• 難民から会社社長へ

    [From May Issue 2010]

    The President of Metran Co., Ltd.
    TRAN Ngoc Phuc / NITTA Kazufuku

    Metran Co., Ltd., located in Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture, is a medical equipment development company with great technology – especially for producing specialized medical instruments to treat premature babies. In 2009, the company received the Shibusawa Eiichi Venture Dream Award from Saitama Prefecture. Metran’s President is TRAN Ngoc Phuc (Japanese name is NITTA Kazufuku).

    Tran was born in Vietnam in 1947. He hardly ever went to high school spending most of his time watching movies and doing karate. “This may sound like an excuse, but we were in the middle of a war in those days. I thought I would be killed in the war sooner or later, so I did everything I wanted to do. I also read a lot of books on philosophy, because I wanted to learn about life and death,” he recalls.

    It was through both karate and philosophy that Tran became interested in Japan. “I still tell everyone that Japan has, to this day, preserved and passed on the treasures of Oriental philosophy like giri (a sense of duty) and ninjou (human empathy). That’s why I chose Japan when I studied abroad,” he says of his starting Tokai University in 1968.

    After graduation, he worked as a trainee at the Senko Medical Instrument Mfg. Co., Ltd., where he soon surprised everyone with his instrument-design ability. “The instruments of that time were more dangerous than (they are) now, and those who were not familiar with them often hurt themselves. So I revamped the instruments so that people wouldn’t cut their fingers,” he recounts.

    But other longtime craftsmen didn’t appreciate the way he worked. They thought their skills could only be mastered through injury and practice. Tran thought otherwise. “I needed to learn those skills in two years, before I went back to Vietnam. So I told them that I didn’t have time. But they got angry and called me names, saying things like, ‘Well, he’s a foreigner.’ But there were many others who praised me, happy that, ‘we don’t hurt ourselves anymore, thanks to you.’ ”

    In 1975 North Vietnam won the war, and Tran, who is South Vietnamese, lost his home. By then, he was already married to his Japanese wife Mitsuko, with whom he had been thinking about building a factory in Vietnam someday. But, they changed their plans and remained in Japan. By that time Tran became a full-time Senko company employee, everyone having already recognized his ability.

    In 1984 he went independent and established Metran. Using the benefits he received from his Senko retirement, he created a new instrument to help assist the breathing of physically weak babies. It quickly became a great success in the United States where it was hailed as “a wonderful device.” However, there were times when Tran wondered if it was ethical to keep alive by machine, babies who were so prematurely born that they could be held in the palm of an adult hand.

    Soon after that Japan fell into recession and a longstanding reseller of Tran’s instruments suddenly decided to stop any future orders. At that point, about 30 units had already been completed, costing several dozen million yen.

    “I got dizzy, having been betrayed by people I’d been doing business with for years. To make matters worse, the employees at that company didn’t know the real situation. They thought I’d betrayed them and made a deal with another company instead. They said, ‘We have been trying hard to sell your instruments. You’re a bad man.’ It was a very tough time,” he admitted.

    Through this experience, Tran came to realize that a small company cannot protect itself unless it has proprietary technology that other competitors can not imitate. He also learned “that people may only show giri and ninjou when they can afford to financially.” So he continued to work, harder than ever, and last year invented an instrument for people who stop breathing while asleep, of which Metran is the sole producer in Japan.

    In 1986 Tran returned to Vietnam for the first time in 18 years and got reacquainted with his parents and brothers, whom he had not seen since the end of the war. He now also owns a factory there. “Vietnam is the country where I was born, so I wanted to give something back. My family’s companies have provided about 1,500 people with jobs. This is the least I can do, and if there are more people I can help by doing this, I’m happy to do it,” he says, solemnly speaking about his feelings for his homeland.

    But these days Tran considers Japan his home because this is where he lives. “I care about the future of Japan because this is my country. I would like to help make Japan a better place,” he states. So, for its rapidly-aging society, Tran is now striving to invent instruments to help Japan’s elderly.

    Metran Co., Ltd.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo
















    文:砂崎 良

    Read More
  • 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

    Read More
  • 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


    Read More
  • 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

    Read More
  • 世界一の理容技術を次の世代に











    HAIR RESORT CLIPS : http://www.hrclips.com/


    In March 2008, the 32nd OMC HairWorld Championships of Beauty was held in Chicago, drawing hairdressers from 60 countries. This biannual competition is better known as the “Olympics of Hair,” and the Japanese team won the championship in the Hairdressing Category. It was the first time in 16 years for a Japanese team to win a gold medal at this competition.
    In January 2009, two of the three competitors on the winning team were given an award from the governor of Tokyo. One of the award recipients was SATO Hideki. He runs five shops in Mitaka City, Tokyo, and other neighboring towns. He is currently planning to open his sixth salon.
    He was born as the eldest son of parents running a hair salon in Yamagata Prefecture. “Every day customers came in and had their hair cut by my parents. When they were leaving, the customers always said, ‘Thank you.’ Seeing the way my parents worked, I found myself wanting to be a hairdresser someday,” Sato says. He came to Tokyo at age 18 and learned the basics at a barber school. After that, he joined a hair salon run by TANAKA Toshio, whom he had long admired.
    One year after he started at the salon, he realized his long-cherished dream of participating in a contest. “My father had entered competitions, and I wanted to win the world championship someday,” he says. While instructing Sato, Tanaka Toshio, who had won a world championship himself, said, “Make several times more effort than other people. Concentrate on completing your work without minding your competitors.”
    Sato would practice on head mannequins and people for three hours before the salon opened and another three hours after it closed. On his days off, he put in 10 hours. In his fifth year at the salon, he was appointed manager of the Shinjuku branch. The following year, he became the youngest participant to have won a national championship. But it was just a stepping stone for Sato. Now that he had qualified for the world championships, he became even more motivated.
    What Sato does best is a hairstyle called the ‘Classical Cut.’ “It is a hairstyle that became popular over 50 years ago. Now the hairstyle is often used as a category at hair competitions because it requires genuine skills. The reason I strive to win prizes at contests is that I would like to prove my precise cutting skills and give my customers a sense of security and trust,” he says.
    In 2003, Sato went independent. He opened his first salon in Mitaka City. Business is good, as Sato’s record of winning a number of awards at home and abroad has brought a good reputation to his salons. Sato likes to teach young staff the skills he has mastered by dint of hard work. He advises them to enter six competitions a year and instructs them himself. “I give instructions after the shop is closed and on days off. I teach only the basics, 30 percent of what they need to know, and leave the rest up to their own creativity. Rather than talking about images, I show them lots of specific skills,” he says.
    “One of my goals is to train a lot of hairdressers to follow in my footsteps. I would also like to tell the world about the skills of the Japanese,” he continues. Thus his classes are not limited to his salons. He also gives lectures to young hairdressers in other salons and students at barber schools. In 2009, he started visiting other Asian countries with his mentor Tanaka Toshio in order to give technical guidance to local hairdressers.
    Though he has a hectic work schedule, he visits his parents’ house in Yamagata Prefecture every once in a while. “I really respect my parents because they are over 60 years old and still active as hairdressers. I didn’t take over the family business, but as it turns out, that has made me a better son, I guess,” Sato says laughing. He gained the gold medal at Paris Cup Open last October, and is currently preparing for the world championships to be held in Paris in 2010, as both a trainer for the national team and a competitor aiming for his second consecutive title.
    HAIR RESORT CLIPS : http://www.hrclips.com/
    [From January Issue 2010][:]

    Read More