• Music is the Bridge Between Latvia and Japan

    [From August Issue 2015]

    Dace PENKE
    Wife of the Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia
    Located in Northern Europe, the Baltic state of Latvia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Mrs. Dace PENKE has been living in Tokyo since her husband Mr. Normans PENKE was stationed to Japan on September 2013 as the Ambassador of Latvia. She studied architecture at university and finds Tokyo’s combination of traditional and modern very interesting.
    When she has time, she goes to exhibitions at galleries, and attends craft classes and workshops. She is particularly impressed with the transportation system in Tokyo. “I can go anywhere by train, subway, and bus. It is amazing! However, the only challenge for me is the language barrier as I’ve found that not so many Japanese speak English. Learning Japanese is not an easy task, but I try to do my best,” she says.
    So many things have impressed her in Japan. For example, the fresh and delicious Japanese food; sushi and sashimi are her favorite dishes. She talked about a special experience at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Kagurazaka where she ate Japanese kaiseki.
    “The attention to detail, the presentation of the food, the seasonal and local food, the food textures, the service, and so on, is amazing. I saw a geisha performance for the first time and I really felt the hospitality of the Japanese in this traditional setting. Japanese hospitality is something we want to introduce in my country. Japan’s old traditions, like wearing kimono, tea ceremony, traditional crafts, and its many religious ceremonies, are still alive. I hope that these traditions will be practiced for many years to come. One of the strengths of the Japanese people is the way they keep traditions alive,” she says.


    City of Riga

    Speaking of Latvia, the four cornerstones of the Latvian economy are agriculture, chemical industries, logistics, and woodworking. Other prominent sectors include textiles, food processing, machine production, and green technologies. Innovations made in Latvia are highly appreciated by world markets. Recently Latvia is focusing on design.
    “The Latvian Embassy in Japan just organized the Latvian design and art week in Minami Aoyama at the gallery Athalie and it was very successful. Art and design traditions are very strong in Latvia; rooted in traditional craftsmanship they also draw on contemporary global trends. Many young Latvian designers that have been studying abroad are now coming back to Latvia and expressing their creativity in amazing ways. I really want to promote such things to Japan,” says Mrs. Penke.
    “The most important national festival of the year is Jani (Summer Solstice Festival). On this day the cities empty and every civil servant and bank clerk shows their pagan side. It started out as an ancient fertility festival celebrated after sowing the crops and before gathering the harvest. Families get together in their countryside homes. They make bouquets and wreaths out of herbs, flowers, and leaves. Women traditionally wear flower wreaths, while men have theirs made of oak leaves or twigs.”
    “The livestock and fences are adorned with wreaths. Gates and rooms are decorated with birch, oak, and rowan branches. Latvians sing, dance, eat and are merry during Jani. Cheese with caraway seeds, meat patties, and beer are a must for every table. People light bonfires and celebrate until the sunrise. Romantic couples leave the crowds to look for the ‘flower of the fern,’ which is alleged to bloom only on the night of Jani,” says Mrs. Penke.


    Song and Dance Festival

    “The Latvian folk singing tradition is more than a thousand years old and those folk songs are deeply connected with our spirit. For Latvian people singing and music is not just a form of entertainment, but the core of our identity and one of the most important reasons why Latvia, a small nation, was able to preserve its language and culture for many centuries. These factors also played major role when Latvia first gained independence in 1918 and re-gained it after the collapse of the Soviet union in 1991.”
    “These folk song texts are called dainas and come in a format of four short lines. Dainas can be sung as songs or recited as short poems. About 1.2 million dainas with 300,000 different melodies have been identified. Our dainas have been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World list. Being brief forms of expression dainas and haiku have something in common,” she says.
    “The musical relationship between Japan and Latvia is very active. “More than ten years ago the Latvia Japan Music Association was established by Japanese people who had visited Latvia and been impressed by Latvia and its music. One of the most interesting things is that there is a choir called Gaisma (Light), where Japanese men and women from the association sing Latvian songs in the Latvian language.”
    “Ms. KATO Tokiko’s song ‘A Million Roses’ became a big hit. This song was composed by the Latvian composer Mr. Raimonds PAULS. Culture is the bridge between nations that reflects that we all share the same core human values. At a basic level we are all the same, with the same aspirations for peace, freedom, and happiness,” says Mrs. Penke.


    Song and Dance Festival, Grand Finale

    The people in Latvia appreciate nature. “I recommend that Japanese visit my beautiful country. A must see is the capital city of Riga which has more than 400 Art Nouveau buildings. It has been named as one of the most attractive tourism destinations in the world by leading newspapers. The wonderful old town – old Riga – is 800 years old and is on the UNESCO heritage list.”
    “The seaside town, Jurmala, with more than 500 kilometers of pristine white sand beach, is beautiful. If you want to see an old castle, Sigulda has great views of a river and valley. I also recommend Cesis, an 800 year old castle town.”
    “It takes about 14 hours from Tokyo to Riga via Helsinki. In Latvia a lot of information is available online and printed material is available for tourists. Every city has a tourist information bureau with maps and clear explanations, mostly in English. There are several companies specializing in attracting tourists to Latvia from Japan. So please come to Latvia,” she says.
    Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Japan[2015年8月号掲載記事]

    時間があるときにはギャラリーへ行ったり、工芸教室やワークショップに参加したりします。東京の交通システムには特に感銘を受けています。「電車、地下鉄、バスでどこへでも行くことができるのは驚きです! でも、英語を話せる日本人はそう多くないので、言葉の壁を乗り越えるのが大変です。日本語を学ぶのは容易ではありませんが、ベストをつくしています」と夫人は言います。




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  • Grandma’s Recipes Bring Joy to Many

    [From August Issue 2015]

    YOKOYAMA Adina
    Last summer Romanian-born YOKOYAMA Adina changed her job description from “Eastern European Cuisine researcher” to “Genuine Cuisine Researcher.” This was because she had broadened her role from teaching Eastern European cuisine to introducing people to all kinds of recipes that use no additives or refined ingredients.
    Adina got married in 2005 after coming to Japan to work as a model in 1994. Together with her husband Daiki, she ran an importing business based in Chiba City. Being very busy with work, Adina struggled with constant skin problems. In addition, Daiki suffered from eczema and their oldest son struggled with childhood obesity and eczema.
    In search of a simpler lifestyle, Adina and Daiki decided to move to Higashikawa Town in Hokkaido in 2006. Up until then the whole family had mostly eaten food at restaurants or meals bought at convenience stores, but their options were limited in Higashikawa Town. Adina, who had not so much as picked up a kitchen knife before, had no choice but to begin cooking for the family. It was then that memories of her beloved grandmother Anna’s cooking came back to her.
    As Romania was part of the Soviet bloc until 1989, the country had not been much influenced by Western culture. Without using any artificial flavorings, her grandmother Anna, like many others, prepared simple home-cooked meals using only natural ingredients that had been around since ancient times. By cooking these family recipes, Adina realized that the health of her family was improving. Going without makeup, Adina also saw an improvement in her skin.
    Adina, who learned the importance of food through personal experience, began to teach herself about nutrition and how to prepare dishes from other countries. Eventually, while teaching Romanian cuisine to others, she began to introduce recipes that didn’t include additives or refined ingredients. Her students were mostly veteran homemakers with advanced cooking skills, who showed interest in the idea of cooking meals only with natural ingredients. In 2013 she published a recipe book.
    A decision was made to refer to natural ingredients and unprocessed food as “genuine,” and Adina changed her title accordingly. Last year Adina and her husband began sponsoring an event called “Genuine Hokkaido Village” that promoted the merits of a simple lifestyle. The event attracted 14 like-minded organizations, including a group of high school students, and by focusing on the benefits of food covered a wide range of themes including health, the environment, and even beauty.
    Adina’s homemade pastries are available by mail order. The name of her mail order store is MamaMare, which means “Grandma” in Romanian. The goal is to make healthy food using simple ingredients that would’ve been found in Grandma Anna’s kitchen. She hopes that people will consider making their diet healthier, even if it’s only a little.
    Home Made Mail Order Cafe MamaMare
    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2015年8月号掲載記事]

    ホームメイド通販カフェ MamaMare

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  • Japan Has “Bushido,” While Albania Has “Besa”




    ジロカストラアルバニアの観光ポリシーは、アルバニア流のおもてなしです。毎年5千人の日本人観光客が来ますが、アルバニアと日本の旅行会社との協力でこれからはもっと増えていくでしょう。日本人はビサなしで入国できます。バルカン半島観光のピーク時には「Balkan Schengen」が適用されます。この協定によって日本からだけでなく世界のどの国の観光客も国内を自由に移動できます。

    文:片野順子[:en][From July Issue 2015]

    Wife of Albanian Ambassador to Japan
    Reko DIDA
    This is the fifth year I’ve been residing in Japan. I have experience living in Japan as I’ve just stated, that is why I do not have any particular difficulties living in Japan. I am enjoying every single aspect of Japan: everyday life, culture, food, transportation, even the language, and my work here in Japan. I think that all foreigners have initial difficulties when they come to Japan because of the cultural differences; participation in cultural events is the best approach for speeding up understanding and for getting used to these differences.
    Japan is a country of advanced technology and of tradition. Besides tradition, cleanliness and tidiness are noticeable in every aspect of everyday life. I was also impressed by the elegance and style of kimono and traditional Japanese food. The same thing can also be seen in buildings, as Japan is one of the seismic hotspots of the world: Japanese people have learned to defy nature itself with their wonderful skyscrapers.
    When I came to Japan it was the season for the Tanabata and Bon Odori festivals. These events immediately attracted me and I decided to find out more about Japanese heritage and did that through learning the Japanese language.
    And through those events like “Mikoshi Matsuri,” “Nebuta Matsuri” in Aomori, or ”Kitsune no Yomeiri” in Kyoto, one learns a lot about the vitality and sense of community in Japanese society, as well as about Japanese perceptions of history and about the traditions of ancient Japan. I still have an affinity for the “shinto” feeling that came over me when I participated at the Kitsune no Yomeiri.
    The worst experience I had here was on March 11, 2011, when the great earthquake happened in Eastern Japan. We are a small embassy and community here, but we felt we needed to stay to support our friends in Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture) and wherever else this natural disaster affected people. Therefore, I decided to publish my work. This was the first Japanese-Albanian dictionary, which took me ten years to make and was made available at the start of 2012.

    At the Nebuta FestivalWhen I first came to Japan I used to live in Sendai; one of the first things that impressed me about Japan was the kindness and hospitality of the Japanese people. As I started to adapt to Japanese life, I was able to notice more about the wonders of Japan. And I realized that it was all due to the hard work and dedication the Japanese people put into their homeland.The things that I would like my country to adopt is the diligence and punctuality that Japanese people display in their work.
    One of the charms of Albania is its unspoiled nature. Seventy percent of the land is mountainous. Albania has a variety of natural landscapes such as the coast alongside the Adriatic and Ionian seas, beautiful Alps located in northern Albania, rich forests, natural rivers and fields.
    I would like to recommend three of Albania’s best sightseeing spots. These are cities registered by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. We have the cities of Gjirokastra – also known as “the city of stone” – and Berat, which is known as the “city of a thousand windows.” These cities are still inhabited. The third one is the ruins of Butrinti. Butrinti was an ancient city that prospered in the Roman era.
    As for food, I would like to mention the grilled fish with salt and lemon sauce that is served in our coastal areas and the fried lamb of our inland areas. All the food is served with Albanian olives, olive oil, and white cheese. For those that like strong drink, Albania has its own traditional beverage called “raki” which is made from grapes.

    GjirokastraOur policy is to facilitate tourism through Albanian hospitality. We have about 5,000 Japanese tourists per year, a number that is likely to increase because of the successful cooperation between Albanian and Japanese tour operators. Japanese tourists can enter Albania without a visa. During the peak season in the Balkan Peninsula, the “Balkan Schengen” applies; this facilitates the free movement of tourists not only from Japan, but also from other part of the world.
    Diplomatic relations between Albania and Japan date back to before the First World War. Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire and Japan acknowledged its independence in 1922. Unfortunately the relationship was not developed further. Relations were restarted in 1987 and developed further when Albania became a democratic country and solidified its relationship with the opening of the Albanian Embassy in Japan in November 2005. Today Albania and Japan have intensive bilateral relations, through technical cooperation with the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), by supporting each other in international organizations.
    I see a lot of parallels between Albania and Japan. For example, we share the same geographical latitude, and the climate here for me is the same as home. In terms of character, Albanians have the institution of “besa” (keeping a promise) and Japanese have the institution of “bushido” (a code of honor developed by samurai).
    Of course we are different as well. We generally use bread instead of rice in our daily lives. We eat raw fish carpaccio style (sliced with lemon, salt and olive oil), which is different from “sushi and sashimi.” When we nod our heads it means the opposite to what it does in Japan, so many times people mistake a yes for a no.

    Ionian SeaI like spending my free time photographing aspects of everyday life in Japan. That is why I always keep a camera with me so I can photograph every interesting moment that I come across every day. More than anything I like visiting Mount Fuji and taking pictures of each side of it. I also like exploring Tokyo by bicycle.
    One of Japan’s greatest treasures is its people, it is they who build and maintain the culture of their country. I think that it is important to take care of your own people as they are the ones who bring prosperity to your land. This is something that not only Japanese people should do, but also people in the rest of the world.
    Embassy of the Republic of Albania in Japan
    Text: KATANO Junko[:]

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  • Japan – an Inspirational Nation













    [:en][From July Issue 2015]

    Manga Artist
    “Japan is an inspirational country for manga artists,” says Swedish-born Asa EKSTROM. Asa depicts her experience of living in Japan in four panel comic strips she posts on her blog. The blog became so popular that these short comic strips were compiled into a book. There is even a sequel in the works.
    Asa became a fan of Japanese anime at the age of 13 after watching the anime series “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon” at home in Sweden. “I was fascinated by these brave female heroines fighting battles. And I liked the fact that the emotional growth of the main characters adds depth to the story,” she says. She then got her hands on the French version of “The Roses of Versailles” and read it with the help of a dictionary.
    Asa made up her mind to become a manga artist and began studying. In 2007 she came to Japan for a nine month stay. “I went to a Japanese language school, but still wasn’t able to converse in Japanese. Thinking I had to speak perfectly, I tended to remain silent, which wasn’t good,” she says, with a bitter smile.
    She made her debut as a cartoon artist in Sweden with the story manga “Sayonara, September.” She also worked as an illustrator drawing illustrations for fabrics used in Ikea products. She would always yearn, however, to live in Japan again and on March 10, 2011, she returned.
    The next day, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. “The Swedish media reported that the nuclear accident would be the end of Japan. But a Japanese friend translated reports in a Japanese newspaper for me, which stated that it wasn’t that serious.” I didn’t know which information was correct. It was very unsettling, so I briefly returned to Sweden.”
    Asa returned in October that year and has been living in Japan ever since. “I want to live in Japan permanently, if possible. That’s as long as I can get hold of a visa. But I don’t want to talk about visas because it’s very difficult to get one as a manga artist,” she says, shrugging her shoulders. When she stayed in Japan for the second time, she lived in a shared house with others and attended a vocational school specializing in graphic design. She even donned a formal suit to experience the Japanese recruitment process.
    Now she can communicate in Japanese. “Since I started posting my manga on my blog, I’ve been reading the comments left behind by readers and memorizing new vocabulary. In formal situations, I just attach “desu” to the end of a sentence,” she laughs.
    “I like drawing four panel manga about my everyday life here in Japan, because as a foreigner, it’s a subject that’s close to me. I also want to do more manga with an extended storyline,” she says. “I look forward to meeting my fans at book signings,” she smiles.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[:]

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  • Japanese Songs Ending with Vowel Sounds Are Beautiful

    [From June Issue 2015]

    Nahid NIKZAD
    Singer, Presenter and Translator
    “An Islamic Revolution occurred in my native country in 1979. Although traditional songs kept being broadcast, songs sung by female solo singers, and American songs – that had been popular until then – were prohibited. However, since I loved singing, I kept singing in the house,” says Nahid NIKZAD from Iran, laughing. Nahid is a singer who sings at international events, in Iranian restaurants, and in Persian (Persia is the former name of Iran) carpet shops in Japan. She also reads Iranian poems aloud in the Persian language and in Japanese at live music clubs, and gives lectures about Iranian music at universities.
    Nahid was born in a small town on the coast of the Caspian Sea. She studied botany at Ferdowsi University of Mashhad. During her time at university, she went to a language school to learn English. After graduation, she heard about a farm that was doing a project with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and was looking to hire an English-speaker. She applied and was hired. “English helped me more than botany,” she says, laughing.
    After that, through personal connections she made during her time with JICA, she worked for Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO). “I became fond of sincere Japanese people, who kept their promises and were punctual,” she says. And so, she married a Japanese man she’d met at work and moved to Japan. “Because I thought I would live here for a long time and raise my children here, I enrolled at a Japanese language school and studied the language eight hours a day,” she says.
    One year later, her Japanese was almost perfect. Four years later, she passed Level One (Now N1) of the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. Wanting to continue working after getting married, she looked for a job and was hired as a presenter for the Persian Section of NHK World Radio Japan.
    “I experienced difficulties because of cultural differences,” says Nahid. “My husband prioritized work over home and said he could not decline invitations to drinking parties with his colleagues. If that was the case, it was puzzling that he could turn down dinner with his own family. Another strange thing was that Japanese do not directly decline invitations. I was shocked to be turned down without being directly told why,” she says.
    Nahid tried to understand Japanese culture, because she thought that any country that had developed to such a level, must have its good points. Nevertheless, she felt isolated. “The approach to childcare seemed strange to me, but was not strange to friends that were also mothers. When I asked my husband, he agreed with these mothers. Being isolated, I grew lonely, and began to shout at my children more frequently.”
    Nahid felt that she had to change and decided to study singing, an activity she loved. “At first, it was difficult, because I had never sung to musical accompaniment,” she says, smiling wryly. After a while, she was invited to sing Persian folk music at international exchange events and to perform live; this led to more singing work.
    Recently, she often sings Japanese songs, too. “Japanese sentences often end with a vowel, so the note sung can be lengthened to sound very pretty. I love the melodies of children’s songs, too. In the future I would like to introduce Iranian poems translated into Japanese and would like to sing Japanese children’s songs translated into Persian. ”
    Persian Music Seda Facebook[2015年6月号掲載記事]

    Persian Music Seda フェイスブック

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  • Georgians Can Compete With Japanese Standards of Hospitality


    文:砂崎良[:en][From May Issue 2015]

    “The first European sumo wrestler to be promoted to the juuryou (junior grade) division was Georgian. Today we have two successful Georgian sumo wrestlers and we have won gold medals in Olympic judo,” says Dr. Levan TSINTSADZE, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Georgia to Japan. He laughs when he explains that wrestling is a traditional sport in Georgia and that Georgians are strong by nature.
    The Ambassador first came to Japan in 1994 as a scientist, and conducted research into plasma physics at the Universities of Hiroshima, Osaka, Kyoto, Tsukuba, and also at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute. After he returned to Georgia, he went to Japan again in December, 2013, this time as an ambassador. “I’ve spent so much time in Japan, so it’s a pleasure and an honor to be able to do something for the country. Both Japan and Georgia are such wonderful countries that I’m glad I can work to strengthen our relationship.”
    His first impression of Japan was that it was a clean and well-organized country. “Japanese people attach importance to duty and obligation. You find self-organized people in any country of course, but I think the number of Japanese with those values is very high. I’d like to see more people like that in Georgia,” he says.
    He quickly got used to life in Japan. “Naturally, any European will have some difficulties in Japan if it’s their first time; just like when Japanese go abroad. I haven’t had any difficulties that I couldn’t overcome,” says the Ambassador. “In the beginning I had a startling impression of the TV programs. I found them a bit strange.”

    “My spare time is devoted as much as possible to my son. We take walks in parks, we also used to ride bicycles together,” says the Ambassador. “Other than that, my pastime is reading. I read literary works from different countries in the original language if I can, or in translation if I can’t. I’ve read Japanese literature, too. I enjoyed it and it helped my understanding of Japan’s culture and history.”
    Georgia is on the eastern coast of the Black Sea and is about a fifth of the size of Japan. With the discovery of 1.8 million-year-old human bones and evidence of wine-making dating back 8,000 years, Georgia is regarded as the birthplace of the first European civilization. Georgia is the birthplace of wine as well. The wine making tradition has been practiced in Georgia for thousands of years and has been preserved until nowadays almost unchanged.
    “After arriving in Japan, I tasted Koshu Wine for the first time and thought it tasted like Georgian wine. That impression was reinforced when I went to Yamanashi Prefecture,” says the Ambassador. A group of researchers has since determined by DNA analysis that Koshu grapes have their origins in Georgia. Georgia is at the crossroads of Western and Eastern civilizations. Koshu grapes must have reached Japan by the Silk Road.

    Japan and Georgia have other things in common besides the flavor of their wines. “Both countries have existed since ancient times and we’ve preserved our culture and unique traditions to this day,” says the Ambassador. Japanese hospitality is well-known, but Georgians can compete with Japanese in that area. Georgian hospitality is legendary, guests are considered to be a godsend in Georgia. If someone comes to your place, it means the host is a person worthy of that guest.
    The Ambassador says that Georgians consider Japan to be a great country with a long history. He says that it has produced excellent literary works and movies and is a super modern nation that also preserves its old traditions. “Unfortunately, not everyone in Japan knows about Georgia. The number of Japanese tourists to Georgia is increasing, but I’d like this to double or triple. I bet Japanese people would love Georgia once they visited it.”
    The Ambassador says that the charm of Georgia is in its rich variety of natural sites. By car, you can cross Georgia east to west, or north to south in about seven hours. The climate keeps changing as you travel. The country has as many as 12 different climatic zones. “After having a good time on the coast of the Black Sea, you can drive to mountains 2,000 meters above sea level. Is there any other country where you can enjoy bathing in the sea and skiing on the same day?” he says, smiling.
    “I’d recommend Georgia’s mineral water. The country has as many as 2,400 springs and they are popular for their healthy water. The soil of Georgia is so fertile that our fruits and vegetables are all delicious. Khachapuri, a dish that resembles a cheese bread, is especially good. Georgian cuisine developed under the influence of various Eastern and Western civilizations over the course of centuries. Each region has its specialty and that’s also due to the diversity of climate.”

    “Our historical buildings are gorgeous,” says the Ambassador. “Iron making and agriculture have been practiced since ancient times in that part of the world. Georgian is one of the oldest living languages in the world and has its own unique alphabet. Georgia was one of the first countries to accept Christianity as its national religion. We’ve preserved our unique culture despite constant interference from surrounding powers.”
    “For sightseeing, I’d recommend historical and cultural monuments, some of them from the fifth century, that are listed as World Heritage sites. The cave dwellings carved into rocks from the 12th century are also impressive. Those who want to relax can see beautiful sights and unwind. Active people can climb mountains or hunt. History buffs can go to historic sites. There are so many ways to enjoy yourself.”
    There were quite a few important Georgians well-known in Japan during the days of the former Soviet Union. They were fir-rate scientists, artists, actors, ballet dancers, and singers. Georgians are very talented and positive people.
    The Japanese Government changed the transliteration of the name for Georgia from “Gurujia” to “Jo-gia” in April 2015.
    Georgia Embassy
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[:]

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  • By Concentrating on the Fragrance You Become one with Universe

    [From May Issue 2015]

    Incense Specialist
    WATANABE Eriyo
    Kodo “the way of incense” is a traditional art in Japan. Rather than saying “smell” the aromatic wood, we say “listen” to it. Listening to incense means appreciating its fragrance with keen attention. “Japan has four seasons. It’s blessed with the scents of different trees and flowers each season and a moderate level of humidity,” says incense specialist WATANABE Eriyo.
    “The climate, too, from Hokkaido to Okinawa, is diverse; the country has 3,000 meters high mountains and a rich ecosystem. This environment has nurtured the delicate sensibilities of the Japanese people, especially our sense of smell and taste. I’m interested not only in Japanese aromas, but also in aromas from other countries, from history and how these relate to each other.”
    Watanabe opened her “Setagaya Incense Salon” in Tokyo and from this base, she organizes workshops in which people make nerikoh (blended incense balls made by mixing together the raw materials and honey) based on a 1,000-year-old Japanese recipe and learn, through incense, about Japan’s classical literary works and traditional culture. All kinds of people participate, from foreigners who want to “experience something typically Japanese” to regulars who “look forward to listening to lovely fragrances.”
    Watanabe organizes gatherings at which participants simply listen to incense. Many come just for one day. “When a workaholic listens to incense, their expression softens as if a mask has slipped off,” says Watanabe.
    “It’s of course wonderful that kodo is such a rich subject, but it can also be a mental challenge because differentiating scents by ‘listening’ to them and comparing them is competitive. I want people to enjoy the calming and relaxing effects of incense, so they don’t compete with each other, they simply fully enjoy the fragrances. Since ancient times, incense has always been referred to as food for the soul. If you concentrate only on the fragrance, you lose your ego, become one with the whole universe and experience a state of bliss,” says Watanabe.
    The reputation of Setagaya Incense Salon is spreading by word of mouth. The salon has been mentioned on an Australian travel website as one of the “Top Ten Things to Do Only in Tokyo” and on a German travel website as “a relaxing place.” “The enjoyment of scent has always been a cultural practice that has spanned the globe,” says Watanabe. Burning incense is a sacred act in Christianity, Islam, and in Buddhism. Since antiquity, there has been an international trade in the raw materials used to make incense.”
    “As a student of art history in London, I rediscovered Japan when I learned that ‘Japan’ also meant lacquer ware. I later studied expressive arts therapy in Boston and while working in that area, I realized that incense had the same effect as expressive arts therapy. My biggest personal asset is the cross-cultural experience acquired on trips to 48 countries and during the time I lived abroad for ten years.”
    Watanabe says enthusiastically, “When I burn incense that I made with a wish or a prayer, it feels as though that wish or prayer reaches heaven. I’d like to create new kinds of incense equipment and market them to the world.”
    Incense Research Institute
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo/文:砂崎良[2015年5月号掲載記事]


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  • In Oman it’s also Customary to Remove Shoes in the Home

    [From April Issue 2015]

    After sustaining damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake and going through the disaster of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, in March 2011 a manufacturer in Fukushima Prefecture received an order worth 2.6 billion yen for water purifiers. The order came with a message: “You can use the water purifiers in areas affected by the disaster before delivery.” “It was the least support our country could offer to our friends in Japan,” says Abeer A. AISHA, wife of the Ambassador of Oman, modestly.
    Mrs. Aisha arrived in Japan in January 2008. “My husband visited Japan in 1994 and had a homestay experience with a Japanese family. He was treated very well by his host family, almost like a real son. I’d also heard from my acquaintances that Japanese people were very kind. Our daughter got very ill during the flight to Japan, so she went straight to a hospital upon arrival. She was very well taken care of, so well that it made me understand just how good Japanese people are.”
    Japan is the first country she’d been posted to as an ambassador’s wife. “I like casual socializing; formal situations aren’t my cup of tea. So I was very nervous when we paid a visit to the Imperial Palace,” she says. “When the Empress spoke to us, she was quite friendly even though the meeting was rather formal. I was anxious, but she made me relax.”
    Mrs. Aisha attends official ceremonies and is required to socialize and take part in activities not only with Japanese, but also with diplomats and ambassadors’ wives from other countries. “At first, I felt under pressure when people paid attention to me, my dress and my speech,” says Mrs. Aisha. “I got homesick because back home I always spend a lot of time with my parents and sisters.”


    City of Nizwa

    “It was thanks to my work experience for a bank in Oman that I got over my homesickness,” says Mrs. Aisha. “I dealt with so many types of people, including fishermen, merchants and businessmen, that I became open as a person. We have many foreigners that work in our country, so the culture is international. That’s why I’ve learned to deal with people from different countries in a friendly and polite manner, I think. My husband and children and the friends I made in Japan cured my homesickness, and I ended up becoming a stronger person, as I kept saying to myself that it was all for my family and country.”
    “My first concern about living in Japan was our children,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Before coming to Japan, we were posted in the UK for six months. Our children were 15, 13 and eight years old. We moved twice in such a short time that it must have been hard for them to get used to their new schools and make new friends. I was relieved they were fortunately transferred to good schools here in Japan and they adapted quite well.”
    She had a hard time with the language and with food. As a Muslim, she consumes neither pork nor alcohol. “There were few expatriates in the area where we first lived. So supermarkets there had very few products with English labels. I didn’t know which ones to buy from those that didn’t have English on. My daughter and I once gave up and went home without buying anything,” she says.
    “My daughter loved potato chips sold at the convenience stores, but once she learned enough Japanese at school to read the ingredients, she was disappointed to find out that some pork-derived ingredients were used. That said, Islam is a flexible religion, so it’s not a problem if you ate something without knowing,” says Mrs. Aisha. “We have no more problems now as our chef cooks for us at home and we have a few international stores with English labels near to the embassy. I myself have learned some Japanese phrases such as ‘I can’t eat pork,’” she laughs.


    Bahla Citadel

    The punctuality of the Japanese and the fact that things are planned several months in advance were pleasant surprises for her. “Whenever we go home to Oman during summer holidays, our relatives suggest we stay longer. Everyone’s surprised when I tell them we have to return because we already have plans for September. I suppose Japanese punctuality comes from the fact that they were raised to respect and value the importance of time. The Japanese way of doing things is good for living comfortably,” she says.
    Located in the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is a country that has prospered from maritime trade since ancient times. A member of Oman’s royal family has Japanese blood and the country is well known for its friendliness towards Japanese. Historical buildings such as the Bahla and Nizwa Forts, the Royal Palace, and mosques are popular with tourists. Although the Middle East is a region unfamiliar to most Japanese, its resorts are well-known in Europe. Oman’s beaches are teeming with foreign tourists enjoying their vacations.
    “Most Japanese must think Oman is a desert country,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Of course, our desert is enormous, but we also have beautiful beaches and oases. The climate in the mountains is good throughout the year and marvelous resorts are everywhere. It’s a stable and safe country security-wise, so please do come for sightseeing. Cherry trees presented by Japan blossom every February in Oman’s Jabal Akhdar. We also have Japanese gardens.”
    “You can enjoy wonderful cuisine in Oman. As many traditional dishes use rice and fish, Japanese people will feel at home, I think. Besides, Oman is a country with lots of international influences. From Lebanese food, to Indian, to Southeast Asian, to Western, and to fast food, we have all kinds of restaurants where you can taste delicacies from both the sea and the land.”



    “Oman produces a fragrant resin called frankincense. The quality of Oman’s frankincense is the highest in the world and its trade has a very long history. Omanis not only burn it, but also chew it like chewing gum, drink it in liquid form and use it for skin care. Nowadays perfumes, body creams, and lotions are made from frankincense. Oman’s dates are also of very high quality.”
    “The Omanis and the Japanese have a lot in common: our hospitality, respect for elders, and the way we take off our shoes before entering the home and sit on the floor. What’s more, Japanese wash their hands at the entrance when they go to a Shinto shrine, don’t they? That’s like us, too; we Muslims also wash our hands before praying,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Oman is a wonderful country. I’m sure tourists would return to visit again.”
    Oman Embassy
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo
    Photos courtesy by KOSUGI Yurika[2015年4月号掲載記事]





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  • Art Brings Out People’s Real Feelings

    [From April Issue 2015]

    CHO Hikaru / ZHAO Ye
    “I think the phrase ‘it’s beautiful’ is a phrase people formulate in their minds when they’ve seen something that has made an impression on them. So, when I receive such a compliment, I’m not happy because I don’t know if my artwork has really touched that person’s heart,” artist CHO Hikaru says. “If someone who sees my painting frowns involuntarily and says, ‘Yuck,’ it makes me happy because I feel like I’ve heard their true opinion.”
    Cho mainly paints. Although she is still in her junior year in the Visual Communication Design department of Musashino Art University, she’s already known for working in a variety of fields, including painting, producing videos, and designing characters. Having entered into a contract with an apparel manufacturer, she also designs clothes and tights.
    Cho became famous for her body painting, by painting realistic-looking art onto people’s skin. “When I was preparing for my entrance exams for art school, I had to paint still lifes every day. Then, I got fed up and wanted to make pictures of humans, so I tried painting an eye. I did it on the back of my hand because the art supplies I was using back then were expensive and only available at an inconveniently located store, which made it troublesome to go buy them,” she says with a laugh.
    She loved the eye she had painted on her hand so much that she posted a picture of it on Twitter. Then, it was retweeted more than a thousand times. Cho says: “In those days, ‘Parasyte,’ a manga series about creatures living inside human bodies, was becoming popular; people thought my eye painting resembled one of these parasites and found it funny. I suppose they were also drawn to the fact that this weird painting had been done by a young woman.”
    Knowing that trends quickly come and go in the world of the Internet, Cho thought her post would soon be forgotten. But even after six months, it was still getting retweeted. But the positive feedback didn’t stop there and before long she was being asked to perform on TV programs. When she exhibited her work requests came in from people who wanted to collaborate with her.
    “I became famous before I had completed my artistic training, so I was criticized by some people who said that any artist could easily paint that kind of picture,” Cho says. “When I come across remarks badmouthing me or my works on the web, I take screenshots of them to reread later. I find them both instructive and funny. I’m the kind of person who can put things in perspective,” she says with a wry smile.
    “I think the reason I turned out this way is partly because I was born in Japan to Chinese parents,” says Cho. “I’m treated as a Chinese person in Japan, and have to have my fingerprints and picture recorded when I enter the country, as if I were a potential criminal. In China, I’m viewed as more of a Japanese person because of my poor Chinese.”
    “But because of this upbringing, I learned to look objectively at the way countries tend to strengthen unity by looking down on other countries,” says Cho. “It’s not what it seems” is a picture of a banana painted to look like a cucumber and is Cho’s favorite of her works to date. “I wanted to ask, ‘What can you tell about who someone is on the inside, just by looking at their skin color, nationality and other external aspects?’”
    CHO Hikaru
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年4月号掲載記事]

    趙 燁 さん
    「でもこの生まれ育ちのおかげで、他国をおとしめて自分たちの団結を強めようとする動きを、距離を置いて見ることができるようになりました」と趙さん。趙さんはお気に入りとして、バナナに色を塗ってキュウリに見せかけた作品「It’s not what it seems」を挙げます。「人間の肌の色や国籍といった外側だけを見て、その人の内面の何がわかるの?と言いたかったのです」。
    趙 燁 さん

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  • Utilizing Japanese Language Proficiency to Secure a Dream Job

    [From April Issue 2015]

    “The other day when I went to a business networking event for various companies and made a presentation in Japanese, so many people rushed up to me to exchange business cards that I ran out,” says Nate SHURILLA in fluent Japanese. “Also, when I was job hunting, a broader range of options opened up to me because I could speak Japanese; this resulted in a job offer from one of Japan’s main mega banks. The ability to speak the native language gives you a huge advantage when it comes to securing a job in a foreign country.”
    Shurilla hails from the state of Wisconsin in America. “Before he got married, my father lived in Japan doing volunteer work for his church, and used to discuss his memories of this experience with me and taught me simple Japanese. Through this, I became interested in Japan, too, and elected to learn the Japanese language in my middle and high school years.” When it came time for him to enter secondary education, Shurilla applied to do volunteer work for his church and went to Japan, just like his father.
    At first, Shurilla was shocked because it was so difficult for him to understand spoken Japanese. “My first placement was in Yamagata Prefecture where I couldn’t understand a word the old people spoke. Later I understood that they had a unique dialect. However, the experience had a huge impact on me at the time and it made me think I had to study more Japanese. At the same time, though, I understood that the conversation would continue even when I did not understand the words, if I just smiled and said, ‘I see, I see,’” he jokes.
    Shurilla decided to study ten new words, two new grammar rules, and five new kanji every day. “I used store-bought flashcards and also read books. The first book I read had about 200 pages. It began to make sense at around page 150,” he says.
    When his two years of volunteer work came to a close Shurilla returned home and went to college. There he chose to take classes in Japanese where he studied grammar and the cultural background of Japanese expressions. “Thanks to the grammar lessons, I could systemize knowledge I acquired during my stay in Japan. Also, understanding Japanese culture is very important. For instance, I think the greeting ‘otsukaresama desu’ (thank you for your work) is uniquely Japanese. Bearing in mind that it comes from appreciating other people’s hard work and being considerate of their fatigue, you would know in which situations to use the expression.”
    When he was a college senior, Shurilla sat for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) N1 and passed. He then applied for the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme and returned to Japan. “I returned to Japan because the earnestness and diligence of the Japanese people had made a big impact on me during my previous stay and I had begun to love Japan,” he says. “While working in Japan, there was a period when I was bothered by the interference of my direct supervisor, but I overcame that by talking to another boss at a higher level.”
    Now, Shurilla is working for a marketing company in Tokyo. “If you speak your native language and Japanese and have some kind of skill, like programming, you can find many job opportunities in Tokyo,” he says. “I am now involved in ‘Around Akiba,’ a project to promote the appeal of Akihabara to the world. I feel it’s an advantage to be able to speak Japanese, particularly when doing interviews.”

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年4月号掲載記事]

    今、シュリラさんは東京のマーケティング会社で働いています。「自国語と日本語、そして何かのスキル、例えばプログラミングができるなどの技能があれば、今の東京には仕事を得る機会がたくさんありますよ」と言います。「私は今、秋葉原の魅力を海外へ発信するプロジェクト『Around Akiba』に携わっています。特に取材のとき、日本語ができてよかったと感じますね」。


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