• 並んでも食べたい! パンケーキが大ブーム

    [From June Issue 2013]


    The Harajuku area in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, is a spawning ground for new trends. Crepes have long been the confection of choice in Harajuku, but recently there’s been a pancake boom. Cafes are increasingly adding pancakes to their menus, and recipes and techniques for making great pancakes at home can be found on the Internet.

    In the past few years, from JR Harajuku to Omotesando Avenue – including the Jingu-mae area – shops specializing in pancakes have been popping up one after another. “Eggs’n Things” is so popular that customers line up outside before the store opens. About 900 people of different sexes and ages visit the shop each day and the wait can be as much as two and a half hours.

    Eggs’n Things is a popular breakfast restaurant in Hawaii. President OGINO Shinobu says, “Hoping to spread the Western custom of eating a hearty meal for breakfast, we opened our first store in Japan in March 2010.” Word quickly spread, and their fluffy, crispy Hawaiian style pancakes became a huge hit. It’s been said that the pancake boom originated from this shop.

    The most popular item on the menu is pancakes with strawberry whipped cream and macadamia nuts. The plentiful whipped cream has a light texture, so the dish appeals not only to women, but also to men. The pancakes themselves aren’t sweet, so they go very well with stir-fried potatoes and ham. The store offers a number of Hawaiian dishes such as “Spam & Eggs” and “Loco Moco,” and after 5 p.m. you can enjoy alcoholic drinks, such wine and beer, while eating pancakes.

    “Pancakes used to considered to be a sweet confection, but since they began to be enjoyed as a savory meal, their appeal has broadened across the generations,” says Ogino. “I don’t think pancakes would have become this popular if they had remained a mere confection.”

    Pancakes are called “hottoke-ki” (hot cakes) in Japan. Their dough tastes slightly sweet, so they are usually eaten with butter and jam. Hot cakes first appeared on the menu of a department store restaurant in Tokyo in 1923. In those days they were considered to be a luxury Western dish; something people aspired to eat.

    Before long, pancake mix became available in stores and people could easily prepare and eat them at home. SUZUKI Hideko, a homemaker in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, says: “It’s great that you can make something delicious with only eggs and milk. To reproduce the taste of shop bought pancakes, I add ricotta cheese and yogurt to the dough. The charm of pancakes is that you never get tired of their simple taste, and you can also devise different variations, depending on the ingredients you use.”

    Civitas is a coffee shop in Ota Ward, Tokyo, which has been around since 1968. Since the shop opened, their pancakes have been popular. They are thick, crispy on the outside and moist on the inside. People come from miles away, taking a number of different trains, just to get a taste. This pancake boom has once again put the spotlight on Japanese-style “hot cakes.”

    Eggs’n Things

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko




    JR原宿駅から表参道、神宮前周辺にかけて、数年前からパンケーキ専門店の出店が相次いでいます。「Eggs’n Things」は、開店前から既に行列ができるほどの人気店です。男女年齢問わず1日900人ほどが訪れ、長いときで2時間半待つこともあります。

    Eggs’n Thingsはハワイで人気のブレックファーストレストランです。代表取締役の荻野忍さんは話します。「日本でも朝からしっかりとした食事をとる欧米の朝食文化を広めたいという思いから、2010年3月に日本第1号店をオープンしました」。看板メニューである、ふんわりとして香ばしいハワイアンスタイルのパンケーキは、たちまち話題を呼び、人気となりました。パンケーキブームは、この店から始まったといわれています。






    Eggs’n Things


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  • 国民栄誉賞受賞者のほとんどがスポーツ選手と芸能人

    [From June Issue 2013]

    On May 5, Prime Minister ABE Shinzou presented the People’s Honor Award to baseball superstars NAGASHIMA Shigeo and MATSUI Hideki. This award is designed to honor individuals who are widely respected by citizens, and have made an outstanding contribution to society by lifting the spirits of the general public. This honorable award was established in 1977 and is presented by the prime minister.

    The first recipient of this award was OH Sadaharu; just like this time, he is a professional baseball player. The award was founded when he set a world homerun record, and the then prime minister, FUKUDA Takeo, honored his achievement by presenting him with the award. Up to now 22 people and a team have received the award. This February former sumo grand champion TAIHO, who had the highest number of sumo tournament winnings, received the award. Most recipients are selected from the worlds of sports and entertainment.

    The award tends to be given to athletes who have achieved outstanding results; for instance, marathon runner TAKAHASHI Naoko. At the Sydney Olympics she historically became the first Japanese woman to win a gold medal in track-and-field events. The team representing Japan (Nadeshiko Japan) who won the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2011, also won the award for the same reason.

    The award is also given to those who are recognized for their lifetime contribution to their particular field, especially in the entertainment field. Therefore, 12 people received the award posthumously. Taiho, who excelled in his sport before the award was founded, was honored after he had passed away. As a result, demands, that the award should be given during a person’s lifetime, have increased.

    Nagashima was a heavy hitter who played alongside Oh, the first recipient of the award, and, with his overwhelming popularity, contributed greatly to the development of baseball. After performing exceptionally well in Japan, Matsui played for the Yankees in the major league (USA) and was selected as the MVP (Most Valuable Player) in the 2009 World Series. As Nagashima had not had a chance to receive the award, when Matsui retired this year, both Nagashima and Matsui received the award together taking into account their relationship as student and teacher.

    Prime Minister’s Influence is Reflected in the Selection of Recipients

    People have been critical of the fact that since there are no standard rules, the prime minister’s own tastes are reflected in the selection of recipients and that he is able to use the award to increase his own popularity with the public. For instance, it’s been pointed out that, TANI Ryoko is well qualified to receive the award for her achievements in women’s judo. She has won two gold, two silver and one bronze medals at five Olympics.

    People have also highlighted the following personalities: KITAJIMA Kousuke, who won four gold medals in swimming; NOMO Hideo who with his excellent performance, paved the way for Japanese players to enter major league baseball in the USA; HARIMOTO Isao who holds the record for the most number of hits in Japanese baseball; and KITANO Takeshi who is a TV personality and film director.

    Some have refused to receive the award. Though composer KOSEKI Yuji was nominated for the award after his death, his family refused to receive the award. FUKUMOTO Yutaka who set a world record for the highest number of bases stolen in baseball, turned it down, saying, “If I receive such an award. I would not be able to take a piss standing up.” Ichiro, who currently plays for the Yankees has declined twice, saying, “I am still active and developing as a player.”











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  • 北海道発:身近なものをエネルギーに変える暮らし

    [From May Issue 2013]


    A monthly electricity bill of no more than 600 yen. Sapporo resident, HARA Mizuho, managed to make that figure a reality by making the best of the things she had to hand. Hara is a member of the bubble generation. Consuming many things in her day-to-day life when she lived in Tokyo, she used to be the absolute opposite of how she is today.

    However, her world view changed dramatically after quitting her job at an advertising agency where she’d worked for ten years, to go travelling round 60 countries in six years. She noticed how wasteful life in Japan was. She was especially shocked when she met a soldier in the autonomous Palestinian territories.

    Hara asked the soldier: “Why are you fighting this war?” The soldier answered, “Honestly, this war has nothing to do with me. I don’t really hate anyone and I don’t want to kill anyone either.” She began reflecting on the true cause of wars when she heard his heartfelt comment: “But there’s nothing I can do about it because this is my job now!” And she eventually began to realize that war is just a scramble for energy resources.

    To use and discard goods is to waste the energy spent on the production of those goods. She believed that if wars were caused all over the world for control of energy resources, then the number of people like that soldier would increase, so she turned her back on the consumer lifestyle. After returning to Japan, she used water instead of toilet paper. She started blowing her nose with a handkerchief. Electricity is another kind of energy that can be consumed. She got rid of her refrigerator and microwave oven in order to reduce power consumption in the home and began generating her own power.

    Some people have said, “How admirable,” after hearing about her lifestyle. But Hara feels uncomfortable when she remembers these compliments. “For me, a lifestyle of conserving energy is fun. Rather than being a form of self-denial, I take creative risks to live life by my own rules.” She feels that this lifestyle, in which the goal is not to economize, but to cherish things by being creative, is full of interesting discoveries.

    Hara began to pay more attention to her power consumption after the Great East Japan Earthquake two years ago and the subsequent accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. At the end of last year, she published a book titled: “Dekita! Denkidai 600 Yen Seikatsu (I did it! Life with 600 Yen Electricity Bills)” In it, creative ways to conserve food without using a refrigerator and techniques on how to beat the heat and the cold are divulged. Hara believes that by using local resources, a lifestyle like hers is possible anywhere and she’s planning to spread this message on a nationwide lecture tour.

    Meanwhile, HOMMA Kota is starting up a business well suited to Hokkaido, a snowy region. While working for a large construction company, he used to be involved as an engineer in the construction of air conditioning systems that used snow and this led to a career related to snow. Though he was involved in constructing air conditioning systems that used snow for many facilities, he was troubled. If a facility was too large or too small, his company wouldn’t take on the contract, so many potential projects to make use of snow simply disappeared.

    It was a TV commercial that was repeatedly aired in Hokkaido after the Great East Japan Earthquake that inspired Homma. The catchphrase of the ad was: “If you change your point of view, you’ll win support.” Upon hearing this, Homma recalls, “Thinking that this was no time to take it easy as a company employee.” Though snow is a nuisance for most residents of snowy regions, he knew it had the potential to be an important energy resource.


    The entrance hall is used in place of a refrigerator
    Setting up a simple storage facility for keeping rice cool at a restaurant


    While the whole nation was searching for energy resources to replace fossil fuels, in order to bring the practical benefits of snow energy to as many people as possible, Homma decided to start a company that specialized in snow-powered air-conditioning systems. A year after the quake, on March 11, 2012, he founded Snowshop Kobiyama and, on March 11 this year, quit the construction company. He has now begun his activities in earnest.

    While Homma already has multiple on-going projects – for instance he’s currently researching the feasibility of introducing a snow-powered air-conditioning system at the Imperial Hotel – he’s particularly involved with developing a scheme that would involve various industries, to attract data centers to Hokkaido. The cost of cooling a large data center in Tokyo – which operates computer servers and so forth – would be over a billion yen a year. However, a similar-sized one installed in Hokkaido and cooled by snow, would be run on for just 20% of that electricity bill.

    Homma’s plan is to make use of the heat emitted by data centers in order to establish greenhouses and inland fish farms nearby. He’s trying to create jobs for locals, too. The snow to be consumed at the facility will come from local government sites that store cleared snow. If this proves to be insufficient, Homma’s studying the possibility of buying some in the neighborhood, too. If the removal of snow, which has up until now cost money, is profitable, those living in snowy regions will have a completely different attitude to snow. One company is already showing an interest in the data center scheme, and in about two years at the earliest, we’ll probably be able to see the first “Snow Data Center Village.”

    After being motivated by the Great East Japan Earthquake, both Hara and Homma have been promoting the use of local energy resources. IETSUGU Keisuke says, “After the quake, more people began thinking about taking it upon themselves to deal with matters that had up until then been left to national government.” He’s been running a store in Furano City selling electric appliances for some 20 years. About 17 years ago, he also began selling equipment that runs on natural energy resources, because he wanted do some work with an eye to the future that would improve people’s awareness and the environment.

    The first of these products was a windmill, and he continues to deal in equipment that generates power from sunlight or wind. However, his leading products are stoves that use compressed wood pellets as fuel and a sewage water treatment system that harnesses the power of underground bacteria. He says, “The number of companies dealing in solar power generation systems has increased considerably since the quake. We’re going to continue developing our knowhow by introducing items that haven’t caught on yet and new technologies to Hokkaido.”

    Ietsugu and his colleagues are now testing a hydraulic generation device. They are working on ways to return both the power and profit derived from this to the region. If a company from outside the region installs a power generation system, the region won’t see much of the proceeds. Instead, Ietsugu happily says of his plan – that will soon be a reality – that, “I’d like to build a system in which the profit from local energy resources will benefit the whole region.” It might just be that if we put our minds to making use of the things around us, we will tap into a limitless energy resource.

    HARA Mizuho’s website
    Snowshop Kobiyama
    IETSUGU Keisuke’s website, Sanso

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo








    2年前の東日本大震災とそれに続く福島第一原発の事故後、はらさんはさらに電気の使い方に気を使うようになりました。昨年末には、そんな暮らしぶりをまとめた「できた! 電気代600円生活」という本を出版。冷蔵庫を使わずに食品を保存する方法や暑さ寒さをしのぐテクニックなど、創造性に満ちたアイディアが並びます。はらさんは、自分のような暮らしはそれぞれの土地の特性を生かしてどこででもできるはず、と今後は全国各地で講演をする予定です。











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  • 気軽に着られる着物が人気

    [From May Issue 2013]


    Many people are interested in kimono, but feel they are expensive and difficult to take care of. Recently, more and more shops sell reasonably priced, easy-to-wear kimono. They appeal to a variety of different age groups.

    “Nadeshiko Asakuka EKIMISE,” a shop operated by Yamato Co., Ltd. is popular among women in their 20s and 30s. PR representative, MIYOSHI Tomoko, says, “The interiors of our shops are intentionally bright and staff are around the same age as our customers. The range of kimono we sell includes many inexpensive items made of polyester, as well as silk kimono that cost less than 50,000 yen.” Customers who are after inexpensive “obijime” (decorative string used to hold a kimono sash in place), or “tabi” (traditional Japanese socks) also visit the shop.

    Their kimono and accessories appeal to young women because, just as with western clothes, the design of the products displayed is cute. “We organize events, such as the first visit to the temple in the New Year, for customers who have bought a kimono at our store, so they will have more opportunities to wear kimono,” says Miyoshi.

    At “Nagamochiya,” where they sell recycled kimono, customers are mainly women in their 40s to 60s. The plus side of buying recycled kimono is that, unlike new items, you have a chance to get your hands on a rare kimono.

    Usually, a kimono is tailor made after the customer buys the cloth. Since recycled kimono is already tailored, the benefit is that you do not need to pay to have it sewn for you and you can wear it as soon as you have bought it.

    “The recycled kimono that sells the best is priced from 20,000 to 50,000 yen. The majority of customers are people who wear kimono for a discipline like tea ceremony, and those who simply love kimono. The majority of our customers wanted inexpensive kimono for a hobby or for practicing a discipline, but these days there is more demand from people who are searching for rare items,” says IDA Mayumi, PR representative for Shinso Ohashi, Co., Ltd., which operates Nagamochiya.

    It’s not only kimono that’s become popular, now more and more people are casually wearing yukata (kimono for summer). Yukata, not only made of cotton, or linen, but also polyester which is cool and is dries quickly, is now bought by many people and worn outside during summer.

    UENO Satoko, who manages a community for women who like kimono and yukata says, “Just as with western clothes, when you begin to wear a kimono, you feel that you’d like more than just one item, so we’re glad that it’s possible to get hold of cheap kimono. Because it’s difficult to store some kimono without it getting damaged, it is a big help to us that we now find more items that are made of easy care fabrics.” The number of people who casually enjoy wearing kimono may continue to increase.

    Nadeshiko Asakusa EKIMISE

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi













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  • 日本のメディアはどんなニュースを報道しているのか

    [From May Issue 2013]


    Except for major events, the Japanese media doesn’t report much foreign news. That being said, there are almost daily reports about the USA, China and Korea – countries that have a great deal of influence on Japanese affairs. In the case of North Korea – which by developing nuclear power and launching missiles, in addition to having kidnapped Japanese citizens, poses a threat to Japan – any time there is any kind of incident, it’s given coverage.

    The Japanese media only reports about Russia when a new development in territorial disputes takes place. This phenomenon not only occurs in Japan, but is typical of the media in other nations too. The media is apt to only cover news that directly affects its audience.

    Headline domestic news is generally about politics and economics, but, unless it’s election time, people do not show much interest. Looking at it from a different point of view, it might be said that though Japan has its problems, it’s mostly politically stable and serious crises do not happen on a daily basis. However, in recent years, social problems such as the increase of temporary labor, the pension crisis, the declining birthrate and the aging population, are reported on daily.

    Since Japan has a low crime rate compared to other countries, murder cases and other crimes receive a lot of coverage. Recently, the problem of bullying is often covered. Sports reports are popular, and, as well as being in the news, there are also sports programs on TV. There are many specialist sports newspapers.

    There are many entertainment programs on TV including comedy, gourmet, travel and music programs. Nowadays these are an indispensable part of the information the media provides.

    Japanese Media

    Japanese are, for the most part, racially homogenous, so media reports are only in Japanese (some broadcasts are available in English and there are some English newspapers). Therefore newspapers cover stories nationwide and key TV stations report news from all parts of Japan. As a result, almost all Japanese people share the same information.

    Japan has five national newspapers: Asahi, Yomiuri, Mainichi, Sankei and Nikkei. Nikkei specializes in economic news. There are three types of TV broadcasting: terrestrial digital broadcasting, satellite broadcasting and paid satellite broadcasting. There are several private major TV stations besides the nationalized NHK station.

    NHK TV has four channels: terrestrial, terrestrial education, BS and BS premium. Major TV stations have ties with newspapers (Nippon TV with Yomiuri, TBS with Mainichi, Fuji TV with Sankei, TV Asahi with Asahi and TV Tokyo with Nikkei).

    Because it is a medium that can be enjoyed while working, radio stations are still supported by listeners, such as drivers. Since the Great East Japan Earthquake, its value has been reassessed.













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  • 季節感を表現する和菓子

    [From April Issue 2013]


    Wagashi are sweets made since ancient times with traditional Japanese methods. Wagashi are distinct from yougashi, or western sweets, which were relatively recently introduced to Japan during the Meiji era in the 19th century. However, many Japanese get yougashi muddled up with nanbangashi, which are European-style sweets introduced by Portuguese missionaries during the Azuchi-momoya era in the 16th century. Some examples of similar nanbangashi and yougashi are kasutera (castella) and sponge cake; bisuketto (biscuits) and kukki- (cookies); or konpeitou (confetti) and kyandi- (candy).

    An example of a sweet that anyone would regard as wagashi is “dango.” Dango are small rounded mochi (or rice cakes), commonly eaten off a bamboo skewer. Mitarashi-dango (glazed dumplings) are dumplings glazed with a sauce made from soy sauce and sugar; kusa-dango (grass dumplings) are dumplings kneaded with yomogi (Japanese mugwort); and san-shoku dango (three-colored dumplings) are a set of pink, white and green dumplings. Other than dango, there are many other kinds of Japanese sweets that use a kneaded mixture of glutinous rice and water called mochi.

    Though known by the same name, sakura mochi actually refers to a different kind of sweet in Kanto and Kansai. Kanto-style sakura-mochi is a crepe made from wheat flour and water baked in an oven, with an in the center, wrapped in a salt-pickled cherry tree leaf. On the other hand, Kansai-style sakura-mochi is mochi – that still has the residual texture of the rice grain in it – with an an center, wrapped in a salt-pickled cherry tree leaf.

    An (anko) is made from a concentrated mixture of adzuki beans, combined with sugar and water. An that retains the texture of the beans is called tsubu-an. Smooth, strained an is called koshi-an. It is such an essential ingredient, that Japanese people would say that, “If it uses an, then it is a Japanese sweet.”

    Another Japanese sweet is daifuku, which is an wrapped in gyuuhi. Gyuuhi is a case made out of mochi. Mame-daifuku has black soy beans in the gyuuhi; kusa-daifuku has yomogi kneaded in; shio-daifuku has added salt; and ichigo-daifuku has a whole strawberry inside its an filling.

    Manjuu (steamed buns) is another Japanese sweet which is made in a similar way to daifuku. Instead of a mochi coating, manjuu has an outer shell made of wheat or some other kind of kneaded dough. One of the most famous rakugo (the art of traditional storytelling) stories is “Manjuu Kowai” (I’m scared of Manjuu). In the story a man confesses that, “What scares me the most is manjuu!” When his friends play a mean joke on him and throw a manjuu into his room, he chows down on the manjuu saying, “I’m so scared of tea now.”


    Sakura-mochi / Ichigo daifuku (tsubuan)


    Just like manjuu and daifuku, there are many other Japanese sweets made by wrapping a piece of an in mochi or dough. The name of the sweet changes, depending on the ingredients and the way it is made. For example the casing for the wagashi known as monaka is made from powdered rice mixed with water. This mochi is then steamed, rolled out and baked in an oven giving the sweet its signature crisp coating. A taiyaki casing is made from flour mixed with water that is baked in a metal mold in the shape of a tai (sea bream). In Japan, sea bream is considered to be a “medetai” or auspicious fish.

    Dorayaki is a Japanese sweet made by sandwiching a piece of an between two pieces of castella sponge cake. Castella is nanban-gashi, made to a recipe specific to Japan that involves adding honey or starch syrup for a moist texture. There are other variations of this treat: mixing fresh cream in with the an filling, or substituting chestnut and custard cream for the an. The Japanese animated cartoon character “Doraemon” really loves dorayaki.

    Made by pouring an into a mold, then chilling it and hardening with kanten (agar) or kuzu (arrowroot) starch, youkan allow you to savor the flavor of an on its own. There are other variations of youkan such as imo-youkan with added sweet potato, kuri-youkan with chestnut, and mizu-youkan which has a higher ratio of water to an. Another Japanese sweet which uses mizu (or water) as a prefix is mizu-manjuu (also called kuzu-manju) which is an wrapped in a transparent case made from kuzu.


    Anmitsu / Taiyaki


    Mizu-youkan, mizu-manjuu, and kuzu kiri (a chilled confection in noodle form made from the same ingredients as mizu-manjuu, eaten with kuro-mitsu or black syrup) are all summer wagashi designed to give a cooling impression. Many Japanese sweets reflect the changing seasons. For example, as the name suggests, sakura-mochi is a wagashi served when cherry blossoms are blooming (in other words, in springtime).

    Sometimes the same wagashi might be called by a different name depending on the season you consume it. The springtime bota-mochi is a piece of mochi wrapped in an; the reverse of the way daifuku and Kansai-style sakura-mochi is made. However, in autumn, bota-mochi is called ohagi. Bota-mochi is named after the botan or peony, which is a spring flower, and ohagi is named after hagi or bush clover, which is an autumn flower.

    The appearance of Japanese sweets is a reflection of the seasons and of ka-chou-fuu-getsu – an idiom made up of the four kanji of flower, bird, wind and moon, which denotes the beauty of the natural world. Kougei-gashi are a kind of decorative wagashi that are especially designed to be pleasing to the eye. It’s hard to believe that they are only made from mochi, an and sugar and are so beautiful that it seems a waste to eat them. When it comes to these sweets, appearance is considered to be more important than taste. About once every four years, sweets from all over Japan are displayed at the National Confectionary Exhibition; the highlight of this event is the kougei-gashi.




    Making kougei-gashi brings out the best in wagashi artisans, who put together their creations using materials like “unpei” and “anpei.” There are different kinds of unpei: “momi unpei” is made by mixing baked mochi flour with sugar and lukewarm water and “mushi unpei” is made from steamed mochi. These ingredients are fragile, but are useful for the intricate molding of things like petals and leaves. Made from an, mochi flour and sugar, anpei is a more resilient ingredient better suited to molding into the shape of tree trunks.

    Wagashi allow us to enjoy not only sweet flavors, but also savory flavors like soy sauce and salt. Small pieces of dried mochi roasted until golden and flavored with soy sauce or other ingredients are called arare. Larger pieces are called okaki and flattened pieces are called senbei. Whether sweet or salty, many wagashi utilize mochi rice in various ways. Mochi and an are indispensable ingredients for creating wagashi.

    National Confectionary Exposition in Hiroshima

    Text: MATSUMOTO Seiya



















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  • 伝統芸能の歌舞伎の魅力とは?

    [From April Issue 2013]


    The newly renovated Kabukiza theatre will be reopening this April. The traditional art of kabuki has a 400 year old history. Integrating drama, dance and music, it’s possible to see the Japanese sense of beauty up on a kabuki stage expressed through things like the four seasons and gorgeous costumes. The word “kabuki” comes from “kabuku,” which means “extraordinary.”

    Kabuki is unique in that roles are performed by men only. Actors playing female roles are called “onnagata,” and one of the attractions of kabuki is that they appear to be more feminine that women themselves. Kabuki plays can be roughly divided into two categories. The first is “period drama” that portrays the world of the samurai or battles. The second is “human empathy drama” that portrays the trials and tribulations of the citizens of the Edo period.

    The stage itself is another attraction of kabuki. A walkway called hanamichi leads up to the stage through the audience. Actors make their entrances and exits on this. Sometimes actors will stop and perform here allowing the audience to get a look up close. Besides this other devices include a revolving stage allowing for quick scene changes and trapdoors that allow actors to make an entrance in the middle of the stage.

    Some scenes in kabuki get both actors and audiences really fired up. When an actor appears on the stage or his performance reaches its climax, the audience yells out “Yamashiroya!” or “Otowaya!” These are yagou, or stage names. This custom arose because in the old days actors were not allowed to have surnames. Instead they used stage names.

    Kabuki performances are generally held twice a day: once during the day and once at night. Each play lasts about three to four hours and there are intermissions between dramatic and musical scenes. Kabukiza theaters sell tickets for one act only. Headsets that provide an explanation of the play can be rented. English versions are also available for a fee.

    Traditional Kabuki and the “New Movement”

    The majority of kabuki actor’s names have been passed down from generation to generation. Actors acquire different stage names as they progress up the ranks, until they acquire the most elevated title of their clan. In the kabuki world, not only stage names, but also an acting style and the plays that one specializes in are inherited; it’s normal for children of actors to inherit all of this.

    Last December, the 18th generation NAKAMURA Kanzaburo, who was a popular kabuki actor, and this February ICHIKAWA Danjuro, who was known for his stupendous performances, passed away. It was a great loss for those in kabuki circles.

    In 1986 “super kabuki,” a form of theatre that adopted a contemporary theatrical style appeared in the traditional kabuki world. The 3rd ICHIKAWA Ennosuke (currently called Enoh) incorporated other kinds of theatrical styles such as western opera or Beijing opera into his acting style. It had a big impact on the theatrical community both in Japan and abroad. Since then performances have been held at theatres including Shimbashi Enbujo Theatre, Tokyo.












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  • 卒業式で人生の節目を感じる日本人

    [From March Issue 2013]


    At the end of the calendar year and in March, new pocketbooks are displayed in the stationery sections of book stores and in stationery stores. There are two types of pocketbook: some begin from January and others begin from April. This is because there are two ways of thinking about the year: one is the “calendar year” which runs from January to December, and the other is the “fiscal year” which runs from April to March.

    In Japan, many events in government offices, companies, and schools are timetabled according to the “fiscal year.” It appears that the reason why life in Japan is organized around the fiscal year is related to the fact that the school year begins in April, and ends in March the next year. This timetable effects society at large, so that things like personnel transfers in companies take place according to the new fiscal year. These changes occur across the country. Students also move to a new district in order to enter their educational institution of choice.

    There are a variety of events related to ushering in the new fiscal year, but for any Japanese person, graduating after completing their studies is an important milestone. You might even say that graduation ceremonies are the most important event of the season for all educational facilities from nursery schools, to kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, vocational schools, universities, and graduate schools. Most of these ceremonies take place in February or March.

    Many graduation ceremonies start with an opening address, and continue with everyone singing the national anthem, “Kimigayo.” The program also includes presentations of diplomas, a speech by the school principal, congratulatory speeches by illustrious guests such as the mayor, speeches by current students and graduating students and the presentation of graduation gifts. Students might sing “Hotaru no Hikari” or their school anthem before the closing address. Sometimes, the entire graduating class may recite “chikai no kotoba” (a graduation oath) or “kadode no kotoba” (parting words). These words are intended to show junior pupils, teacher and parents, their determination to succeed in the next stage of their lives.

    Traditionally, “Hotaru no Hikari” and “Aogeba Toutoshi” are sung by a chorus. The melody of “Hotaru no Hikari” is the same as the Scottish folk song, “Auld Lang Syne.” In the latter half of the 19th century, Scottish teachers of technology sang the song when they were returning to their country, and thus the tune became known in Japan as a farewell song. The lyrics to “Aogeba Toutoshi” (Respecting Teachers) express gratitude to teachers for their care.

    A recent standard song is “Tabidachi no Hi ni” (On the Day of Departure). This song was composed for a graduation ceremony by the principle and music teacher of a junior high school in Saitama Prefecture, but has become popular nationwide. Other schools use suitable J-pop songs that take the theme of “parting and friendship.” For many Japanese, graduation ceremonies are not just a formality, but are sad occasions signaling the fact that they’ll soon be leaving behind special friends and memories. This is why many attendees burst into tears. They cry even harder because they are overwhelmed by wonderful memories.

    NAGATA Momoko, of Aichi Prefecture, who graduated high school last year, reflects on her own graduation ceremony, “In order to make the ceremony even better, we spend a lot of time practicing. During this time, we practice the songs the most. Before the actual ceremony, we practice our school anthem, ‘Hotaru no Hikari’ and ‘Aogeba Toutoshi’ over and over again. By practicing a lot, when it comes to finally singing the song at the ceremony, our sense that ‘this is the last time we’ll sing this’ is heightened and we can’t help but tear up.”

    Graduation ceremonies are not only memorable for the graduating student, but also for the parent. But the way parents behave has changed dramatically compared to previous generations. ASHIDA Miri of Yamagata Prefecture, who is also the mother of two children says, “At the ceremony I am moved to tears by the parting words and expressions of thanks. But when I see fathers frantically recording their child during the ceremony on video, I think, ‘Isn’t it a waste not to see your grown child with your own eyes?’”

    SAWAE Misa of Niigata Prefecture, who is also a mother of two, says, “It’s more common now for both parents to attend the ceremony. Only about two or three mothers wear kimono, with the rest in western clothes; a big difference from when I was a child. When the diplomas are presented, rather than turning their backs to us, children receive the diploma in a way that allows the parents to see their expression. In the old days this didn’t happen.”

    While uniforms are worn by students at the majority of junior high and high schools, at university, students typically wear their own clothes, so for graduation ceremonies, most women dress in a hakama. Hakama were originally worn by teachers of women’s schools from the Meiji to Taisho eras (the second half of the 19th century to the early half of the 20th century), but gradually the practice spread to students. However, in modern times, it is considered to be a special outfit worn only at graduation.

    Most wear rented hakama. This is because there are hardly any other occasions for which it can be worn. SAITO Yasuko of Saitama Prefecture, who is an expert kimono dresser, says, “Dressing one person takes around fifteen minutes. Because they are at an age in which fashion is important, many want to express their personality through color choice and accessories. No matter who they are, I get the sense that they’re full of hope for the bright future that awaits them after graduation.”

    Graduation day is the perfect opportunity to confess your love for someone you’ve had a crush on for a long time. At mixed sex schools, there’s a long tradition of boys giving away the second button down from their school jacket as a keepsake to girls. Because the second button is closest to the heart, this is probably signifies “giving one’s heart away.” For this reason girls descend on popular boys, vying to get their buttons.


    Hakusen nagashi


    One high school has a tradition called “hakusen nagashi” (floating white line) in which the white piping sewn onto a boy’s school cap is attached to the scarf of a girl’s sailor uniform and floated down the river in front of the school. This tradition has been going for over 70 years and takes place after the graduation ceremony at Gifu Prefectural Hida High School in Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture. A TV drama was inspired by this tradition.

    The word “graduation” in Japanese, is not only used in reference to education, but also to express the fact that many other kinds of things are “finished.” On the other hand, it is said the word “graduation” includes the nuance of the word “commencement” in USA. It seems that many Japanese feel that milestones in life are reached during events, such as graduation, that take place at the end of the fiscal year.

    Most schools hold graduation ceremonies at the end of March, which is around the same time the cherry trees on Honshu Island begin to bud. These buds swell little by little, and, at the beginning of April the cherry trees planted around school grounds are in full bloom by the time entrance ceremonies are held and the new school term begins. Therefore, for many Japanese people, cherry blossoms are often symbolic of being promoted, going up a grade, entering a school, or entering the world as an adult member of society.

    Gifu Prefectural Hida High School

    Text: ITO Koichi




















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  • 走るだけじゃない「ユニークマラソン」

    [From March Issue 2013]


    For the past several years there’s been a “marathon boom” in Japan. The Tokyo Marathon was first held in 2007 and every year there are so many people applying to enter, that only one in nine are able to participate. Similar events are held all over the country, but the kind of marathon that’s really been attracting attention are “unique marathons.” Unique marathons include a “sweets marathon,” where runners are given cakes and other desserts along the route, instead of water, and a “konkatsu marathon” where runners search for a spouse.

    In Minami-uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, there is the “Minami-uonuma Gourmet Marathon.” Popular since it began in 2010, this year’s event will be held on June 9. One interesting feature of this event is that every participant is rewarded with an all-you-can-eat meal of Koshihikari-brand rice produced in Minami-uonuma. Producing a brand of rice that’s well-known throughout Japan, this idea could only have come from Minami-uonuma.

    At the main meeting area, a “gourmet village” is set up, where dishes that go well with rice are served up. After crossing the finish line, each participant is given a bowl of cooked rice and with that in hand, are able to sample local dishes. “We started with the intention of promoting our wonderful local food. Food such as edible wild plants and pork,” says IGUCHI Noriko, secretary of the Minami-uonuma Gourmet Marathon.

    Using the marathon as a promotional tool has been a big success, and participants have commented, “I run as fast as I can in anticipation of the delicious meal.” Just a 13 minute’ walk from Urasa Station on the Joetsu shinkansen, access to the site is easy and the number of applicants is increasing every year.

    Another popular marathon is the “Fuji Marathon Race,” which involves running up Mt. Fuji. At an altitude of 3,776 meters, Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. Since it is difficult to even walk up the mountain, this race to the top is really punishing. There are two routes: the 21-kilometer “Summit Competition” and the 15-kilometer “5th Station Competition.” Beginners can only participate in the “5th Station Competition.”

    This event has a long history, with the first competition being held in 1948. This year’s event will be held on July 26 and marks the 66th time the event has been held. Since 2013 is the year that Mt. Fuji is due to be listed as a World Heritage Site, people in Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture, where the event takes place, are getting really fired up about it. A festival on the day before the event will be held at 10 a.m. in Fujihokuroku Park. There, lectures will be given by famous runners and running seminars will be held. Many stalls selling delicious B-class (inexpensive but satisfying) food will also be set up.

    Runners of all different ages, from those in their teens to those in their 70s, take part and you can see both parents and children cheering each other on to reach the finish line. “It is an extremely tough and tiring race, but when you finally reach the top and take in the view below, you will be deeply moved,” says TAKAYAMA Kurato, secretary of the executive committee of the Fuji Mountain Race.

    YANAGIOKA Hideo, a resident of Tokyo, who has been running marathons for 30 years says, “The Fuji Mountain Race gives me a greater sense of accomplishment than races over flat terrain. ‘Unique marathons’ give you something extra to enjoy in addition to the pleasure of running.”

    Minami-uonuma Gourmet Marathon
    Fuji Mountain Race

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko













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  • 日本人の宗教は何?

    [From March Issue 2013]


    During spring and autumn, many wedding ceremonies are held in Japan. Though the number of practicing Japanese Christians is thought to be around 1% – that’s including Catholics and Protestants – nearly 70% of Japanese weddings are held in a chapel. By contrast, almost all funerals are Buddhist. On the other hand, events like shichigosan, which celebrates the growth of children, are held at Shinto shrines. In Japan, religions are able to coexist without any friction between them.

    Shinto has been the religion of Japan since ancient times. Sensing a mysterious power residing in things like rocks, waterfalls, rivers and mountains, Japanese worshiped natural objects, animals and humans as gods. Shinto shrines are symbolic places. In Japan many gods coexist. In this way, Buddhism has been accepted since the sixth century. For their first visit of the year, people may go to pray at either a shrine or a temple.

    Since Japan is polytheistic, Japanese are tolerant of foreign religions. Because of this they have incorporated western religious events and ceremonies, like Christmas and Halloween, into their lives. For most Japanese they are merely fun events.

    However, besides funerals, events and ceremonies connected with Buddhism are regarded as old-fashioned, and these days Japanese distance themselves from them. Japanese know Christ’s birthday, but hardly anybody knows Buddha’s. However, in recent years, Asian countries have taken center stage and because of this, religious events originating from these countries that are perceived as being “cool,” may be adopted.

    The Japanese pagan attitude to religion can be seen as tolerant, but on the other hand, it may be seen as impious or even indifferent. From the standpoint of fiercely religious countries, the Japanese might appear to be heathens. However, due to this attitude, Japan hasn’t been involved in any religious disputes, and because religion is not an integral part of everyday life, it’s a peaceful country.

    The Other Side of Religion

    Zen, which can be a religion or philosophy, has greatly influenced Japanese culture and bushido (the samurai code). Leading to enlightenment, zazen (meditation) training is well known, but few people fully understand it. Its central message to “Accept reality as it is” might be more easily understood through the Beatles’ song “Let it Be” or Doris DAY’s “Que Sera Sera.”

    In Japan there are no religious political parties, but a party supported by a religious group exists. New Komeito, a political party that has formed a coalition cabinet with ABE Shinzo’s Liberal Democratic Party was founded by Soka Gakkai, a religious Buddhist group. Candidates of newly formed religious groups occasionally run for office in national elections, but almost all fail.

    In 1995, many people were victims of the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metropolitan subway. This was carried out by cult religious group Aum Shinrikyo. Though all the suspects were arrested, having divided into splinter groups, Aum still survives under different names. As a result, many Japanese are suspicious of new religions.












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