• 世界自然遺産の森と歴史につつまれて― 青森

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Aomori Prefecture is located on the northernmost tip of Honshu Island, where the Mutsu-wan (bay) nestles between the eastern Shimokita, and western Tsugaru Peninsulas. It is a region blessedly surrounded by the abundant waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan and the Tsugaru Kaikyo (Straits). The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri Festival held annually in August is a well-known festival. Currently only accessible via the Touhoku Shinkansen to Hachinohe station, the Shin-Aomori station is scheduled to open this December, enabling visitors to travel without transferring, directly from Tokyo station to Aomori City.

    In Aomori City visitors can explore the Sannai Maruyama Site, Japan’s largest archeological dig that dates back to the Jomon Period (approximately 16,500 to 3,000 years ago). The full-scale excavation, which began in 1992, revealed that ancient residents lived communally in neighboring villages and regularly interacted with one another.

    Findings considered between 4 ~ 5,500 years old reveal pit-house remains, grave sites, traces of larger buildings, Jomon-era clay pots, stone ware, clay figures, jewelry, jade and obsidian (volcanic glass) from far off regions. DNA analysis further revealed that chestnuts were also cultivated – a discovery which greatly changed the perception of Jomon-era culture.

    Renown for its history, Aomori Prefecture is also known in the literary world as the birthplace of author DAZAI Osamu (1909~1948), whose works include “Shayo (The Setting Sun)” and “Ningen Shikkaku (No Longer Human).” Dazai, the youngest of eight surviving children, was born into a wealthy landowner family in Goshogawara City. Now, both his enthusiastic fans and the local citizens look after his home, which houses the Dazai Osamu Museum, or “Shayo Kan.” And more recently, Dazai’s work has attracted new fans through the comic book version of “Ningen Shikkaku” and the film adaptation of “Viyon no Tsuma (Villon’s Wife).”

    Hirosaki is known for Mount Iwaki and Hirosaki Castle. Mount Iwaki, also referred to as “Tsugaru Fuji,” stands tall at 1,625 meters above sea level. At Hirosaki Castle, annual cherry blossoms bloom just in time for May’s Golden Week holidays (from the end of April to the beginning of May), making it a favorite viewing spot for visitors from all across the country.

    The castle grounds, measuring 385, 200 square meters, were built during his reign of TSUGARU Nobuhira, daimyou (lord) of the Tsugaru Han (domain), and can hold more than 10 Tokyo Domes. The current tenshukaku, the castle’s tallest and most-central building with rooftop views, was rebuilt in 1811. Hirosaki Castle is one of last 12 remaining castles that have tenshukaku from the Edo period, along with the hori (moat) and ishigaki (stone walls).

    Aomori prefecture also grows the most apples in Japan. The Tsugaru region around Hirosaki City, which is located in the Southwestern part of the prefecture, is the main apple-producing area. During typhoons it is common for apples to fall from the trees, with those that remain known as “unfailing apples” which some farmers sell to students preparing for exams.

    Additionally, Aomori Prefecture is proud to have the “Shirakami Sanchi” (Mountains) designated as a UNESCO World Nature Heritage Site. Spreading over to its neighboring prefecture of Akita, it is one of the largest, primeval, beech tree forests in the world, and home to various precious flora and fauna, including black bears, Japanese Macaques, black woodpeckers, and golden eagles. All of Shirakami Sanchi, with its roaring waterfalls and beautiful landscape, is said to be a natural, living, outdoor museum, and as a Heritage Site designee, it is an invaluable and precious global asset.

    Similar to Shirakami Sanchi, Towada Lake also adjoins Akita Prefecture. Surrounded by primeval forests, it is 378 meter deep, with 20 meters of underwater visibility. On its lakeshore stands the bronze statue of “Otome-no zou (maiden by the lake)” created by the poet and sculptor, TAKAMURA Kotaro.

    Drained by the Oirase River, Towada Lake is such a popular spring and autumn tourist attraction, with its roughly 14 kilometer walkway, that there are often traffic jams getting to and from the area.

    Another popular tourist destination is Mount Osorezan, located near Mutsu City, in the middle of the Shimokita Peninsula. According to Japanese tradition, “Dread Mountain,” where the smoky, sulfur smell always hangs in the air, is the gateway to Hell or the Pure Land, through which souls pass on their way to the underworld.

    During the summer festival season, worshippers gather at Mount Osorezan from all over Japan to welcome back the itako (spiritual mediums), who return in the hopes of communicating with the departed. Popular itako usually have very long line ups. At Mount Osorezan, lodging at the temple is also available.

    The three, spoken Aomori dialects are so distinct that sometimes people in Aomori prefecture can’t understand one another. Their dialects are all short. For example: asking “Ku?”, or saying “Ku.” or “Ke.” while similar sounding, all mean slightly different things: “Would you like to eat this?” “I want to eat it.” “(Go ahead and) eat it.” When Aomori people are interviewed on national television, sub-titles are sometimes included so that viewers can understand what is being said. Aomori Prefecture: pleasantly filled with unique surprises.

    Aomori Prefectural Tourism Federation
    Hirosaki Tourism and Convention Bureau

    Text: HAMADA Miyako

















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  • 漢字の魅力をひきだす書道家

    [From April Issue 2010]

    TAKEDA Souun, Calligrapher

    Last year, the most watched TV-drama series in Japan was the NHK Taiga Drama: Tenchi-jin. The calligrapher who created the title’s dynamic letters was TAKEDA Souun. Souun also currently runs a Japanese calligraphy school in Shonan, Kanagawa Prefecture named Futaba-no Mori, while also holding solo exhibitions and designing product logos and CD jackets.

    But Souun goes far beyond merely writing and teaching calligraphy. He also collaborates in performances with famous artists such as the band B’z, and NOMURA Mansai – the traditional kyogen performance artist. Souun also creates huge murals in front of guests, and is continuously active in various endeavors including writing poems with accompanying calligraphy, and lecturing to fellow creators.

    “What is natural to me is sometimes extraordinary or new to others,” says Souun. “I had no intention of creating something new or breaking any boundaries. People are just surprised or excited by what I do, so I humbly accept their requests, and that is how I came to work in various fields.”

    Souun was born in Kumamoto Prefecture in 1975. He began studying Japanese calligraphy under the tutelage of his mother Souyou, when he was 3 years old. His mother’s teachings were very strict, and since there are many detailed rules in Japanese calligraphy, Souun sometimes got fed up with it. “But I never stopped loving the act of writing letters itself,” Souun says reflectively.

    In college he majored in computer science and was then was hired by NTT, one of Japan’s largest telecommunications companies. But, he just couldn’t relate to his colleagues. “When I was in meetings where the executives were also present, I felt the meetings were trivial. So I raised my hand and asked ‘is there any meaning to this meeting?’ Everyone was shocked. There was also the time when I asked a person slacking off, ‘why aren’t you working?’” he fondly remembers.

    Souun’s heart was in the right place as they were honest questions asked purely out of curiosity – but some people got angry. Others were bothered by the casual way in which he spoke to his superiors. Looking back on those days, Souun says: “I couldn’t read between the lines. I think I was the kind of person who had many annoying characteristics.”

    But Souun doesn’t think he has bad character. “I might have been a minus for the company, but individuality is a plus in the world of art. So I think it is wiser to wait before deciding what’s good and bad. When situations change, minuses can become pluses.”

    Souun’s life changed while listening to a street musician’s performance. “Tears started naturally welling up inside me. It made me want to do something to touch people,” he recalls. “As I worked, I felt that ‘all I ever see are printed letters and words from computers, but there’s a warmth to handwritten letters,’ so that motivated me to live my life as a calligrapher.”

    Always optimistic, Souun admits that he “gets right back on his feet after a fall.” But in his book of poetry, he writes words such as “Righteousness is something that one considers convenient,” that portray reality as both cold and hard. “There is probably a cheerful Souun and a gloomy Souun inside me. For example, when I look into a child’s face, I sometimes think ‘I am happy, but there are some parents in this world who abuse their children.’ Then I think of how both the abusing parents and the abused children must feel and it makes my eyes water,” he reveals.

    Souun advises non-Japanese people learning kanji to study like it’s a game. “It’s not worth your effort if it makes you forget the fun part. And this can be said for more than just kanji. Everyone should have more fun, just make merry, I think,” he advises. And it’s this laid-back character of his that continually attracts more Souun-fans.

    “When I am talking to non-Japanese people, I realize things that are otherwise mundane. The points that interest us are the same, and although we may have different features, use different languages and have different cultural backgrounds, I love it when we find common ground,” he affirms.

    TAKEDA Souun’s Official website

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


    書道家 武田双雲さん













    文:砂崎 良

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  • 本当の悪は誰だ?

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Aides to DPJ Secretary-General OZAWA Ichiro were arrested for their parts in the fund management scandal that was widely reported throughout Japan’s mass media. Hiragana Times CIA interviewed Japan expert Victor TRUMAN, author of “Who Has the Real Power in Japan?” about the true nature of what happened.

    CIA: What do you think about the opinion polls in which more than 70% of Japanese agree that Mr. Ozawa should resign as the Secretary-General?

    Author: Mr. Ozawa was not indicted, his secretaries denied the charges against them and the real trial hasn’t even started yet. However, a citizens’ group did bring the case to the attention of the prosecutor’s office, alleging his involvement. And because the public learned its information through the media and are not fully aware of the truth, it is very dangerous for them to hold such views.

    CIA: Are you suggesting the media’s information was unreliable?

    Author: The mass media reported on the prosecutor’s intentions. It was impossible for the media to know beforehand the exact date of Mr. Ozawa’s hearing, and that he would not be indicted, without leaked information from the prosecutors. I feel that it’s unfair to survey public opinion just after the incident occurred, especially accompanied by inflammative reporting, and then believe that it is people’s true opinion. This is a kind of public lynching without hard evidence.

    CIA: So you are saying the mass media’s reports are unfair?

    Author: The “mass media” is a really “private media” after all. They surely report with a bias. It will become more obvious when you see what they write about Toyota’s recall. There will hardly be any negative press about Toyota, which is one of their biggest advertisers.

    CIA: Why do you think the prosecutor and the mass media are targeting Mr. Ozawa?

    Author: The JDP won the last election touting administrative reform, so I guess they were afraid of losing some power. Regular mass media is also losing its influence in the Internet age. Last year Internet-based ad revenue surpassed newspaper ad revenues. So maybe condemning powerful politicians is their best option in maintaining power.

    CIA: The mass media often say Mr. Ozawa’s resignation will depend on public opinion, what do you think?

    Author: Most people are non-political and are easily influenced by media reports, acting just like herded sheep. Remember, Japanese people once believed the media’s biased reports in support of war. Where did they get their information from? From what real evidence did people support the war? In fact, people, who themselves are influenced by the media, can change the course of a country, affecting the lives of all its citizens.

    One Comment from CIA

    The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is trying hard to recover its favorable public opinion. Mr. Ozawa, why don’t you sell all your property that was mentioned by the media? Prime Minister Hatoyama, why don’t you get a bigger allowance from your super-rich mother? Then, the DPJ could use that extra money to buy advertisements in the mass media, just like Toyota, and reintroduce their clean political policies. The money-loving media will most certainly change their attitude because after all, both the values of politicians and the media are the same – Money Talks!

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


    民主党の小沢一郎幹事長の秘書が政治資金管理問題で逮捕され、マスコミはこの問題を大きく報道した。Hiragana Times CIAは、日本通として知られ、「日本で実権を持っているのは誰か?」などの著者でもあるビクター・トルーマン氏に、この問題の本質を尋ねた。













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

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  • アクセサリーを「デコする」ためのスクール

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Mobile Designer School

    Creating “decorations” (a.k.a “deco”) for personal belongings such as cell phones, digital cameras, and more recently ballpoint pens, watches, hair dryers and sunglasses, is very popular, especially among young Japanese women.

    “Decorations” can be almost any personal design made of tiny sparkling crystals or shiny materials called stones. The excitement of being able to transform plain appliances, or your favorite small articles, into original, one-of-a-kind pieces of art, seems to be THE reason for this being much more than just a passing fad. Another reason could also be the number of TV personalities who have their own, branded accessories.

    In 2002 The Japan Decorator Association NPO (non-profit-organization) was launched to support professional decoration designers and creators. A year later new decoration design schools started opening, with enrollment increasing on a yearly basis. At the Mobile Designer School (MDS president: IIO Hitomi), lovingly referred to as “the Tokyo University of the decoration industry,” students from teenagers to seniors attend, with the large majority being females.

    MDS offers a wide range of classes, from single-day beginner lessons, to full-time courses where students can hone their skills in earnest over about a year. Recently there have also been cases where parents actively encourage their children to enroll in the school, supporting the idea of their becoming professional decorators. Many MDS graduates eventually go on to work at Glam Baby, a retail chain that sells both pre-designed items and custom-made orders.

    Some decorations are quite reasonable, costing only several hundred yen, but recently, luxurious designs with intricate detail have become increasingly popular. Having your cell phone decorated by a pro can cost between 20,000 and 60,000 yen per surface side (of the phone). While it is not cheap, orders for such services keep rolling in. Even quite a few foreign tourists have had their cell phones decorated as a souvenir of their trip to Japan.

    To be successful, decorators require strong design skills, speed and dead-accuracy. In addition to listening, understanding and interpreting the client’s ideas, they also need the ability to finish in two hours, rather than the customary five. Furthermore, attention to detail in arranging and placing the stones, so as to balance the overall design, is also a prerequisite.

    WATANABE Tetsuo, president of Glam Baby, says the future looks promising. “There’s a fair chance that we will open stores in Europe, America and Southeast Asia in the future. Decorations are especially popular in China and South Korea, so these countries have good potential markets.”

    Mobile Designer School

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi






    このスクールでは一日だけの入門コースから、約一年かけて本格的に技術を身につけられる全日制コースまで幅広いコースがある。最近では親が子どもに職業としてデコレーターを提案し、入校をすすめることもあるという。また、デコの販売と受注をおこなう専門店「Glam Baby」へは、スクールの卒業生がたくさん就職している。



    「Glam Baby」の代表取締役である渡邊哲郎さんは抱負を語る。「今後はヨーロッパ、アメリカ、東南アジアへの出店も可能性が高いと思います。特に中国、韓国ではデコ人気が高いので、市場としての見込みがありますね」。



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  • みんなで写真を楽しもう!新しい機能を持ったカメラ

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Sony Corporation recently released the Party-shot Automatic Photographer (IPT-DS1), docking station. When used with specific Sony digital cameras, this device automatically takes photos by searching for people’s faces, detecting smiles and framing groups by shifting camera angles.

    This accessory was developed to free people from having to stop talking or enjoying the company of friends in order to take photos. “I myself often forgot about taking photos when I was immersed in a conversation while having a meal with my friends. I thought I would not forget if there was a camera that would automatically take photos for me,” says YAMASHITA Masanobu.

    YOSHIZUMI Shingo, who was the first to come up with the idea for the Party-shot, explains the troubles they had to overcome in developing the product: “When we started our study, digital cameras didn’t have the face-recognition function. We tried to cope with that by programming the camera to take photos when it detected a large amount of skin-color. The result was that it took photos of nearby cardboard boxes. Also, it could not take good pictures in dark places.” Since then, because the performance of digital cameras has improved, it is now possible to detect people’s faces and take good, low-light pictures too.

    “It was also important not to break the good atmosphere of friends and families getting together. So, we continued to study how we could make the camera’s movement less like that of a surveillance camera and more like the adorable shakes and nods of a person’s head,” says Yoshizumi. “We also thought about how the joy of taking photos manually was also important. So, we made the attachment and removal of the camera easy,” says KURODA Keiichi.

    Nikon offers another innovation by including a small projector in its COOLPIX S1000pj digital camera. In darkened rooms, users can project on the walls or the ceiling their recently taken photos. This means that you no longer have to make prints or prepare the TV to enjoy photos or videos with your friends and families.

    “Many people already have digital cameras, so we thought of expanding their uses and the pleasures they get from them. We presented our ideas and developed a small projector. We took pains in making the projector small, to prevent it from overheating and to keep its power consumption low. The problems were solved with original Nikon technology and we worked out a design enabling its small size. It was only a year and a half ago that we were able to make it the size of a regular camera,” says SUZUKI Nobuyoshi.

    Although Sony’s Party-shot is a camera docking accessory, and Nikon’s COOLPIX S1000pj is an all-in-one camera-projector, there is a similarity between them – the desire to develop and “make photos a more enjoyable experience with friends.”

    Sony Corporation
    Nikon Corporation

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


    ソニー株式会社は最近、自動で撮影するカメラの台「Party-shot IPT-DS1」を発売しました。この台に対応するソニーのデジタルカメラをセットすると、自動でカメラの向きを変え、人の顔を見つけて写真を撮ります。しかも笑顔を探したり、人の姿が写真の中に納まるよう角度を変えたりもします。




    カメラの新しい楽しみ方を提案しよう、という動きは、株式会社ニコンにも見られます。「COOLPIX S1000pj」というカメラには、とても小さいプロジェクターが入っています。そのため、部屋を暗くすると壁や天井に、撮った写真や動画を映すことができます。つまり、印刷したりテレビを用意したりしなくても、みんなで写真や動画を見て楽しむことができるのです。


    ソニーのParty-shotはカメラをのせる台で、ニコンのCOOLPIX S1000pjはカメラ本体ですが、両者には共通点があります。「写真をもっと仲間と楽しめるものにしよう」という思いが、開発のもとになっています。


    文:砂崎 良

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  • 商品を飾る宝物―おまけ、ふろく

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Some goods sold in Japan come with fun, extra items. For example, candy might come with a small toy or an action figure might be attached to the lid of a plastic beverage bottle. Such free gifts are called “omake.” Omake included with magazines is called “furoku.”

    Confectionery manufacturer Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd., was the first to pioneer the trend toward “goods with omake.” President EZAKI Riichi, who founded the company in 1922, thought “children need to both eat and play.” This prompted him to create items like beautiful cards and small medals that were included with the company’s candy when sold. These candies, with their free gifts, became extremely popular in helping Ezaki Glico grow into a large company.

    Now more than 90 years later, Glico is still manufacturing candy with free toys attached. While some toys need assembling, others can be play with right away, and it’s not only children who buy them. Adults buy Glico candies and collect the toys to fondly remember their childhood, with some eager collectors going so far as trying to collect them all.

    “Choco Egg,” a chocolate, egg-shaped candy manufactured by Furuta Confectionery Co, Ltd., became hugely popular in 1999. The surprise inside each hollow, chocolate egg was an animal figurine of such high quality, that many adults became fans. Today’s Choco Eggs contain new toys including vehicles such trains and airplanes.

    The chain of Mister Donut stores also offer cute omake, but rather than attaching free items to their doughnuts, they give customers point cards. By buying doughnuts, customers accumulate points they can eventually exchange for omake. The free gifts change periodically and currently include lunch boxes featuring original character illustrations.

    Food companies are not the only ones that attach omake to their products. Mobile telecommunications provider Softbank Mobile Corp., offers its clients free gifts, including covers for toilet paper holders and slippers adorned with stuffed replicas of their “White Dog.” NAKAYAMA Naoki of Softbank’s public relations department says: “The white dog that appears in Softbank’s TV commercials is so popular that we created these omake. Some people sign up with us because they want the free items.”

    Similarly, furoku (omake for magazines) also became widely popular around the 1920s, just like Glico’s. At first, furoku were mostly packaged with children’s magazines, but now magazines for adults often carry furoku as well. These days many furoku are of such high quality that they are bought and sold on online auctions sites, with some extremely unique furoku even becoming the talk of the town.

    Take the business magazine “Dime,” published by Shogakukan Inc., for example. The magazine usually sells for 400 yen, but when furoku is included, it can sell for around 500 yen. Dime’s furoku are practical items such as iPod speakers and ear picks, but recently they have been offering an increasing number of eco-friendly omake such as solar-powered keychain lights and mouse pads with built-in, solar-powered calculators.

    Published by Gakken Education Publishing Co., Ltd., each issue of “Otona no Kagaku (Science for Adults) Magazine,” comes with a build-it-yourself gadget as its furoku, such a mini electric guitar, a theremin (an electronic musical instrument), a moving doll or a twin-lens reflex camera. These are not toys but real items that you can actually operate and use.

    Those who buy the magazine make the item while reading the instructions. Moreover, you can even improve on the finished product. For example, in the case of camera furoku, you can buy either another lens to replace the original one, or a thin plate to insert for better film stabilization. “Giving adults the pleasure of making things, that’s the concept of this magazine,” says AIHARA Satoru of the company’s public relations department.

    “Brand Mook” of Takarajimasha, Inc. is famous for its stylish furoku. Each magazine issue features a famous fashion brand accompanied by a free brand sample. The furoku may include a wide variety of items from bags and pouches to housedresses or umbrellas. Sales of Brand Mook have been increasing on a yearly basis with the August 2009 issue, featuring Cher, selling 700,000 copies. The November 2009 issue featuring Yves Saint Laurent sold one million copies.

    “We think of the designer goods (furoku) as one of the contents of the magazine, just like an article,” says YAMAZAKI Ayumi of the company’s public relations department. “We at Takarajimasha consider the combination of the magazine and the brand item to be the “Brand Mook” product. Since the editorial department plans and produces brand items, I think that makes it possible to create a product that meets our readers’ needs and matches the trend.”

    NAKAHARA Osamu of Glico’s Public Relations Investor Relations Division says: “In Glico’s offices, we don’t use the word ‘omake.’ For us, the toys are not merely ‘omake that come with confectionery you buy.’ The combination of the confectionery and the toy constitutes a single product. ‘Use confectionery to provide nourishment for children’s bodies, and toys to provide nourishment for their minds,’ that’s our motto. That’s why we call the attached items toys rather than omake.”

    Some people criticize omake and furoku as being too extravagant. They say, “The main thing is the product, and yet too much money is spent on omake and furoku.” That said, products with omake and furoku attached are very popular and there are a number of avid collectors of them all. The reason that so many collect is their belief that the manufacturers think “omake and furoku are also the main thing” and make them with all their hearts.

    Ezaki Glico Co., Ltd.
    Mister Donut Official Website
    Furuta Confectionery Co., Ltd.
    Softbank Mobile Corp.
    Shogakukan Inc.
    Gakken Education Publishing Co., Ltd.
    Takarajimasha, Inc.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo

















    文:砂崎 良

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  • リメイク・リフォームで、世界にひとつだけの洋服

    [From April Issue 2010]

    In the last few years, a clothing style known as “fast fashion” has become popular in Japan. The trend is to incorporate affordable pricing and manufacture bulk quantities to sell in short-term cycles. UNIQLO, with over 790 stores across Japan, is one of the largest brands offering this style.

    In 1998, UNIQLO offered fleece sweatshirts for 1,900 yen, and sold 8.5 million pieces. From then on yearly improvements were made, and cheap, durable fleece garments soon became regular winter wear for everyone.

    Conversely, a new trend called “Remake Fashion” is also attracting attention. “Remake Fashion” is ready-made clothing altered to one’s own taste. Located just a few minutes walk from JR Omiya Station (Saitama Prefecture), Ichinomiya Dori is known as a second-hand fashion street with about 20 used clothing retail shops open for business.

    “OMIYA momo-kuri” is just one such popular store with Tokyo branches in both Kichijoji and Shimokitazawa. Not only do they sell second-hand clothes, they also trade in retro clothing acquired from overseas. But before selling any item, they alter the pieces to fit with Japanese sensibilities, adding designs to lapels, and changing the buttons to a more appealing set. Their unique designs and colorations are popular with the local students and other fashion-conscious young people. Even some performers shop there for their stage wardrobe.

    Many customers visit often because they want to “wear something different from everyone else.” SAKAI Hidetaka, a 2nd year university student who’s been stopping by the shop since high school, says friends often ask him, “Where did you buy your outfit?” “Second hand clothes are cheaper than new clothes. Moreover, the unique designs are popular with the younger generation,” says store manager NOZAWA Ayumi.

    Located in the Lumine Omiya Building, “Reform and Recycle JUST” alters customers’ clothes to fit their exact size. Customers stop by not just to lift hemlines of their pants and skirts, but to also adjust favorite items that no longer fit. The shop even gets customers who bring in new, recently purchased business suits.

    “Sometimes the alterations cost more than the actual business suit,” says shop owner, OGAWA Miyoko. She says that pulling out all the threads and retaking measurements is painstaking and time-consuming, even for experienced staff, and that altering a two-piece suit to properly fit the body can cost upwards of 30,000 ~ 40,000 yen.

    It seems that the inclination is to alter second-hand clothes for “a cheaper and unique look,” and new clothes for “a better fit despite the fee.” Tailored clothes are very expensive, with remakes and alterations much more convenient, and, the extra care makes people enjoy them more.

    OMIYA momo-kuri
    Reform and Recycle JUST

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko










    大宮 momo-kuri
    洋服のお直し専門店 JUST


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  • 亡くなった人の新たな旅立ちを支える納棺師の物語

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Departures (Directed by TAKITA Yojiro)

    “Departures” is the drama that won the 81st Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars. At the 32nd Japan Academy Awards, it won the Best Film Award, in addition to other awards for its cast and crew.

    The main character KOBAYASHI Daigo (MOTOKI Masahiro) is a former cellist. He gives up his career after his orchestra in Tokyo is disbanded. He moves back to his old home in Yamagata Prefecture with his wife Mika (HIROSUE Ryoko) and looks for a new job. He notices a classified ad that says, “assisting travels,” and feeling certain that the NK Agent company is a travel agency, he requests an interview.

    The company president (YAMAZAKI Tsutomu) doesn’t bother reading Daigo’s resume and hires him on the spot. But Daigo is worried because he still doesn’t know what kind of work it is. Timidly he asks, only to find out that his job is encoffinment, the task of placing dead people in coffins. Apparently the classified ad was miss-written and should have read “assisting departures (deaths).” Daigo further learns that the company’s name, NK, is short for “NouKan” (encoffinment).

    Daigo can only tell Mika that his work is related to “ceremonial occasions.” Mika misunderstands this to mean that he is now working at a wedding hall. On his first job, he deals with the corpse of an old woman who lived alone and was found two weeks after she died. He vomits.

    Gradually Daigo starts to feel pride in his work, which is greatly appreciated by the bereaved families. Then, Mika finally learns what he really does and begs him to “get a regular job.” While Mika gets upset and returns home to her parents, Daigo remains, instead, focusing on becoming a full-fledged mortician.

    Mika suddenly returns to tell Daigo that they are going to have a baby. He is happy to hear that, but again Mika presses him to change his job because she thinks their child will eventually be bullied because of it. Then, Daigo’s cell phone rings. It’s his childhood friend YAMASHITA, who also once suggested that he find a “better job,” telling him that his mother, Tsuyako, has just died.

    Daigo and Mika face Tsuyako’s corpse, and in front of Yamashita, his family and Mika, he encoffins the body. He makes up her face and dresses her in her favorite scarf and kimono. Finally Yamashita and Mika both realize just how serious Daigo takes his job, and they both come to understand and appreciate his work.

    Later, Daigo receives a telegram informing him of the death of his estranged father. He does not remember his father, who left his mother when Daigo was only six years old. For Daigo, who also lost his mother, the concept of “parents” is almost nonexistent. Initially Daigo refuses to claim the corpse. But, persuaded by Mika and others, he decides to see his father’s corpse. There, he is freed from his hatred and conducts his father’s encoffinment.


    おくりびと(滝田二郎 監督)









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  • 赤飯と紅白なます

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Ingredients [Serves 2]


    • 1 cup (180ml) sticky rice
    • 15g azuki (red) beans
    • 1 cup water (200ml)
    • 100ml water (inc. water used to boil azuki)
    • Goma-shio (sesame & salt)
    • 1 tsp toasted sesame (black)
    • 1/6 tsp salt


    • 150g daikon (Japanese radish)
    • 15g carrots
    • 1/4 tsp salt

    Sweet vinegar

    • 1 1/2 tbsp vinegar
    • 1/2 tbsp sugar
    • 1/2 tbsp Japanese liquid soup stock
    • a pinch of salt (between your thumb and forefinger)
    • 1 tsp white, roasted sesame seeds

    Shibu-kiri (lit. “harshness cut down”): boiling and discarding the liquid removes the scum (harsh taste), which causes harshness. The harshness of beans harvested during autumn will increase over time.


    1. Rinse sticky rice and soak in plenty of water for more than one hour.
    2. Place azuki (red) beans and plenty of water in a medium pot and boil over a high heat. Simmer for a couple of minutes then drain with a colander (shibu-kiri).
    3. Put the azuki beans back in the pot with 1 cup water, and let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until soft (so that the beans can be mashed between your finger).
    4. Separate the azuki beans from cooked liquid. Add water to the cooked liquid to make 100ml.
    5. Drain the sticky rice. Once drained thoroughly, place in the rice cooker. Add mixture (4) and azuki beans, then turn on the rice cooker. After the rice is done, mix well.
    6. Lightly roast the black sesame seeds in a frying pan and add salt.
    7. Garnish each serving of red bean rice with the salted sesame seeds.


    1. Cut both daikon radish and carrots into 4cm long julienne strips. (You may cut carrots thinner since they are more colorful than the radish.)
    2. Sprinkle each with salt (do not mix together or colors will run) and then put the vegetables into separate bowls.
    3. Briefly stir each bowl then let sit for five to ten minutes so water accumulates.
    4. Mix together vinegar, sugar, liquid soup stock and salt to make the sweet vinegar.
    5. Drain all the vegetables then mix in the sweet vinegar.
    6. Garnish with sesame.




    • もち米 米用カップ1(180ml)
    • あずき 15 g
    • 水 カップ1(200 ml)
    • あずきのゆで汁+水100ml
    • ごま塩
    • いりごま(黒) 小さじ1
    • 塩 小さじ1/6


    • 大根 150g
    • にんじん 15g
    • 塩 小さじ1/4


    • 酢 大さじ1+1/2
    • 砂糖 大さじ1/2
    • だし(液状の和風だし) 大さじ1/2
    • 塩 少々(親指と人差し指で少しつまむ量)
    • いりごま(白) 小さじ1



    1. もち米はとぎ、たっぷりの水に1時間以上つけます。
    2. 鍋にあずきとたっぷりの水を入れ、強火にかけます。お湯がわいたら、弱火で2~3分ゆで、ざるにあけます。(渋きり)
    3. あずきを鍋に戻し、水カップ1を入れ、弱火で20~30分やわらかくなるまで(押せば変形するぐらい)ゆでます。
    4. あずきとゆで汁に分けます。ゆで汁に水を足し、100mlにします。
    5. もち米をざるにあけ、水気をきります。水滴がなくなったら、炊飯器に入れます。あずきと4を加えて混ぜ、スイッチを入れます。炊き上がったら、全体を混ぜます。
    6. フライパンで黒ごまをあたため、塩を混ぜます。

    7. 赤飯を盛り、ごま塩をふってできあがりです。


    1. 大根、にんじんは4cm長さの千切りにします。にんじんは色が目立つので、大根よりも細めに切ります。
    2. それぞれに塩をふります。一緒にすると色移りがするため、別々の器に入れます。
    3. 軽く混ぜ、5~10分おいて水気を出します。
    4. 酢、砂糖、だし、塩を混ぜ、甘酢を作ります。
    5. 2の水気をしぼり、甘酢であえます。
    6. いりごまをふります。

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  • 駅の設備は便利

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Japan’s train stations offer commuters many different conveniences, including public toilets. The word “toilet” has been adopted in Japanese, but the final “t” is silent. It is pronounced “toire.” In Japanese (romaji) “l” is generally replaced with “r.” You won’t find the signs of “男 men” or “女women,” at the entrance of most of toilets, however “men” and “women” pictographs are displayed. Some toilets have a Japanese sign written as “お手洗” (otearai: literally translated meaning “washing hands”).

    In Japan there are two kinds of toilets which are quite different from one another; youshiki, which is shortened word for seiyou-shiki (洋式western-style) and washiki (和式Japanese-style). “Wa” (和) was the old name for Japan and is often used in comparison to western items such as “washoku” (和食Japanese food) “washitsu” (和室Japanese room) and “washi” (和紙 Japanese paper). Instead of “washiki,” you can say “nihonshiki” (日本式Japanese style).

    Another convenient station facility is the “coin-locker,” in which for 300 yen (in the case of standard size) per day, you can store your luggage. In Japanese (romaji) “Koin-rockaa” is written with a “K” instead of a “C.”

    If you’ve lost or forgotten something in a train, you can report it to “Lost and Found.” But, while most large stations do have one, some of the smaller stations don’t. In that case, you must say to the station clerk, “densha no naka ni wasuremono o shimasita” (I left something in the train). The clerk will then ask you the station you were at, what time you were on the train, and what item(s) you left behind. And while it may take some time to find your items, there is a good chance that you will get your lost property back.

    Due to the popularity of cellular phones, public phones have recently started disappearing. However, station phones remain extremely convenient especially when you’ve forgotten your cellular phone, or if its battery runs out. Some public phones even let you make international calls. “Telephone” is commonly pronounced as “terehon” in Japanese. To make a phone call you need coins or a telephone card (available at most station kiosks).

    At most stations you can find kiosks, where beverages, snacks, masks as well as newspapers and magazines (mostly in Japanese) are sold. Furthermore, plastic umbrellas are also available, usually costing only 500 yen. Some bigger stations also offer coffee shops and standing noodle shops for a quick bite. And these days, some stations even offer bakeries, bookstores, flower shops and full convenience stores.

    Some station entrances and exits are named for directions, such as “East,” “West,” “South” and “North,” while other are named “Central Gate” and “Yaesu Gate” indicating locations. Subways usually have simpler names such as “Al” or “A2”.









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