out for me). Apparently Keirin has made it to become an olympic discipline a while ago, which is kind of interesting insofar that keirin in not really a sport but a form of gambling. it is like horse racing but then the horses are substituted with bicycles and since bicycles do not move by themselves the jockeys (not the similarities in headgear and outfit) have to do the pedalling. so in essence you can place bets on humans and then watch them race against each other.

The race format (at least on thursday in Ōmiya) is fairly straightforward: 4 laps on a concrete race track, the first three of them behind a pacer and when the bell rings for the final lap the 9 riders battle it out between them (sometimes using elbows). you can either place bets on first second third combinations or you can place bets on fist and second combinations.

4 rounds of 400m or so may not seem like much but if you consider that this spectacle takes place in early afternoon in august in an open air stadium (with 35 degrees celsius and more in the shadows), then you got to admire these riders for even making it to the finish (plus this makes those american track cyclists who arrived in peking wearing face masks look like complete sissies)

Not that anybody in the public really cares about the riders, for the public they are just the numbers that they wear on their brightly colored jerseys. Most of the gamblers dont even care enough to actually watch the race, instead they stay in a giant air conditioned hall where they can chovienenltly place their bets and watch – without much display of emotion – the race results on overhead screens.

The gamblers are a strangely interesting mix, especially when contrasted with the teenager and salarymen dominated insanity of central Tokyo: 99% male (i think i saw three women that did not work at the racetrack), at any given point in time half of them have a cigarette in their mouth and literally nobody carries a mobile-phone. The whole place felt like some kind of retired male working class heaven complete with 100yen entry fee, an endless supply of cold green tea from machines, cheap and good (at least the teppanyaki) food and the promise of placing a winning bet and going home rich. From that point of view Keirin makes much more sense than that other japanese ‘gambling’ obsession Pachinko (which is simply insane and completely lacks the social interaction taking place around the keirin track).

More pictures in this set on my flickr account.

Sushi in Suhl

25 Dec 2007 | 701 words | food germany east germany 90s tourism japan

So i am at my parents place (somewhere in the middle of eastern Germany some 2 hours south of Berlin) for the holidays and naturally we are talking about food most of the time. My brother just informed us of his (outrageous) plan to make Sushi for lunch. how insane is this? Making sushi somewhere in the middle of nowhere where all the shops are closed and even if they were open they would still not be selling fresh fish (my brother informs me that he has frozen fish that he intends to use, yuk!).

Now my father says that it is not such an outrageous thing to make sushi here as this area (provincial eastern Germany) used to have the best japanese restaurant in the whole of europe in the 70s and 80s. sounds a bit insane to me (why would the best japanese restaurant in europe be located deep in the provinces of (then socialist) East Germany) but apparently this has indeed been the case (if you can trust the interwebs, which of course you can’t):

In the late 60s some crazy east German engineer bought a restaurant in Suhl (local joke: ‘Suhl is so close to the edge of the world you can see Zella-Mehlis‘) and transformed it into the best Japanese restaurant in Europe [the following is my own crappy translation of a badly written article that appeared in a local newspaper on the occasion of Rolf Anschütz’s 75th birthday on the 4th of May 2007]:

In 1960 Rolf Anschütz became an apprentice Chef and started studies to become an engineer. In the mid 60s he bought the wine-bar “Der Waffenschmied” [pk: the Armorer] in Suhl. He had the idea to transform it into a Japanese restaurant since the time in the chef-school in Leipzig: Only among the people from the land of the rising sun the culture of food preparation constitutes the primary element of the national culture as a whole. He was fascinated with this observation and went to great length to create his own japanese restaurant:

41 years ago the chop sticks were hand made in a local carpenters shop and the rice bowls were sourced from a pottery shop in nearby Rümhilde and the engineer himself cut off the legs from chairs and tables to bring them to japanese proportions. He also hung cloth to the walls to simulate a far eastern ambience and on the 14th of february 1966 he started serving japanese cuisine in the GDR!

At that time he could not foresee the success that ensued over the decades to come – but a legend had been born that day in Suhl. A day that should change his life once and for all: The restaurant deep in the province quickly became insiders tip for culinary events and after japanese journalists had started reporting about this culinary highlight back in Japan reservations for a meal needed to be booked 2 years in advance.

The restaurant was running at full capacity and in 1978 he in introduced the japanese ‘Gastmahl’ [pk: guest meal] that was celebrated according to traditional rules – including a common bath of the guests before the meal. At this time the “Waffenschmied” belonged to the most respected japanese restaurants outside of Japan. In Europe it is the undisputed number “1” followed by Brussel and Japan [pk: since when is Japan in Europe?]. The whole world came to visit Rolf Anschütz: from South American cattle barons to Japanese tourists for whom it became a must to visit Rolf Anschütz in Suhl. More than 96.000 guests from Japan ate at “Der Waffenschmied”. In total more than 2 million visitors from 126(!!) countries were guests at this exceptional Restaurant and 186.000 among them took part in the bathing ceremony.

Apart from this rather dubious newspaper article there is not much information to be found online. however it seems that a feature film about the restaurant is in production at the time of writing (IMDB lists ‘Sushi in Suhl‘ as ‘in production’) and the film seems to have received production money from the film fund of the German federal state of Hessen.

Rolf Anschütz in the “Waffenschmied”

Rolf Anschütz with japanese guests

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

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