• 水田に浮かび上がる巨大な絵、田んぼアート

    [From August Issue 2010]

    “Rice Paddy Art” has become popular. More recently, these events are being held in rice paddies across Japan. Rice is Japan’s staple food and grows in paddies filled with water, called “tanbo.” Rice is planted (taue) in early summer and harvested in the fall. Tanbo art uses rice paddies as giant canvases where planted rice becomes giant artwork around August.

    The village where this artistry started, Inakadate-mura, Aomori Prefecture, is celebrating their event’s 18th anniversary. Initially, they used three different colored varieties of rice to create artwork of Iwaki Mountain with the phrase “Village of Rice Culture: Inakadate” in a rice paddy 54 meters long by 47 meters wide. Since then, they have increased the canvas size while also attempting more difficult artwork, such as Leonardo da VINCI’s “Mona Lisa” and KATSUSHIKA Hokusai’s “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.” This year, they have planted rice of five different colored varieties in a huge rice paddy 143 meters long by 104 meters wide. This summer, artwork resembling “Ushiwaka and his subordinate Benkei.” (famous historical figures) is expected to appear.

    Started in 2008, the tanbo art of Gyoda City, Saitama Prefecture, is the largest in scale in the Kanto Region. The rice paddies located in the east side of “Kodaihasu no Sato” (Lotus Garden) is almost as big as the one in Inakadate-mura, which measures close to the size of the Tokyo Dome’s playing field. Four hundred and thirty-three people participated in “the Tanbo Art Rice-planting Experience Event,” which this year was held on June 6th.

    Rice-planting usually starts at 10 in the morning and takes about two hours. The participants line up next to each other and plant rice by hand. In the paddies, string is used to mark 30-centimeter lengths. Then the participants move backwards from the center to the outside, following the string. Usually, one person plants one meter’s worth of rice.

    This year’s pictures will include “NARITA Nagachika” (Nobou-sama) and “Oshijo” (castle), from the historical novel “Nobou’s Castle,” set in Gyoda City. The picture of Oshijo was designed by AOYAGI Kinichi, from Kawagoe City, Saitama Prefecture, who submitted it for consideration. The artwork, which is expected to appear in early August, will be visible from the park observatory. The first rice harvest is planned for October 16.

    MURATA Kiyoharu, of Gyodo City’s Environmental Economic Department of Agricultural Administration, says, “It is our wish that many people will experience traditional rice-planting by hand.” The city is also interested in offering the experience to non-Japanese as an international exchange. The “Tanbo Art Rice Planting Experience Event” is held every June. The participation fee is 1,000 yen for adults and 500 yen for middle school students and younger. To thank the participants, each person will be given two kilograms of rice harvested in the fall. The observatory’s admission fee is 400 yen for adults and 200 yen for middle school students and younger. The artwork remains visible until after the second harvest is completed around November.

    Inakadate-mura, Aomori Prefecture
    Kodaihasu no Sato, Gyoda City, Saitama Prefecture

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko



    最初に始めたのは青森県田舎館村で、今年18回目を迎える。一回目は、縦54メートル、横47メートルの田んぼに3種類の色の稲を使って「岩木山」の絵と「稲文化のむら いなかだて」の文字を描いた。その後、面積を広げ、レオナルド・ダ・ヴィンチの「モナリザ」や葛飾北斎の「富嶽三十六景」などの難しい絵に挑戦している。今年は縦143メートル、横104メートルの巨大な田んぼに5種類の色の稲を植えた。夏には「弁慶と牛若丸」(有名な歴史上の人物)が浮かび上がる予定だ。





    埼玉県行田市 古代蓮の里


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  • 体の不自由な人の目になり声になる装置

    [From August Issue 2010]

    Currently, Japanese society is working on overcoming many barriers. And many devices to assist the physically challenged are being developed. The AuxDeco (Forehead Sensory Recognition System) developed by EyePlusPlus Inc. is a device to assist the blind. Worn on the forehead, the user can feel through their skin the shape of an object in front of them. For example, if an object is round, this device uses electronic sensors to simulate a round shape on the person’s forehead. If there is a street crossing, the device simulates a horizontal line. This way, through their skin, a user can better distinguish shapes and forms.

    AuxDeco includes a small camera. This camera captures images of objects in front of the user. Then the AuxDeco computer reads and converts the photo’s outline into data. The data is sent through the headband to the forehead. There, 512 installed electrodes recreate the object’s shape via electronic pulses directly onto the user’s forehead.

    KANNO Yonezo, the President of EyePlusPlus Inc. says that “We had to make many improvements on the first AuxDecos’ because they were too heavy, and the electronic pulses were too strong and painful. We also developed a program whereby users could purchase the AuxDeco after training with it for 20 to 30 hours. As a result, recent feedback indicates that the AuxDeco is both convenient and safe.” There are also some social groups offering grants to blind individuals who want to purchase the device.

    Kanno adds that, “It is a good thing for engineers to pursue technological advances. But how new technology is used to help people is the more important issue.” Kanno is currently on a humanitarian support mission introducing the AuxDeco to India and Southeastern Asia.

    Another tool, called the Neurocommunicator, was created by HASEGAWA P. Ryohei, Ph.D, the leader of the Neurotechnology Research Group of the Human Technology Research Institute at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST). This device interprets a person’s brain waves to determine their intentions which can then be transmitted audibly. Using the Neurocommunicator individual patients with severe motor impairment can convey up to 512 different kinds of messages.

    To start, the user puts on the device then looks at one of 8 icons shown on the computer screen in front of them, which include actions such as “eat” and “move.” The computer program analyzes the brain waves and interprets which icon the user is focusing on. The next screen displays another set of 8 icons that are relevant to the initial choice. So if the first icon chosen was “move,” then the next set of icons would include locations such as “bathroom” or “hospital.” After the user chooses their location, another set of icons appears from which the user could choose the action they want to do once they get there. So, if “bathroom” was chosen, then the next 8 icons would include “brush teeth,” and “wash face.” After the user has completed all his choices, in an artificial voice the machine would then say: “I want to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth.”

    Three very complicated technologies were required in creating this device. The first was a high-performance, small yet affordable electroencephalograph (EEG); the second was the technology to quickly and correctly decipher the brain wave data, and the third was the program to efficiently create the message. So, after various technological improvements, both an EEG half the size of a cell phone, and a program with the speed to decipher the user’s choices in 3-to-4 seconds, were successfully developed.

    “Since we experiment to deepen the understanding of the human brain, sometimes people speak badly of us and we are referred to as the ‘mad scientists’,” admits Hasegawa. “But with devices like this, we believe neuroscience can provide society with beneficial accomplishments.”

    EyePlusPlus, Inc.
    the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST)

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


    日本では今、社会全体でバリアフリー化が進められています。そして、 体の不自由な人たちを助ける装置も開発されています。株式会社アイプラスプラスの「オーデコ」(額感覚認識システム)は、目の見えない人を助ける装置です。これを額につけると目の前にある物の形を、肌で感じることができます。例えば丸い物があると、この装置は電気の刺激で額に円の形を描きます。横断歩道があると横線を表示します。このように物の輪郭を額で知ることができるのです。









    文:砂崎 良

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  • インテリアとしても愛される仏像の魅力を伝える

    [From August Issue 2010]

    MORITA Inc.

    MORITA Inc. deals mainly in Buddhist images. The original company, established in 1968, sold carved wooden ornaments called “engimono” (good luck charms). However, their popularity soon waned and while the company tried to find its next product line, Representative Director MORITA Shigeru, who took over the company from his grandfather, noticed the popularity of Buddhist images.

    “First, we were providing hand-carved Buddha images to shrines and temples. But when we started a mail-order business for our customers about eight years ago, we sold 5,000 items in three months. I myself became interested in Buddhist imagery, also finding them attractive,” recalls Morita. His company then started the “Butsuzou World” original brand two years ago to further develop and sell their items to the general public.

    Presently, their main product is the “Real Butsuzou” line of lifelike reproductions of Buddhist images that have been designated as Japanese natural treasures, including Ashura (the aggressive guardians), Senju-Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy with a thousand arms) and Miroku Bosatsu (The Buddha of the Future). Each realistic, miniature copy measures 20 ~ 50 cm in height. And while they are all made with identical silicon molds to ensure excellent detail, they all turn out to be slightly different from one other. The finishing touches are then done by professional craftsmen. Finally, the color and gold leaf is also manually applied.

    For instance, Ashura (63,000 yen) is supposed to be a “very detailed copy of the existing image,” featuring peeling gold leaf to resemble the original 1,300-year old artwork. When “The National Treasure ASHURA and Masterpieces of Kohfukuji” attracted more than 900,000 people in Tokyo, MORITA Inc.’s “Real Butsuzou” brand instantly attracted a lot of media attention. Last year they sold 1,700 copies of the Ashura figure alone.

    Morita, who continues to actively attend department store events across the country, says that “men and women of younger generations look upon Buddha images as fine art, and share new information with me. Most of our customers seem to buy them as interior decorations without much religious motivation. Our product is also popular among people who demand high quality when they buy things such as a camera or a watch.”

    Although Butsuzou World has grown in popularity because of the boom in Buddha images, Morita hopes that its popularity won’t end there. “Through Buddha images, I want to share with the world our beautiful, traditional Japanese culture and spirituality, that we should be proud of. We have to keep on and hand it down to the next generation,” he says.

    MORITA Inc. has a gallery at its main office in Higashi-matsuyama, Saitama Prefecture, a retail shop in Tokyo’s Akihabara area, as well as also exhibiting and selling items in various department stores in the Tokyo area. “I want to make Butsuzou World grow into a more stable brand and then open a satellite store in Tokyo within three years. After that, we are thinking about expanding into Europe,” he alludes.

    MORITA Inc.






    たとえば、阿修羅(63,000円)の「細密現存仕様」の場合、金箔のはがれ具合や1,300年を経た風合いまで実物そっくりです。そして、東京だけで90万人以上が来場した昨年の「国宝 阿修羅展」をきっかけにメディアで取り上げられると、リアル仏像はたちまち話題になりました。阿修羅は去年だけで1,700体も売れました。





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  • しきたりにとらわれず、伝統芸能を今に伝える

    [From August Issue 2010]

    YOUKI Magosaburo XII,
    Leader of the Marionette Theatre Company Youkiza

    The “Youkiza” marionette theater company was established during the Edo Period, in 1635. On stage they perform the Japanese traditional art form “Edo ito ayatsuri ningyou.” The troupe’s founder, YOUKI Magosaburo, has had his name passed down from generation to generation, and in 1993, the 12th-generation leader took it on. Magosaburo XII was born as the second son to Magosaburo X and started performing when he was only four years old. Now, at 67, he is still on stage.

    A puppeteer uses “teita” (hand boards) to control the marionette’s expressions and movements. More than 10 strings from the teita are tied to the marionette’s various joints, including the head, shoulder, arms and legs. Magosaburo says, “It is different from acting done by humans because the marionette has a limit to its expressions and movements. So it is an art with insufficiency and imperfection.”

    “But that is all the more reason that I feel it is worth the effort,” he says. However, it wasn’t until his early 30’s that he became fascinated with the art of the puppeteering. “Ever since I was in elementary school, I would have to go to 3 after-school lessons a day, including Japanese dance, kyogen (traditional comic theater), and noh (traditional masked theater); and then on weekends, I would help my father who worked on marionette TV programs. When I was a latter teenager, I yearned for the ordinary life that my friends had – like going to college and becoming a businessman,” he recalls.

    Although displeased, he continued as a puppeteer. After getting married, and expecting a child, his mentality changed. “I worked all my life as a puppeteer, so I did not know any world beyond it. Finally at that age, I learned to accept the art as my work and it became very interesting,” he said adding that “I decided that instead of becoming a good puppeteer, I would aim to become a unique one.”

    And he did. He remembers that he would “try various staging styles that were, until then, considered taboo, such as leaving a marionette on the stage for a full scene, or biting on dolls. Of course I did all this because it was effective staging.” He recalls that “it was much better than expected and was well received,” especially when he had inexperienced audience members learn basic puppeteer skills, and then have them control a scene where the puppets flee from an air-raid, producing a more realistic effect.

    During overseas productions, which the company began during his father’s era, Magosaburo XII was bold. “In Britain not only did we perform traditional Japanese plays, but we also daringly performed Shakespeare. We always perform stories that are familiar to the people of the country we visit so that our show is reviewed for its storytelling and performance, and not just as a traditional art form from a foreign country,” he explains.

    More recently, Magosaburo XII has started giving workshops to elementary and middle school children who live in the area around his studio. “I hope many people, young, old and non-Japanese, will come to casually experience the art of puppeteering and enjoy it. Personally, I would like to continue performing on stage for another 10 years, to ensure that our performance company will be there for the next generation.”




    結城座座長 十二代目 結城孫三郎さん









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  • 広島―世界平和の象徴的世界遺産のある街

    [From August Issue 2010]

    Flying one-and-a-half hours westward from Tokyo you arrive at Hiroshima Prefecture, which faces the Seto Inland Sea. Hiroshima City, the capital of the prefecture and the largest city in the Chugoku region, is infamous as the blast site of the world’s first atomic bomb, which landed on August 6, 1945, and killed tens of thousands people. Now, Hiroshima continuously appeals for world peace as an International City of Peace and Culture.

    Peace Memorial Park is the place where the horrors of nuclear war can be learned, located about 15 minutes by streetcar from Hiroshima Station, and close to the epicenter of the atomic bomb blast. At one corner of the park stands the A-Bomb Dome, but remains preserved in its bombed-out state, showing its collapsed walls and bare iron skeleton. It has been designated as a World Heritage Site.

    The park contains a number of monuments intended to call for peace, such as the Memorial Cenotaph (a monument to the atomic bomb victims), which was designed so that the A-Bomb Dome is visible through its arched roof. Other monuments include the Peace Flame, the Peace Bells, the Peace Gate and the Statue of the A-Bomb Children. There is also an open-air cafe where you can relax and rest beside the river.

    You can learn about the atomic bombing at the park’s Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. The museum exhibits artifacts including the charred remains of a lunch box and a tricycle, along with pictures of other similar items, which all reveal the kind of severe damage the blast really caused. A miniature model of the devastated city right after the explosion further depicts the horrors of the bombing. While English explanations are provided throughout, an English audio guide is available while touring the facility.

    From Peace Memorial Park, you can easily get to Hiroshima Castle, which was built in 1599 by feudal warlord MOURI Terumoto. The castle was destroyed in the blast, but a five-story tenshukaku or central tower used as a lookout, was rebuilt in 1958. Inside the tower you will find a history museum where suits of armor and swords are on display. From the tower’s top floor, you can have a panoramic view of the city.

    Walking eastward, away from Hiroshima Castle, you will eventually reach Shukkei-en, a beautiful Japanese garden full of lush greenery. It was originally built in 1620 by the lord of Hiroshima as his personal villa garden. Encircling a pond, it features mountains and gorges from which you can enjoy beautiful views of the water and surrounding foliage.

    Heading out of Shukkei-en towards Hatchobori, you can see the downtown area just across the avenue. Here, you will find a myriad of restaurants serving okonomiyaki, a Hiroshima specialty. Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki is a filling dish made by frying two layers of thin pancake-like crepes containing chopped cabbage, soba or udon noodles, thinly sliced pork, and eggs, then pouring a thick, salty-sweet sauce on top. Near the main shopping street of Chuo-dori, there stands two buildings housing okonomiyaki-food theme parks, “Okonomimura” and “Okonomi Kyowakoku Hiroshima Mura.” In each, different okonomiyakishops offer different toppings including cheese, rice cake, oysters and squid tempura, making it possible to enjoy a variety of different and tasty okonomiyaki.

    Moving away from the downtown area and towards Hiroshima Station, you will find MAZDA Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima (Mazda Stadium), the home of the Hiroshima Toyo Carp professional baseball team. The stadium has an asymmetrical playing field, a rarity in Japan, and allows spectators to enjoy games in a wide variety of seating arrangements, from lying on cushioned sofas to having a barbecue while watching the game.

    Another of Hiroshima’s World Heritage Sites is Miyajima in Hatsukaichi City. Taking a train from Hiroshima Station and then crossing by ferry, the bright red ootorii (grand shrine gate), symbolizing Miyajima, soon come into view. Floating on the Seto Inland Sea and measuring 30 kilometers in circumference, the island features many tourist attractions including Mount Misen, which is covered with primeval forests, and Itsukushima Shrine, which stands in the sea. Fourteen percent of the entire island surface, mostly its shrines, is designated as a World Heritage Site.

    Miyajima has been worshiped as an island of God since ancient times. The main place of worship is Itsukushima Shrine, believed that its original building was built in 593. At high tide, the bright red buildings interconnected by long corridors, seem to float on water. The 16-meter high ootorii is located further out to sea. It remains approachable on foot when the tide is low.

    If you would like to further enjoy more of Miyajima’s picturesque scenery, you could climb Mount Misen. To get to the mountain, you can conveniently climb up through Momijidani Park just behind the shrine, and take the two Ropeways. Eventually you will arrive at Shishiiwa Station. The view from here is magnificent enough, but if you keep climbing for about another 30 minutes, you will reach the summit. Here you are afforded a 360-degree panoramic view of the island and the sea, which defies description.

    A popular Hiroshima souvenir is momiji manju, which originated in Miyajima. The typical momiji manju is a maple leaf-shaped sponge cake containing bean paste, but other varieties exist with fillings of white bean paste, cream and chocolate. Shops in Miyajima serve freshly made ones, or deep fried ones called “age manju.”

    Hiroshima Tourist Navigator
    Miyajima Sightseeing Official Website

    Text: KAWANISHI Yukari









    市内の中心街から広島駅へ移動すると、近くには、日本プロ野球チーム・広島東洋カープのホームグラウンド「MAZDA Zoom-Zoom スタジアム広島(マツダスタジアム)」があります。日本では珍しい左右非対称のグラウンドで、クッションソファーの上に寝そべって観戦できる席やバーベキューを楽しめる席などがあり、さまざまなスタイルで試合を楽しめます。







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  • 道をたずねる

    [From August Issue 2010]

    While most Japanese do not speak English, they do know some basic English words. When you ask them the way to a station, they will only understand if you use the English word “station.” However, when you lose your way and try asking “Where am I?” few Japanese will understand what you are saying. Instead, you should ask in Japanese, “Koko wa doko desuka?” Furthermore, big city streets in Japan are very complicated, so it is recommended that you bring a map whenever you visit a new place.

    Even if you fortunately encounter an English speaking person, they may not be a local. They still may not be able to help you. On such occasions, it may be best to ask someone in a local shop. If you can not communicate in English, try asking “Eigo o hanasu hito imasu ka.” (Is there anyone here who speaks English?) If you can not find anyone who does, then ask “Kouban wa dokodesu ka.” (Where is the police box?)

    Japan is said to be one of the world’s safest countries, partly because of the system of neighborhood police boxes. In Japan there are more than 6,000 police boxes, each responsible for overseeing a particular area. Therefore, policemen know their local geography well. Even many Japanese ask for directions at the police box.

    “Koko kara donokurai kakarimasu ka” (How long does it take?) is also an useful question. People may reply, “Aruite / kuruma de go-fun” (five minute on foot / by car.” The words “fun / pun” (minute) and “jikan” (hour) are must-learn words.

    When people wait for someone at a train station, they usually meet them at the ticket gate. But there are many ticket gates in big stations like Shinjuku and Shibuya. Each one is usually named “East entrance/exit” and/or “South entrance/exit.” Subway stations generally have exit names like “A1” and/or “B2.” Still, even Japanese can sometimes have trouble finding the right gate.

    Therefore, many people meet at landmarks in front of stations, such as “Studio Alta” at Shinjuku station and “Hachiko” at Shibuya station. These landmarks are very well known. So, for instance if you lose your way at Shinjuku station, just ask someone, “Aruta sutajio wa doko desu ka,” (Where is Studio Alta?) and they will help you easily find it.

    Words and phrases often used when asking for directions include: “~ dori” (~ street), “shingou” (signal), “kado” (corner), “juujiro” (intersection), “T-jiro” (T-junction), “ikidomari” (dead end), “massugu” (go straight), “migi ni magaru” (turn right) and “hidari ni magaru” (turn left). When you go to an unfamiliar place you should learn about some of the area’s landmarks beforehand, such as department stores and public facilities. Those who you ask for directions may say: “xx depa-to no chikaku” (near xx department store), “~ no sangen saki” (three buildings past ~), “~ no mukai gawa / hantai gawa” (the opposite side of ~) and “~ no naname mae” (diagonally across from ~).


    多くの日本人は英語を話せませんが、簡単な英単語は知っています。道をたずねるとき、「Station?」のように、英単語を言うだけで通じるでしょう。しかし、道に迷ったときに、英語で「Where am I?」と言っても、わからない人が多いでしょう。「ここはどこですか」と聞いてください。日本の大都市の道路はわかりづらいので、知らない場所に行くときには地図を持って行ったほうがよいでしょう。







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  • いわしの蒲焼き

    [From August Issue 2010]

    Ingredients [Serves 2] 

    • 2 medium-size sardines (200g)
    • 1 tbsp starch
    • 1 tbsp cooking oil
    • a pinch of sansho (Japanese pepper)


    • 1/2 tbsp sugar
    • 1 tbsp soy sauce
    • 1 tbsp mirin (sweet sake)
    • 1 tbsp sake

    amazu shoga (ginger pickled in sweet vinegar, available in stores)

    Kabayaki: is a dish made by broiling or frying fish such as eel, conger eel, saury and sardines in a thick sweet sauce. It is believed that the name “kabayaki” originates from the old days when eels were skewered and broiled whole, which looked like “Gama no Ho” (the ears of cattails).

    Tebiraki: Sardine flesh is soft enough for you to open it with your hands.
    1. Cut off the head, split open the belly lengthwise and remove the organs. Clean with water and wipe dry.

    2. Place both of your thumbs along the backbone, then sliding them downwards remove the meat from the bone as it opens up.

    3. Place the fish on the cutting board, snap the back bone at the tail and remove from the fish.

    4. Angle a kitchen knife and shave off the small bones from the belly.

    5. Cut off the dorsal fin by holding it with the knife then pulling the tail.

    1. Split open the sardines with your hands, using the “tebiraki” technique.

    2. Mix (A) to make sauce.

    3. Before frying, coat both sides of the fish with starch and tap off the excess. Use a tea strainer to lightly sprinkle the starch.

    4. Pour cooking oil into the frying pan and leave on medium heat. Place the fish in the pan skin-side up. Fry for about 3 minutes flipping over once brown. Fry for another 2 to 3 minutes then remove from pan.

    5. Wipe the remaining oil from the pan with a paper towel. Pour the sauce into the pan over medium heat, then when it begins to bubble, put the fish back in skin-side down. With a spoon, quickly pour the sauce over the fish, without flipping it over. Turn off the heat before the sauce comes to a boil.

    6. Place the fish on a plate skin-side down with the tail to the right. Then, pour the sauce on to make it look glazed. Arrange the amazu shoga on the plate and sprinkle the fish with sansho.



    • いわし 中2尾(200g)
    • かたくり粉 大さじ1
    • サラダ油 大さじ1
    • 粉さんしょう 少々


    • 砂糖 大さじ1/2
    • しょうゆ 大さじ1
    • みりん 大さじ1
    • 酒 大さじ1

    甘酢しょうが (市販のもの)


    1. 頭を切り落します。腹を少し切り落とし内臓を出します。洗って水気をふきます。

    2. 中骨の上に両親指を入れ、指をすべらせて骨から身をはずして開きます。

    3. まな板におき、中骨を尾の手前で折って身から外します。

    4. 包丁を寝かせ、腹骨を削ぎとります。

    5. 背びれを包丁で押さえて、尾を引きながら切り落とします。

    1. いわしは手開きにします。

    2. (A)の調味料を合わせ、たれを作ります。

    3. 焼く前に、いわしの両面にかたくり粉をつけ、余分な粉をはたいて落とします。かたくり粉は茶こしで振ると薄くつけられます。

    4. フライパンにサラダ油を入れて強めの中火で熱し、いわしの身を下にして入れます。3分ほどして、こんがりとしたよい焼き色になったら裏返し、2~3分焼いて、取り出します。

    5. フライパンに残ったいわしの油をペーパータオルでふき取ります。たれを入れて中火で熱します。煮立ってきたら、いわしの身を上にして戻しいれます。裏返さずにスプーンでたれをかけ、手早く全体にからめます。たれが煮詰まる前に火を止めます。

    6. 皿に、尾を右、身を上にして盛り付けます。たれをかけて、つや良くします。甘酢しょうがを添え、いわしに粉さんしょうをふります。

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  • 二人の高校生と家族が仮想世界で悪と戦う

    [From August Issue 2010]

    SUMMER WARS (Directed by HOSODA Mamoru)

    This animated movie was released in the summer of 2009 and had a long run in the theatres. It won many motion picture awards including the 2010 Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year. The director, HOSODA Mamoru, garnered previous praise both at home and abroad for his 2006 film “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time.” Most of that movie’s staff, including the scriptwriter and the animators, all reunited for “SUMMER WARS.”

    The main characters KOISO Kenji and SHINOHARA Natsuki are both Tokyo high school students. While on summer holidays, Natsuki offers Kenji a part-time job. Since he has a crush on Natsuki, and all that he has to do is accompany her to her mother’s parents’ home, he accepts. However, he learns that the real job is to pretend to be Natsuki’s fiance for a few days in order to cheer up her dispirited great-grandmother, Sakae.

    Natsuki’s great grandmother’s house, located in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture, was kept by the Jinnouchi family, whose ancestors were wartime samurai. The big residence and its vast grounds are run by Sakae, who is about to celebrate her 90th birthday. Relatives from across Japan arrive one after another, all believing that Kenji is Natsuki’s fiance. That night, Kenji receives a mysterious numerical cell phone message. As a math wiz, he assumes it as a math problem, and solves it.

    The next morning, Kenji awakens to the news that the virtual reality city of “OZ” is in chaos. While OZ is similar to the real world when shopping and utility payments are concerned, it is still a virtual, Internet-based place, where all of its users have their own Avatars. What Kenji did was break the pass code to enter the OZ control system.

    While dozens of other people around the world have also deciphered the passcode, Kenji learns that he made a miscalculation. However, an artificial intelligence named “Love Machine” has already entered OZ and is stealing users’ IDs in order to control all the information and authorization codes. That is causing traffic problems in the real world and even changed the course of a returning interplanetary probe. During the mayhem, Sakae dies.

    Wabisuke, the illegitimate son of Jinnouchi’s great-grandfather, confides that he developed the Love Machine. He says that it has been sent to OZ experimentally by the U.S. Department of Defense. The men of the Jinnouchi family decide to join Kenji to fight the Love Machine, which cannot be controlled by humans. After a hard battle, Natsuki plays hanafuda (Japanese traditional playing cards), the game she learned from Sakae, and using her Avatar, challenges Love Machine, finally destroying it.


    サマーウォーズ(細田 守 監督)







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  • 「地底パルテノン神殿」の正体

    [From July Issue 2010]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Edogawa River Office, Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko









    江戸川河川事務所 首都圏外郭放水路


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  • 自分らしさを表現する絵文字、顔文字

    [From July Issue 2010]

    Many Japanese people use emoji (Japanese pictograms) when text messaging on their cell phones. Pictograms are emotional expressions and graphics that fit in one Japanese letter space. Smileys for happy feelings and crying faces for sad feelings can be inserted into any message. The frequency of pictogram use depends on each individual, but the general tendency is that women and younger people prefer to use pictograms more frequently than men and the elderly.

    “When a friend sends a message without any pictograms in the text, I worry that something is wrong, or that the sender may be in a bad mood,” says 20 year-old TANAKA Miho. “I often use pink hearts in texts that I send to my boyfriend, but I use green and blue hearts in messages for other male friends. I don’t use any emoji in my work mail,” she adds.

    “Many men of my generation do not like using pictograms,” says MURATA Shigeharu, a man in his 60s. “I like new things, so I use them more when I send to women rather than to men. When I see hearts in a text I receive from women, I think ‘they are really happy,’ but when I see a playing card heart, I think ‘they are just being polite.’”

    The amount of available pictograms and the ease of text messaging are essential deciding factors when choosing a new cell phone. That is why cell phone companies pay careful attention to both. Previously, pictograms in text sent between different cell phone carriers would turn into garbled characters. But today, there are many pictograms that can be used across many carriers.

    More people have started to create their own pictograms because they “don’t want to use the same pictograms as other people” and they “don’t want to use old pictograms created ages ago.” There are approximately 1,200 websites on the Internet dedicated to creating original pictograms. Some people use multiple sites to create pictograms for various uses, and some people upload pictograms created and received from friends, then alter them on these sites for their own use.

    In March 2008, Roid Corporation launched a pictogram creation website. Here, anyone can create and use their original pictograms while also offering them to the public. Currently, there are approximately 140, 000 registered users. Moreover, communication between the users is very active; for example, people who use the shared pictograms often send thank you notes to their creators.

    “There are many websites displaying new pictograms,” says OHTA Youhei, Roid Corporation’s media representative. “But using pictograms created by others is just another way of using the same pictogram as other people. So here at Roid, we developed a function where you can design your own pictogram. Registered users can now use pictograms that no one has owned before,” he explains.

    At FutureScope Corp., they provide a service where photos taken by cell phones can be automatically processed into pictograms. Once a picture of your face or a friend’s face, or items bought or food ordered, is sent to Future Scope’s server, your converted pictogram will then be returned within 3 to 5 seconds. If a sent photo includes up to 20 people, their server can simultaneously process each face into a pictogram.

    “The fundamentals of communication are to exchange feelings between known acquaintances, and to deepen trust,” says FutureScope’s Brand Strategy Division Manager, OGITA Yoshihiro. “It was a tough job to develop a function which automatically distinguishes facial parts, including hairstyles, from a photo and convert it into a cute icon. We have received positive feedback from people, especially those with children or pets. We also have business opportunities opening up outside of Japan, particularly in Asian countries like South Korea.”

    Pictograms originated from kao-moji (emoticons), which use symbols to make facial expressions. Even though there are many pictograms available today, emoticons are still widely used in emails and on the web since they rarely turn into garbled characters. Even the more intricate ASCII art style (text-based art developed from emoticons) has its own dedicated fans. The biggest characteristic that distinguishes Japanese ASCII art and emoticons from its international counterparts is its use of more diverse letters.

    Japanese input functions on computers and cell phones use kanji, katakana, and hiragana. Moreover, there is also zenkaku (full-width/two bytes) and hankaku (half-width/one byte) input styles. So, emoticons like (^^;)and (^^;) which use the same symbols but different byte-sizes have different looks for expressing detailed emotions; while (^^;)can mean “very embarrassed,” (^^;) can mean “a little embarrassed.”

    HONDA Kenichi, who runs a web-based collection of ASCII art, says: “Take a look at the Japanese ASCII art. The way the letters are used differs for each artist. Since we have so many characters, the choice of symbols the artist uses directly reflects their style. It becomes the distinguishing charm of their work. If we only used the one-byte alphabet and numbers, the art would not be as diverse in character.”

    “ASCII art is time consuming, so its creator must be very dedicated to it,” says Honda, who adds that “when you look closely at the forms of the symbols, you sometimes realize the uniqueness and the beauty within each character. For example, you hardly use kanji characters like “弋 (yoku)” and “卞 (ben)” in everyday life. But in ASCII art, it is a convenient and popular character often used to express roundness and dots.”

    Some ASCII art became so popular that it developed into its own character, becoming the protagonist of a story. The ASCII-art-based cat, as well as other characters often appearing on online message boards, have become so familiar that they have even been given names. And, there are people who continue to create comic strips based on these characters.

    In Japan there is a saying, “writing and nature often agree,” which means that, “one’s personality comes forth in one’s writing.” In this day and age when everyone types in their words, it may be that people are finding new ways to personalize their writing by using pictograms and emoticons.

    Roid Corporation
    FutureScope Corp

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo



    「友だちから絵文字をまったく使わないメールが来ると『どうしたんだろう? 機嫌が悪いのかな』と気になります」と20代の女性、田中美穂さんは言います。「恋人に送るメールには、ピンク色のハートをよく使いますが、男性の友だちへのメールだと緑や青のハートを使いますね。仕事のメールには使いません」。















    文:砂崎 良

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