• ドライブに便利な「道の駅」

    [From November Issue 2012]


    The refreshing snap in the air and unbroken days of clear skies, makes autumn the perfect season for excursions. When it comes to getting to tourist destinations, each mode of transport has its strong points: airplanes are convenient for reaching far off places, trains allow you to enjoy the gradual change in scenery and buses can efficiently ferry you around different sites. But if you want the freedom to travel to places at a time that suits you, a car is the best option. For such car users, “michi no eki,” or road stations, are very useful.

    Michi no eki are free facilities built along national or major roads. Visitors can stop by for a break from driving and enjoy doing some shopping. Shopping and resting facilities on Japanese highways are called service areas or parking areas. But until michi no eki were built, easily accessible rest stops for drivers taking main roads, like national routes, were nonexistent.

    Since michi no eki were first given a trial run in Yamaguchi, Gifu and Tochigi Prefectures in 1991, the idea has taken off, and now there are 996 michi no eki in locations all over Japan. The increase in the number of michi no ekihas brought a corresponding increase in the number of customers; approximately 40% in the last decade. At some michi no eki stops, there are even museums, art galleries, hot spring baths and restaurants that serve up dishes made with local ingredients. In this way michi no eki differ from the facilities available on highways as the stations themselves can be enjoyed as tourist destinations.

    For example, “Den Park Anjo” located in Anjo City, Aichi Prefecture is located in the parking lot adjacent to “Anjo Denpark” – a theme park which opened in 1997 that is also known as “Anjo Sangyo Bunka Koen.” KITAGAWA Tsuyoshi, the PR representative for the theme park says, “Because of its sophisticated agricultural industry, Anjo City was formerly compared to the agriculturally advanced country of Denmark, and that’s why we offer interactive zones and gourmet dishes made from our bountiful harvests.”

    Kitagawa says, “The park has 300,000 plants from 3,300 species. We pay close attention to the cultivation and landscaping of our plants, so that visitors can enjoy beautiful flower beds and flower shows any time of the year.” Visitors to the park have commented that, “I’m happy because it’s a place the whole family can enjoy: not only are there seasonal blooms, but you also savor hand-made sausages and local beers.”

    With their spacious parking lots and bathroom facilities open to the public 24 hours a day, michi no eki have also came under the spotlight as disaster prevention centers. In reality, during the Great East Japan Earthquake last year, michi no eki in nearby areas were used as operations bases by the self-defense forces and as evacuation areas. There’s been a recent movement towards equipping michi no eki with emergency rations and power generators.

    Since michi no eki are operated by local townships, each facility is unique. But one thing you will find at all these facilities is a souvenir stamp pad. Many of these road stations also have pamphlets in English, so if you stop by a nearby “station,” you will be able to enjoy both driving and Japanese culture at the same time.

    Michi no Eki (Road Station)
    Den Park Anjo

    Text: ITO Koichi












    Read More
  • 解決が見えない尖閣諸島紛争

    [From November Issue 2012]


    This September the Japanese government purchased territory on the Senkaku Islands – which it regards as being part of Japan – from a private Japanese owner, placing the area under state control. China strongly objected to Japan claiming the Senkaku Islands as its own territory and sent several patrol ships to the area. Violent anti-Japanese demonstrations took place all over China. In contrast, Japan has remained calm and there has hardly been any harassment of, or violence towards, Chinese residents in Japan.

    After making sure that the Senkaku Islands hadn’t been claimed by any other nation, Japan listed the Senkaku Islands as part of Okinawa Prefecture in 1895. It’s now an uninhabited island, but there was once a dried bonito factory there and more than 200 Japanese inhabitants. In San Francisco in 1951 Japan entered into a peace treaty with the allied nations, officially bringing the war to a close. In the treaty, the Senkaku Islands were not included in the list of territory Japan surrendered.

    On the Chinese side the Diaoyu Islands (China’s name for the Senkaku Islands) first appeared in a document from the Ming period (14~17 century). They claim that China did not participate in the San Francisco treaty and that Japan illegally stole the islands during the First Sino-Japanese War. China began insisting that the islands were part of Chinese territory in the 1970s after the UN reported that the waters around the Senkaku Islands were potentially rich in oil reserves.

    In China the gap between the rich and poor has widened and the frustration of the populace has risen. It is said that the Chinese government is making a show of taking a tough stance, and demonstrators have become angry mobs. In order to let the Chinese people vent their frustrations, the Chinese government hasn’t called a halt to the demonstrations. However, images of violent demonstrators were broadcast all over the world, reaffirming China’s image as a reactionary country.

    Japan has been carefully monitoring the situation, but some people criticize the government’s attitude as being too weak. If the Chinese military intervenes in this issue, it will develop into a serious situation involving the USA. Japan and America are bound together by the US-Japan security treaty and the Senkaku Islands are part of Okinawa Prefecture, where the most important American military bases are located in the Far East. The US State Department has stated that the Senkaku Islands are covered by the security treaty.

    The 40 Anniversary of Normalization between Japan and China

    This year marks the 40th year since Japan-China Joint Communique of 1972. In the communique the following sentence states that both sides will: “Settle all disputes by peaceful means, without recourse to the use or threat of force.”

    Six years later in August 1978, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China was signed by Prime Minister FUKUDA Takeo. In the same year October, Chinese Vice Premier Deng XIAOPING visited Japan and said, referring to the issue of the Senkaku Islands, “It does not matter if this question is shelved for some time, say, ten years. Our generation is not wise enough to find common language on this question. Our next generation will certainly be wiser. They will certainly find a solution acceptable to all.”

    Now Japan and China have strong economic ties. In 2011 trade between Japan and China is so big that it accounted for 23.3% of “world trade.” China is Japan’s most important trading partner and Japan is China’s third most important trading partner. With more than 22,000 Japanese companies operating in China employing ten million Chinese, Japan is the number one investor in China. If both countries enter into a conflict, both will lose out.









    今年、1972年の日中共同声明から40周年を迎えました。共同声明にはこんな一文が含まれています -- 日本国及び中国が、相互の関係において、すべての紛争を平和的手段により解決し、武力又は武力による威嚇に訴えないことを確認する。



    Read More
  • 日本の線香

    [From November Issue 2012]


    About 70% of Japanese incense is made on Awaji-shima, an island in Hyougo Prefecture. In 1850 Awaji City Port opened up to traders from overseas, so that materials used for the production of incense could be imported. The steady westerly wind blowing over the island also proved to be useful for drying incense. Over time, incense from Awaji-shima became renowned throughout Japan and many famous brands still produce their incense on Awaji-shima.

    High quality incense is made entirely from natural ingredients, such as the very best herbs, spices, resins and aromatic woods. Sandalwoods and agar with their high density of resin are most commonly used. Highly skilled incense masters carefully blend these ingredients, creating a broad range of fragrances of different styles.

    Incense comes in various shapes. Incense sticks are best known in Western countries but incense cones and spirals are also widely used. Temples and shrines use a lot of incense, as do many traditional Japanese inns, where it’s used to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

    The best way to appreciate incense is to “listen” to the fragrance using a technique described in “Ko-do” (the way of incense). Similar to the tea ceremony, there are two schools of incense: the Oie and the Shino schools, who have practiced the art of enjoying incense for five centuries.

    Many famous incense brands started out in Kyoto. TANAKA Hajime, the founder of Shofuan, was inspired by the changing scents he perceived when walking through the streets of Kyoto at different times of the year. He then decided to create an incense series that would recreate the atmosphere of Kyoto month-by-month, season-by-season. The result is a wonderful series of 12 different fragrances. January’s incense is called Hatsukama, its name referring to a tea ceremony performed to welcome in the New Year. June’s incense is called Hotaru Kari (firefly hunting) and refers to events that can be seen during the summer.

    Before devoting himself to the world of incense Tanaka was a producer of kimono and obi (kimono belts). With his deep knowledge of kimono cloth and patterns Tanaka has also developed unique packaging for his incense. The sticks are stored inside a paulownia wood box, which is wrapped in Japanese paper. The patterns on the boxes reflect the month the fragrance represents and feature motifs such as sakura or temari thread balls.

    With his creations of timeless beauty Tanaka not only wants to preserve the culture of Japanese incense, but also intends to pass it on to the next generation of young Japanese, as well as to people all over the world.


    Text: Nicolas SOERGEL












    Read More
  • マスメディアからパーソナルへ変化する日本のメディア

    [From October Issue 2012]


    Mass media began with the invention of the printing press in the middle of the 15th Century. Until recently it had a vital part to play in human history. However, in modern day Japan, a phenomenon is occurring where people are distancing themselves from “mass media” such as TV, newspapers and magazines.

    This tendency is stronger in the younger generation, and according to the results of the Japanese Time Use Survey conducted in October 2010 by NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, the time men and women in their teens to 30s spend viewing TV each day has decreased during the 15 years between 1995 and 2010.

    Furthermore, the survey results show that the younger the age group, the fewer the hours they spend watching TV. The average viewing hours calculated according to age group on Sundays, show that the average teen watches around two hours and 37 minutes, whereas the average person in their 70’s watches around five hours and 32 minutes. This means that there is a difference of approximately three viewing hours between the younger and older generations.

    The overall national average has been almost the same for 15 years, this is the result of senior citizens spending long periods of time watching TV. Data shows that the younger generation is watching less television, so it can be inferred that the average national viewing hours may eventually take a downturn in the future.


    Meanwhile, newspaper circulation in Japan continues to decrease. According to research data from The Japan Newspaper Publishers and Editors Association, from 2000 to 2011 over 5,300,000 fewer copies are being printed daily, a decline of approximately 10%. The magazine industry is in an even tougher spot. According to an independent organization called Japan Audit Bureau of Circulations, in the past five years, it was not unusual for sales of some magazines to sharply drop by more than 20%. Many magazines have gone out of print.

    The Internet has drawn many people away from mass media. Towards the end of the 1990s, websites began to pop up and now some wield as much power as existing forms of mass media. According to a White Paper on Information and Communications in Japan by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, Internet use by private individuals grew from 9.2% to 78.2% in the period between 1997 and 2010.

    Net media took a very important role during the Great East Japan Earthquake, and it accelerated this trend. For 24 hours, a freelance journalist streamed online an unedited version of Tokyo Electric’s press conference regarding the accident at Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. The net media, which is able to report directly on the spot, was in the spotlight.

    Ustream was the video streaming service provider which was used to relay the press conference mentioned previously. Anyone with access to an Internet connection and a video camera can upload and stream videos for free. You don’t even need to have a camera connected up to a computer; videos can be streamed to the world by using iPhone or Android smartphones.


    Ustream’s website


    NAKAGAKI Naoyuki, a spokesman for Ustream Asia, says, “Around the time the Great East Japan Earthquake disaster unfolded, special reports and the unedited version of the Tokyo Electric press conference were shown, and this was the trigger for Ustream to reach a wider audience. But we weren’t the ones distributing this as media. All we did was to provide a platform for others to stream their videos.”

    “After we established our service in Japan, we continued to improve our service for the Japanese people by cooperating with Twitter, Facebook and mixi. Now we are expanding all over the country with our 30 Ustream Studios; a project that advances our business by providing facilities for users who do not have streaming equipment or suitable premises. We hope there will be further practical applications for official use, such as the transmission of local information or broadcasts from the Diet,” says Nakagaki.

    The largest video sharing service provider established in Japan is niconico (previously known as Niko Niko Douga). Users need to sign up in order to view or stream videos, but this website has a unique feature in which comments by viewers appear on the video. Recently, there was a huge buzz about a live broadcast of OZAWA Ichiro (“the People’s Life First Party” leader), answering questions.

    SUGIMOTO Seiji, the President of niwango, inc., which operates niconico says, “We tried out various methods for sharing information and impressions. Having comments appear onscreen is the most effective and instinctive way to connect with viewers. I feel our site functions as a way for users to ‘express their thoughts’ without putting up their own content or streaming images.

    “niconico itself is not media. Rather it is a place provided exclusively for users to upload, receive and share information with each other. Each user essentially becomes the media themselves because they are a channel through which information flows. All we try to provide to our users is a basic and stress-free service,” says Sugimoto.

    The great earthquake caused serious damage. However, it is also a fact that this earthquake has brought about a huge change in the negative perceptions of Internet media. Suitable for accumulation and diffusion of information, the Internet is about to be recognized widely as a new form of media. Each individual is both the distributor and the recipient of this media – in other words, we ourselves are the media.

    NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute
    Ustream Asia
    niwango inc.

    Text: HATTA Emiko











    Ustream Asiaの広報担当、中垣直之さんは話します。「東日本大震災が発生した当時、報道特別番組、そして東京電力の記者会見がノーカットで配信されたことは、Ustreamが広く認知されるきっかけになりました。でもこれは私達がメディアとして発信したのではありません。あくまで動画配信のためのプラットフォームを提供しているだけです」。

    「日本でのサービス開始当初から、TwitterやFacebook、mixiと連携し、日本人向けサービスの充実を心がけてきました。現在は全国30ヵ所に展開しているUstream Studioを拡大して、配信用機材をもっていないユーザーに設備と場所を提供する事業を進めています。地域情報の発信や、議会中継といった行政による活用も増やしていただきたいです」と中垣さん。





    Ustream Asia株式会社


    Read More
  • イチローのヤンキース移籍と野球のルール

    [From October Issue 2012]


    This July Ichiro, the Japanese star player for the Seattle Mariners, was suddenly traded to the New York Yankees. Baseball evolved in the USA, but, together with soccer, it is the most popular sport in Japan. So this news surprised Japanese.

    Ichiro won seven consecutive batting titles in professional Japanese baseball. After moving to the Seattle Mariners, he did extremely well, scoring 200 hits a season for ten consecutive years, a record number in the history of major league baseball. He hasn’t been on top form these past couple of years, but is still a big star in the major league. Besides Ichiro, a few other Japanese players, such as pitcher DARVISH Yu, who joined the Texas Rangers this year, are doing well.

    In Professional Japanese baseball there is the Central League and the Pacific League with six teams in each league. From around April to around October there are 144 matches in both leagues; the winning team becomes the league champion. Besides that the top three teams in each league compete against each other in a separate round of matches (the Climax Series) and the winner from each league qualifies for the Japan Series. The team that wins four games out of seven games in the series becomes the Japan Series Champion.

    In Japanese baseball the Central League, in particular the Yomiuri Giants, has been popular for a long time. Thanks to superstar players NAGASHIMA Shigeo and OH Sadaharu, the Giants once won the Japan Series nine consecutive years in a row. However, in recent years the teams are more evenly matched and the franchise system has been widely accepted, so that each team enjoys its own popularity.

    Baseball is enjoyed by both children and adults. Come spring and summer, NHK broadcasts the National High School Baseball Championships and the whole nation gets caught up in the excitement. In addition to this, baseball matches between universities or cities are also held. The standard of Japanese baseball is high; in the World Baseball Classic held once every four years, Japan has won twice in a row.

    Baseball rules

    Baseball fields are fan shaped. The outfield zone is covered with turf and the infield zone bare dirt, which marks out a square shape with a base placed at each corner. Nine players in a team are selected for a match. Teams play offence and defense nine times each and the team scoring the most amount of points wins. For offence, players go up to the batting box and hit the ball the pitcher throws.

    If a player hits a ball that cannot be caught by the defense, it becomes a “hit” and that player goes to first base. If the ball is hit well, players can advance to second or third base. Points are scored when a player returns to home base. Points are also scored if the ball goes over the fence into the spectator’s stand and becomes a home run. If the ball is a “grounder” (the batted ball rolls or bounces along the ground) the player runs to first base. If the player can reach the base before a defensive fielder can arrive there with the ball, this constitutes a hit and the player is able to stay at first base.

    Offence play continues till three players are out. When the batted ball goes out of the field, the player takes his turn again. When the pitcher’s balls do not fly over the home base four times, the batter walks to the first base. If the batter doesn’t take a swing at balls passing over the strike zone, or fails to connect with the ball even if he swings three times, he is out.












    Read More
  • 虫に親しむ日本の文化

    [From September Issue 2012]


    Insects are very close to the hearts of Japanese because they are living creatures that allow people to sense the changes in seasons. For example in summer, TV programs use the noise and image of cicadas to convey the heat of the summer sun. Travel agencies offer tours to go and see fireflies, or opportunities to take part in contests to photograph fireflies. In autumn, many people listen to the autumnal cries of the insects and go into raptures over its beauty or feel a surge of sadness because they sense that winter is around the corner.

    Insects are also popular models for cartoon characters. Photos of insects are printed on stationary designed for children, and adorable looking insects sing songs on television programs for kids. Insects are not only for children. Dragonflies and butterflies are used in traditional patterns for kimono and furoshiki (cloth used for wrapping), and some kamon (family crests) use insects as a motif.

    Why are Japanese people so fond of insects? This is because children living in Japan have many opportunities to interact with insects when they are young. Catching and taking care of insects is thought to be a normal form of play for children. Many adults, especially women, are not very fond of insects, so during an event featuring insects, you can see ecstatic children besides horrified mothers.

    Facilities related to insects have been built in tourist resorts. Typically specimens of foreign and unusual insects are on display at these facilities. Insects are also sold as pets and visitors are allowed to play with insects. Some facilities are run by insect lovers, and others are set up in amusement parks to attract families.

    Some insect facilities are established by municipal governments. In rural areas, kasoka (depopulation) is a major problem, so these local governments are active in machi-okoshi (projects to economically develop the area). A few local authorities make the best of the bounty of their natural environment by using bell crickets, fireflies and giant purple butterflies called oomurasaki, to revitalize their towns.

    “Kabutomushi Shizen Oukoku: Kodomo-no Kuni Mushi Mushi Land” located in Tamura City, Fukushima Prefecture is an example of this kind of machi-okoshi project. This area is a farming district, and its soft soil is the perfect environment for rhinoceros beetles to lay their eggs. This is a nuisance to local farmers, but even so, there were many people in Tokyo who wanted to see these larvae. And so with the idea in mind that the rhinoceros beetle could be the key to reviving the town, Mushi Mushi Land was established. Not only can visitors stay overnight and play on giant playground equipment, they can also interact with plenty of rhinoceros beetles in their natural environment.

    “At the end of March each year, we purchase a hundred thousand rhinoceros beetle larvae from the local farms,” says the Manager of Tamura City Tokiwa Public Corporation, YOSHIDA Yoshinori. “Then we take each larva, check for infections and remove tiny parasites by hand. Once they are grown, we gather the beetles and let them roam free in the park grounds or sell them to visitors.”

    “In a single night we may have upwards of 1,000 grubs hatching into beetles, and since rhinoceros beetles only live for around two weeks, it is a very demanding job to take care of them so that they can live as long as possible,” says Yoshida. “Children who love insects will watch them for hours, so we’re not too popular with the mothers,” he laughs.

    “Breeding rhinoceros beetles teaches children that some larva will not hatch into beetles, no matter how much effort they put into it. And so through the experience of the death of the insect they learn about life spans,” Yoshida says. “We also teach the children that, thanks to the bounty of nature rhinoceros beetles can thrive and that we shouldn’t spoil such an environment. We are sometimes asked to visit elementary schools to teach lessons too.”

    People don’t only breed insects in order to enjoy them as pets. There is also a type of competition called kabutomushi sumo (rhinoceros beetle wrestling). Using the beetle’s natural instinct to fight for food or a female mate, beetle owners raise their beetles to fight against an opponent’s beetle to see which is stronger. In the summer this kind of competition is held all over Japan. There is also stag beetle sumo and sumo that pits beetles of different breeds against each other; enthusiasts will stop at nothing to raise the strongest beetles.

    Though strictly speaking, they are not insects, there is also a competition in which spiders fight each other. In Kajiki Town, Kagoshima Prefecture, there is an event called “Kumo Gassen” (Spider Battle) which is said to be a tradition that started over 400 years ago, and has been designated as an intangible national cultural asset. The town’s young and old gather together to battle their prized spiders against each other – which have been raised by feeding them shouchuu (an alcoholic beverage) and the like.

    In this way, raising insects is a common hobby in Japan. Popular insects, such as rhinoceros beetles, stag beetles, and bell crickets, can even be purchased at supermarkets. There are a wide variety of products for insect rearing. Jellies to feed insects with are as colorful as sweets eaten by humans and come in a variety of flavors like melon and grape. To maintain the health of your insect, sterilized twigs and tick brushes are sold.

    “I think for Japanese, breeding insects can be equated with growing flowers,” says TSUBOUCHI Toshiharu, representative of Dorcus Dake a shop devoted to stag and rhinoceros beetles. “Just as the seedlings of a flower grows from a seed and the flower blooms, insects begin as a small egg that grows into a larva, pupa and finally into an adult. This process can be enjoyed.”

    Raising insects used to be thought of as child’s play, but about 20 years ago, the numbers of adults raising insects began to increase. As a result, rare and foreign insects are traded for high figures that reach tens or hundreds of thousands of yen, and high quality feed has also been developed. There are even insect breeders who aim to breed bigger or more beautifully colored or shaped insects by obsessing over blood lines and country of origin.

    “Since it’s not only professionals, but also the general public who’ve stared to rear insects, guidelines for breeding techniques have been established and with this the development of innovative products has been continuing. Once one person has made their mark, it sets the bar higher for others and this means that Japanese breeding techniques have reached a very high standard. Insects that became rare in their country of origin are sometimes being carefully bred in great numbers here in Japan. So we are also contributing to the preservation of insects,” says Tsubouchi.

    In the classic novel “Genji Monogatari” (The Tale of Genji) which was written approximately 1,000 years ago, characters are portrayed raising insects in order to enjoy their singing. Also, in haiku, the names of insects are included to reflect the seasons. Japanese have been fond of insects for a very long time.

    Club Tourism Co., Ltd.
    Kabutomushi Shizen Oukoku: Kodomo-no Kuni Mushi Mushi Land
    Dorcus Danke

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo




















    Read More
  • まんが文化の発信基地、まんが図書館

    [From September Issue 2012]


    Manga libraries are libraries that specialize in handling comic books. In Tokyo, there is the Contemporary Manga Library, which has been going for more than 30 years, and the Yoshihiro Yonezawa Memorial Library, which specializes in manga and subculture. Elsewhere, there is the Hiroshima City Manga Library, the Ryugasaki City Urban Renewal Center (Main) in Ibaraki Prefecture and in Fukushima, a lending library (Aomushi) that specializes in Showa-era manga.

    The appeal of manga libraries is that besides new titles, volumes that are hard to get hold of, as well as valuable issues, are available to be read. Popular collections include manga that are no longer available to buy in the stores and back issues of manga magazines. Some users let out a cry of joy when they come across a volume that they have long been searching for, or a comic strip that has been serialized in a magazine, but never published in book form.

    The Contemporary Manga Library was opened in 1978 with the private collection of NAIKI Toshio. They now have about 180,000 volumes of manga; the biggest private collection in Japan. They not only have books, but also many back issues of manga magazines, so that users can look up material going back 40 years.

    “It seems that we are the first to establish a manga library based on a private collection. Since we had also been operating a book rental store from that time, our collection of works from the 70s onwards is pretty comprehensive. As we buy in new titles and are given free copies by publishing companies, it’s getting hard to find room for our growing collection. We even get customers from overseas who have come to study Japanese culture,” says staff member NAIKI Yuuko.

    Hiroshima City Manga Library is the only public manga library in Japan. A special feature of the library is the “Hiroshima Corner,” an area that gathers together and introduces manga written by artists from the city and works that are related to the city. They also have a collection of old books and reprints that reflect the history and roots of manga in Japanese culture.

    OKAMOTO Mio, the library’s PR manager, says, “We offer a service to users from outside the prefecture and from other countries that allows them to borrow up to five books a day even without a membership card. In order to provide a deeper understanding of manga culture, we offer lectures about manga history and lessons in manga illustration.”

    Japan is actively engaging in activities to promote the manga culture that it is so proud of. Kyoto International Manga Museum is a joint collaboration between Kyoto Seika University, which has a manga department, and Kyoto City. In addition, on August 3, the Kitakyushu City Manga Museum is being opened as a center to promote manga culture. As the collection and study of manga works progresses, surely manga culture will become even more enriched.

    Contemporary Manga Library
    Hiroshima City Manga Library

    Text: HATTA Emiko












    Read More
  • 外国人力士の活躍と相撲の仕組み

    [From September Issue 2012]


    At this July’s sumo tournament (basho), ozeki (champion) Mongolian wrestler, Harumafuji won the tournament for his third time. If he wins the tournament in September, he will be assured of a promotion to the highest rank of yokozuna, or grand champion. Sumo is said to be Japan’s national sport, but in fact, over the past ten years, 55 tournaments out of 60 were won by wrestlers (rikishi) from foreign countries. Of these victories, the majority were won by former yokozuna Asashoryu and reigning yokozuna Hakuho. Both men come from Mongolia.

    Having won 25 tournaments, Asashoryu holds the third most tournament victories, after Taihou’s 32 and Chiyofuji’s 31. Kitanoumi, who has 24 victories, comes in fourth place. With 22 wins, Hakuho shares fifth place with Takanohana. Currently Hakuho is the only person holding the title of yokozuna. At the next rank down of ozeki there are six rikishi, but only two of these – Kotoshogiku and Kisenosato – are Japanese. The rest are Harumafuji and Kakuryu from Mongolia, Baruto from Estonia and Kotooshu from Bulgaria.

    The ranking below ozeki is sekiwake, followed by komusubi and maegashira. Those rikishi holding these ranks fight in the makuuchi which is the top division in sumo; roughly equivalent to the first division in football. Juuryou is the second division. Below juuryou is makushita, followed by sandanme, jonidan and jonokuchi. At juuryou and above, rikishi are called sekitori, and are considered to be fully developed.

    For the shikona, which is the name wresters use in the ring, it’s popular to use the name of the ocean, mountain or river of their place of birth or the shikona of their stable master (oyakata). For instance, Baruto’s name was derived from the Japanese name for the Baltic Sea, which borders his native Estonia. The “koto” in Kotooshu’s name is derived from his stable master’s name, while “oushuu” refers to Europe, where his native Bulgaria is located.

    In sumo there are many ceremonies and unique traditions. Rikishi wear their hair in samurai style called mage. Rikishi wear only a loincloth, but before makuuchi bouts begin they appear before spectators wearing a ceremonial apron. Yokozuna perform a ring-entering ceremony called dohyou-iri. At the end of a day of sumo bouts, a bow twirling ceremony called yumitori-shiki is performed. NHK broadcasts every sumo tournament nationwide on TV and radio.

    How is the Tournament Champion Chosen?

    Rikishi are generally large men, but they can differ in weight. Despite this, they don’t fight in weight categories. In exciting matches sponsors offer prize money to winners. Rikishi enter the ring (dohyou) when called by the yobidashi (usher), then scatter salt to purify the dohyou. Before the fight begins, a ceremony called “shikiri” (warming up) is carried out to boost the confidence of the rikishi.

    Bouts are won by pushing an opponent out of the 4.55 meter wide dohyo, or by making the opponent touch the ground with another part of his body. Usually a bout is over in few seconds. The referee (gyoji) in kimono raises his fan to the winner. If the result is controversial, five judges sitting beneath the ring choose the winner by checking video footage and conferring amongst themselves. There 82 ways to win a fight.

    Sumo tournaments are held six times a year. One tournament lasts 15 days and each day rikishi fight against a different opponent. The champion is the one with the highest number of wins over the 15 days. Besides the winner, three prizes for outstanding achievement are given to those of sekiwake rank and below. They are the Shukunshou (Outstanding Performance Award) given to those who managed to defeat a yokozuna or ozeki, the Kantoushou given to those who did well and displayed fighting spirit, and the Ginoushou for excellent technique. The rank (banzuke) of wrestlers is set depending on the result of the tournament.












    Read More
  • 天然のよい香りのする日本のキャンドル

    [From October Issue 2012]

    Whereas Western-style candles are usually made from paraffin, Japanese traditional candles are made of wax extracted from the berries of the hazenoki (rhus) tree. The wick is made of Japanese paper.

    As the materials used are derived from plants, the smoke produced by Japanese candles is less oily and the melting candles give off a natural, pleasant scent. Unlike Western candles that use strings as wicks, the Japanese candle produces a large, bright flame that is not easily extinguished. Real aficionados of Japanese candles use special scissors to trim the wick while it is burning in order to maintain a perfectly shaped flame.

    Candles with the typical “ikari” shape are narrow at the bottom and flare out at the top. Traditional Japanese candles are made of red or white wax. They are often used in temples, shrines and at festivals. These candles are often found in Japanese households and hand-painted candles are growing in popularity both in domestically and abroad. Flowers or Chinese Zodiac symbols are popular motifs. These can be colorful or drawn with black Japanese ink.

    As ash from the wax adheres to the surface, natural Japanese candles lose their sheen over time. In the case of red or white candles this gives the candle a beautiful matte finish. Colored ones can simply be rubbed with a cloth to restore their sheen. Industrially-produced Japanese candles have been treated with chemicals so that they always look shiny, but lack this natural beauty.

    Japanese candles are most beautiful on a traditional cast-iron stand. The dark black iron creates a nice contrast against the red or white color of the candle.

    Japanese candles have a long history. The first candles to be introduced to Japan were made from beeswax and came over to Japan from China in the Nara Period (8th century). Production of Japanese-style candles increased and peaked during the Edo Period (17~19 century). Nowadays there are only a few artisans that produce handmade Japanese-style candles.

    Matsui Candle Atelier was established in the Meiji Period (19~20 century), and MATSUI Noriaki is the third generation owner. His daughter Hihiro creates the paintings on the candles. Mr. Matsui learned how to make candles from his father. In order to stay true to the tradition of candle making, he makes sure that he sources organic materials that are free from chemicals. His passion for creating candles with a perfect flame even led to a joint research project with Nagoya University.


    Text: Nicolas SOERGEL











    Read More
  • 鹿革と漆の出合い

    [From September Issue 2012]


    Yamanashi Prefecture is well known for its mountains and woods, and for being home to a large population of deer. It is also the home of koshu inden – a Japanese craft with 400 years of history that uses deerskin to make soft, durable parts for samurai armor, or everyday objects like bags.

    To make koshu inden, deerskin is first dyed and then smoked over a straw fire until the leather has a natural bright yellowish hue. The leather is then colored with Japanese lacquer, with foundation colors typically being black, red or blue. Over this background, decorative patterns are then applied.

    Traditional patterns are typically inspired by nature. Fireflies, tortoise shells, waves and various flowers have been popular decorative motifs for many years. Some patterns are more suitable for men, whereas other patterns are more popular amongst women.

    The craft’s name, inden, refers to India, where some of these leather dying and coloring techniques originated. It takes many weeks to make a piece of inden. Each layer of lacquer needs to dry and harden and each step in the process must be done by hand by skilled artisans.

    Contemporary inden products include purses, wallets, bags and key holders, which come in a wide range of designs and color combinations. Recently inden leather craft has been combined with other crafts and is applied to glass or wood as a decorative touch.

    The most prominent maker of inden is Inden-ya Uehara Yushichi Co., Ltd. Located in Kofu City, Yamanashi, the company was established in 1582 and is now run by the 13th descendent of the Uehara family. The quality of their handmade leather goods and the patterns and color combinations of Inden-ya make each product easily distinguishable from other producers of inden.

    Over time Inden-ya Uehara Yushichi has come up with a few secret techniques to give the leather a specially hardened coat of lacquer. In recent years some of these techniques were disclosed to other craftsmen in order to allow the craft of inden to prosper and grow.

    Recently Inden-ya Uehara Yushichi is making inroads abroad with the opening of the first overseas showroom in New York and many foreigners now appreciate the beauty of this craft. Inden-ya products are not only beautiful, but last for many years and are an ideal gift for your friends in Japan and abroad.


    Text: Nicolas SOERGEL








    最も有名な印伝メーカーは株式会社印傳屋 上原勇七です。山梨県甲府市にあり、1582年の創業で現在は上原家13代目が経営しています。手づくりの革製品や模様、色の組み合わせでつくられた印傳屋の製品は、他社のものとの質の違いが一目でわかります。





    Read More