• 茶道の心を伝える種まきをしたい

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Randy CHANNELL Soei, a Canadian residing in Kyoto since 1993, teaches and trains day and night striving to convey the heart of chado – the culture of Japan’s traditional way of tea. He started studying the art in 1985 and in 1999 he was granted his chamei (tea name) Soei from the 15th Urasenke Grand Tea Master. He achieved his associate professor rank in 2001, and as he continues his daily training, his teaching career is now in its 15th year.

    Randy is very passionate about promoting chado in new and unconventional ways. Not only does he teach at the Nashinoki Shrine and his own shop “ran Hotei,” he often lectures at universities like Kyoto and Doshisha. He also supervises commercial photo shoots, and appears in various media including TV, radio, magazines and on the web. “I want to have people who have no idea what tea is to become interested in the art. I want to serve them a bowl, have them take a sip and enjoy the experience,” he says in fluent Japanese.

    “Before living here I visited many times so when I finally moved to Japan I didn’t really suffer from any culture shock, though I have had a few interesting experiences! I once bought a pack of what I thought was peanut butter only to open it at home and find out it was miso. Also, when I sometimes use the word ‘hiya’ instead of ‘mizu’ for water, I am misunderstood… I guess the person I’m asking doesn’t realize I’m speaking Japanese so I don’t get my water. Or maybe they don’t know the term!” he says smiling wryly.

    Originally coming to Japan to learn budo, Japanese martial arts, he earnestly trained in kyudo (archery), kendo (Japanese fencing style), iaido (sword drawing), naginata (a halberd-like weapon), and nitoryu (two sword kendo). Wanting to devote his life to the concept of “Bunbu ryodo” (the dual path of the martial and cultural ways) he tried to find something cultural to balance his budo training. Trying to find that balance is how he was introduced to the world of chado. “Though I was relatively quick to learn the physical side of the arts, studying the language was more difficult for me. Even now I am not very skilled in using polite Japanese.” He says that chado, which used to just be a hobby, is now the center of his life.

    Randy is also motivated to change tea’s traditional image and its rigidly formal ways. He often serves tea at wedding receptions to all the guests while also conducting a special presentation for the bride and groom. “Using a simple preparation with utensils set on a tray, on a table I prepare a bowl of usucha (thin tea) which the couple shares. Then I present them with the tea bowl. They are always delighted with the gift… the bowl is decorated with the kanji “kotobuki” (longevity). I am also honored to be present at the moment of their once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

    Three years ago, he opened a Japanese style cafe in an old Kyoto machiya, hoping to create a more relaxed atmosphere for people wishing to experience the culture of Japan’s traditional way of tea. The guests having Randy’s “tea experience” range in age from 5 to 80 and come from all over the world. “I recently looked at the guestbook and was surprised to see comments in 14 different languages! I am always impressed with the international interest in this art.”

    “I treat bowls crafted by both national living treasures and anonymous artists the same way. I consider price to be insignificant, and it’s the same way I interact with people. Whether you have money or not is incidental. More important is the heart of tea. The Four Principles of tea set forth by SEN no Rikyu are ‘wa-kei-sei-jaku’ (Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility) and putting these into your daily life while serving guests in this mindset brings hearts together in order to enjoy a bowl of tea.”

    However, Randy believes that the tea ceremony needs to adapt in order to continue being accepted by the general public. “I often see nervous lecturers on stage at demonstrations who do not convey the pleasures of the art. Of course you cannot be too casual, but to stage an enjoyable performance in a relaxed atmosphere is vital to hold beginners’ interest.”

    “I can communicate in both English and Japanese, so I do have some non-Japanese students, but I avoid translating the main tea terms such as names of the utensils used and some of the movements. Similar to other arts like ballet or even judo, wherever they are studied, original terms like ‘pas de deux’ and ‘ippon’ are taught.”

    “Chado is a composite art form. A profound appreciation can be had within the combined beauty of the seasonal sweets, the utensils, and the sound of an iron kettle’s boiling water, all held in a rustic atmosphere. Regardless of nationality, tea has a certain appeal for those who are ready to experience it,” he says, referring not only to the students studying the art, but “to planting seeds of interest in others as well.”

    Written on the hanging scroll in his room is the zen phrase, “kissako” which stated simply means “Drink tea!” “That’s how I feel at this time. I am not as aggressive now as when I was involved in martial arts. I would like to continue to communicate the charm of tea that helps one find their everyday mind,” he softly adds.

    Randy CHANNELL Soei website
    ran Hotei

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko













    らん 布袋


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  • 温暖化被害地ツアーはいかが?

    [From March Issue 2010]

    After Lehman’s fall, the number of Japanese tourists decreased due to the global depression. Travel companies are now developing new destinations to increase tourism. A Japanese travel company is planning “Global Warming Experience Tours,” taking advantage of the continued trend for eco tours. Hiragana Times CIA interviewed Ms. ONCHI Miyuki, the manager in charge of the plan.

    CIA: What is the exact meaning of “Global Warming Experience Tours”?

    Mgr.: As you know, abnormal phenomenon are occurring everywhere on the earth. The purpose of these tours is to provide an opportunity to visit the places suffering greatly from global warming, in order to really feel the global crisis. For instance, take a tour to Tuvalu, a little island in the Pacific Ocean, which is sinking due to rising water. The participants will stay and live together with the local people.

    CIA: Isn’t that taking advantage of unfortunate people?

    Mgr.: Not at all! You should know that our tourists spend money there and as a result the locals will profit. Nothing gets resolved by merely sympathizing with the m, something must be done, and this will help their livelihood. We are planning on sending great numbers of tourists to those places in cooperation with travel companies worldwide.

    CIA: What other tours are being offered?

    Mgr.: There is a large Australian lake that dried up and became a desert, which tourists can cross by foot. In Brazil, there is a camp site where the forest has been completely raised. There are also many other destinations, including Northern Europe where falling ice can be seen.

    CIA: Recently the world has started to take global warming more seriously. Do you think you can carry out your plan?

    Mgr.: At COP15 it became obvious that it is hard to calm some countries egos. After all, CO2 emissions are not decreasing.

    CIA: Do you think some positive changes will result from the success of such tours?

    Mgr.: Ironically, the more an area suffers, the more tourists will visit it. Their CO2 complaints will stop, and instead, they will welcome CO2 emitting nations. If CO2 restrictions are abolished, CO2 manufacturing countries will be more productive and consequently the income of their workers will grow and they will have more opportunities to travel. There is no doubt that the tourists from CO2 emitting countries visiting suffering areas will increase, and all parties will be happy. Don’t you think that this is a wonderful plan?

    One Comment from CIA

    Dear Readers, have you heard of the book “The Spider’s Thread” written by AKUTAGAWA Ryunosuke, in which he describes how Buddha pulls one person out of Hell and up to Heaven by a single spider thread for showing compassion. Upon climbing up, the person notices many others following him, so fearing the thread breaking and his descent back into Hell, he shouts, “Get off.” Suddenly the thread breaks in front of him and he plunges back down into Hell again. So readers, please be aware of just how fragile our ecological thread really is.

    * CIA(Cynically Insulting Agency)


    リーマン・ショック以後、世界的な不況で日本人観光客が少なくなった。旅行会社は観光客を増やそうと新しい観光地を開発している。最近はエコツアーの人気が続いていることに目を付けた日本のある旅行会社が、「温暖化体験ツアー」を企画している。Hiragana Times CIAは、その企画の責任者、温地みゆき部長にインタビューした。




    部長:とんでもない! いいですか、観光客はそこでお金を使うので、現地の人はうるおうのです。行動を起こさず、ただかわいそうだと同情するだけでは何も起こりません。何かをしなければなりません。これは現地の生活を助けることになります。私たちは、これらの場所に世界中の旅行会社と一緒にたくさんのお客を送る計画を立てています。









    * CIA(Cynically Insulting Agency /皮肉冗談局)

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  • 飛行船-文明社会の新たなシンボル

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Airships were first used for advertising in Japan in the late 1960’s when the Japanese economy was strong. It’s a time that WATANABE Hiroyuki, Representative Director of the Nippon Airship Corporation, fondly remembers. “I was in fifth grade living in Sakai City, Osaka. One day in December 1968, the school principal gathered all the students in the schoolyard during class time. Then a huge airship flew by, hovering twice above us, as the pilot waved to the students. It was very exciting.”

    After graduating from university, Watanabe found work at a merchant ship company. He got involved in a new venture, an airship company, and was promoted to department manager. However, in the mid-1990’s, his company and its competitors were forced to stop high-cost airship operation, due to the poor economy.

    However, airships finally made a comeback at the eco-themed 2005 World Exposition, Aichi, Japan. With public interest growing for airships as a viable, environmentally-friendly mode of transportation, industry experts soon established the Nippon Airship Corporation. After three years of preparation, official commercial flights then started in November of 2007.

    The NAC’s German-made Zeppelin NT airship is one of only three in the world. Measuring 75 meters in length, it is five meters longer than a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. It uses non-flammable helium gas, which has zero impact on people or the environment. And while the other two airships operate in Germany and the USA, the Nippon Airship Corporation’s Zeppelin NT is the only one that flies over urban areas.

    To date 2,000 people have flown with the Nippon Airship Corporation. The roomy cabin (referred to as a gondola) can hold two pilots, one crew member and ten passengers. They can see high-rise buildings up close while cars and trains down below resemble miniature models. Passengers can also walk around inside the cabin and take pictures, after the seatbelt sign is turned off.

    The company offers several tour packages, including one over Saitama Prefecture (50,000 yen/30 min.), where the landing field is located. Another popular sightseeing tour is over downtown Tokyo (starting from 126,000 yen/90 min.) with several seasonal tours over Yokohama City, Kamakura City, and both Kyoto and Nara Prefectures. Sightseeing tours over both Kagoshima and Osaka Prefectures, as well as special flights from Osaka to Tokyo, are also planned for this coming March. Nippon Airship Corporation is looking for more landing fields in Tokyo in the hopes of making their tours more affordable for the general public.

    Nippon Airship Corporation also offers their Zeppelin NT as an advertising medium, displaying company names and logos on the airship’s sides. SATO Yuji, section manager of NAC’s sales department says, “Showing the names of companies and products seems to be effective advertising but it also makes employees feel proud and motivated.” SATO’s colleague, NAKA Yusuke, further added that the airship once assisted the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology with an illegal radio wave investigation. And, the airship also provided free air-support during relief efforts to those who were affected by the Noto Peninsula earthquakes that hit three years ago.

    “I think the teachers who gave students the opportunity to see the airship back when I was in school were more relaxed. I believe that airships which do not destroy nature but let people dream are needed now more than ever. These airships will become a new symbol of a civilized society,” affirms Watanabe.

    Nippon Airship Corporation











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  • 高水三山ハイキングコース

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Located in Tokyo’s Okutama area, this hiking trail traverses three separate mountains: Takamizusan (759m), Iwatakeishiyama (793m) and Sougakusan (756m). Despite their modest heights, hikers can still enjoy fine views of the Kanto plain, Mt. Tsukuba, the Nikko Mountain Range, and neighboring mountains including Tanigawadake on the Jouetsu boarder (between Gunma and Niigata Prefectures) as well as the Okuchichibu mountain area. Hiking the Takamizusan trail is an ideal introduction to other Okutama-area hiking trips.

    The hike begins at Ikusabata train station, where 50 meters to the left of the ticket gate you’ll find a railroad crossing. About 15 minutes after crossing over you’ll come to the Hiramizo Bridge. At the bridge follow the signpost to the left and pass through a quiet mountainside village. You will then come to the Hiramizogawa Bridge. Cross it then and follow the “Tozanguchi” signpost to the beginning of the ascent.

    Ten minutes after passing the landslide marker, you will see the Sabo Dam, where the road you are now traveling on becomes the trail. Crossing a stream, you will climb the mountainside that leads to a small waterfall, and arrive at “Kata no Kohiroba” – a tiny open space on the mountain’s shoulder.

    But don’t stop to rest just yet, for a little further along are some benches and a nice view from Rokugome – the sixth of this mountain’s ten stage ascent. About another 30 minutes up a log stairway is Joufukuin Temple. Rebuilt in 1822, the main building offers various sculptures of lions, elephants and dragons. And while the peak of Takamizusan is located just behind the temple surrounded by trees, with no view to speak of, you can still greatly enjoy the changing colors of maple trees during the autumn season.

    The trail then descends northwestwardly down a steep slope towards Iwatakeishiyama. Flattening out, you can now view from a distance and to the right, the dome-shaped peaks of Nikko’s Nantaisan, just over the mountains of Okumusashi. Then, at the foot of Iwatakeishiyama the trail splits in two, with the right trail leading upwards towards the peak where the mountaintop commands a full view of the Kanto plains and Bou no Oreyama. For a short rest there are benches at the summit.

    Lined with rocks, the trail then meanders southwest towards Sougakusan. Passing through a reforested area, it climbs to the flat hilltop, where Aoi Shrine, dedicated to Okuninusi no Mikoto, stands. After descending the Sougakusan’s southern face, the trail continues along the ridgeline eventually doubling back through the reforested area. You will eventually find yourself walking along the Ome Kaido Street towards Mitake. The Mitake train station is located on your right.

    Ome City Tourist Information

    Text: YAMAMOTO Masanori










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  • どうして駅弁は日本でこんなに人気がある?

    [From March Issue 2010]

    “Ekiben,” boxed meals sold at train stations, are very popular among the Japanese. They are typically filled with locally grown ingredients and dishes unique to their region, and their wrapping paper usually depicts the scenery or a specialty of the particular town. Ingenuity is often exercised in the containers as well, with shell-shaped containers being used for ekiben sold near the seashore and pottery used for ones available in towns known for their pottery.

    Take for example, “Gyuuniku-domannaka,” sold at Yonezawa Station in Yamagata Prefecture. It’s an ekiben that uses ”Domannaka,” rice grown in the prefecture, and is popular nationwide. The rice that makes up two thirds of the obento (boxed meal) is topped with domestically-produced beef cooked in the style of sukiyaki (a dish of thinly sliced beef flavored with sugar, soy sauce and sake). Since it is very popular, this ekiben is sold not only at Yonezawa Station, but also on the Yamagata Shinkansen (bullet train), as well as at stations like Tokyo, Ueno and Omiya.

    The “Ikameshi” from Mori Station in Hokkaido also has a reputation as a delicious ekiben. Ikameshi is a dish made by boiling squid stuffed with rice. This obento contains two pieces of squid and is sold for 500 yen, a fairly low price for an ekiben. It is so popular among ekiben fans that merchandise such as ikameshi-shaped straps and bags with the same pattern as its wrapping paper, are sold.

    Not only are ekiben sold at their respective places of origin, but they are also available at ekiben events held in big cities such as Tokyo. For example, in October 2009, “Higashi Nihon Jyuudan Ekiben Taikai” (The Fair of Ekiben from around Eastern Japan) was held at Tokyo Ekitchen inside Tokyo Station. Thirty-seven companies known for their ekiben across eastern Japan participated and sold about 100 kinds of ekiben, including ones made exclusively for the event.

    There are also some shops that specialize in popular ekiben. Umaimon, with branch stores in Tokyo and Omiya (Saitama Prefecture), sells 50 to 60 different kinds of ekiben from various stations around Japan. They not only gather and sell ekiben, but create new ekiben in cooperation with regional ekiben companies. They also carry hard-to-find ekiben that are not widely available at other ekiben shops.

    Some people eat ekiben as a hobby while others write about ekiben for work. One person who does both is UESUGI Tsuyoshi, who has been eating and comparing all kinds of ekiben for over 30 years. He has launched a website called “Ekiben no komado” (Small Window to Ekiben), where he recommends ekiben and provides information about ekiben events. He also collects ekiben wrapping paper and has written a book about it.

    Rankings of the most popular ekiben are often released on the Internet, some by food companies and others by individuals. In addition to rankings based on taste, there are various other rankings such as for containers. Uesugi’s website even ranks ekiben that are no longer available but that ekiben lovers want to see return.

    Why are ekiben so popular? “Ekiben is one of the most enjoyable parts of traveling by train,” says a woman living in Tokyo, adding that eating ekiben while looking out the window at the passing scenery is fun in itself. Speaking about an ekiben that she bought at an event, she says: “By eating the ekiben, you can enjoy the feeling of traveling somewhere without doing so. I also feel happy to be able to eat something at home that I normally cannot buy unless I visit the particular town.”

    “Famous ekiben at major stations are good, but there are also tasty ekiben at small stations in the country,” says KONDO Masaaki of Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co., Ltd., the company which runs Umaimon. “Some ekiben sold at small stations in Nagano and Niigata Prefectures are handmade by cooks who are particular about seasoning and the way they broil fish.” Finding such ekiben is another fun aspect about them.

    “They are fun to look at and taste great. What’s more, they’re convenient,” says MIURA Yukie of Umaimon’s Omiya branch, speaking about the appeal of ekiben. Having started selling ekiben part-time after her children had grown up, Miura is now the manager of the store. She boosted sales by recommending to her customers ekiben that she likes herself. Miura shared the following memory about ekiben.

    “One time I was focusing on selling this particular ekiben by recommending it to customers. Then a customer who had bought the ekiben came back and bought it again. He said, ‘This ekiben was so good that I thought I would buy it for my mother. She is dead now, but I will place one on her grave and then share this ekiben with my family while she is with us in spirit.’ When I heard this story, I was really glad that I had recommended it to him.”

    Most Japanese had their parents make boxed meals for them when they were children. Those nostalgic memories may be the reason why they are so attached to, and particular about, obento. The appeal of ekiben includes memories of travel, unique dishes and beautiful wrapping, as well as all the merits of a satisfying boxed meal. Given all that, it is only natural for the Japanese to love them.

    In Japan, There are Many Kinds of Obento

    Some, such as boxed meals for cherry-blossom viewing in the spring time, and ones featuring broiled eel in summer, are seasonal fare. Many people also buy or make obento for lunch. Most Japanese know ways of making a boxed meal last longer, including putting an umeboshi (sour pickled plum) in the rice.

    Many people are particular about the way they make their obento. For example, some use cups or wraps to separate the different dishes from one-another, so that they don’t touch, while others consider the colors of the ingredients used so that they look beautiful together. Some even make artistic obento called “chara-ben” (boxed meals inspired by anime or manga characters) and “deco-ben” (decorated boxed meals) such as HAMA Chiharu’s. For all obento makers, a variety of stores carrying special utensils exist.

    Shops that sell obento are also particular about their services. Most obento come with a pair of chopsticks and tsumayouji (a toothpick), as well as otefuki (a wet tissue for wiping your hands clean) and, you can often have your obento microwaved.

    Ekiben no komado
    Tokyu Hands
    Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co., Ltd.
    Obento by HAMA Chiharu

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo /文:砂崎 良


    「駅弁」という駅で売られるお弁当が日本人の間でとても人気です。駅弁にはその土地で取れる食材や、めずらしい料理などがつめられ、「掛け紙」には その町の風景や名物などが描かれています。容器も工夫されています。海の近くでは貝の形をした駅弁がありますし、陶器の町では陶器入りの駅弁があります。

















    Text: SAZAKI Ryo /文:砂崎 良

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  • クルーザーで探検する工場夜景見学ツアー

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Centered around both the ports of Tokyo and of Yokohama, the Keihin Industrial Zone has developed into Japan’s largest industrial area. With metal, mechanical and chemical plants standing side-by-side and intricately entangled in pipes, smoke and rising steam, with their lights illuminating the night’s darkness, the scene resembles those of science fiction movies. “The Jungle Cruise for Night Views of Factories,” a boat tour of the industrial zone surrounding the Port of Yokohama, started in June 2008, and costs 4,500 yen per person.

    The cruise, which starts near the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse and lasts one-and-a-half hours, is so popular that it’s usually fully booked several months in advance. On the deck of the Ootori, a wooden boat that holds up to 30 passengers, the captain and the chief engineer describe places of interest around the city, including 17 must-see factories. Since it is a night tour for adults, original cocktails are also served on-board.

    The tour is conducted by the KMC CORPORATION, a company involved in operating both regular and chartered passenger liners as well as other marina-related businesses including the storage of private boats. IWATA Hideo, the company’s general manager, says: “MARUMARU Motoo, the famous night view critic, proposed and produced this tour, which made it all possible. We spent a lot of time on preparing for the tour, including choosing the route and instructing the guides.”

    “The echoing sound of metal and the way the boat passes through a narrow canal reminds you of a jungle expedition. But, since the boat sails on the canal, where there are few waves, you hardly need to worry about getting seasick. With permission from the Transport Ministry, you can look at the enormous factories from as close as 30 meters away, which is the real appeal of this tour. The boat departs at dusk and returns after sunset, so you can enjoy a different version of the same views on the way back,” says Iwata.

    In recent years, Japanese history, and trains, have both captured the attention of many young women. Now it’s similar with factories, where young participants have also included young women. The tour is popular among men and women of all ages, with many repeat customers. And aside from the factory-fanatics, those who work, or who used to work at factories, also take their families on these cruises. Some participants even come all the way from Hokkaido or Kyushu for this cruise.

    Last October “The Adventure Cruise” started. This tour uses the largest boat the company owns, which accommodates up to 50 passengers. Passing under the Yokohama Bay Bridge, the boat heads for the famous “Castle of Light” oil refinery. Chartered, group cruises (for 10 to 50 passengers) with hotel catering services are available for parties and other special occasions.

    These night cruises of factories, which were Japan’s first, have prompted some other local administrations to develop their own original tours as new tourist attractions. “I don’t want this to be just a temporary fad. So in order to keep providing this service, I’d like to further improve the content of the tours, rather than merely increasing the number of cruises that are currently provided only on Saturdays and Sundays. Taking our customers’ comments to heart, we’re striving far continuous improvement,” Iwata says.











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  • 親しみやすい人が好き ― 日本人のファン心理

    [From February Issue 2010]

    In recent years more Japanese are becoming fans of people who are not especially well-known, but have specific charms. It ranges from weather forecasters to entertainers. Why are the Japanese bewitched by them?

    Since 2007, NHK Service Center, Inc. has been selling calendars of weather forecasters. In the first year, they made a calendar showing both male and female forecasters. From the next year, however, the calendar only featured female forecasters, and in 2009 it added pictures of “weather girls” clad in yukata (kimono for summer). The first printed copies of the 2010 version have sold out and they have decided to print additional copies.

    Dressed in casual-style clothes, NHK’s weather girls describe the weather in simple words. Because of their “friendly next-door neighbor” looks, they’ve become nearly as popular as TV entertainers. Especially popular is NAKARAI Sae, who is nicknamed the “7:28 Lover” because she always appears on TV at 7:28 p.m.

    In November 2009 an event was held in Sakura-shi, Chiba Prefecture, where a female idol group called “Sakura-gumi” performed a concert and shook hands with fans. The group, made up of Japanese and Chinese members, sings and dances in ninja costumes. Although they just debuted in August, a number of avid fans turned up to speak to them and ask for handshakes.

    “They came all the way from China and are trying hard in Japan, so I really hope they will succeed,” says a man who came by bullet train from Fukushima Prefecture. He is a fan of the Chinese twins in the group, SAKURA Ranmaru and SAKURA Benimaru. “They have a great memory because they could soon recognize me. They look a little skinnier than before, and I’m a little concerned about that,” says the man.

    ASAMI Chiyuki is a singer who has released five CD albums and often appears on TV and radio programs. Moreover, she puts on a live show in Tokyo’s Inokashira Park on a regular basis. Asami is also surrounded by many supportive fans. When she was still unknown, for example, one of her fans taught her how to play the guitar. From another fan who worked at a hotel, she learned manners such as how to bow properly.

    Even now, her fans help prepare for her concert at the park. They get to the park hours before the concert and set up by laying down sheets and arranging chairs. They also stand at intervals along the way from the station to the venue so as to guide new fans. They buy and bring things that Asami likes or that are good for her health as well as food from Yamaguchi Prefecture, where she is from.

    “Chiyuki-chan is like my daughter,” says a man who became her fan on March 18, 2005. “When I walked out of the ticket gate, a voice caught my ears, a very natural singing voice which made me feel great,” he continued of the moment he first heard her perform. “When a TV crew is shooting, she gets really nervous. That makes me feel uneasy as well and I start praying, ‘Please sing well.’ ”

    “Chiyuki-chan still calls me ‘Uncle’ even after she has become so famous,” says another man. “If it were not for her, I would have secluded myself in my house after retirement. But I started working again after I became her fan. With the money from that job, I buy her CDs and go to her concerts throughout Japan to support her. I’ve made friends with some of my fellow fans. So this is what I live for.”

    KIMURA Junko, who lives in Tokyo, has favorite musical actors. “Rather than buying brand-name items or ready-made goods, I place special orders with stores,” she says about the gifts she gives them. “I think of something that he can hand out to other actors he works with and that will also make him happy. Or some food that is good for his health.”

    Fans are often seen waiting outside of the stage door (the exit for actors) and giving them presents or asking for autographs. Kimura sometimes talks to the actors at the stage door before she decides what to buy for them. “When I read my favorite actor’s blog, it said, ‘I haven’t been eating enough vegetables lately.’ So after checking with him at the stage door to see if he wanted vegetables, I sent him a big box filled with vegetables,” she says.

    “Fans observe us really well,” says SASAKI Nobuhiko, a top-class dancer who performs in the famous Imperial Theater and also choreographs musicals. “One time, I was feeling sick and had a mask on when passing through the stage door. Soon after that, new masks were sent to me. And another time, I was dancing naked from the waist up in a show. Then, a fan gave me a hand-made shawl that I could easily fling on and off.”

    “I feel that behind such behavior on the part of fans lies the Japanese custom of guessing what others want, the custom of thinking about what the other person wants to receive, rather than what you want to give them,” says Sasaki. “For example, a fan sent vegetables and meat to a group of actors who can cook, but she sent sashimi along with paper plates and soy sauce to another group who can’t cook. When we look busy, fans never ask for autographs.”

    Not all fans, however, are on close terms with actors, according to Sasaki. “Actors who like to have friendly relationships tend to get fans who will take care of small things for them, and those who like to be alone will attract those kinds of fans. But I guess there are more actors now who want to interact with fans naturally as human beings. That seems to be the case with the actors around me,” he says.

    “I give stuff to the actors or wait for them at the stage door because I want to show my support for them, but I also want them to remember me a little,” says Kimura. “Besides, there are more actors who blog these days, and it makes me happy when the actors write about what I gave them, which is another reason for doing all this.”

    “When I got the hand-made shawl, I was touched because it felt like my mother or girlfriend taking care of me,” says Sasaki. “There was also a girl who asked me to write a message for her ailing grandmother.” It might be Japanese fans’ tendency to like approachable entertainers and support them as if they were family.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo







    あさみ ちゆきさんはCDアルバムを5枚発売し、テレビにラジオにと活躍する歌手です。また東京の井の頭公園でも定期的にライブをしています。そのあさみさんの周りにも、多くの温かいファンがいます。例えば、まだ有名でなかった頃には、ファンがギターの弾き方を教えてくれました。ホテルマンだったファンからはおじぎなどマナーを習いました。







    文:砂崎 良


    ただし佐々木さんはファンの全員が、役者と親しくつきあっているのではないと言います。「アットホームな関係が好きな役者には、細かく面倒を見てくれるファンがつく気がしますし、一人でいるのが好きな役者には、そういうファンがつく気がします。人間として自然なつきあいを望む役者が以前より増えたのでは? 自分の周りを見ていると、そういう気はします」。



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  • 歴女の誕生と刀剣の魅力

    [From February Issue 2010]

    Interests traditionally considered manly in Japan such as trains and history are attracting an increasing number of women. The trend has seen the creation of several new Japanese phrases such as “tetsu-ko” to describe women who like trains (“tetsudo”), “reki-jyo” for women who like history (“rekishi”) and “butsu-jyo” for women who like Buddhist statues (“butsuzo”). Of these, the word “reki-jyo” (“history girls”) has become so well known to the public that it ranked in the top ten of the 2009 Ryuukougo Taishou (an award for words that were newly created and became common in the year). Many reki-jyo are uniquely fascinated by swords and Japanese traditional suits of armor (yoroi) and helmets (kabuto), as well as historical characters, in contrast to their male counterparts who focus mostly on historical backgrounds.

    At Takase Dojo in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, women-only lessons for tate are gaining popularity. Tate is a series of movements for attacking and defending with a sword, which is often seen in period dramas. Takase Dojo is also a training center for actors and has long been incorporating tate as a way of instructing them. The dojo opened its doors to the public in 2001, and when a tate class exclusively for women was started on a trial basis in the autumn of 2007, it soon became very popular. In July 2009, women-only tate classes began in earnest.

    The classes for women are divided into two levels, beginner and intermediate, each with around 12 students. The students are mostly in their 20s and range from college students to office workers and housewives. “Being a fan of period drama actors, I wanted to try tate,” says AOKI Kaori in the beginner class about her reason for taking up the new hobby. Both beginner and intermediate classes use takemitsu, wooden swords covered with silver foil to look like real swords, but weighing only 350 grams.

    “Women concentrating on swordsmanship all look beautiful. They should be more aware that they are beautiful and have more self-confidence,” says instructor TAKANO Utako. Being paired up makes it possible for each student to practice attacking and defending with a sword. Learning to manipulate a takemitsu also improves posture and makes people more alert to their surroundings.

    Meanwhile, women are found among the visitors at the Japanese Sword Museum in Shibuya Ward these days. “The world of swords was originally dominated by men and women could never set foot in it. That’s the reason why swords were not familiar to women,” says chief curator KUBO Yasuko. Kubo herself is the first female curator at the museum since its founding.

    In olden times warlords cherished swords as family treasures and also used them as weapons in fights and to protect themselves. Until the end of the Edo period, Japan saw a lot of fighting and swords were very familiar to the Japanese.

    There are a number of expressions in Japanese that originate from swords. For example, “Ittou ryoudan” means to slash something into two in a single sweep of the sword. Because of this, the phrase is also used today in the sense of making a quick decision without paying attention to other people’s opinions.

    Takase Dojo
    The Japanese Sword Museum

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko











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  • 銭湯を彩る背景画を描き続けて半世紀

    [From February Issue 2010]

    “Sentou” public bathhouses have a history of more than 400 years. These bathhouses had been used by most people until the late 1970s when bathrooms became common in ordinary houses. A conventional sentou has separate doors leading into the ladies’ or men’s changing rooms, a bandai from where the sentou is watched-over and yusen (bathing fee) is paid, and conversations are carried out over the wall, only a few meters high, dividing the ladies’ bathing area and the men’s.

    It is said that the culture of painting scenery on the bathing area wall began in 1912, when the gengou (name of the Emperor’s reigning era) changed from Meiji to Taisho. The owner of Kikaiyu bathhouse in Chiyoda Ward asked a painter to do the job. The painter was from Shizuoka Prefecture and loved Mt. Fuji, and thus the mainstream image painted on sentou walls became Mt. Fuji.

    In 1935, MARUYAMA Kiyoto was born in Suginami Ward, Tokyo. He currently is one of the only two remaining sentou scenery painters in Tokyo. Maruyama, still an active painter at 74 years old, has been painting since he was 18, when he started working at a relative’s advertising agency and scenic advertising company. Upon request, he will visit any part of the country to paint landscapes such as Mt. Fuji, Ashinoko Lake and the Seto Inland Sea.

    “I was very good at drawing from a young age. During my evacuation in the war to Yamanashi Prefecture in elementary school and middle school, the watch out for fire disaster prevention poster I drew won a contest,” Maruyama reminisces. “I was taking Japanese calligraphy lessons then, and later I became a scenery painter and had to write letters on billboards, so those skills paid off.”

    Maruyama decided to become a professional scenic painter and took apprenticeship under his master MARUYAMA Kikuo, who was the president of his company. Kikuo was the cousin of Kiyoto’s father, who worked as the sales representative. “He didn’t take extra care in teaching me, so I watched and stole all the skills from him. Work was demanding every day; Besides bathhouse scenery, I even had to write advertisement words on department store shutters and truck bodies.”

    “Originally, advertisement agencies would draw scenic paintings free of charge in exchange for free wall advertisement space. Its own scenic artists would draw the pictures. Post cards were useful references, but the rest of the ideas were all in the head. Looking back, it was a very generous age,” says Maruyama.

    Soon scenic art became a business in its own right. Maruyama became independent at the age of 45. Once he gets a request over the phone, he loads his work tools – paint, brushes, rollers and ladder – into his van and drives himself to the painting site. It takes approximately an hour and a half just to prepare as he sets up scaffolding and spreads sheets of plastic so the bathing area will stay clean.

    The painting process is a work against time. Sentou open from 3 or 4p.m. Maruyama gets to the site by 7a.m., and once he is set up, he starts drafting with chalk. “Gradation is the very essence of scenic art,” Maruyama states. He places the seven colors on his handmade pallet and mixes them to create the subtle shades. He used paintbrushes before, but now uses rollers to directly put paint on the wall.

    Every year, more and more sentous disappear. Scenic artists are losing jobs fast, and the few dozen scenic artists that existed in Tokyo in its golden age have been reduced to just two – the other is his fellow apprentice, NAKAJIMA Morio. But with the help of the recent Showa era boom, plus his appearance in different media, new job opportunities have presented themselves from unexpected directions.

    “After a TV interview, there was a rush of phone calls from people asking me to paint on their bathroom walls.” Moreover, with the graying society, there has been an increase in opportunities to paint bathing rooms at rural retirement homes and care centers over the past five or six years. “Other than that, I have more activities to attend to apart from painting, such as appearing in talk shows at events, or holding exhibitions of my work,” he says.

    There are more than 10,000 scenic art pieces that Maruyama has painted. A sentou wall is typically around 13 meters wide, with the height ranging from five to 10 meters. Working with these “big canvases” is an occupation that calls for tough physical labor on one hand and delicate technique on the other, but he is satisfied with a job that he can continue at an older age. “I feel a calling in the job. It is unfortunate that sentous are decreasing in number and I have no heir,” Maruyama says, smiling.

    Photo provided by Maruyama Kogei, MARUYAMA Kiyoto:













    写真提供:マルヤマ工芸、丸山清人 Tel: 042-573-1852

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  • オリンピック競技にシニア部門をつくるべき!

    [From February Issue 2010]

    At the end of last year a committee for the Olympic game reform consisting of influential Japanese politicians was organized. They made a decision to propose the creation of a senior division in the Olympic Games to the International Olympic Committee. The proposal will be officially submitted to the committee through the Japan Olympic Committee. Hiragana Times CIA interviewed the chief secretary, ITSUWA Masanao.

    CIA: Why will you propose to create a senior division?

    Sec.: At present there are men’s and women’s games in the Olympics, but not senior games. We propose to create the senior division for those over 50 years of age in all Olympic events. The senior division will be further divided into four classes; 50~54, 55~59, 60~64 and over 65.

    CIA: What will happen after creating the senior division?

    Sec.: The senior sports population will surely increase. The world is now in depression. It will bring a great economic effect in the industries of sports goods, gyms, drinks and so on. Japan should propose it to the world as another “Hatoyama Initiative” like the CO2 cut. The world will accept the plan.

    CIA: Why do you propose it so suddenly?

    Sec.: The Hatoyama cabinet has been criticized for having no policy for economic growth. As you know Japan is an aging society and old people have lots of money. With this policy they will spend more money. In a trial calculation, Japan can expect a great economic effect. It will also be good for their health maintenance and should decrease medial expenditure.

    CIA: Is there any other advantage for Japan with this plan?

    Sec.: Japan has the highest ratio of elderly people and the longest life span. There is a high possibility that Japan can get many gold medals in the senior division and be one of the top countries.

    CIA: After all, your true intention is to take advantage of the Olympics, isn’t it?

    Sec.: Yes, actually we have a hidden aim. Japan’s influence in the world is gradually decreasing, reflecting the development of newly emerged economic countries such as China and India. Our purpose also includes diverting people from dissatisfaction. If Japan can make good results in the senior division, the world’s views on the nation’s value will change greatly. The world would begin to compare national power by the power of the elderly, not by economic scale. Then, Japan could be a country people of the world envy.

    One Comment from CIA

    This proposal would be beneficial for Japan, but the US and China, which gain many medals in the Olympics, would oppose this plan just like CO2 cut policy as it violates their benefits. Dear Japanese politicians, you know Hatoyama can not make any decision. It is obvious he cannot pressure the International Olympic Committee. Don’t bring anymore shame on him!

    * CIA(Cynically Insulting Agency)


    昨年の末に日本の有力政治家によるオリンピック改革推進委員会が誕生した。そして、オリンピック競技にシニア部門をつくるよう国際オリンピック委員会に提案することを決めた。提案は2月のバンクーバー・オリンピック終了後に、日本オリンピック委員会を通じて正式に行うとしている。Hiragana Times CIAは、五輪正直事務局長にインタビューした。













    * CIA(Cynically Insulting Agency /皮肉冗談局)

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