• ますます進む日本のキャラクター化

    [From August Issue 2010]

    In Japan, characters (mascots) are often created to help promote products or to help boost tourism. Many of these characters are attractively designed animals and/or vegetables. These characters usually appear at promotional events in kigurumi (full-bodied suits) as well as in souvenir shops as key chains and other accessories. Since kigurumi also appear in kabuki – traditional Japanese plays – most Japanese people are already accustomed to their presence.

    “Moe-kyara” characters are also popular. Pretty female and handsome male characters fall into this group, and are most often either anime or manga related. Recently, the personification of things and/or places has grown in popularity.

    This past April, Shizuoka Prefecture’s HIGHSPEC CO., LTD. and ARTRA Inc., together requested submissions for a character for “motsu (pork offal) curry.” Motsu curry is a local specialty of Shimizu Ward, Shizuoka City, which is also home to a professional soccer team. So, both HIGHSPEC and ARTRA wanted to create a character that personified being “from Shimizu and loveing soccer.” After holding auditions, the “MOMOTSU Karen” character won and is now part of bag designs and billboard advertisements.

    “Karen is a very approachable character. The Alcea rosea (Hollyhock flower), the city flower of Shizuoka City, is subtly designed into both her hair and her skirt. Sales are more than we expected, too,” says MOROHOSHI Masataka, HIGHSPEC’s PR representative. HIGHSPEC was also involved in developing the “Fujitan,” character, personifying Mt. Fuji.

    Yurihama Town of Tottori Prefecture created a CD drama wherein they embodied the characteristics of the various, local regions. So the Tomari area, with its harbor, became the fisherman TOMARI Michiru, while the Hawai area, with its hot spring, became the warm hearted HAWAI Francesca-Yuji. Then a story was developed featuring these characters, which were voiced by real actors. A website was also created.

    “While the website and the CD drama are in Japanese, we have had enquiries in English from China, Hong Kong and Germany,” says KATO Kiyoko, Yurihama Town’s Tourism Ambassador. “I think the fact that the cast included MIDORIKAWA Hikaru, one of Japan’s most famous voiceover actors, had some effect. Chocolates were sent to the characters on Valentine’s Day and I also saw an e-mail saying that people actually visited the place where the drama took place,” she recalls.

    The woman-only creative web content team “Miracle Train Production Project” has turned train stations into handsome male characters. For example, Shinjuku Station, with its many passengers and lively streets at night, was turned into a “gentlemanly and popular character, kind to women,” and Tokyo Station, which is the center of the Japanese railway system, became a “leader, driven strictly by time.” Station characters often inform people about the station itself, such as “Ikebukuro has plenty of stores in its eki-biru (tenant buildings adjacent to the station),” and “Oedo line’s Roppongi Station platform is located 42 meters underground, the deepest subway station in Japan.”

    “We aim to introduce the history and information of the train station and railways in a clear and interesting way for women to understand” says PR producer KIDACHI Miyuka. “Currently, our project uses comic strips and novels on the web, and sells CD’s and other goods. TV animation started its broadcast in October 2009, and since then, website visits have multiplied five-fold. Our products also often sell out at manga and anime events.”

    Currently, Miracle Train is featuring the Oedo line. And recently, there has been a trend for female fans to contact each other online to meet at, or visit places where a particular scene in an anime movie took place. “For people who live in Tokyo, the Oedo line is a familiar subway line. That is why featuring stations became popular,” says train fan, KATO Mayumi.

    “Japanese people believe that spirits dwell in all objects. That is probably why many Japanese people imagine the kinds of thoughts that objects and animals may have. Personification is a fun and healthy way of imagining, one that makes objects appealing to people,” says Kidachi.

    There is also practical personification. Studio Hard Deluxe Co., Ltd. published a book that introduced chemical elements as the “Element Girls.” In it, 118 elements such as iron and gold were given illustrated female personalities. Additional information about the elements was also included.

    “To create simple and cute characters for serious things – that is our way of business,” says TAKAHASHI Nobuyuki, the company’s president. Takahashi has vast anime and manga knowledge, and was the person who coined the word “cosplay (costume play).” “It is easy for Asians who use kanji characters to personify things. Using letters (i.e. characters with individual meanings) makes personification easy,” he says.

    “Chemical elements are recognizable but are confusing and hard to relate to. When they are personified, they become easier to relate to. And furthermore, since they are freshly created, they have their own novelty,” says Takahashi. “The reason why personified characters are so popular is because they are easy to relate to and cute in a new way.”

    HIGHSPEC Co.,Ltd.
    Lohas Togo (Drama CD)
    Miracle Train Project
    Studio Hard Deluxe

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo















    スタジオ ハードデラックス

    文:砂崎 良

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  • 「地底パルテノン神殿」の正体

    [From July Issue 2010]

    In the underground of Kasukabe City, Saitama Prefecture, there is a vast space that looks like a gigantic shrine-like structure, where 59 pillars, each 2 meters wide and 18 meters high, occupy a space 78 meters wide by 177 meters deep. This is all located 22 meters below ground level, and resembles the Parthenon, but at the center of the earth. SUZUKI Momoko, one observation-tour participant said, “I was overwhelmed by the gigantic pillars. At that depth, the earth was quiet and mystic.”

    This “shrine” is actually part of a 6.3 kilometer drainage canal, built to help prevent floods in the Nakagawa River basin. Its construction started in 1993 and was completed in June, 2006. It started to partially operate in 2002.

    The free Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel observation-tours are open to the public just by making an application via the Internet, by phone, or directly at the information desk. Each tour takes about one and a half hours, three times a day, from Tuesday through Friday. Since the number of participants per tour is limited to only 25, they are usually fully booked soon after they are offered. Accompanied by a PR person, participants visit three places: Ryu-Q-kan, the roof of administrative building, and the pressure-controlled water tank (where water is held).

    Ryu-Q-kan is a museum that showcases the facility’s system, as well as offering various, other flood-prevention information. Using models and maps, their explanations are well-reputed to be easily understandable. From the roof of the administrative building, participants can observe the flow and the water level of the Edo River. The supporting Parthenon-like pillars of the pressure-controlled tank are especially popular with the people on the tour. When it floods, excess water fills the tank hiding the pillars from view.

    The five vertical, water-intake shafts resembling giant wells, like giant wells connect directly to the underground tunnel. Each shaft is 70 meters deep and 30 meters wide, enabling it to swallow the entirety of New York’s Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, for safety reasons the tunnel and the vertical shafts are off limits during the tour.

    The low-lying characteristics of the land in the Nakagawa basin make it easy for water to accumulate, causing both flooding and inundation damage. As a result, this system of diverting water from the small, flood-prone river to a bigger river was conceived.

    The majority of people who join the observation-tour come from the Kanto Area, with the number of men slightly exceeding that of women. Participants say that, “It was interesting to see a place where we usually can not go” and that “we appreciate that we can live safely because of the facility.” ARAKI Shigeru, who is in charge of the facility, says: “I would like to have many people learn about the Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel, and make them more aware of disaster prevention.”

    Edogawa River Office, Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko









    江戸川河川事務所 首都圏外郭放水路


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  • ハイテク駐輪場でスイスイ

    [From July Issue 2010]

    On their way to work or school, many people ride their bicycles to the train station. This usually results in a lack of bicycle parking spaces, making illegally parked bicycles left on the street or other places a social issue. They prevent pedestrians and other bicycles from passing through the congested area, and they also make the area look bad.

    Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward has built automated, bicycle parking systems. After cyclists puts an IC (integrated circuit) tag on their bicycles and place them on the bike stand, the automated machine then carries each one to its designated storage shelf. The bicycle entrance is very small, big enough for only one bicycle. However, below each entrance is a large cylindrical parking area that measures 6.9-meter wide by 14.45-meter deep, and that can hold 180 bicycles.

    In 2001, there were about 10 thousand illegally parked bicycles in the Edogawa Ward. Five hundred million yen was spent annually to cope with this problem. However, since land was difficult to secure, it was impossible to make a big bicycle parking lot. As a solution, 7 billion yen was spent in creating Japan’s biggest bicycle parking system, with a lot for 9,400 bicycles including 36 automated machines for 6,480 bicycles, underneath Kasai station.

    “The number of illegally parked bicycles around Kasai station decreased from 1,358 to 50,” says NAITO Yasuo, an employee of the Edogawa Ward office’s parking department. “There are no worries about having bicycles stolen and no trouble finding your own bicycle among so many. Since you can store or retrieve at least two bicycles per minute, there is no need to wait.”

    Users are happy and say that, “It’s like the parking system of the future because we can easily park and get our bicycles. It’s also less trouble when we are carrying many things,” adding that “The station area used to look messy with so many illegally parked bicycles, now it’s been completely cleaned up.”

    In Tokyo’s Setagaya Ward, an environmentally-friendly bicycle parking lot was completed just this March. It has a large, rooftop solar panel that generates 7,135 kilo watts of electricity annually. The generated electricity is used to charge the batteries of electric power-assisted bicycles and for the parking lot lighting system. Furthermore, there are also extra batteries to store electric power for rainy days and emergencies.

    Electric power-assisted bicycles help with pedaling when a rider starts out or heads uphill. They can be rented for 300 yen per ride but the cyclist must pay a security deposit of 3,500 yen, refundable when the contract ends.

    “Bicycles parked illegally around the station used to have a bad image,” says NISHI Tatsuya, an employee in the transportation safety section of Setagaya’s Ward Office. “However, with less people driving cars as a result of the rise in gasoline prices, and with more people concerned about the environment, the merits of bicycles have been reconsidered. Especially these electric power-assisted bicycles, which are highly-valued because they can be ridden without much effort, and which older people appreciate, knowing that, ‘they can ride this one.’ For people’s good health and for the environment, we hope that bicycles continue to be widely used.”

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo










    文:砂崎 良

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  • 日本の結婚式

    [From June Issue 2010]

    Most weddings in Japan start with a religious ceremony which usually only family members attend. Afterwards, a banquet is customarily held to which many people, including friends and colleagues, are invited. To celebrate the happy occasion, guests give the bride and groom goshuugi, or gift money in special envelopes. Goshuugi from friends is usually 20,000 yen or 30, 000 yen.

    A typical Japanese wedding party starts when the bride and groom enter the banquet hall together, and take their seats on a slightly raised platform facing their guests. Invited guests are seated closer to the bride and groom, with family and relatives seated further in back. The bride’s and groom’s bosses usually give congratulatory speeches then friends sing in celebration. Other wedding highlights include a candle ceremony where the couple holds a candle while greeting their guests at each table, and the cutting of the wedding cake. Afterwards, the bride and groom thank their parents with a speech, then leave to end the party.

    In the past, dishes that supposedly brought good fortune, such as prawns and sea breams, were served in abundance. So much of it was ordered that guests ended up taking the surplus home, unlike today, where the majority of the weddings serve just enough for everyone. Additionally, before leaving, guests would traditionally receive souvenir gifts called hikidemono. They used to be expensive dishware and bulky items that looked good, but today’s popular items are more lightweight and easy to take home gift catalogues from which guests can later choose an item they prefer.

    Many wedding ceremonies take place at wedding halls or hotels. Rough estimates show that it costs about 3 million yen to host a wedding party for 80 guests. During the baburu (Japan’s economic bubble), overseas weddings and flamboyant receptions with special effects such as smoke machines and having the bride and groom fly in on gondolas, were very popular. But these days, couples choose to tie the knot in a variety ways, from not having any ceremony to having a modest affair, or, still going all out.

    Happo-en, located in Mintao Ward, Tokyo, performs the most weddings in Japan, offering 3 different wedding styles – a Japanese Shinto-style wedding, a Christian chapel-style wedding and a civil-style wedding. In the Shinto-style wedding, the bride and groom wear kimonos and a kannushi (Shinto priest) performs the ceremony. In the chapel-style, the bride and groom are dressed in a wedding dress and tuxedo, and a Christian clergyman performs the ceremony. Civil weddings have no particular religion so the attire is of the bride and groom’s choice and they make their vows in front of their attending guests.

    “When overseas weddings were popular, many couples chose to be wed in a chapel, but recently, we see many guests choose the traditional Shinto-style ceremonies,” says KUMADE Yoko of Happo-en. “I think it is because many Japanese celebrities are getting married in this style, as well as the Japanese tradition being reevaluated and many magazines are featuring weddings in a Japanese kimono. Additionally, the number of civil weddings is gradually increasing, too. It is popular with couples who prefer not to have any religious ambiance and couples who wish to include their friends at their ceremony. We also have more enquiries from international and non-Japanese couples, too,” she says. It seems the Japanese garden and the traditional Japanese hospitality are also appealing to them.

    On the other hand, there are also couples that choose inexpensive weddings. While some couples may not plan a banquet at all, others may choose to have a “photo wedding” – where the couple wears wedding attire only to take photos for the celebrated occasion. At BUA Holdings Inc., a couple can have a wedding ceremony for only 49,800 yen. “There are some couples who prefer to spend the same money on a new house or their honeymoon. And there are fewer relatives to invite because compared to the past, we have fewer siblings and when they get married later in their life, their grandparents might have already passed away. As a result, there are more couples who are looking for a more compact wedding ceremony,” says KAWABE Toru, the company’s publicist.

    Kawabe continues: “We hope that family ties become stronger through wedding ceremonies. We think this will build the society which values ties that are uniquely Japanese. Recently, international couples that want to have another ceremony in Japan come to us after their ceremony in their partner’s home country. We also have older couples who want to renew their vows because they did not have a ceremony when they first got married.”

    The Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese (AFWJ) is a group for women who have all married Japanese men. Their aim is to support each other in blending into Japanese society. One Australian member, Heather FUKASE, had an elaborate wedding since her husband was the first-born son, and traditionally, the heir of the family. “I was surprised because there were so many people we had to invite,” says Fukase, adding that even the town mayor was a guest. And the traditional Japanese order also bewildered her. “I thought that the immediate family should be seated closer to us, but it was not the case,” she recalls.

    Canadian AFWJ member Suzanne MIYAKE remembers wearing a kimono at her wedding in her favorite color, pink. “My husband’s father prepared a program in English for my parents and myself,” Suzanne recalls about that day. Another Canadian member, Christelle HATANO, also wore a kimono for her traditional Japanese style wedding. But by the end of the reception, everyone was dancing and it turned out to be just like a reception party in Canada. “Our wedding was a wonderful occasion where two families, two languages and two cultures blended into one,” she fondly remembers.

    Traditional Japanese Weddings

    Japanese people used to consider marriage to be something that affected the whole family. Therefore, it was common for families to ask a person whom they trusted to be their nakoudo (match maker) in order to arrange a marriage between two families. Once the marriage was approved, the family of the shinrou (groom) would present the family of the shimpu (bride) gifts referred to as the yuinou. Then wedding invitations would be sent out, sometimes in the parents’ names rather than in those of the bride and groom. Today, while many Japanese people consider these beliefs and customs to be old-fashioned, they are however, still being practiced.

    The custom of omiai, or matchmaking, has also become rare, but does still exist as the way a man and a woman meet through their nakoudo. Before meeting in person, they exchange photos and confirm background information including hobbies, education, and even family data, to make sure they are both trustworthy.

    BUA Holdings Inc.
    Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo















    株式会社BUA ホールディングス

    文:砂崎 良

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  • 将棋から生まれた新しいゲーム、どうぶつしょうぎ

    [From June Issue 2010]

    Shogi is a traditional, two-player board game, similar to Western chess. Each player controls 40 pieces, and the rules are complicated. Each piece has kanji characters such as “Osho” (King) and “Hisha” (flying chariot) written on it, and they can all move in a variety of different directions.

    The yearly decline in the number of shogi players has lead to the invention of Doubutsu Shogi (animal shogi), with the intention of attracting new players, hopefully women and children. KITAO Madoka, a joryu-kishi (professional female shogi player who plays in women-only tournaments), designed the rules, and in 2008 Doubutsu Shogi was sold by the Ladies Professional Shogi-players’ Association of Japan (LPSA). Doubutsu Shogi follows the basic rules and moves of traditional shogi.

    There are four different Doubutsu Shogi playing pieces: a Lion, an Elephant, a Giraffe and a Chick, each cutely designed by joryu-kishi FUJITA Maiko. The playing board, illustrated with a sky and a forest, has 12 squares, far fewer than the 81 squares on a regular shogi board. Learning the moves is as easy as following the red indication marks on each playing piece.

    It’s respectful to cheerfully greet your opponent with, “Yoroshiku onegai shimasu” (Let’s enjoy the game) before getting started, and “Arigatou gozaimashita” (Thank you) at the game’s conclusion. After playing “janken pon” (rock-paper-scissors) to decide who goes first, each player moves their pieces in turn. The winner is the player who succeeds in taking the other’s Lion, the game’s strongest piece (similar to Shogi’s Osho, or the King).

    Another joryu-kishi, OHBA Mika, who also works in the LPSA’s public relations department, has an eight-year-old daughter. Her daughter Maho, initially had difficulty learning the rules of traditional shogi, however, Ohba said that after playing Doubutsu Shogi, her daughter’s understanding of the rules started to improve.

    “I hope that the popularity of Doubutsu Shogi spreads more widely across Japan, and that it will in turn help make (traditional) shogi better known to people worldwide,” say Ohba. And it is, as both Kitao, and Fujita have already attended an international game festival in France this past March, Le Festival International des Jeux, de Cannes, where they introduced their new game. It is being called “Doubutsu Shogi: Let’s Catch the Lion!”

    Due to large amounts of recent media coverage, Doubutsu Shogi is now gaining momentum. The Doubutsu Shogi One Day Tournament, held this past February in Shibuya, Tokyo, attracted 150 children, with well over 300 people, including their parents, flocking to the venue to watch. This new board game, born out of the traditional Japanese game of shogi, is now set to spread from here to the rest of the world.

    Doubutsu Shogi Official Website

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko







    また大庭さんは、「どうぶつしょうぎが日本でますます広まって、世界中の人たちに将棋を知ってもらうきっかけになってほしいです」と話す。北尾さんと藤田さんは3月にフランス・カンヌで行われた「ゲームの祭典」を訪れ、どうぶつしょうぎを紹介した。海外では「Doubutsu Shogi (Let’s Catch the Lion!ライオンをつかまえろ!)」と呼ばれている。

    多くのメディアに取り上げられるようになり、どうぶつしょうぎはブームとなっている。2月に東京・渋谷で行われた「どうぶつしょうぎ・1 dayトーナメント」には、150名の子どもたちが参加し、保護者を含め300名が大会会場に集まった。日本の将棋という古いゲームから生まれた新しいゲームが、日本から世界へ発信されている。



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  • ツイッターブームの裏側

    [From June Issue 2010]

    Lately Twitter has been gaining popularity in Japan. Hiragana Times CIA interviewed Professor KAZAMA Ryuta, a Twitter and blog expert, and the author of “Twitter Boom Generated from Human Nature.”

    CIA: Why are Twitter and blogs relevant to human nature?

    Prof.: Simply put, a blog is a diary and Twitter is murmurings. In short, these satisfy the hidden, human “peeping-tom” desire to know about other people’s behavior and private lives, as well as drawing their attention.

    CIA: I’ve heard that famous people also use Twitter nowadays.

    Prof.: Yes, politicians including Prime Minister HATOYAMA and many “talento” have also started. Fans can learn of their activities and about their daily life, but in reality they usually write something positive about themselves to increase their good PR. In other words, what you read is controlled information.

    CIA: Ordinary people do not need good PR, so they write more honestly, no?

    Prof.: Yes. As a result, popular bloggers and Tweeters draw more attention and are followed more closely than “talentos.” Their comments are more persuasive since their comments are based on their real experiences.

    CIA: Don’t you think that there are many companies that would love to use their influence?

    Prof.: Companies ask people to rate their products & services in exchange for free items or a consulting fee. Bloggers and Tweeters would be happy to know that their messages were valued and would surely accept more company requests, maybe even becoming professional corporate spokespersons. Here is where you can see human nature at work – they are similar to politicians, who start out honestly working for the people, but end up corrupted by sweet temptation.

    CIA: Without knowing all the facts, people probably buy poor products believing that they are fine products. Is there any way to know the real truth?

    Prof.: You should know the 8:2 rule. If there is only admiration for a product, then people will know that it’s PR. To avoid that, 20% should be something negative so the comments seem realistic. The writer’s skill can easily mask the deficiencies, leading the reader to make the purchase anyway. After reading the comment, if you still want the product, you should remember the old adage that still applies. “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

    One Comment from CIA

    Many companies have their staff write positive comments about their products/services. Do you remember that it became a big issue when manufactured comments were disclosed by a leading supermarket in USA? It has been suggested that Twitter will spread quickly among Japanese, who habitually follow other people’s behaviors. In other words, Japanese are unable to independently judge whether or not something is really good or bad. So dear Japanese readers, now that many people have started using Twitter, saying that it is fun, what will you do?

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


    最近、日本で「ツイッター」がはやり始めた。Hiragana Times CIAは、「人間の性質が生んだツイッターブーム」の著者で、ツイッターやブログ事情に詳しい風間流太教授にインタビューした。













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

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  • 観光対策は神社や寺の経営に学べ!

    [From May Issue 2010]

    While the Hatoyama cabinet is trying to increase the number of foreign travelers to Japan, their new task is learning how to convince tourists to spend their money once they arrive. Hiragana Times CIA interviewed tourism expert, Professor OHGAMI Manabu, to learn more.

    鳩山内閣は日本を訪れる外国人観光客を増やそうとしているが、観光客からいかにしてお金を使わせるかが課題となっている。Hiragana Times CIAは、その点について観光産業に詳しい大神学教授にインタビューした。

    CIA: What do you think about the government’s tourism policy?


    Prof.: With increased globalization, manufacturers in advanced countries now have factories in foreign countries where wages are lower. In the future, advanced countries will find it increasingly more difficult to depend solely on the manufacturing industry. Japan is a small country and has no natural resources. The best decision is for Japan to become a tourism-based economy.

    CIA: What should foreign tourists take interest in, in Japan?

    Prof.: Decades ago, Japan was called the country of “Fujiyama and geisha.” Women regularly wearing kimono were once a common sight, but hardly anymore. Japanese cuisine was once only available here, but now it’s everywhere. Foreign tourists used to be able to really sense the cultural difference of Japanese daily life. Now, common foods, clothing and music are universal, making it difficult for a country to provide a unique tourist experience. At present, Asian tourists are purchasing Japan’s high-tech products as souvenirs, but that trend won’t last long.

    CIA: Then what is Japan’s attraction?

    Prof.: Geisha have almost all disappeared, but the beauty of Fujiyama or Mt. Fuji will remain forever. There still is tourism value in Japan’s abundant nature, and its cultural assets, such as shrines and temples.

    CIA: Fortunately, Japan does still have many wonderful shrines and temples.

    Prof.: Yes, and the government should pay more attention to how they are run. Japan’s notable shrines and temples charge entrance fees, in addition to placing offertory boxes. Furthermore, they charge book and magazine publishers high publication fees for the permission to shoot and print photos of them.

    CIA: Can you blame them?

    Prof.: No. In fact, the well-known shrines and temples all have similar business structures to companies that sell the rights to famous characters. Some of them even branch out into other regions, just like franchise businesses. There are all kinds of business models seen in the management of shrines and temples. That’s why their business is everlasting. The tourism industry should learn their know-how in getting money from foreign tourists.

    One Comment from CIA

    In medieval Christian times, churches sold forgiveness to anyone who wanted to buy absolution from their sins. Here in Japan, the saying “Bouzu marumouke,” means that “Priests gain all the profits.” Therefore, if Japan’s tourism industry learns religious business practices, then Hatoyama’s tourism policy will be a complete failure. Why? A long time ago, religious institutions convinced the government to let them collect money tax free. So, if Japan’s tourism industry does similarly, making money without paying taxes, then how will the government ever make any money?

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


    鳩山内閣は日本を訪れる外国人観光客を増やそうとしているが、観光客からいかにしてお金を使わせるかが課題となっている。Hiragana Times CIAは、その点について観光産業に詳しい大神学教授にインタビューした。












    カトリック時代の中世に、教会は罪から免れたい人にそれが許されるとされるお札を売っていました。日本には「坊主丸儲け」という言葉があります。それでもし、日本の観光業者が宗教ビジネスを学んだら、鳩山観光政策は大失敗に終わるでしょう。なぜかって? 宗教団体ははるか以前に政府をくどき、無税にさせました。日本の観光業者が同じことをして税金を払わなければ、政府はどこからお金を得るのでしょうか。

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

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  • 屋上菜園―東京の新しい農業

    [From May Issue 2010]

    Japan’s capital city of Tokyo is crowded with a population of approximately 13 million people, and a city-center crammed full of tall buildings. However, even within such a dense environment, the number of people promoting rooftop agriculture is increasing.

    Ginza is widely known as one of Tokyo’s upscale areas, full of luxurious boutiques and expensive restaurants. In 2006, a Ginza business executive, and community project leader, TANAKA Atsuo, started keeping honeybees on a local rooftop. “After hearing that you could keep honeybees in urban areas, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could gather honey in Ginza, so I started. The bees gather nectar from trees in parks more than one kilometer away, as well as from trees lining the streets,” says Tanaka.

    Tanaka thought that using the harvested honey could help better promote the area, so, he founded the “Ginza Mitsubachi (honeybee) Project.” “There are many wonderful chefs, bartenders and other food artisans in Ginza, so we’ve asked them to make food and confectionery items with our honey. We thought it could become the talk of the town and attract more shoppers, further enriching Ginza,” he says.

    Tanaka’s idea soon became a great success. The word about Ginza’s honeybees spread instantly and TV networks and newspapers started reporting on the area’s newest venture. Chefs soon also visited Tanaka’s bees and were very impressed by their dedicated work, as well as by the difference in taste among honeys collected from various kinds of flowers. With that in mind, the chefs started creating many, delicious, honey-based dishes that tasted so good, and that were so well-received, that a honey shortage almost ensued.

    Rooftop agriculture soon spread to other buildings around Ginza, with even the century-old Matsuya Department Store creating their own garden in 2007 where they started growing flowers and vegetables from which nectar could be gathered. They also invited people involved in environmental activities to an event where they served curry with summer vegetables that were grown on their rooftop.

    “During the summer, we had to water the plants many times a day. Some of them were even eaten by birds,” explains Matsuya PR staff member OOKI Yukio about the problems they had to overcome. “But the customers were pleased, and they kept telling us that they were looking forward to seeing the vegetables grow. Also, when we saw the honeybees coming, we felt like we were contributing to nature and so we started thinking more about the environment,” he added.

    Also in 2007, The Japanese Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Company started gardening on its Ginza head office building rooftop, growing rice from which they make sake. “None of our employees had any agricultural experience, so when we faced problems, we had to think and study, and solve them one by one. When the weather was bad, the rice plants became ill. Since we didn’t use any pesticide, they got attacked by harmful insects. We were surprised by the fact that any insect would fly to the rooftop of such a high building in Ginza. But, we were emotionally moved when the plants finally bore rice,” says ODA Asami, Senior section chief of the Tokyo branch office.

    “By growing rice we’ve widened our circle of friends,” says Oda, adding that “at harvest time, our employees’ families come along. When we make sake, we also invite people from outside the company as well.”

    “Through the Honeybee Project, community interest is growing,” says Tanaka. “When I’m taking care of the honeybees, I can see people taking care of their vegetables on the roof of the next building. Just by waving to one another, we become closer. The social bonds of people in the area have strengthened. On top of that, we started to think more about agriculture and the environment.”

    The non-profit Oedo Agricultural Research Society (OARS) is also trying to spread the concept of “roof planting” (rooftop plant growing). Their aim is to create gardens all around Tokyo using light, well-nourished soil specially developed for rooftop agriculture. To help, they advise people interested in starting gardens by holding workshops and teaching agricultural skills.

    One example of OARS’ success can be seen atop the Kitasenju Station Building in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, where only 10cm of topsoil could be laid. In spite of that, through advanced planning and careful soil care, they successfully harvested various kinds of vegetables, including turnips and cabbage. In 2009, they took up the challenge of growing watermelons and succeeded in producing more than ten.

    OARS also cooperates with other organizations, such as the Akihabara-based, Licolita NPO, who are themselves growing “Akiba-mai” (Akihabara Rice). This project has “maid-uniform-wearing girls, growing rice in buckets in Akihabara.” Now in their second year, they are also trying to grow strawberries and herbs.

    “Licolita is an organization that aims to connect ‘lico’ (self-interest) with ‘lita’ (altruism). So, to do something with “maids” connects to the concern with agriculture and food issues. We hope that young people will learn more about agriculture through Akiba-mai,” says OARS member MUKUNOKI Ayumi.

    “People living in cities will be able to better distinguish between good and bad vegetables. As a result, they will better appreciate farmers who grow good ones,” says TAKASHIO Kenji, OARS Chief Administrative Officer. “Now, many people have worries about food because of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals. Knowing that, we really hope that people living in cities will learn and think more about agriculture.”

    Ginza Honeybee Project
    Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Company
    Oedo Agricultural Research Society

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo

















    文:砂崎 良

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  • 本当の悪は誰だ?

    [From April Issue 2010]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    One Comment from CIA

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

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


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













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

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  • 商品を飾る宝物―おまけ、ふろく

    [From April Issue 2010]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo

















    文:砂崎 良

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