• 多彩な分野で新しい役割を担うアイドル達

    [From May Issue 2014]

    “Idols” are a cultural phenomenon representative of modern day Japan. Not a day passes when one of these girls doesn’t make an appearance on TV, in magazines or on the Internet. Besides the idols who are active on a national level, they play a variety of roles: from local idols designed to be associated with their region, to virtual idols – fictional characters that appear on the Internet.
    The diversity of fields in which idols are active has been expanding recently in Japan. In the midst of this, a new group made its debut this year and has been attracting a lot of attention. They are the “Game Girls,” Japan’s first idol group to specialize in video gaming. The six game-loving girls were gathered together by Alice Project a large management firm that handles underground idols.
    Underground idols are those that, rather than appearing on TV, appear mainly at live shows and other events. In live music clubs in and around Akihabara, many underground idols perform almost daily. Featuring extreme performances and aggressive sounds, their concerts have an underground appeal that sets them apart from the concerts given by regular idols.
    Their manager recounts how the Game Girls came to be formed. “Live gaming broadcasts are now huge overseas. Japan is lagging behind this trend, so I thought of broadcasting live gaming with idols. As members, we selected idols who were particularly into gaming.” Each member is in charge of a genre.
    “In 2014, next generation consoles like PlayStation 4, Wii U and Xbox One are being released. I was convinced that an idol group specializing in gaming would catch on while the gaming industry was so hot,” says their manager. “We are already flooded with job offers and inquiries from the industry. We’ll be working not only in Japan, but also overseas as much as we can,” he says.
    Meanwhile, virtual idols that have been popular in virtual platforms, such as the Internet, are now diversifying their activities into new areas. YUZUKI Yukari has been recruited as a brand ambassador for Memanbetsu Airport in Hokkaido. She is a virtual singer created by voice synthesis software VOICEROID and singing voice and synthetic software VOCALOID™. The hitherto-unheard-of idea to use a virtual idol as the public face of a community revitalization project is attracting a lot of attention.
    She was chosen because she fit the strict criteria which excluded the use of costumed mascot characters – which have been all the rage in recent years – and demanded that she fit in with the public image of the airport. A spokesperson for the Memanbetsu Airport building explains, “She’s just been appointed, but more and more people are having their pictures taken with a life-sized panel of her and her popularity is on the rise.”
    “In the future, we’ll organize events involving Yuzuki Yukari, such as a music contest that takes the theme of Memanbetsu Airport and exhibitions of works associated with her,” says the spokesperson. These days, idols active in Japan don’t only sing and dance on TV. They occupy a unique place as entertainers that embrace a diverse range of activities. From now on more and more idols will be active in a variety of fields.

    Text: NAKAGOMI Koichi[2014年5月号掲載記事]

    「2014年は、プレイステーション4にWii U、Xbox Oneと次世代ゲーム機が多く発売されます。ゲーム業界が盛り上がっている中、ゲーム専門のアイドルグループは絶対に活躍できると思いました」と担当マネージャー。「既に業界からのオファーや問い合わせが殺到しています。日本だけでなく、海外での活動も積極的に行っていきます」と話します。



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  • 国際交流を目的とした歌合戦

    [From April Issue 2014]

    Global Community
    In Japan, every New Year’s Eve, a program called “Kohaku Utagassen,” (Red and White Song Battle) is broadcast on NHK TV and radio. In the program, female singers perform for the red team and male singers perform for the white team. Through hit songs and memorable topics, listeners and viewers reflect on the past year.
    Another “Kohaku Utagassen,” named “Kokusai Kohaku Utagassen,” is an international event that started in 2011. Aiming to promote international exchange and understanding, Japanese participants sing in foreign languages and non-Japanese sing in Japanese. Basically, regardless of gender, foreign students join the red team and Japanese students join the white team. It will be held again in November this year.
    After the Great East Japan Earthquake, not only Japanese, but also people from other countries visited the disaster hit region as volunteer helpers. An executive committee was set up in the hopes of “bringing foreigners and Japanese together in order to cheer up the people living in the damaged area.” The editing staff of Global Community, which runs the website for this international and multi-lingual exchange, is at the center of the project.
    They asked the Tourism Agency for support. As a result, MIZOHATA Hiroshi, then the secretary of the Tourism Agency, participated in the event as a singer in the white team. In this way, the first event was successfully completed. It was reported by the media in nine countries.
    Since then, the event has been held annually and is now also held in Osaka. Last year about 600 people in Tokyo and 900 people in Osaka took part in the event. Many participants wear their national dress, creating an impressive ambience at both the Tokyo and Osaka events. At the event, there is singing and dancing, a furisode (long-sleeved kimono worn by unmarried women) and cosplay fashion show, a performance by the Austrian Ballet and more.
    Some of guests are professional singers and some performers display incredible vocal ability. “Each time we have some people in the audience who were expecting nothing more than a ‘karaoke contest between overseas students who cannot speak Japanese well.’ They go home astonished at the high level of the performances given by the singers,” says executive committee member MIYAZAKI Kazumi, with a laugh. Prizes are given to performers who not only sing well, but who also get the audience fired up.
    The event is staged in a way that brings the audience and performers together. The audience can participate as judges and are given time to interact with the performers by doing things like having their photos taken together with them. “On the actual day of the event, we sometimes ask people who came to see the show to work as stage hands or as interpreters. Everyone gladly contributes. We want to keep it as an event in which everyone plays a leading role, says Miyazaki.
    Here, Japanese, alongside people of various nationalities, become one through singing. “Although there are more than two million foreigners living in Japan, there are not many opportunities for them to interact with those of different nationalities. For the finale, everyone, including the volunteers, joins the performers on stage and sings together. With all these people from around the world singing the same song, you really feel that the world is joining hands through song,” says Miyazaki.
    Global Community[2014年4月号掲載記事]


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  • 外国人シェフによる和食コンペティション

    [From March Issue 2014]

    In December 2013, “washoku – traditional dietary cultures of the Japanese” was registered by UNESCO as one of the world’s intangible cultural heritages. It’s expected that washoku will now be attracting even more attention globally than ever before. The final selection of the “Washoku World Challenge 2013” competition was held on December 8. It’s the first Japanese cuisine competition involving foreign chefs. More than 100 dishes from 21 countries and regions around the world were entered.
    The ten chefs that made it through the selection process pitted their skills against each other in the final. Scoring was carried out according to a wide range of criteria, including authenticity (how Japanese in style it was), theme, taste, originality, cooking skills and hygiene standards. The judges highly praised the dishes saying, “These are all great dishes. Though they’ve been altered to suit the tastes of each chef’s country, the principles of Japanese cuisine, such as stock preparation and beautiful presentation, have been respected.”
    Chinese chef MAO Yuming says, “When I cook Japanese cuisine, I make a point of presenting the food carefully. I think of each dish as a painting that transmits a sense of the season.” Mao made salmon-and-potato steamed buns.
    American Jeff RAMSEY, who made “ochazuke rolls,” says, “The appeal of Japanese food lies in satisfying the appetite using umami (savory flavors) and a restrained use of oil and salt. Japan’s food culture and history is so deep that it’s worth delving into.”
    LI Kwok Wing, a chef who runs a sushi restaurant in Singapore, made the winning dish of “steamed chestnut and pumpkin.” It received high marks from the judges: “by emphasizing the pumpkin as the main ingredient, it expressed the delicacy of Japanese cuisine.” Li is originally from China and has specialized in Japanese cuisine for 40 years. “I’m bursting with happiness. Japanese cuisine has been my life itself. So it feels like this prize has been awarded to my entire life,” he said.
    In addition to French cuisine, in Japan, it’s possible to eat delicious foods from many different countries. This is mainly because, beginning with the basics, Japanese chefs have studied the authentic cuisine of each country and disseminated this throughout Japan. The outstanding chefs selected for the final are expected to play an active role as “evangelists for washoku.”
    Washoku World Challenge[2014年3月号掲載記事]

    2013年12月に「和食 日本人の伝統的な食文化」がユネスコの世界無形文化遺産に登録されました。和食が今まで以上に世界中から注目されるようになると予想されています。12月8日には「和食ワールドチャレンジ2013」の決勝審査会が行われました。これは外国人シェフによる初めての日本料理コンペティションです。世界21の国や地域から、100を超えるメニューの応募がありました。

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  • 外国人を対象にした宿のオリジナル企画

    [From February Issue 2014]

    The Park Hotel Tokyo (Shiodome, Tokyo) has “Artist Rooms” in which sumo wrestlers and Zen characters painted in ink seem to dance dynamically. These rooms are for foreigners who make up 60% of the hotel’s guests. These rooms were created as part of a project to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the founding of the hotel. “In this space, it’s possible to experience the Japanese aesthetic,” general manager HAYASHI Yoshiaki says, explaining the project.
    Each Artist Room has been entirely produced and designed by a single artist. “More than just painting, they’re creating a room,” says Hayashi. The project has been a fascinating one for artists, too. They can not only express their world view with an entire room, but can also leave the PR to the hotel. He says that there are many applicants, although the remuneration only covers the cost of the materials.
    Four Artist Rooms were created in 2013. Black ink was used in all of them. There are plans in the future for rooms with color. “With nine more being created in 2014 and 2015 respectively, eventually we’ll have 31 rooms. We’re planning to transform the 31st floor, where all the Artist Rooms are located, into an Artist Floor where the Japanese aesthetic sense will be on display along corridors and in a private lounge,” says Hayashi.
    As the hotel wanted to appeal to foreigners in particular, accommodation information on Artist Rooms is only available in the English version of its website. Currently, Artist Rooms are more popular with foreign guests than with Japanese guests and sumo designs have been particularly well received. The hotel also has some rooms in which relaxing videos of colored carp can be seen. Those rooms are popular with both non-Japanese and Japanese.


    Nagashi Soumen (Utanobori Green Park Hotel)

    At Utanobori Green Park Hotel (Esashi Town, Hokkaido), the selling point is rustic charm instead of stylishness. Tour groups travel the four hour bus journey there from Sapporo eager to enjoy the hotel’s attractions which gives them a taste of Japanese culture.
    “This time, it’s a tour of five days and four nights including Sapporo and Otaru, but Utanobori is the main attraction,” says Sarisa RASRICHEAM, a Thai guide. “We offer all sorts of Japanese experiences that are not possible to acquire on regular tours. It’s also possible to get to know the Japanese countryside.”
    After arriving at around 6:00 pm, female tour guests change into a yukata and the men into a jinbei. They watch “iai” (the art of drawing one’s sword, cutting down one’s opponent and sheathing the sword in one motion), experience flower arrangement and make sushi on their own. Between meals, they can enjoy a shooting gallery – typically found at country festivals – try their hand at “kendama” (cup and ball game) and enjoy “nagashi-soumen noodles.” After dinner, they have the option to go by bus to a night safari. In winter time, it’s possible to enjoy kamakura (snow huts).
    “They must come to enjoy our ‘anything goes’ parties,” says vice general manager SHOJI Kazunori. As the number of direct flights between Bangkok and Shin-Chitose has increased, he’s been creating package holidays aimed at Thais together with a Thai travel agent. It’s been four years since the first tour.
    The attractions are mostly performed by employees using handmade materials. They cost next to nothing. “Our guests are wealthy Thais. Since we’re in the countryside, it’d be pointless competing by trying to match the fancy things they’ve seen around the world. That’s why we decided to simply entertain them.”
    Although the hotel caters to guests from Thailand, only one employee is fluent in Thai. Most employees communicate with guests in English, with gestures and by using the few Thai words they’ve picked up during their four years’ experience. “Even so, we’re sometimes told ‘your service was as good as that of a three-star hotel,’” says Shoji, who’s encouraged by this response. He’s also thinking of offering tour packages to tourists from other countries.


    Capsule Ryokan

    The Tour Club, a Kyoto guest house that opened in 2000, has been a pioneer in the field of accommodation aimed at foreigners. While a student, the owner SHIMIZU Keiji traveled around the world staying at guesthouses. This experience gave him the idea of running guesthouses aimed at non-Japanese – there were virtually none in Japan in those days – thus transforming Japan into a country in which backpackers from all over the world could visit.
    His business proved successful and more and more guesthouses opened in Japan. Shimizu himself opened another guesthouse and a furnished hotel for foreigners staying for longer periods. During this time, he began hearing comments from guests like: “I’d like to stay at a capsule hotel” and “Instead of a private room at a youth hostel, I’d like to stay at a low-cost ryokan that has a shower and toilet.”
    “Capsule hotels and ryokan are a kind of accommodation that is unique to Japan. I thought of creating accommodation aimed at foreigners that would combine the two and be available at a low cost,” says Shimizu, explaining how he hit upon the unprecedented idea of the “Capsule Ryokan.”
    Regular capsule hotels are tightly packed with mass-produced capsules. However, bearing in mind the proportions of tatami mats, it was difficult to use such capsules. He also was determined to create a comfortable space. “With a measuring tape in hand I went around checking the toilets of bullet trains and camper vans; places in which a small space was used efficiently,” he says, recalling the days when the original concept of Capsule Ryokan was taking shape.
    His Capsule Ryokan opened in 2010. One room is for capsules only, but is only fitted out with eight capsules – less than in a regular capsule hotel. Each capsule is furnished with a tatami (straw mat) floor and comfortable futon. The latest check-in is 10:00 pm. Since no one comes in or goes out at night, it’s not as noisy as regular capsule hotels. Lockers large enough for backpacks and suitcases are available. There are also small rooms that sleep two furnished with tatami and equipped with a high-tech shower and toilet.
    “Guesthouses can be found all over the world and I’ve been striving to popularize them in Japan. I think that my next step will be to popularize this new business model all over the world.” Just as expected, this globally unique style of accommodation became hugely popular with foreign guests soon after opening. As videos were taken of the interior of the building and uploaded to video sharing sites, its reputation continued to grow. And so, in 2011, it was chosen by foreigners as the No. 1 hotel in Japan on the word-of-mouth travel site Trip Advisor, beating luxury hotels.
    Shimizu’s dream of transforming Japan into a country that is accessible to backpackers is coming true. “However, although Japan’s sightseeing spots have plenty of charming attractions, there aren’t enough signs or displays in English; this makes it hard for foreigners to discover the good points,” he says. There’s room for improvement in services that allow foreigners to fully experience the best of Japan.

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年2月号掲載記事]





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  • 温泉地に出現した「モンスターハンター」の世界

    [From February Issue 2014]

    Located in the northeast of Nagano Prefecture, Shibu-Onsen is a spa resort where hot spring water bubbles up as soon as you start digging into its soil. The history of this spa town stretches back over 1300 years, and it is now attracting fans of video games. Events are being held there in which it’s possible to experience the world of the hunting action game “Monster Hunter.”
    Monster Hunter is a series of games released by Capcom Co., Ltd. and the latest, “Monster Hunter 4,” is now on sale. The player makes a living as a hunter in a dramatic natural setting. Players improve their skills by completing missions – so called “quests” – to hunt down monsters and so forth.
    The project began because the scenery around Shibu-Onsen resembles that in the game. “We now have visitors from the younger generation who didn’t know about Shibu-Onsen before,” says YAMADA Kazuyoshi, representative director at Shibu Hotel. “That being said, I got worried when Capcom first came to us with the idea. I had absolutely no idea what kind of visitors would come, or in what kind of numbers. I was afraid of alienating our original customer base, too.”
    The town has inherited an “in any case, let’s give it a go” attitude from its ancestors. With this driving them, they got going, with the companies involved working in cooperation with a local association of young people. Numerous discussions were held concerning how the town could more closely resemble the world of the game, while making the most of its hot springs and natural resources.
    Decorations made in collaboration with Monster Hunter hang from doorways and Monster Hunter statues have been put up, involving the whole town in Monster Hunter. The footprints of monsters are painted on the floor of eateries which serve up monster themed food or drink. Depending on the season, during the event periods visitors can enjoy different attractions, such as bon-odori (traditional dance) and fishing competitions in summer, mushroom picking in autumn and illuminations in winter.
    “After the first event was held in 2010, we got a lot of feedback from the spa community praising the way it brought people together,” says Yamada. “It wasn’t only people working in hotels and eateries that chatted to the hunters (visitors), but also the townspeople. It’s just an ordinary thing for us to do, but they are so delighted that I’m amazed.”
    Most townspeople, including Yamada, don’t play video games. He says that he had had the erroneous idea that gamers were loners. “But after greeting the hunters in real life, our image of them changed drastically. There are many groups of friends or families and furthermore, they all greet us cheerfully.”
    Including repeat custom, the number of visitors to Shibu-Onsen is increasing year on year. Yamada says, “The great thing about Shibu-Onsen is the quality of its spa water and the town’s long tradition of unity. One of the biggest bonuses for me is experiencing the joy that comes from receiving guests from the younger generation. I think the same thing could be said about receiving visitors from overseas. You never know what might happen until you try.”
    “Monhan Shibu no sato” official page
    Text: HATTA Emiko[2014年2月号掲載記事]



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  • 大人にも広がるカプセルトイ

    [From January Issue 2014]

    A capsule toy is a small capsule with a toy or figurine inside. Insert the money into a vending machine containing the capsules, turn the handle and a product tumbles out. As it doesn’t cost much, some people try again and again until the product they want comes out.
    In the past there was a strong perception that capsule toys were something for kids and machines were installed in toy stores and shopping centers. Now new products targeted at adults are being launched one after the other. Priced between 100 to 400 yen, they can be found in all kinds of places, including CD shops.
    Because they’re so realistic, many adults are fans of Kitan Club Co., Ltd’s “NATURE TECHNI COLOUR” series of figurines of living creatures. Since going on the market in 2012, the “CUP ON THE FUCHICO” series has sold a total of more than 4.4 million units. These are figurines that can be hung from the rim of a glass. As many people upload photos onto SNS when using a Fuchico, photo contests were held and 6,000 entries were submitted. Related products and picture books are also on sale.
    Another hit product that’s flying off the shelves even faster than CUP ON THE FUCHICO is “Koko wa ore ga kuitomeru! Omae wa sakini iku nya-!” (I’m holding it up! Stand well back meow!) suction cup stand. “I think there are many reasons why adults are so enchanted by this, including the fact that it reminds them of their childhood, it’s cheap and delivers the excitement of the unexpected,” says SHIKI Seita, PR man for Kitan Club.
    “However, I feel that the biggest factor is that word gets out through SNS,” says Shiki. “You burst out laughing as soon as you see a photo uploaded by a friend and want one for yourself. Since you don’t know what’s going to come tumbling out, it’s exciting when you get hold of your product and end up uploading your own photos on SNS. It could be that this cycle creates a huge buzz.”


    Kabuki Handkerchief

    It doesn’t end there, some elderly people are also getting their hands on capsules. “Kabuki Handkerchief” by Bandai Co., Ltd. is so popular that kabuki fans wait in line for them. “We usually have only a few repeat production runs for capsule toys, but this item will continue to be on sale for some time,” says WASHIZU Tomomi from the PR team at the president’s office.


    Shimanekko metal badges

    In some cases capsule toys have helped to raise funds for charity. A capsule containing a metal badge with “Shimanekko” – the tourism mascot for Shimane Prefecture – and a red feather printed on it costs 100 yen each and all the proceeds are donated to Community Chest. “Red Feather Community Chest” is one of Japan’s well-known charities and it’s used to help the elderly and the disabled in the area, as well as disaster victims. Originally intended to be on sale for a limited period of time only, the badges were more popular than expected and now they are always on sale.
    Besides this, capsule vending machines selling sets containing a fortune and lucky charm are placed in hospitals. It’s been said that vending machines selling capsule toys outnumber postboxes, and they may further increase in number in the future.





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  • 地方を元気にするビジネス

    [From January Issue 2014]

    With 25% of its population over aged 65 as of 2013, Japan has entered the era of the aging society. Young people, particularly those from provincial towns, tend to move to larger cities in search of work. Therefore, the population of so called productive age – aged 15 to 64 – is decreasing. As a result, economic activity has decreased and it’s become a serious problem. However, there are examples of people tackling this problem, and reviving their regions.
    SHIRAMIZU Takahiro runs a shop called “Unagi no Nedoko” (Eel’s Bed) in the city of Yame City, Fukuoka Prefecture, with HARUGUCHI Shogo, a former college classmate. They deal mainly in products made in the local region of Chikugo, where Yame is located. “From kasuri (patterned cloth), Buddhist household altars, paper lanterns, bows and arrows, to artisanal earthenware and woodcraft, the region of Chikugo produces both new and old products,” Shiramizu says, outlining Chikugo’s characteristics.
    “Unagi no Nedoko” also deals in unique products, such as modern style monpe made with kurume-gasuri (a traditional kind of patterned cloth). Monpe are traditional Japanese trousers many women used to wear for physical work in the past. “At first, I thought that both kurume-gasuri and monpe were for elderly ladies. I changed my mind when I went to a weaver’s and saw different fabrics and patterns. I thought that I might be able to wear them myself.” This experience led to him organizing a “Monpe Fair.” It was an opportunity to let many people find out about the existence of kurume-gasuri and about the variety of patterns available.
    While monpe were sold at the fair, many locals already had kurume-gasuri fabrics at home. In response to a demand from those who wanted to make their own monpe with these fabrics, it was decided that they would also sell sewing patterns. Traditional monpe were made to fit loosely, in order that physical work could be done with ease. These original patterns are slender enough to make efficient use of the 36 to 38 centimeter-wide kasuri fabrics. Modern-looking silhouettes were created as a result. Monpe made from those patterns and sold on have been adopted by many young people as part of their fashion.”
    Shiramizu believes that it’s important to first display products, so that people can become aware of them. “We run our shop as a kind of showroom. We don’t aim to sell large quantities. We sell products that have taken time and effort to make for reasonable prices. By doing this, their worth is properly appreciated. If they’re properly appreciated, those items will sell and that craft will be passed down to the next generation, I think.” He says that, from now on, they want to concentrate their energies on introducing Chikugo on their website.


    Rhubarb Production Cooperation

    There is also an example of a new local specialty being created. This is rhubarb from Fujimi town in Nagano Prefecture. Well known in Europe as an ingredient for jam and other confections, people aren’t familiar with the plant in Japan. Chiyoko ANGEL, who moved from Chiba Prefecture to Fujimi in 1992, cultivated it at home because her English husband liked it.
    Native to Siberia and well-suited to Fujimi’s cool weather, the rhubarb thrived when cultivated through division. Angel’s rhubarb was noticeably red. Angel was aware of the tough conditions the aging farmers were dealing with. So around 2004, she began to wonder if she could turn rhubarb into a local specialty. She organized tasting events in order to distribute rhubarb to farmers she was acquainted with and asked them to grow it with no pesticides. Her intention was to respond to the demands of those who want to eat safe food.
    She also set out to create sales opportunities. “First I searched for ‘rhubarb’ and ‘red’ on the Internet and wrote emails to people who might be interested.” She hoped to get people to try Fujimi red rhubarb and to write their impressions of it on blogs and so forth. The reaction from consumers was pretty good, she received orders from people who’d seen this positive response and the amount she shipped also grew through word of mouth.
    The town hired a consultant three years ago and has expanded its market to include department stores in Tokyo. Through these channels, this year, about three tons of rhubarb was sold. The number of families growing the plant has increased from 15 in 2006 to 74 today. Angel says, “In the provinces, you’re more familiar with the problems of local government than those in the heart of a big city. That’s why I thought we might be able to change the region in some way with our initiative.”
    She’s constantly getting closer to her dream of making Fujimi Japan’s largest producer of red rhubarb. But she has some pending issues, too. With increased shipment volumes, a stable supply of pest-free products is needed. She therefore has to reconsider her pesticide-free method of cultivation. The new challenge she faces is balancing quality with shipment volumes.


    Irodori Co., Ltd.

    By creating a specialty from a local item, the town of Kamikatsu in Tokushima Prefecture has created added value. Once known for its production of wood and tangerines, bad weather in the 1980s dealt a major blow to the area. It became tough to maintain the local business.
    In those days, as farming advisor to the Kamikatsu Agricultural Cooperative, YOKOISHI Tomoji was looking for new businesses opportunities for the town. In the fall of 1986, the idea struck him to use tree leaves growing on the town’s mountains as decoration for Japanese food. Picking, wrapping and shipping leaves requires little physical exertion and can be done by the elderly. In this way, the leaf business was launched. Irodori Co., Ltd. was founded in 2002 and Yokoishi has been its president since 2009.
    Currently 200 farming families ship those leaves. The work is mostly done by women with an average age of 70. An original communication network has been set up to receive orders and control shipments. It may seem hard for the elderly to operate tablets and PCs, but Yokoishi says, “As it’s a necessity, they all naturally pick it up.” His believes that if he can identify the needs of both producers and consumers, things will naturally run smoothly. Kamikatsu’ initiative was featured in a film.
    Yokoishi is also actively involved in a project to attract young people from outside town. In addition he provides young interns with jobs and housing and organizes lectures on starting businesses. The elderly now make up around 50% of the population of Kamikatsu and, by increasing the number of young people, Yokoishi aims to bring this ratio down to about 35%.
    Yokoishi is from the city of Tokushima City and came to Kamikatsu for work. “It made a lot of sense to take a step back to look at this place from an outsider’s standpoint. There are also things I’ve come to realize after years of putting my hypotheses into practice.”
    In recent years, Yokoishi has witnessed growing interest among young people in country life. “Now the tide is turning for the provinces,” he says energetically. “There must be many other places with potential. I hope they can effectively make their regional attractions appealing to others.”

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年1月号掲載記事]





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  • 文化伝承の新たな一歩を踏み出したアイヌ民族

    [From December Issue 2013]

    Including Sapporo, 80% of place names in Hokkaido have their origin in the Ainu language. These kind of place names show us that “the Ainu have lived in Hokkaido,” but they don’t show us how they lived, or tell us anything about their present way of life.
    Ainu are an indigenous people of Japan. Wajin, or ethnic Japanese (other than Ainu), settled in Hokkaido in order to fish its waters in the Edo era (17-19th centuries) about 400 years ago. Analysis of excavated earthenware shows that Ainu already lived in and around Hokkaido some 20,000 years ago.
    Ainu made their living mainly through hunting and fishing. Trading animal skins and dried fish, it’s known that they traded with what are now Russia, China and Japan’s Honshu. Free trade, however, was banned by wajin during the Edo era. During the Meiji era (19-20th centuries), Ainu culture was destroyed; the use of Japanese language was made compulsory and hunting and fishing, their main livelihood, was restricted by the infrastructure imposed by the country’s modernization policies.
    Because of this history, the Japanese government has recognized the state’s responsibility to ensure the preservation of Ainu culture and has decided to build the national “Symbolic Space for Ethnic Harmony” in Shiraoi Town, Hokkaido. It’s scheduled to be completed before the Tokyo Olympics of 2020.


    Entrance to the Museum

    YOSHIDA Kenji of the Comprehensive Ainu Policy Office at the Cabinet Secretariat explains the role of the building, “Ainu culture and history can be studied at this facility and memorial services for remains that have been kept at universities can be performed in this space. As well as being a place in which the spirit of the Ainu people can be housed, it is also a symbol of respect and harmony between different ethnic groups.”
    The Ainu Museum, founded in 1984 and run by Ainu themselves, stands beside Lake Poroto in Shiraoi and has some 180,000 visitors a year. There you can enjoy performances of traditional dancing and music and learn about Ainu culture by trying your hand at activities like cooking or playing musical instruments.
    Affiliated with a Finnish museum that introduces the culture of the indigenous Sami people of Northern Europe, the Ainu Museum has many visitors from abroad. There were eight possible sites on which to construct the Symbolic Space, however, the existence of this museum was the deciding factor in the selection of Shiraoi.
    This museum has played an important role in passing on a cultural heritage to younger generations of Ainu. Today about 24,000 Ainu live in Hokkaido alone. They all reside in ordinary Japanese houses and their lifestyle is the same as that of other Japanese people. Even if they have Ainu blood, they have few opportunities to learn about their culture.



    As there were times when Ainu were discriminated against just for being Ainu, the majority of Ainu families avoided teaching their children their culture and customs. Traditional rituals held regularly at the museum, therefore, provide precious opportunities for Ainu themselves to learn about, and practice, their culture. The museum creates jobs, too. “I’m grateful that I can pass on my culture through my work,” says YAMAMARU Ikuo, administration officer of the Ainu Museum.
    Yamamaru was in his 40s when he rediscovered his Ainu heritage. “There had been a fire in a chise (house) at the museum site. I was working in construction in those days and I helped with the reconstruction. I was surprised to learn for the first time that Ainu had unique ways of choosing building locations and of building houses.” That experience led to him working for the museum. Now, alongside performing a variety of traditional rites, he’s also involved with a project to pass on cultural traditions to younger generations.


    Experiencing playing the tonkori, a traditional musical instrument

    The museum has been running a “leadership training course” for six years. The course, which lasts three years, gives young people of Ainu descent an opportunity to learn about their heritage. The second class is now in its final year. Besides Shiraoi, the lakeside of Akan lake and Biratori Town in Hokkaido are also known for their kotan (Ainu villages). Each has its own unique style of traditional dancing and wood carving. The students also go to those places to get a comprehensive understanding of Ainu culture.
    Yamamaru says that people need to take pride in their own culture in order to pass it on to future generations. Since things like Ainu craft works have enjoyed a revival in recent years, more and more people are now feeling that “our culture isn’t something to be discarded after all.” When they go to Tokyo to participate in events, some take the subway in ethnic clothing. He really feels that attitudes are changing.
    Yamamaru says he hopes some graduates of the course will act as leaders at the Symbolic Space in order to create new traditions. He says, “Culture is a living thing, so it’s natural for it to change.” He hopes that, instead of stubbornly preserving old things, by fully understanding them, it will be possible to create something new.
    Yoshida says that the Tokyo Olympics, to be held in the same year the Symbolic Space is due to be completed, “will be a good opportunity to disseminate information. I hope we can make it appealing.” The Olympics is a festival for ethnic groups. In the past, indigenous people displayed their culture at the opening ceremonies of the Sydney and Vancouver Olympics. Ainu have just taken new strides in passing on their culture. It will be the right occasion at which to let the world know about the Ainu.
    Ainu means “people” in the Ainu language.

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2013年12月号掲載記事]






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  • 新しいスタイルが広がる日本の贈り物

    [From December Issue 2013]

    In addition to birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, in Japan there are many opportunities during the year to give gifts to show your appreciation to somebody, including ochuugen (midyear gifts in summer) and oseibo (year-end presents).
    It used to be common to deliver items by hand or to send them by post, but new styles have become popular. Recently, more people are giving “an experience.” The range of content varies, from a voucher for a meal in a restaurant, to a horseback riding experience. Since 2010, more and more websites exclusively dealing in these experience-based gifts have appeared. One of these sites called “expe!” is run by “Felissimo,” a mail order company that deals with fashion items and other miscellaneous goods.
    “It is said that people in their teens to twenties these days are not particularly attached to material things. On the other hand, if you’re talking about people of the bubble generation, they are more satisfied with possessing material objects and know how to enjoy spending money. We believe that both generations are able to accept experiences rather than material objects,” YUMOTO Kyoko of expe! operations department says, giving her analysis of the current popularity of such experience-based gifts.


    Japanese dance experience

    Ever since the website was established last July, the most popular gifts have been relaxation experiences, such as beauty treatments. Besides this there are options that allow the person receiving the gift to choose an experience which appeals to them. Options include working as a bus tour guide, or a shrine maiden; the fact that many people rewarded themselves with these kinds of personal experiences drew a lot of attention. Future products in the pipeline include gifts for men and gift plans that are suitable for ceremonial occasions, such as weddings, coming-of-age days and celebrating a new job.
    A new style of giving gifts has also been invented. Even if you don’t know the address of the recipient, it’s possible to send a present through Facebook or other SNS sites. Dubbed social gifts, this service started out around 2010 in Japan. Though they specialize in easily sending small gifts like a 300 yen cup of coffee, depending on your purposes there’s a wide variety of services to choose from, so it’s also possible to have products delivered.
    All About “Utilization of Mail Order and Net Shopping” guide ENDO Namiko says, “Because we can find out the birthdays of friends and acquaintances that we did not know about before by friending them on Facebook, there are more opportunities to celebrate these occasions. Also, from looking at people’s statuses on SNS, for example when they write that they’ve completed a big task, there’s been an increase in opportunities to give casual gifts to mark occasions other than birthdays, so we can give them a beer for a ‘job well done.’”
    According to a certain survey, only 5% of Internet users have given a social gift. “Currently social gift services are run independently from SNS, so this may be a hurdle. If a service run by an SNS that suggested products to commemorate friend’s birthdays were introduced, this might facilitate things,” speculates Endo.
    A social gift service run by Facebook has already been launched in the United States. In addition, the Japanese version of “Wrapp” – a Swedish enterprise that provides free or subsidized products sponsored by companies as social gifts – is in the pipeline. When this service launches, the Japanese social gift market will surely undergo a drastic change.

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2013年12月号掲載記事]


    All About「通販・ネットショッピングの活用法」ガイドの遠藤奈美子さんは、「Facebookで友達になると誕生日がわかるので、これまで誕生日を知らなかった友人や知人に対してお祝いできる機会が増えたのではないでしょうか。またSNSで近況がわかるため、大きな仕事がひと区切りついた、と書き込みがあれば『お疲れ様』のビールを一杯プレゼントするなど、誕生日以外にもちょっとしたプレゼントを贈る機会が増えたと思います」。


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  • 大学ブランド食品に注目が高まる

    [From November Issue 2013]

    “University Brand Foods” that utilize ingredients developed in university research labs are attracting attention. The processes and developments that lead to the creation of these foods vary, from products with a modern take on famous local produce, to products that are the result of research. They’ve been growing in popularity to such an extent that department stores in Tokyo regularly host food fairs called “Universities are Delicious!!” bringing together products from over 30 universities.
    At Kamaishi Institute, Kitasato University Research Organization for Infection Control Sciences (Ofunato City, Iwate Prefecture) beer is made using yeast collected from a cherry tree. The research facility stores Ishiwarizakura yeast extracted from a cherry tree. Located in Morioka City, Iwate Prefecture, Ishiwarizakura is a 360 year old cherry tree that grew from a fissure in a rock. When the tree blooms, between mid-April to early May, many people from both within and without the city come to view its blossoms.
    The research institute was damaged in the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the building was partially destroyed, but miraculously the Ishiwarizakura yeast remained intact. Fukukou Beer had been successfully brewed from this yeast. Though the beer factory collapsed in the earthquake, it was reconstructed in just two months. They were somehow able to start brewing again, but experienced repeated failures in the beer making process.
    “In the space of a year, local sake brewers joined forces with the university to create a commercial product. It is imbued with our hopes for renewal,” says INOMATA Yukie, who developed the product. The beer has gained a reputation for its delicious taste and characteristic refreshing fragrance. A portion of the sales profits is contributed to the revitalization of the Sanriku area.


    Cakes made with rice

    In addition, Tokyo Kasei University began work on the “Shirafuji Project” seven years ago in order to bring back the so called, legendary Shirafuji sake rice. Professor NAKAMURA Nobuya dreamed up the idea in order to let his students try their hand at rice cultivation.
    Students cultivated rice in Niigata Prefecture, an area renowned nationwide for producing delicious rice. Before long, hoping to give more people a taste of Shirafuji rice, some students put forward the idea that they sell confectionary made from this rice instead of from wheat flour. From then on, they began cooperating with Gateau Senka, confectionary shops to develop their own confectionary.
    Trial versions, particularly in the form of cakes, were made one after the other to try to make it look delicious. One of the students involved in the developmental stage, SEO Moemi says, “We have been participating in the ‘Daigaku-ha Oishii!!’ fair for three years. Recently, so many people have come to buy it for children with wheat allergies. As it’s rather difficult to get hold of deserts that do not contain wheat, there’s been a call for us to put it on sale more regularly.”
    Having gained a reputation for good quality and high safety standards, university brand foods will surely become more popular from now on.
    Kamaishi Institute, Kitasato University Research Organization for Infection Control Sciences
    Tokyo Kasei University
    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi[2013年11月号掲載記事]

    北里大学感染制御研究機構 釜石研究所(岩手県大船渡市)では桜から採取した酵母を使ったビールをつくっています。研究所では「石割桜」から採取した酵母、「石割桜の酵母」を保管していました。石割桜とは岩の割れ目から育った樹齢360年以上の桜で、岩手県盛岡市にあります。花が咲く4月半ばから5月上旬には、市内だけでなく遠くからもたくさんの人が花見に訪れます。

    北里大学感染制御研究機構 釜石研究所

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