• 日本で日本語を学ぶ

    [From February Issue 2013]


    The best way to learn a language is to live in the country where it’s spoken. In Japan, most learners go to a Japanese language school. Japan has many such schools. And there are a lot of learning materials.

    The Kichijoji Language School in Musashino City, Tokyo, has four terms a year. It has about 100 students, though this depends on the time of year. Courses are run for eight different levels. In addition to these, there are also private lessons and preparation courses for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

    “The goal of the Kichijoji Language School is to get you to be able to produce the language that you’ve studied,” says principal TSUCHIYA Iwao. “Teaching only to read or only to write isn’t effective. So we put emphasis on conversation practice where students use what they’ve learned at each level. Living in Japan, they hear honorific language used in everyday conversations. Since it’s hard for them to use such language, they practice it until they can.”

    One good thing about Japanese language schools is that the students can learn about Japanese culture and make friends through school events. The Kichijoji Language School offers excursions for those who wish to participate. Excursions are to well-known spots or places where they can learn Japanese history, places like Kamakura or Mt. Takao. Events like yearend parties or summer evening festivals, commonly held at Japanese companies or schools, are also organized. “Sometimes students organize their own trips and invite along classmates,” says Tsuchiya.

    At the Kichijoji Language School, about 20% of graduates go on to higher education institutions in Japan. “Some go to Japanese college or vocational school while others continue their studies in their own countries. We had a student who came to Japan to work after working as a cartoon animator in his country.”


    Evergreen Language School


    The Evergreen Language School is in Meguro Ward, Tokyo. In addition to running courses for those wishing to enter higher education, the school runs standard courses, two or three days a week courses and private lessons. Though it varies over the course of the year, the total number of students is currently about 20. The school takes part in events held in shopping arcades, holds speech contests and organizes cultural exchanges with private high schools.

    “It’s been 25 years since we founded our Japanese language school and during that time, people from 70 countries have studied with us,” says principal NAITO Sachiko. “Currently we only have a few students because we haven’t been recruiting overseas at study abroad centers.” The Evergreen Language School was founded in 1949 as an English conversation school. “We give lessons that are tailored to suit our students’ needs. In terms of Japanese lessons, five years ago the ambassador to Senegal studied with us every day for a year and a half and after this, ties between Japan and Senegal were strengthened,” says Naito.

    “We had a case in which a German who had come to Japan to start a headhunting business was transferred to our school from the Japanese language department of a famous private university. After graduation, some students stay in Japan to go on to higher education, to work, or to start a business. I’m glad they are active in so many areas.”


    Academy of Language Arts


    “Since we have students of so many different nationalities, I’ve often noticed a difference in each student’s background and general knowledge,” says KUROKAWA Hikaru who is an administrator for the Academy of Language Arts (Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo). The school has about 100 students and average class sizes of about 12.

    “We offer Japanese language classes that focus on improving communication skills in conversation, in conjunction with using a textbook we have lots of discussions, debates and pair work. I’m happiest when I see students making progress who didn’t speak a word before,” says Kurokawa.

    The advantage of studying Japanese in Japan is of course that you have more opportunities to engage in conversations in Japanese. When you go out, most people on the street are speaking Japanese. Most station names are written in kanji, but they are often also written in hiragana and the roman alphabet. You can practice reading those names.

    Watching TV is another effective way to learn. Advanced learners can pick up common Japanese expressions as well as words that have recently entered the language. Advanced learners can also learn about what’s happening in Japan and study the Japanese way of thinking. Beginners are ought to watching news shows with sign language. As they are aimed at people with hearing difficulties, the announcers speak slowly and the subtitles are accompanied by hiragana text. It’s possible to learn Japanese conversation while at the same time enjoying dramas and animations.

    For those who like to sing, karaoke is another good way to learn. The lyrics are shown on screen. So you don’t fall behind, the letters of the lyrics change color to indicate which part you should be singing. It’s important to choose slow tunes as most new hit songs have many words to pronounce in quick succession and are hard to sing.

    Working full time or part time is also a good way to learn. With your Japanese colleagues, you not only talk about work but also chat, so your vocabulary grows. At work, you are obliged to use honorific language which many foreigners tend to avoid. It is good practice. However, you need to be careful because, depending on the type of visa you have, the occupation you can have and hours you can work may be restricted.


    Japanese textbook section at a bookstore / Manga section


    Large bookstores often have a section containing textbooks for learning Japanese in which books for all levels are sold. Those bookstores also stock useful learning materials, such as cards for memorizing kanji. If you go to the children’s book section, you’ll find many easy, useful books such as illustrated dictionaries and picture books.

    Manga are also excellent materials for study. Most manga are covered in plastic film, so you can’t see the contents before buying. Some popular ones, however, come with samples that show what kind of manga it is. Manga cafes stock a wide range of comic books for you to browse. There it’s possible to choose a title based on whether the kanji has hiragana readings and on the kind of language used.

    Kichijoji Language School
    Evergreen Language School
    Academy of Language Arts
    Shinjuku Main Store, Kinokuniya

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo




















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  • 非日常を味わう脱出ゲーム

    [From February Issue 2013]


    “Escape games” are popular now. They begin with you suddenly finding yourself locked up in a room. To escape within the time limit you have to decipher codes and find special items.

    SCRAP Co., Ltd., the company behind “Real Escaping Game” has organized dozens of similar games within Japan and overseas. Participants go into a locked room full of clues. Though some people participate alone, it’s also possible for couples, groups of friends and other kinds of teams to play. Some teams are made up of family members from three generations, including grandparents, parents and children.

    You can participate if you understand kanji taught in the upper grade of elementary school and possess general knowledge. You can also enjoy the game with others if you can understand a normal Japanese conversation. The most important ability is to be able to think creatively and to cooperate with your teammates.

    Able to solve this difficult game that has an overall success rate of only 10%, NISHIMOTO Yukihiko recalls the excitement he felt during game play, “It is probably impossible for a single person to collect all the clues and solve the puzzle. I found myself cooperating with people who were in the same team, who I’d just met that day.”

    “Real Escaping Game is like a club activity for adults,” says KATO Takao, representative of SCRAP Co., Ltd. Adults rarely get the chance to cooperate with teammates, or to celebrate their joy by punching the air when they reach their goal.

    Recently, some companies use the game to encourage communication between coworkers as part of their employee training program. This is because many employees in large companies might only know each other by sight and not have actually spoken. The Real Escaping Game is becoming the most effective tool to break down the walls between them.

    The Escape Game began life as a popular game for PCs around ten years ago. Later, with the rising popularity of smartphones, it became known as a game that can be enjoyed easily, anytime, anywhere, and now many escape game apps are being made.

    “DOOORS,” which became the number one “free app/game app” in 25 countries is a simple escape game in which you have to continue solving puzzles in order to open the door and escape from the room you are locked in. Since all the clues are either pictorial or symbolic, language is not necessary, and this means that the game can be enjoyed by people from any country.

    Game developer NONOYAMA Koji of 58 Works, has developed popular games singlehandedly. He says, “I’ve created other kinds of games than escape games, but 90% of my ratings and feedback are about escape games, so I feel these are the ones that really resonate with people.” Though 40% of registered players come from Japan, the rest are from other countries.

    SCRAP Co., Ltd.

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi














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  • 日本がかかえる問題

    [From February Issue 2013]


    ABE Shinzo’s cabinet was formed after last year’s December election. Japan faces a number of difficulties that need to be resolved and Prime Minister Abe’s abilities will be evaluated depending on how well he deals with them. One problem is that of nuclear power. Should Japan continue to use it? Should Japan abolish it? Public opinion is deeply divided. One view is that nuclear power stations that have been deemed safe should be switched back on for the sake of economic growth and cost effectiveness. The other side believes that human life should be given priority and that the accident at Fukushima proved without a shadow of a doubt that there are no absolute guarantees for the safety of nuclear power stations.

    Pensions have also become a big problem. National pension payments by the working generation go towards paying the pensions of the elderly, but because of the declining birthrate and aging population, the existing pension system is heading for collapse. In short, the number of people receiving a pension is increasing, while the number of those making payments is decreasing. These days more and more young people are not paying, because there is a possibility that they will not be able to receive a pension in the future.

    Japan owes approximately 1,000 trillion yen in debts. The largest amount in the world by far. Because of this the former regime decided to raise consumer tax in 2014 in order to pay for social welfare. However, the stagnation of Japan’s economy is continuing. Many people oppose this and say that if consumption tax goes up, the economy will slump even further which would have a knock on effect, causing corporate tax to decrease.

    As the trend towards globalization continues, Japanese manufacturers have moved overseas in search of cheap labor and new markets. Because of this, within Japan fewer permanent staff are being employed, while the number of temporary and part time workers is increasing. Wages for workers have not increased so their purchasing power has decreased meaning that businesses cannot make enough profit. The government is planning to increase tax revenues in line with to economic growth, but there is strong opposition to this policy.

    Another problem is diplomatic. People are closely watching how the government deals with territorial disputes between China, Korea and Russia. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party wants to strengthen military power, which would mean revising the constitution to make this possible. Other people are objecting to this move, stating that a hard-line stance would worsen relations with these nations. Meanwhile the debate continues over whether free trade agreements, like the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), are in the national interest.

    Invisible Problems

    Now people are keeping a close eye on whether politicians keep their election pledges. Out of the many problems that need dealing with, citizens particularly want to see a decrease in the number of politicians, a wage cut for politicians, as well as a decrease in the number of public servants and a cut in their wasteful spending.

    People’s trust in the media, which often treats politics as some form of entertainment, is declining. There has been criticism of the opinion polls that they carry out immediately after a cabinet member has made a blunder; these give the impression that the approval rating for the cabinet has declined. Some say that this is one of the reasons that Japanese prime ministers are replaced after serving about one year in office.

    Some people say that the problem lies with voters who are either overly influenced by the media, or don’t bother voting at all because they believe that nothing will change no matter who the prime minister is. There is a saying that “the level of a nation’s politics is equivalent to the level of the people themselves.” Critics point out that this saying is applicable to Japan.












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  • 自然を表す芸術を好む日本人

    [From January Issue 2013]


    Approximately 80% of Japan is mountainous. Because of its high rainfall, it has abundant moisture and greenery. For this reason, in many places in Japan you can see vegetation growing by the edge of waterways or covering the sides of mountains. And this scenery changes according to the season. This is because there is a clear distinction between the four seasons in Japan. Preferring untouched nature (undeveloped natural beauty), Japanese feel a strong attachment to the bounty of nature and the changes in season.

    This preference is reflected in Japanese gardens too. In traditional Japanese gardens, objects, such as winding brooks or stones, are used without altering their natural form. Trees are also pruned in a way that makes use of their natural shape. The unique characteristics of the Japanese garden become clear when compared to the ruler straight flower beds and streams you find in Europe and the Middle East and the manufactured stones favored in China.

    “In the Japanese gardens that were created by daimyou (feudal lords) in the Edo period (17~19th centuries), we see a characteristic similar to landscape paintings,” says EBINA Makoto of the Cultural Assets Garden Section, Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association. “For example, a small mound is made to resemble the shape of Mount Fuji, or the garden is a miniaturized reproduction of a sorely missed native landscape.”

    “Japanese gardens are designed so that the scenery changes when you look at it from a different perspective,” says Ebina. In this way a slope resembles a mountain path when you ascend it, or standing close to a pond gives you the feeling that you’re standing on the sea shore. “Flowers and trees are planted with the characteristics of the changes in season in mind, so that in spring there are fresh green leaves, and in autumn the leaves show up in beautiful reds and yellows. These gardens are a condensed version of nature,” says Ebina.

    “Another characteristic trait of the Japanese garden is incorporating the topography and trees that were originally there in the garden design. For example, a waterfall is created where the land suddenly drops in height, or if the sea is nearby, seawater is pumped into the garden to create a pond, allowing visitors to enjoy the changes in water levels. When the tide goes out, a sandy beach that had been hidden is revealed,” Ebina says, explaining the special features of a Japanese garden.

    Japanese gardens may resemble untouched nature, but they are very difficult to maintain. “Trees in gardens designed to display beautiful scenery through the foliage, must be constantly pruned to prevent the foliage from getting too thick. In recent years, global warming has had an effect on certain trees, which now grow too vigorously, and flowers which bloomed in the old days, no longer bloom in season,” says Ebina. “Japanese gardens have to be maintained by highly skilled craftsmen. I think we must pass on these skills to future generations.”

    A traditional art form called “bonseki” is a way of creating miniaturized depictions of landscapes with sand and stone on a tray. This is a tradition that goes back several hundred years and there are a variety of different schools, but the basics of the Hosokawa style, which was founded by the 16th Century daimyou HOSOKAWA Tadaoki, uses natural stones and white sand on a black tray to suggest scenery.

    The Hosokawa style uses a stone to represent mountains and white sand to represent a sandy beach, the flow of water, or trees. The sand is placed on the tray with a small spoon and then patterns are created using bird feathers. Once complete they may be kept for a while, but generally they are tidied away by removing the stones and pouring the sand back into a box.

    “Originally bonseki was an art form connected with tea ceremony. It was prepared to decorate the tokonoma (alcove in a Japanese room) in honor of one of the guests at the ceremony, bearing in mind that person’s taste and the current season. So once the ceremony was over, the bonseki was cleared away,” says KOMEJI Setsuko, chairman of the Tokyo Kuyoukai, Hosokawa School of Bonseki. “When I am creating the tray, I can forget other things and concentrate on the art. All idle thoughts fade away and I can free myself from all thoughts and desires.”

    “Originally I liked suibokuga (India ink painting) and the rock gardens of Kyoto,” says Komeji. “I feel that bonseki, which represents miniaturized landscapes with sand, has an affinity with suibokuga. Using sand to represent water and stones for mountains is also similar to karesansui (traditional Japanese rock gardens). Because these representations strip away unnecessary elements, it conversely allows the viewer to give free reign to their imaginations. It gives you the feeling that you are actually there in the landscape.”

    “The appreciation of rocks is a cultural tradition that originally came from China, but the Japanese have adapted this to suit their own tastes,” relates Komeji. “Bonseki is associated with various forms of Japanese culture. We still recreate the same picture that is said to have been created by SEN no Rikyu and when we look at the textbooks from the past several hundred years, we can sense the influence of art and kimono that were popular in the day. These days artists of the Hosokawa School increasingly produce realistic landscapes.”

    Another hobby is suiseki, which is a way of appreciating nature in a stone. For example, spotting a similarity to Mount Fuji in a stone and displaying it for the appreciation of others. “Suiseki is a hobby in which the viewer can give free range to his imagination. One can imagine oneself climbing a mountain, recall a kanshi (Chinese poem) or waka (Japanese poem) about a mountain, and imagine the scene,” says WATANABE Hiroki, the chairman of Nikkei Suisekikai.

    Records of the hobby of suiseki date as far back as the 14th century. The Chinese cultural tradition of appreciating beautifully colored stones was adapted to Japanese tastes so that stones with a subdued wabi-sabi beauty, and stones closer to their natural state were preferred. Currently, there are more than 400 suiseki enthusiast associations in various parts of Japan, and a specialist monthly magazine, titled “Aiseki” (Love Stones), about stones. “There are people who pay money for several-hundred-year-old stones, but I like to go to rivers and beaches to gather stones that appeal to me,” says Watanabe.

    “When I look at a stone, I see a natural landscape in it: mountains in the higher parts and plains in the flat parts. When I place an ornament of a person riding a horse near it, it creates the image of a traveler going through an old mountain side. On the other hand, when I place a boat beside it, the image the stone conjures up changes into a sea shore. Because there are so many perspectives, I never tire of it,” says Watanabe, explaining the charms of suiseki.

    “The hobby we call suiseki has a deep connection with the sensibility of the Japanese which is well attuned to the topography of Japan with its numerous mountains and forests and the changes in season,” says Watanabe. Urbanization is advancing in modern day Japan, but the Japanese feeling of love toward nature does not seem to change.

    Tokyo Metropolitan park Association
    Tokyo Kuyoukai, Hosokawa School of Bonseki

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


















    盆石 細川流九曜会


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  • 時代とともに変わる日本の歌

    [From January Issue 2013]


    Japanese songs come in many different genres. One type is a genre deeply rooted in the Japanese way of life; simple lyrical songs such as “Sakura Sakura” (Cherry Blossom) or “Koujou no Tsuki” (Moon Over a Ruined Castle), and regional folk songs. For these songs traditional Japanese musical instruments such as the koto (Japanese harp), shamisen (a string instrument similar to the guitar) and shakuhachi (flute) are often used. Another genre is enka, a unique kind of Japanese music, which uses “kobushi” (an accentuated or fluctuating note) to emphasize parts of the song.

    Many enka songs take the theme of thwarted love. The late MISORA Hibari was one of the most notable enka singers, who, since she was a little girl, reigned as one of the genre’s most popular singers. The late KOGA Masao was a famous enka song writer who created hit after hit with his melancholy melodies. The 50s and 60s were a golden era for enka, but, with the rapidly growing economy, new genres, such as “mood” romantic ballads appeared on the scene.

    In addition “group sounds” bands like the Tigers and Tempters appeared and became popular. At the start of the 70s, new folk singers and groups such as YOSHIDA Takuro, INOUE Yousui and ARAI Yumi (present-day MATSUTOYA Yumi) appeared one after another. Songs in which singers expressed their feelings directly were called “new music.”

    In the 80s, charismatic singer OZAKI Yutaka’s cries from the heart resonated with young people and drew a lot of attention. After that many different kinds of artists appeared and the term “J-Pop” began to be used. In 1991, SMAP, a band from Johnny’s talent agency – an agency that has created many handsome idol groups – debuted and became popular instantly.

    In November 2012, the JASRAC (Japanese Society for Rights of Authors, Composers and Publishers) announced the top 100 songs from the past 30 years, based on royalties generated from karaoke and other means of distribution. At number one was SMAP’s “Sekai ni Hitotsu Dake no Hana” (The One and Only Flower in the World). The reason it was so successful was that the song’s message – that you don’t have to become number one and that each of us is the one and only flower of its kind in the world – struck a chord with many people.

    Other Music Scenes

    AKB48 is trending right now. Many female idol groups have been manufactured in the past. In the 70s Pink Lady was hugely popular, in the 80s it was Onyanko Club and Morning Musume, who debuted in 1998, is also well-known.

    There is a TV program that many people watch on New Year’s Eve, namely NHK’s Kouhaku Utagassen (Annual Singing Contest), which has been going since 1953. Male and female singers, or group singers, divided into red and white teams of 25 compete. Teams are selected according to a variety of surveys. Japan’s top singers, from idol group AKB48 to enka king KITAJIMA Saburo – 2012 marked his 49th appearance on the show – perform on the night.

    Of course, many foreign songs come to Japan. What’s called “yougaku” (western music) has also been popular since the era of Elvis PRESLEY and the Beatles. Recently, in addition to western singers, Korean singers are also becoming popular.












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  • 日本食に欠かせないカツオ節

    [From January Issue 2013]


    Katsuobushi, also called dried bonito, is a smoked fermented fillet of skipjack tuna. An essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine, shaved dried katsuobushi is one of the main ingredients in dashi, a broth that forms the base of many soups, including miso.

    First the head of the fish is removed and the flesh is deboned. The fatty belly area is also removed. The fillets are then put in a basket and simmered for an hour to an hour and a half. Bones from the ribs are then removed and the fish is smoked. This action is repeated many times and the process can take up to a month.

    The last step of the process is to cover the fillets with mold and let them dry. The fermentation stage in the process is essential for breaking down the long molecules of the natural fat in the bonito into shorter ones, and this creates the so-called umami flavor. Artisan katsuobushi makers repeat the fermentation stage multiple times until all of the fat has been converted. A katsuoboshi master knows when this has occurred from the softness of the surface of the whole katsuobushi, as well as from the sound it makes when struck.

    A katsuobushi block has the appearance of very hard, dry wood and is less than 20% of its original weight, containing only 18 ~ 20% water. Production takes from three to six months. In spite of its external dull brown color, once broken, the katsuobushi block is a beautiful ruby red inside. When sold in thin shavings it has a soft color somewhere between pink and light brown.

    Katsuobushi is mostly found shaved into very thin pieces and is mainly used for making dashi stock. However it does come in other shapes and sizes: thicker shavings with a richer flavor can be used for salad or as a substitute for smoked ham in a variety of different dishes. You can also buy whole katsuobushi blocks and shave it yourself for a fresher taste. Thin katsuobushi shavings are often used as a topping for dishes such as okonomiyaki or cold tofu. When used on hot dishes it is also called “dancing fish flakes,” because the flakes move in the steam.

    Before shaved katsuobushi was sold in strong plastic bags, every household had a special bowl for katsuobushi and it was often the job of the children in the house to shave the katsuobushi before meals. Elderly people associate the sound of katsuobushi being shaved with pleasant childhood memories.

    The katsuo fish itself has been consumed in Japan ever since the Jomon period (12,000 ~ 4,000 years ago) but dried bonito was not consumed until later and its appearance and taste have evolved over the years to become the product you can find in stores nowadays.

    Katsuobushi is very low in calories but contains lots of protein, thus making it very good for the health. It is considered to be a diet food and useful for fighting stress. Interestingly, outside of Japan it is also widely sold as a gourmet treat for cats.


    Text: Nicolas SOERGEL













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  • 日本の気候や風土が育てた、お風呂文化

    [From December Issue 2012]


    Throughout Japan’s history there have been many works of art based on the theme of bathing. This shows that the relationship between Japanese people and baths runs very deep. One example of this can be found in the classic Edo-period novel “Ukiyo Buro” (The Bathhouse of the Floating World). A manga series titled “Thermae Romae,” which tells the story of a bathhouse designer from ancient Rome who travels in time to modern day Japan and creates an uproar, was adapted into a movie.

    Some old Japanese words that exist to this day, such as “furoshiki” and “yukata,” are all related to baths. In the Edo Period, a furoshiki was a piece of fabric that was spread out on the floor while changing for a bath and was then used to wrap clothes in. The yukata was originally used as a garment that was worn while soaking in the bathtub. Once people started to take their baths in the nude, as they do today, the yukata began to be worn after baths.

    Compared to the rest of the world, Japanese people are particularly enthusiastic about bathing. One of the reasons for this is that Japan is an island country. Being surrounded by the sea, the climate in Japan is very rainy and when the temperature rises, the level of humidity also rises, making it hot and sticky. It has been said that the culture of bathing in cool or warm water was developed because people living in these conditions wanted to freshen up, even if it was just for a little while.

    On the other hand, there are many famous hot springs, or onsen, around Japan. This is because geothermal heat from volcanoes warms underground streams which bubble up out of the ground as onsen. These hot springs can be found all over Japan, and depending on the elements the water contains, its effect on the body differs from onsen to onsen. Soon spas were developed around Japan to welcome visitors who wished to bathe in the hot springs, places where travelers could stay over in hotels or ryokan.

    Another characteristic of Japanese spas is that they have a strong connection to nature. For example, a mountain onsen will heal the fatigue of skiers, a seafront onsen will have a view of a vast expanse of ocean, and onsen in a valley will have a view of the trees as they change in color from deep green to autumn brown depending on the season. Hot spring spas that develop near places of scenic beauty and historic interest contribute to bringing in tourists to the area.

    Today, “bathing in an ofuro” means to soak in a bathtub. But originally, a bath was a room in which people bathed in steam. So, in the old days, people would scrub themselves off in the steam, and then rinse with warm water. The small rooms that were designed to keep in the steam were called “muro.” This word is thought to be the origin of the word “furo.”

    In the middle of the Edo Period the number of sentou, or public baths, used by people who did not own a bath, increased. The sentou was not just a place where people washed their bodies, but also a place for socializing, a place for fun. Sentou are divided into a men’s bath, “otoko-yu,” and a women’s bath, “onna-yu.” Although some places may be different, up until kindergarten age, it is not unusual for girls to be bathing with their fathers and boys with their mothers.

    When speaking of public baths, many people think of Mt. Fuji as the mountain is commonly painted onto a mural on a wall beside the bathing area. It is said that this is because the shape of Mt. Fuji, with its wide fan-shaped base, is a lucky omen. People also like Fuji for its grandeur and rarely get tired of seeing it. But the biggest reason is probably that it is the landscape closest to everyone’s heart.

    Japanese people love onsen, ofuro and sentou and this passion has led to the creation of today’s “super sentou.” With a variety of facilities under one roof, super sentou quite literally go “beyond public baths.” Entrance fees are higher than for traditional public baths, but these leisure complexes built all over Japan allow visitors to enjoy stone saunas, games, movies, karaoke and meals, in addition to simply bathing.

    In recent years, bathing services, such as the “Hu No YU” scenic bathtub at CHUBU CENTRAIR International Airport (Aichi Prefecture), are being offered inside different businesses. Many travelers have healed their fatigue here. Hu No YU is on the fourth floor of the terminal building, so visitors can enjoy a view of airplanes and the sunset as they bathe. Stepping outside onto the deck, visitors can get a visceral experience as they hear the noise of the aircraft and feel the breeze on their skin.

    Other than the hot springs and sentou, which are facilities to be enjoyed outside the house, there are also products to enhance the bathing experience at home. For example, aroma candles that float inside the bathtub, waterproof radios, and bathing pillows. They are not items to wash the body with, but are items for enjoying and enriching bath time.

    Making bath time even more enjoyable, powders or liquids, that contain ingredients found in various onsen, are now popular. If you add these to your bathtub at home, you can enjoy an experience similar to that in an onsen, and because of this a wide variety of these are on the market. These are convenient because you can enjoy water from different onsen all over Japan every day without going to an actual hot spring.


    Bath salts /Utase-yu Photo: Rinnai Corporation


    Also there is a bathroom heater and dryer (a product that dries and warms the bathroom) with an “utase-yu” function. Utase-yu (hitting water) is a device that pours warm water over the person standing underneath producing a massaging effect. Mounting this machine on the ceiling allows you to enjoy the real utase-yu feeling in your own home.

    Although in many countries showering is a quick and simple way to wash the body, the Japanese like to submerge the entire body up to the shoulders. Soaking in a Japanese bath is also effective way to revive the body. In a Japanese bathtub you can slowly warm your body up in winter. Developed in accordance with the country’s unique climate and geography, bathing is an exceptional part of Japanese culture.

    CHUBU CENTRAIR International Airport

    Text: ITO Koichi



















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  • 日本の天皇の存在とその歴史

    [From December Issue 2012]


    In Japan, December 23 is the Emperor’s Birthday and a national holiday. On this day citizens can visit the Emperor at the Imperial Palace to give him their good wishes. The Emperor and royal family greet them from their balcony. The same ceremony takes place on January 2 to celebrate the New Year. At present the Emperor is well-liked by citizens in his symbolic role as the representative of the Japanese people.

    In Japan in addition to the Western calendar, there is a unique way of numbering years that reflects the period of the Emperor’s reign. This year is “Heisei 24.” This means that it has been 24 years since the current Emperor’s accession to the throne. Before “Heisei” was “Showa.” Before that was “Taisho” and the even further back was “Meiji.” Japan’s modernization started with the Meiji period, when the Emperor held the highest rank in the nation, with all citizens as his subjects.

    In the Showa era Japan had set its sights on becoming a military power and the Emperor was worshipped by the people as a god. After the Second World War, except for attending important national ceremonies and extending royal diplomacy, Emperors have not been involved in politics. However, the Emperor is still considered to be special and sacred. The media uses respectful language when they write articles about the Emperor. It is taboo to criticize the Emperor.

    This year marks the 1300th year since the “Kojiki” (the Record of Ancient Matters), which is believed to be the Japan’s oldest book, was created. The origins of Japan and its emperors, including Emperor Jinmu, who was regarded as Japan’s first Emperor, is described in the Kojiki. In the Kojiki the emperor is depicted as being the descendent of the gods, but many scholars believe that this was written by the rulers of that time to legitimize their own government, thus making it doubtful whether early emperors actually existed or not. However, it has been proved that the Emperor’s family bloodline can be traced back for more than 1500 years, giving it the longest lineage in the world.

    The next Emperor in line is the Crown Prince (the Emperor’s eldest son), but there has been some debate about who comes after that. The Crown Prince’s only child is a girl. His younger brother, Prince Akishinonomiya, has a boy. Japanese Emperors have traditionally been male, though some female Emperors existed in the distant past. Some people say that women should be allowed to become Emperor, but others feel strongly that only men should be Emperors.

    Emperors at Turning Points in Japanese History

    The 16th Emperor Nintoku

    In Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture, is the Daisen Burial Mound, one of the world’s largest tombs. This is said to be the mausoleum of fourth century Emperor Nintoku, who is known for improving the quality of life of his citizens with such policies as instigating a three year tax free period. However, it is a mystery why such huge tombs suddenly appeared in the ancient era.

    The 77th Emperor Goshirakawa

    In the 12th century Goshirakawa, with the support of the Heike and Genji samurai clans, was victorious in his battle to succeed as Emperor. By skillfully manipulating these two rising samurai powers, he struggled to maintain his rule as Emperor. This, however, was one of the biggest factors that lead to a feudal government replacing the aristocracy.

    The 122nd Emperor Meiji

    In the latter half of the 19th century, a revolution, to restore the Emperor to power in place of the shogun government, took place. As the first Emperor of the new government, Meiji became a symbol of Japan’s modernization. He was enshrined at Meiji Shrine, a sightseeing spot near Harajuku Station in Tokyo.









    第16代 仁徳天皇


    第77代 後白河天皇


    第122代 明治天皇


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  • 日本の和紙

    [From December Issue 2012]


    The tradition of Japanese Paper or washi (wa meaning Japanese and shi meaning paper) originated in China and was introduced to Japan through Buddhism. Paper making began during the Nara Period (8th century) and continued to develop gradually. But it is mostly during the Edo period (17 ~ 19th century) that Japanese paper became really popular, when it began to be sold all over Japan and new types of washi appeared. The production of paper became a part-time job during winter in farming villages.

    Washi is the general term used to describe handmade paper made with traditional Japanese techniques. One of the biggest differences in the production processes, compared to normal wood pulp paper, is that the process requires little or no chemicals. Most Japanese paper is made in winter when pure, cold running water, essential to the process, is abundantly available. The cold water inhibits the growth of bacteria that might spoil the paper. The result is a paper that usually is sturdier and more durable than normal paper.

    Washi is mostly made from the bark of gampi, mitsumata or kozo (paper mulberry) trees. Washi made from bamboo, hemp, rice, or wheat can also be found, but in smaller amounts and is mostly produced for specialized purposes.

    The kozo tree is indigenous to the south of Japan. As it is known for producing strong fibers, it has also been used to create textiles. Mitsumata is a type of bush native to China that has been used for papermaking in Japan since the 17th century. With its ivory color and fine surface it is especially suitable for making calligraphy paper, but was also used to make paper money during the Meiji period (19 ~ 20th century). The gampi tree is found in the mountains of Japan. Japanese paper made of gampi fibers is very rare and very expensive. Mainly used for books and artisanal crafts, it has a natural reddish cream color and a smooth, shiny surface.

    At the beginning of the production process branches are pruned, steamed, dried and stripped of their bark. The fibers are then boiled in water to remove starch, fat and tannin. Then it is rinsed in cold running water to remove any impurities. The remaining non-fibrous material is removed by hand. Wet balls of fiber are scooped onto a screen and shaken to distribute the fibers evenly. After drying the fibers, the washi is ready and it only needs to be sorted and cut.

    Echizen (present day eastern side of Fukui Prefecture) paper dates back to the 15th century and is named after the region that produces it. Echizen is one of the most famous regions for paper production and its papermaking tradition was recognized as a traditional Japanese craft in 1976. Often used to create Japanese style lanterns, umbrellas or shoji screens, Mino (present day Gifu Prefecture) paper was first mentioned in the 14th century and is famous for its durability.

    Ieda Paper Craft was established in 1889 in Mino City, Gifu Prefecture and now owned by the fourth generation of the IEDA family. They become well known for their “1/100” brand that combines paper craft with art. One of their most successful products is their paper snowflakes. The blurry borders of the Japanese paper are reminiscent of the structure of snow crystals, giving them a beautiful and realistic look. They are used as window decorations and, rather than having to use glue, will adhere to glass with just water. They can be removed and reused many times. Easy to use, ecological and safe for children, these paper snowflakes are the perfect decoration for the winter season.


    Text: Nicolas SOERGEL












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  • 現代の招き猫

    [From November Issue 2012]


    Figurines of ceramic cats are often displayed in Japanese stores. These cats sit with one paw, or both paws, raised to their ears. This engimono (talisman or lucky charm) is a “maneki neko” (literally a beckoning cat). The raised paw of the maneki neko resembles a gesture used by Japanese to beckon someone over. That is why the maneki neko is said to bring in customers and good fortune.

    Cats used to be kept in Japanese farming villages in order to prevent mice from spoiling the rice harvest. Furthermore, Japanese believe that animals can also become gods and even cats are worshipped in some shrines and temples. It’s thought that these customs are the origins of maneki neko. These days cute cats can become famous and a recent phenomenon is the sight of maneki neko promoting a locality or company.

    In Wakayama Prefecture, there is a cat who became a real life maneki neko for the local railway and the local community. The cat, owned by Wakayama Electric Railway, is named Tama, a common name for cats in Japan. Tama is the official station master of Kishi Station on the Kishigawa Line and is an executive board member of Wakayama Electric Railway. She has been given the title “Wakayama de Knight,” so she is now Lady Tama.

    Lady Tama was originally taken care of by the owner of a newsstand that stood adjacent to Kishi Station. When the Kishigawa Line changed hands, the owner of the newsstand asked the new president to, “Permit Tama to live in the station house since she will no longer have a place to live.” The moment the president met Tama face to face, he was able to imagine the cat being a station master. Moreover, it felt like Tama was saying to him, “I will be the station master, so please help me.” This is how Tama came to be appointed as the station master of Kishi Station, which had been up until then an unmanned train station.

    “Station Master Tama” was a big hit. The mass media covered the story and visitors turned up to see Tama, admiring the way she is so unfazed by humans and her beautiful calico coat. A university professor announced that the results of his research showed that, “Thanks to Tama, Wakayama Prefecture’s economy was boosted by 1.1 billion yen in one year.” Kishigawa Line had been running at a loss and was scheduled for closure, but was rescued by the cat it had rescued.

    “Tama is so popular now that not a day goes by without a tourist bus coming to see her,” says YAMAKI Yoshiko, a spokesperson. “Some people have found work after putting Tama merchandise in the entrance to their home and some come back to say thanks because they found love after meeting Tama.”

    Since Tama is in her twilight years, sometimes her subordinate Nitama helps out. Nitama has calico markings, just like Tama and was “hired” because of her easygoing character. She usually takes care of customers at Idakiso Station, but on Tama’s day off, she serves as “acting stationmaster.”

    There are other instances of cats becoming popular after being used as PR mascots. In order to boost their company profile, “Jalan,” a travel information website operated by Recruit Lifestyle Co., Ltd., adopted a cat named “Nyalan” as their company mascot. Commercials showing Nyalan going on a trip became so popular that DVDs were released. Nyalan has even started his own Twitter account.


    Recently, Nyalan has an apprentice and a commercial showing the two of them going on a trip together has been getting a lot of attention. This was the trigger for the number of his Twitter followers to reach over 40,000 in a month, making the Nyalan phenomenon topical as far away as China.

    “Nyalan currently has about 60,000 followers on his Twitter account. You can get a sense of just how popular Nyalan is by looking at the number of comments and retweets made by his followers,” says MIYASHITA Maiko, a member of the editorial department. “The first DVD was very well-received, so we are planning a second one.”

    Cats from Tashiro Island are contributing towards the restoration effort after the Tohoku Earthquake. Located in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, about 70 people live on this 3.14 square kilometer island. In rural areas and isolated islands in Japan, aging and depopulation is a big worry, Tashiro Island is no exception. The island’s main industry is fishing, especially net fishing and oyster farming, but with an elderly population of around 80%, the island was in need of revitalization.

    To the surprise of the Tashiro islanders, the past few years has brought an increase in the number of camera toting tourists. Because the island has a tradition of respecting cats it has a neko jinja, or cat shrine, where cats are worshipped, and the fishermen have a habit of feeding fish unfit for sale to the cats. As a result, the cat population soared and the media picked up the story of “the island with a larger population of cats than humans,” bringing cat enthusiasts to the island.


    There were some residents who disliked the tourists’ lack of manners. But a few saw an opportunity to revitalize the island with the help of these cats. In an effort to encourage tourism, they did things like putting up cat-shaped signs. However, just as they were getting started, the island was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake that hit on March 11, 2011.

    The oyster farm was completely destroyed by the tsunami. As the area of devastation was so wide, central and local government was unable to decide where to allocate funds for relief. So the islanders proceeded to collect funds for the restoration themselves. They launched “Nyanko The Project,” an investment fund which pays investors a return in oysters after a few years.

    The word “nyanko” means cat. Taking into account the concerns people had about the safety of the cats, they widened the remit of the project to include using some of the money to care for the cats. Investors would also receive cat themed items. In just three months, the project reached its target of 150 million yen. Because they’d collected so much money so fast, they quickly had to stop taking donations.

    “Last March, we registered the project as a corporation. After we repair the oyster farms using the financial aid, if all goes well we will be able to ship oysters to our supporters as early as next year. We are also rebuilding the public restroom which was washed away,” says Chairman, OGATA Chikao. PR spokesperson, HAMA Yutaka says, “Cats in Tashiro-jima are thought to be guardian deities that bring fishermen in a good catch. They are like members of the family.”

    Meiji era novelist, NATSUME Soseki became famous after writing “I am a Cat,” a book based on his pet cat. It is said that an elderly lady in the neighborhood told the novelist that, “This cat will bring you good fortune.” To the Japanese, cats are a cute and lucky animal.

    Wakayama Electric Railway Co., Ltd.
    Nyanko the Project

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo






















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