• Sharp rise in the number of women interested in swords

    [From August Issue 2015]

    Following on from “rekijo” – women who like history – in recent years there are more and more “touken joshi,” that is women interested in swords. There are many kinds of swords in Japan. It’s said that this trend was kick-started by a video game. The swords in the game take the form of attractive young men and many women became fans for this reason.
    The Tokugawa Art Museum, in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture, houses numerous famous swords. Up until now this museum used to mainly be visited by elderly men. But recently more and more women in their 20s and 30s are visiting the museum. “I think women have come to be fascinated by swords because they’ve entered pop culture through video games,” says YOSHIKAWA Yuki, a member of staff at the museum.
    While swords are attractive artistic objects, besides their beauty, so-called famous swords also have historical tales behind them. For example, according to legend, “Katana Mei Muramasa” brought bad luck to the Tokugawa family; this sword has appeared in many games and novels and is popular nationwide. “The unique crest on the blade creates a mysterious mood and its charm draws you into its legend,” says Yoshikawa.
    “I got into swords through video games and have discovered the charms of actual swords,” says NAKANE Tomoko, a sword fan. Nakane travels by night bus to visit museums all over Japan and see their swords. Sometimes she goes to the same museum three days in a row.
    Besides their aesthetic charms, there are other ways to enjoy swords. As well as giving Skype-based “Samurai Experience Lessons” to American children, “Sousaku Kenbu Tachibana Ittouryu” runs “Samurai Training Tokyo,” a samurai workshop for foreigners visiting Japan.
    “Sword Exercise” got started in 2008. Created by producer TAKAFUJI Ukon its key characteristic is that it gets you in shape through kenjutsu (swordsmanship) forms. Its popularity lies in the fact that in contrast to exercises that concentrate on developing muscles, it’s an easy to perform full body aerobic workout.
    “I feel that the number people interested in swords has increased considerably,” says TSUNODA Tomohiro, the manager of Sword Exercise. While there has always been a high demand from men and from foreigners interested in swords for experience-based lessons, the number of female participants has increased tenfold since the start of the craze for swords amongst women.
    The craze continues to spread as special displays in bookshops to sell new books on swords are set up and replicas of swords sell out. Who knows, perhaps more people will fall in love with swords in the future.


    刀剣は美しい芸術品ですが、名刀といわれる刀は美しさに加えて、歴史的な物語を持っています。例えば、全国的に人気のある「刀銘 村正」は徳川家に災いを呼ぶ刀という伝説があり、ゲームや小説などによく登場します。「独特の刃紋(刀に浮かぶ模様)はいかにも妖しい雰囲気を持ち、伝説に引き込まれるような魅力があります」と吉川さんは話します。
    鑑賞の他にも、刀の魅力を楽しむ方法があります。「創作剣舞橘一刀流」は「SAMURAI TRAINING TOKYO」を訪日外国人向けに開催したり、アメリカの子ども向けにSkypeを使った「サムライ体験レッスン」を実施したりしています。


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  • Tap Water in Japan is Safe to Drink

    [From August Issue 2015]

    Today, more than 97% of Japanese have access to the public water supply. The water supply is hardly ever cut off due to shortages. In general, no matter where you are in Japan, it’s possible to drink the tap water. However, although the Ministry of Health carries out 51 checks on water quality, some people install filters or buy mineral water.
    In June, an event was held in eight locations in Tokyo to compare the taste of tap water with store bought mineral water. It was organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Waterworks. Passersby were asked to drink tap water and mineral water – both at a temperature of between 10°C to 15°C – without knowing which was which.
    This wasn’t the first time this event had been held. During the fiscal year 2014 (April 2014 – March 2015), it was held 153 times and a total of 52,747 people took part. Forty six point seven percent of them answered, “Tap water tastes better.”
    The 1960s was an era of rapid economic growth and even purified, tap water had a nasty smell because of pollution in rivers. Since at that time a lot of people were moving from regions with good quality water to metropolitan areas, there was a widespread perception that “tap water in large cities tastes bad”.
    Since then the taste of tap water in large cities has improved due to developments in water purification technology and stricter controls on pollution. Some municipalities, such as Tokyo Prefecture are tackling the issue by setting “water quality targets.” YAMADA Tomoaki, PR manager at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Waterworks, says, “I’m glad when someone tells me, ‘I’ll drink tap water from now on since it tastes better.’”
    To demonstrate the good taste of its tap water, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Waterworks distributes “Tokyo Water” in PET bottles at events. Other local governments, too, are selling and giving out PET bottles of their tap water to advertise its good taste and quality. Such water is sometimes handed out during natural disasters.
    Japan’s waterworks is highly regarded: its pipes have few leaks, its water purification technology is high tech, and its equipment is well maintained. The government and some local authorities in Japan have, for many years, been offering technical cooperation to countries with poorly developed waterworks.
    Bureau of Waterworks Tokyo Metropolitan Government
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年8月号掲載記事]


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  • Makeup Free Boom






    文:土屋えみ[:en][From July Issue 2015]

    More and more women want to spend time without makeup – such as foundation – on. The reasoning behind this trend is that it is better to maintain beautiful skin by leaving it bare, than to decorate it with makeup.
    “While women continue to make great strides in the workplace, I feel that many are suffering from stress arising from their interpersonal relationships and job-related issues,” says HIGASHIDE Keiko, a honey beauty method researcher at Apikoko Co., Ltd. “Stress has a huge effect on your skin and on your health in general. With this in mind, it could be that women find it liberating to go without foundation,” says her younger sister HIGASHIDE Naoko. The Higashide sisters hold seminars to teach women a beauty method that utilizes honey.
    The Higashide sisters say that the health boom in recent years is also closely related to the popularity of going makeup free. Physical and mental health is closely connected to the skin’s beauty.

    “Skincare University” is an Internet site that supplies visitors with information about beneficial habits, recipes, and skin care routines that keep the skin in good condition. In addition to providing a lot of information concerning skincare and health, this site is also popular for the reliability of its articles which are written under the editorial supervision of doctors and specialists.
    “I think the makeup free boom is wonderful,” says OTAKE Sora, an editor at Skincare University. Even when you have to put on makeup, you can maintain beautiful skin by carrying out the correct skincare regime afterwards. “The important thing is to follow a treatment that suits your skin.”
    “Keeping your skin clean inevitably leads to a healthy well-regulated lifestyle,” says TAKAO Mako, a regular visitor to the site. By cutting out habits like smoking and staying up late, many people feel that the condition of their skin improved after just one week. One of the reasons for the makeup free boom could be that the more effort you put into changing your habits, the better results you see.
    It’s not only women that want to keep their skin beautiful. More and more men are also taking great pains over their skin. In response to demand from participants, Apikoko, has begun giving seminars to men about beauty routines that utilize honey. They have founded “Honey Men’s Club,” a community for men who want to swap information on skincare.
    In order to maintain beautiful skin, you need to pay attention to your lifestyle and this includes how you sleep, exercise, and eat. It’s said that being able to show your bare face to others comes from the confidence gained from living right. Who knows, in the future more and more women into self-improvement may shun makeup and more and more men may put an effort into their skincare routines.

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi[:]

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  • More Places Offering Halal Food






    文:砂崎良[:en][From June Issue 2015]

    Not many Muslims (those who follow the Islamic faith) live in Japan. But the number of Muslim visitors – especially from South East Asia – to Japan for business or tourism has been on the rise in recent years. Demand for “Halal food” – food and drink prepared according to the precepts of the Islamic faith – is therefore increasing. Because of this tendency, there are increasing opportunities for non-Muslim Japanese to try Halal food.
    Halal food contains no pork ingredients, nor any alcohol. Besides this, there are meticulous guidelines concerning, among other things, how meat should be treated. If an Islamic organization judges that the conditions are met, Halal certification is granted. Standards of Halal certification vary depending on the country and the organization. In Japan, most establishments get “local Halal” certification – which takes into consideration the fact that Japan isn’t a Muslim country – or “Muslim friendly” certification for not using the two taboo ingredients of pork and alcohol.
    “Manekineko Yotsuya San-chome-ten” is a karaoke venue that opened in Yotsuya, Tokyo, in December 2014. It’s popular with Muslim tourists from abroad as they can not only enjoy karaoke, but also sample Halal Japanese food which is nevertheless prepared in the same way as typical Japanese food.
    Halal food is different from non-Halal food only in that it’s prepared according to Islamic guidelines. Many non-Muslims, including Japanese, visit Yotsuya Sanchome-ten. It’s also possible to drink alcohol there if you want. Care is taken to follow to Islamic guidelines; for instance, tableware used for alcohol is washed in a different sink than tableware used for Halal food.
    In Shin-Okubo, Tokyo, there’s a street called “Islam Yokocho.” Many Muslims gather there because a room in a nearby building is used as a mosque. Therefore, more and more shops and restaurants selling Halal food have appeared on this street. Although it’s mostly foreign Muslims who go there for Halal food, some Japanese also go to buy seasoning for ethnic cuisine – which is recently fashionable in Japan.
    Some college cafeterias have introduced Halal dishes for the increasing number of Muslim students from abroad. Since these cafeterias are open to non-students, it’s possible to see tourists and local businessmen ordering Halal food out of curiosity.

    There are also cases where Halal food is served out of a spirit of hospitality. Minokichi, a Kyoto restaurant whose history dates back to the Edo era, has created a “Muslim-friendly Set Menu” for customers who don’t want to drink alcohol. Since the restaurant has never used pork, all it had to do was avoid using alcohol in its food preparation.
    Minokichi buys beef and other ingredients from Halal distributors and uses separate cutlery for Halal food. Japanese businessmen today eat the same food as the Muslim clients they entertain.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[:]

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  • Bringing Japanese Pop Culture to the World


    2015年3月、日本のアイドル文化を国内外へ発信する「TOKYO IDOL PROJECT」がスタートしました。フジテレビ、コンテンツ事業局アカウントプロデューサー、濵田俊也さんは記者会見で話しました。「アイドルの魅力をアイドルファンの方だけでなく一般の方にもお届けし、2020年の東京オリンピックに向けて日本と東京の盛り上がりをお手伝いしたいです」。
    TOKYO IDOL PROJECTは、このようなアイドル文化をより盛り上げるために始まりました。アイドルの活動や魅力をテレビ、ウェブ、雑誌、新聞、ラジオなどさまざまなメディアで伝えます。取り上げられるのは主に女性アイドルで、主要コンテンツは現在のところ4点です。
    その一つ「TOKYO IDOL FESTIVAL」は2010年から行われている大規模なアイドルイベントです。2014年は138組のアイドルが出演し、4万人以上の観客が集まりました。今年は8月1日と2日に東京のお台場で開催されます。
    TOKYO IDOL PROJECT LIVEはTOKYO IDOL PROJECTの基幹コンテンツで、毎月日本の各地で行われる予定です。TOKYO IDOL WEBは記事の掲載やライブの動画配信などを行う世界最大級のアイドルポータルサイトです。コラムニストによるアイドル論を載せるなどアイドルの再定義を目的としているのが特徴です。TOKYO IDOL PROJECT TVではTOKYO IDOL PROJECT LIVEの公演の様子やアイドルの最新情報などを伝えます。
    TOKYO IDOL PROJECT [:en][From June Issue 2015]

    In March 2015, the “TOKYO IDOL PROJECT” to promote Japan’s idol (pop star) culture in and outside Japan, was launched. HAMADA Shunya – who works as an account producer for the Content Division of Fuji TV – stated at a press conference for the event, “By communicating the appeal of idols, not just to their existing fans, but also to the general public, I hope to get the nation and Tokyo fired up about the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.”
    Five groups of idols – Denpagumi. Inc., Idoling!!!, Babyraids JAPAN, Negicco and HKT48 – made an appearance at the same press conference to perform songs. They then talked about their ambition “to let people know Japan has wonderful idols in every region” and “to help the world discover positive aspects of Japan through us idols.”
    A large number of idols are active in Japan’s entertainment business. Most are all female or all male groups with two to a few dozen members. As a rule, their popularity is based not on their beauty, nor on their singing and dancing abilities, but on their cuteness, friendliness, and dedication. Nowadays, idols have branched out into different fields; for instance there are also so-called local idols whose role is to advertise a particular product or region.
    Typically, Japanese fans not only watch their favorite idol’s performance but also root enthusiastically for them to become more famous, or for their status to rise within the group. That’s why many people attend fan events such as meet-and-greet sessions. Some of these events are large enough to be broadcast live on TV. Idols and the movements spawned by their fans have become part of Japan’s pop culture and their popularity is on the rise overseas, more particularly in Asia.
    The TOKYO IDOL PROJECT was launched to further promote this idol culture. It broadcasts details of the idols’ activities and charms through various media, including television, the web, magazines, newspapers, and radio. It’s mostly female idols that are covered and at the time of writing, there are four main points through which the campaign is run.
    The TOKYO IDOL FESTIVAL is one of these projects and is a large scale event that has been held since 2010. In 2014, 138 groups of idols performed and more than 40,000 spectators attended. This year it’ll be held on August 1 and 2 at Odaiba, Tokyo.
    TOKYO IDOL PROJECT LIVE is the main vehicle for TOKYO IDOL PROJECT and will be held every month in different parts of Japan. TOKYO IDOL WEB is one of the world’s largest idol websites offering, among other things, articles, and videos of lives shows. The website is unusual in that it aims to redefine idols by publishing essays about idols by its columnists. TOKYO IDOL PROJECT TV broadcasts clips from concerts and provides up-to-date information about idols.

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  • Theater Specializes in Adaptations of Manga and Anime

    2.5-Dimensional Musicals

    In March, 2015, AiiA 2.5 Theater Tokyo opened in Shibuya, Tokyo. It is the world’s first theater dedicated to “2.5-Dimensional Musicals,” that is theatrical productions based on manga, anime, and video game titles that faithfully recreate the original’s atmosphere and characters.
    Recently 2.5-Dimensional theatrical productions are increasingly being staged in Japan and audience numbers are growing too. In 2013, about 1,600,000 people attended a 2.5-Dimensional performance. In 2014, the Japan 2.5-Dimensional Musical Association Secretariat was established and began its activities, performing tasks such as compiling and sending out information on all performances both within and outside Japan. The association also opened the dedicated theatre.
    There is an English page on the association’s official website, and it’s possible to purchase tickets from outside Japan. In addition, subtitles are available through a wearable terminal at the theatre. Audiences can choose from a maximum of four optional languages, though the subtitle languages available do change depending on the performance.
    “When the popular musical ‘Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon: The Musical,’ was staged, 20 to 30 percent of the audience was from outside Japan. When this dedicated theatre was opened, in the hopes of getting more foreigners to see our shows, we installed a subtitle system,” says TODA Naomi, head of PR. “Since it is wearable, it’s possible to read the subtitles without taking your eyes off the actors.”
    In Japan, in 1974, works like “The Rose of Versailles” were adapted into musicals, since then there have been theatrical productions of original manga and anime. “There is a long history of manga and anime being adapted into theatrical productions. But the genre only started to gain wider recognition when the ‘MUSICAL THE PRINCE OF TENNIS’ was staged in 2003,” says Toda.
    This musical was well-received by fans of the manga, for its skillful recreation of the original work’s atmosphere. It also went down well with theatrical fans for the production effect of showing the movement of a ball with a spotlight. “It was a good example of how the world of manga could be successfully adapted for the stage,” says Toda. As the appreciation of both manga and anime rose at home and abroad, the number of adaptations that stayed faithful to the original increased. This resulted in the birth of the so-called “2.5-Dimensional” genre.
    “Rather than mimicking characters, actors play these parts by trying not to undermine the image of the characters in the original work. The director also does his best to recreate the world shown in the original work on the stage. And that’s why the audience’s imaginations are stimulated to fill in the blanks, thus enabling them to visualize the original work on the stage,” says Toda. The 2.5-Dimensional Musical, “Live Spectacle NARUTO” is scheduled to be staged in Macao, Malaysia, and Singapore. Plans to promote this genre to the overseas market are advancing.
    The Japan 2.5-Dimensional Musicals Association Secretariat

    「役者は原作のキャラクターをまねするというよりも、そのキャラクターの持つイメージを損なうことなく演じ、演出家も原作の世界観を舞台上に再現します。だからこそ観客は想像力を刺激され、欠けている部分を空想で補って原作そのもののシーンを舞台上に見るのです」と遠田さん。2.5次元ミュージカルは、「ライブ・スペクタクル NARUTO -ナルト-」がマカオ、マレーシア、シンガポールでも上演されるなど、今後は積極的な海外進出も予定されています。

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  • Local Heroes Born From Love of Home Towns

    [From April Issue 2015]

    Heroic characters that come to the aid of the weak and slay evil are well-liked in Japan. Many Japanese grow up watching TV programs about such heroes. Each region has its local mascot and the number of heroic characters, too, is increasing. These are called local heroes.
    Local mascots are created to promote local produce or to revitalize their region. However, most local heroes come into being because of the locals’ affection for their region or from their longing for a heroic character. It’s said that as many as 700 heroic characters exist in Japan. They are popular not only with children, but also with grownups.
    On Tanegashima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture, “Rito Shentai Tanegashiman” is popular. This team of heroes were created 17 years ago by a local youth club. Speaking the local dialect, rather than fighting like heroes, their role is to inspire the people of Tanegashima. The Tanegashiman team is already renowned not only in Kagoshima but in other prefectures. “I’d like everyone in the country to know about Tanegashima and Tanegashiman,” says KUKIHARA Kiyotaka of the PR department of Tanegashima Action Club.
    Tanegashiman get a lot of requests to appear at long-distance relay races and, being well-received by the elderly, at local class reunions for 60-year-olds. To the surprise of the youth club’s members, their villainous enemies, the Jabatche, have also become popular. The Jabatche speak the Tanegashima dialect and make people laugh with jokes about audience members. Their amusing banter with the audience is the talk of the town.


    Chojin Neiger

    The local hero of Akita Prefecture, too, is also massively popular. Super God Neiger was inspired by the well-known cry of Akita’s local deity Namahage “Warui ko wa ‘ineiger’/inai ka.” (Are there any naughty children here?) His true identity is AKITA Ken., a young man from an ordinary family of farmers. He protects the peace from baddies. When he transforms into Neiger his rallying cry is “Super God Neiger, protector of the sea, the mountains and Akita!”
    EBINA Tamotsu, who was instrumental in the creation of Super God Neiger, has loved heroic characters since his childhood. He believes Neiger’s popularity is in the way that the hero embraces the Akita world. A TV program about Neiger was broadcast not only in Akita, but also in Tokyo. “Nothing makes me happier than hearing children cheering,” says Ebina.
    Local heroes might utilize regional products as weapons or have a signature pose. TAKAMOTO Shintaro is a fan of local heroes and even travels to distant locations for meet-and-greet events and shows. “I find it particularly interesting that they speak in dialects. It’s also fun to compare regional idiosyncrasies,” he says.
    Most heroes fight their enemies in order to keep the peace and protect the environment in their regions. They therefore set a good example to children. Some adults are nostalgic for the heroes they once looked up to. Local heroes will continue to serve locals’ affection for their region.

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi[2015年4月号掲載記事]




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  • If Manga is Engaging, it’s Welcomed by Readers Worldwide

    [From April Issue 2015]
    In February 2015, the awards ceremony for the Eighth International Manga Awards was held in Minato City, Tokyo Prefecture. It’s an open contest for manga created outside Japan. It’s organized by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan Foundation – a cultural organization specializing in international cultural exchanges and Japanese language education. The Japan Cartoonists’ Association and publishers of manga magazines are also involved. This time, 317 works from 46 countries/regions were submitted and 15 of them won awards. The award winning works from Asia, the West, the Middle East and Africa reflected the continuing expansion and development of manga culture.
    Gold and Silver Award winners are invited to Japan to meet Japanese cartoonists and to visit publishers and other manga-related sites. This year’s Gold Award was given to Nambaral ERDENEBAYAR from Mongolia. Luo mu from China, Ben WONG from Malaysia, and 61Chi from Taiwan were selected for the Silver Award. Though 61Chi had a prior engagement, the other three winners came to Japan.
    “Bumbardai,” Erdenebayar’s award winning work, depicts the close relationship of a nomadic mother and child. “I want to continue depicting the traditional life of nomads. I’d also like to explore the subject of Mongolian folklore,” says Erdenebayar. “I loved Doraemon as a child. I went to the Fujiko・F・Fujio Museum during this stay in Japan and it was like a dream come true.”
    Luo mu, who won her award for “Mr. Bear,” a story about a boy in a bear costume, has been drawing manga for only a year or two. “I’m still quite inexperienced when it comes to drawing manga and constructing stories, so I was both surprised and delighted when I learned about the award,” she says. “I’ll continue to do my best now that I’ve been commissioned to do a series. I’d like to create heart-warming works in the future.”
    Ben Wong who won his award for “Atan,” a story about a boy and a water buffalo, is a talented cartoonist who’d already won an award at the first International Manga Awards. “I became a manga writer because I thought it was a good business opportunity. My entrepreneurial spirit was stimulated by the possibility of success and by the risks involved,” he says. “From now on, I’d like to expand into educational manga,” he said about his ambitions for the future.
    “There was a time when it was said that Japanese manga wasn’t up to world standards. Japanese cartoonists, however, instead of trying to adapt to this, only depicted what would please readers,” said cartoonist SATONAKA Machiko, chief judge. “In whichever country manga is drawn, readers will welcome it as long as it’s fun. And by sharing stories, we get to know about each other’s cultures,” she said, giving words of encouragement to the winners.
    “The level of the art work was so high and the stories were so well constructed that these works might as well have been published in Japan,” says SAITO Yuko from the Cultural Affairs and Overseas Public Relations Division of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “I hope these awards will one day be loved by cartoonists and readers throughout the whole world.” The application period for the next International Manga Award is expected to be from mid-April to late May.
    International Manga Award
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年4月号掲載記事]


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  • Popular TV Programs Allow Foreigners to See Their Countries Through Japanese Eyes and Vice Versa

    [From March Issue 2015]

    Broadcasting a variety of programs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, in Japan there are numerous TV stations and this includes one public channel, five major private TV channels, local stations, BS, and CS. Among the programs broadcast, there are many that feature foreign countries and non-Japanese people. Those introducing the lives of Japanese living overseas and the lives of non-Japanese in Japan are popular.
    In “Far Away Neighbours” celebrities drop in on Japanese living in places rarely visited by ordinary Japanese citizens. This series, broadcast on the TV Asahi channel and its network, is mainly hosted by the Chihara Brothers comic double act. The appeal of this program as a documentary is its portrayal of visiting celebrities grappling with riding small busses and trying to make the right connections in order to reach their destination, as well as the way it introduces the real lives of local people.
    Since many of the people visited are the only Japanese in the area, they cannot rely on the embassy or local Japanese communities and have had to solve problems on their own. In most cases, being far from Japan means that life can be rather inconvenient. The ups and downs of their lives up until the present day and their courage in overcoming these difficulties are highlighted in the show.
    Broadcast by the TBS network, “The World’s Japa-zuma” is a program that features the lives of Japanese women who have married non-Japanese men and are living overseas. When it’s revealed how these woman came to move overseas for marriage, the footage is discussed in the studio by celebrities and non-Japanese women living in Japan. The hosts are the comic duo Bakusho Mondai.
    One of the highlights of the program is in its detailed portrayal of the individual lives of these women, the difficulties they face in foreign countries and the cultural differences between them and their husbands. For instance, a woman who moved to New Zealand won sympathy of viewers because of the way she took care of her children while running a ranch with her husband. Her practically self-sufficient lifestyle stirred up feelings of curiosity and admiration in viewers.
    “Why did you come to Japan?” is broadcast by the TV Tokyo network. To discover why people come to Japan, foreigners are interviewed at Narita International Airport. Sometimes, their special skills are introduced, as in the case of people who came to Japan to participate in a karate event. The individual responses of people coming from overseas and the variety of reasons for coming to Japan stir up the viewer’s interest.
    In some cases, the coverage of people interviewed at the airport continues. A couple of Danish men appeared numerous times in the program because of their unique style of traveling which involved choosing a destination by blindfolding themselves and pointing at random to an open guidebook. The show is surprising to viewers because foreigners want to visit unusual places or even places Japanese people don’t know about. The witty commentary by the show’s hosts, comic due Bananaman, is also popular.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年3月号掲載記事]



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  • Construction Sites Make Fascinating Tour Destinations

    [From February Issue 2015]

    Tours to inspect construction sites, such as tunnels and expressways, are generating quiet interest. The Kinki Regional Development Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism created an exclusive website called “Miseru! Genba” (Enchanting! Sites) last August to draw in visitors. “Since we maintain the infrastructure with tax money, we wanted the public to know what our job involves. So, we decided to have people come see how the work is carried out,” says MATSUO Jun of the Planning Department’s Planning Division. Anyone of elementary school age or over can visit free of charge.
    Matsuo says the appeal of these construction site inspection tours is being able to see areas that will remain hidden once the construction is complete. Furthermore, “Since the construction work of the Kinki Regional Development Bureau is national government work, you can see construction on a grand scale,” he says, hyping this special feature. Also popular are rides given on the big heavy industrial machines used for construction work.
    As visitors range from elementary school pupils, to students going to engineering schools, to construction industry officials, staff members with detailed knowledge of the site accompany them in order to answer any technical questions. In addition, since the conditions at the construction site change day by day, the content of the tour and the itinerary is updated frequently. Therefore, there are people who sign up many times. Although it was only held for four months last year, 2,100 people participated.
    However, there are also concerns. “The primary goal of the construction site is to push forward with construction. If the numbers of visitors rises too much, there is the concern that the construction work will not progress. Because of this, one of the conditions is that we reduce the number of tours, taking only applications for groups of ten people and over,” Matsuo says.
    There is a movement to make this kind of tour available as a tourist attraction. In conjunction with the Japan Society of Civil Engineering, the Japan Institute of Country-ology and Engineering, and the major construction contractors, the travel agency JTB is finding out whether this kind of construction site visit has the potential to become a sightseeing attraction.
    Many visiting tours are carried out free of charge by administrations and municipalities like the Kinki Regional Development Bureau. However, FUKASAWA Reiko, section manager at JTB Domestic Travel Plan East Japan Division Business Development Section – the department in charge of this project – says, “Because we’re a travel agency we can add that little extra spice to the experience along with a narrative element that will satisfy participants.”
    The first tour they planned was a construction site inspection tour of the Tokyo Outer Ring Road. Their target audience was parent and child groups who were able to pass through a section that was normally restricted to authorized personnel. The content of the tour included writing messages and signatures on the tunnel, and observing an experiment to test the strength of the concrete. They made it available to 20 pairs, but after it appeared in a newspaper, they sold out that day.
    There are future concerns, too. “Because there’s the safety aspect to consider, we limit the number of participants for a single tour. Moreover, it’s a lot of work for the travel agency as it’s not possible to carry out the same tour numerous times at one site,” says Fukasawa. The work of the site manager in ensuring safety increases and bottlenecks might build up when tours are halted due to safety concerns. However, since a lot of people are hoping to sample such a rare experience, Fukasawa feels that there is enough potential for the tours to become a tourist attraction.

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2015年2月号掲載記事]



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