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StrangeSights: A matchstick Michelangelo; a Ukrainian-born Miss Japan sparks debate; and, why fried toothpicks shouldn’t be on the menu…

DAVID ADAMS provides a round-up of some stories on the odder side of life…


Tomislav Horvat, 34, inspects a new sculpture of Michelangelo made of matches in Domasinec, Croatia, on 17th January, 2024. For the last six years, Tomislav Horvat has been working on the sculpture of Michelangelo and David which will be made of around 430,000 matches. PICTURE: ReutersAntonio Bronic/File photo


• Croatian artist Tomislav Horvat is not the first person to make models out of matchsticks, but he may be the most ambitious. Horvat thinks nothing of putting 210,000 matchsticks to use to create a life-size sculpture of a pianist playing a grand piano, complete with matchstick strings. Not content with that, the 34-year-old from the northern village of Domasinec is just a year and a half away from completing his version of Michelangelo’s giant sculpture of David. “I need another 30,000 matchsticks to finish it. That is, it’ll need about 430,000 in total,” he said. “I’ve been working on it for six years.” Horvat began making much smaller models, but in 2013 took on a more substantial challenge – a life-size rendition of actor Al Pacino as his iconic character Don Corleone from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 film The Godfather. Sculptures on that scale would collapse without a supporting structure, which he moulds from papier-maché or wood.  The Pianist is his second work on a grand scale, and his third is Desperate Man, a thematic collection with 54,000 matches that took a year and a half. Horvat has exhibited his works in galleries in Croatia, including the capital Zagreb. But they are not, for now, available to buy. – ANTONIO BRONIC, Domasinec, Croatia/Reuters



Ukrainian-born model Karolina Shiino won the Miss Japan contest last week, triggering a social media debate on what it means to be, and look, Japanese. PICTURE: Reuters TV


• The crowning of Ukrainian-born model Karolina Shiino as the winner of the Miss Japan contest last week has triggered a social media debate on what it means to be, and look, Japanese. The 26-year-old model, who was born in Ukraine and looks Caucasian, has lived in Japan for more than 20 years and is a naturalised citizen. Over the years, Japan has further opened its doors to foreigners as a way to reverse its declining birthrate, one of the lowest in the world. “I live as a Japanese person, but there have been racial barriers and many instances where I wasn’t accepted,” Shiino said in fluent Japanese during a tearful acceptance on Monday. “I’m just filled with so much gratitude that I have really been accepted as a Japanese person today,” she said. Several people took to social media to question whether Shiino is truly the face of Japan. “So, someone who doesn’t have a drop ofJapanese blood and has no trace of Japanese-ness is going to represent Japanese women?” said one person on the social media platform X. Others said she had the right to represent the country she belongs to. “If you have Japanese citizenship then you are a Japanese. Isn’t that all there is to say? What more is there to prove?,” another X user said. The reaction to Shiino’s victory echoes the firestorm that surrounded Ariana Miyamoto, the daughter of a Japanese mother and African-American father, who represented Japan in the Miss Universe pageant in 2015. But Shiino hopes people will see past her looks. On the beauty competition’s website, Shiino wrote that although she looks foreign, she is Japanese in spirit. – SAKURA MURAKAMI and TOM BATEMAN, Tokyo, Japan/Reuters



A person holds a “Fried green toothpick” which went viral following a social media trend, against which South Korea’s food and drug safety authorities have issued warnings regarding its consumption, in Busan, South Korea, on 19th January, 2024, in this picture obtained from social media. PICTURE: b_chuchu_ / @hee_2458 via X/via Reuters


 A health warning from South Korea’s food ministry has urged people not to eat fried toothpicks made of starch in a shape resembling curly fries, after the practice went viral in social media posts. Video clips showing people consuming the deep-fried starch toothpicks with seasoning such as powdered cheese have racked up thousands of likes and shares on TikTok and Instagram. “Their safety as food has not been verified,” the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said in a posting on Wednesday on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter. “Please do not eat [them].” Videos of the toothpicks, a sanitary product, being fried in oil and eaten were going viral, it added. Food colouring is used to impart a green hue to the toothpicks, made from sweet potato or corn starch, which are seen as being environmentally friendly and biodegradable. Often used in restaurants in South Korea, they can also be used to pick up finger foods. Online eating shows, called “Mukbang”, which often show people eating an excessive amount of food or unusual dishes, are popular in South Korea.  “It’s very crispy,” one TikTok user said in a video, while crunching up fried toothpicks. – HYUNSU YIM, Seoul, South Korea/Reuters



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