• 難民から会社社長へ

    [From May Issue 2010]

    The President of Metran Co., Ltd.
    TRAN Ngoc Phuc / NITTA Kazufuku

    Metran Co., Ltd., located in Kawaguchi City, Saitama Prefecture, is a medical equipment development company with great technology – especially for producing specialized medical instruments to treat premature babies. In 2009, the company received the Shibusawa Eiichi Venture Dream Award from Saitama Prefecture. Metran’s President is TRAN Ngoc Phuc (Japanese name is NITTA Kazufuku).

    Tran was born in Vietnam in 1947. He hardly ever went to high school spending most of his time watching movies and doing karate. “This may sound like an excuse, but we were in the middle of a war in those days. I thought I would be killed in the war sooner or later, so I did everything I wanted to do. I also read a lot of books on philosophy, because I wanted to learn about life and death,” he recalls.

    It was through both karate and philosophy that Tran became interested in Japan. “I still tell everyone that Japan has, to this day, preserved and passed on the treasures of Oriental philosophy like giri (a sense of duty) and ninjou (human empathy). That’s why I chose Japan when I studied abroad,” he says of his starting Tokai University in 1968.

    After graduation, he worked as a trainee at the Senko Medical Instrument Mfg. Co., Ltd., where he soon surprised everyone with his instrument-design ability. “The instruments of that time were more dangerous than (they are) now, and those who were not familiar with them often hurt themselves. So I revamped the instruments so that people wouldn’t cut their fingers,” he recounts.

    But other longtime craftsmen didn’t appreciate the way he worked. They thought their skills could only be mastered through injury and practice. Tran thought otherwise. “I needed to learn those skills in two years, before I went back to Vietnam. So I told them that I didn’t have time. But they got angry and called me names, saying things like, ‘Well, he’s a foreigner.’ But there were many others who praised me, happy that, ‘we don’t hurt ourselves anymore, thanks to you.’ ”

    In 1975 North Vietnam won the war, and Tran, who is South Vietnamese, lost his home. By then, he was already married to his Japanese wife Mitsuko, with whom he had been thinking about building a factory in Vietnam someday. But, they changed their plans and remained in Japan. By that time Tran became a full-time Senko company employee, everyone having already recognized his ability.

    In 1984 he went independent and established Metran. Using the benefits he received from his Senko retirement, he created a new instrument to help assist the breathing of physically weak babies. It quickly became a great success in the United States where it was hailed as “a wonderful device.” However, there were times when Tran wondered if it was ethical to keep alive by machine, babies who were so prematurely born that they could be held in the palm of an adult hand.

    Soon after that Japan fell into recession and a longstanding reseller of Tran’s instruments suddenly decided to stop any future orders. At that point, about 30 units had already been completed, costing several dozen million yen.

    “I got dizzy, having been betrayed by people I’d been doing business with for years. To make matters worse, the employees at that company didn’t know the real situation. They thought I’d betrayed them and made a deal with another company instead. They said, ‘We have been trying hard to sell your instruments. You’re a bad man.’ It was a very tough time,” he admitted.

    Through this experience, Tran came to realize that a small company cannot protect itself unless it has proprietary technology that other competitors can not imitate. He also learned “that people may only show giri and ninjou when they can afford to financially.” So he continued to work, harder than ever, and last year invented an instrument for people who stop breathing while asleep, of which Metran is the sole producer in Japan.

    In 1986 Tran returned to Vietnam for the first time in 18 years and got reacquainted with his parents and brothers, whom he had not seen since the end of the war. He now also owns a factory there. “Vietnam is the country where I was born, so I wanted to give something back. My family’s companies have provided about 1,500 people with jobs. This is the least I can do, and if there are more people I can help by doing this, I’m happy to do it,” he says, solemnly speaking about his feelings for his homeland.

    But these days Tran considers Japan his home because this is where he lives. “I care about the future of Japan because this is my country. I would like to help make Japan a better place,” he states. So, for its rapidly-aging society, Tran is now striving to invent instruments to help Japan’s elderly.

    Metran Co., Ltd.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo
















    文:砂崎 良

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  • 観光対策は神社や寺の経営に学べ!

    [From May Issue 2010]

    While the Hatoyama cabinet is trying to increase the number of foreign travelers to Japan, their new task is learning how to convince tourists to spend their money once they arrive. Hiragana Times CIA interviewed tourism expert, Professor OHGAMI Manabu, to learn more.

    鳩山内閣は日本を訪れる外国人観光客を増やそうとしているが、観光客からいかにしてお金を使わせるかが課題となっている。Hiragana Times CIAは、その点について観光産業に詳しい大神学教授にインタビューした。

    CIA: What do you think about the government’s tourism policy?


    Prof.: With increased globalization, manufacturers in advanced countries now have factories in foreign countries where wages are lower. In the future, advanced countries will find it increasingly more difficult to depend solely on the manufacturing industry. Japan is a small country and has no natural resources. The best decision is for Japan to become a tourism-based economy.

    CIA: What should foreign tourists take interest in, in Japan?

    Prof.: Decades ago, Japan was called the country of “Fujiyama and geisha.” Women regularly wearing kimono were once a common sight, but hardly anymore. Japanese cuisine was once only available here, but now it’s everywhere. Foreign tourists used to be able to really sense the cultural difference of Japanese daily life. Now, common foods, clothing and music are universal, making it difficult for a country to provide a unique tourist experience. At present, Asian tourists are purchasing Japan’s high-tech products as souvenirs, but that trend won’t last long.

    CIA: Then what is Japan’s attraction?

    Prof.: Geisha have almost all disappeared, but the beauty of Fujiyama or Mt. Fuji will remain forever. There still is tourism value in Japan’s abundant nature, and its cultural assets, such as shrines and temples.

    CIA: Fortunately, Japan does still have many wonderful shrines and temples.

    Prof.: Yes, and the government should pay more attention to how they are run. Japan’s notable shrines and temples charge entrance fees, in addition to placing offertory boxes. Furthermore, they charge book and magazine publishers high publication fees for the permission to shoot and print photos of them.

    CIA: Can you blame them?

    Prof.: No. In fact, the well-known shrines and temples all have similar business structures to companies that sell the rights to famous characters. Some of them even branch out into other regions, just like franchise businesses. There are all kinds of business models seen in the management of shrines and temples. That’s why their business is everlasting. The tourism industry should learn their know-how in getting money from foreign tourists.

    One Comment from CIA

    In medieval Christian times, churches sold forgiveness to anyone who wanted to buy absolution from their sins. Here in Japan, the saying “Bouzu marumouke,” means that “Priests gain all the profits.” Therefore, if Japan’s tourism industry learns religious business practices, then Hatoyama’s tourism policy will be a complete failure. Why? A long time ago, religious institutions convinced the government to let them collect money tax free. So, if Japan’s tourism industry does similarly, making money without paying taxes, then how will the government ever make any money?

    * CIA(Cynically Insulting Agency /皮肉冗談局)


    鳩山内閣は日本を訪れる外国人観光客を増やそうとしているが、観光客からいかにしてお金を使わせるかが課題となっている。Hiragana Times CIAは、その点について観光産業に詳しい大神学教授にインタビューした。












    カトリック時代の中世に、教会は罪から免れたい人にそれが許されるとされるお札を売っていました。日本には「坊主丸儲け」という言葉があります。それでもし、日本の観光業者が宗教ビジネスを学んだら、鳩山観光政策は大失敗に終わるでしょう。なぜかって? 宗教団体ははるか以前に政府をくどき、無税にさせました。日本の観光業者が同じことをして税金を払わなければ、政府はどこからお金を得るのでしょうか。

    * CIA(Cynically Insulting Agency /皮肉冗談局)

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  • 江戸時代から続くうちわ、扇子の製造

    [From May Issue 2010]


    Uchiwa (Japanese fans) are not only used to cool off during the summer time, they have other uses such as fanning away smoke while cooking and chasing away insects. Sensu differs from uchiwa mainly because of its compact shape when folded, making it easier to carry. It has long been incorporated into fashion where it was originally used to create a breeze. There are many varieties of sensu that are used for different occasions – for instance, a gold or silver sensu is for celebratory events such as weddings, a black sensu is for funerals, while others are used in classical Japanese dance and tea ceremonies.

    IBASEN CO., LTD. has a history that dates back almost 400 years. Initially it sold washi (Japanese paper) and bamboo products, but around the latter Edo Period it began trading in uchiwa-ukiyoe (fan woodblock prints), applying the woodblock prints to fans. “It was what you would call a printing company today. We had ukiyoe artists like UTAGAWA Toyokuni and Hiroshige draw the drafts, then we made them by coloring in the prints and adding patterns,” says the President, YOSHIDA Nobuo.

    The uchiwa-ukiyoe with picturesque scenery and characters gained much popularity, and soon the “Ibaya” store name became very well-known along Edo’s streets. Around the same time, when the era changed from Edo to Meiji, Ibasen started to trade sensu as well. “Uchiwa and sensu both use woodblock prints, so the same techniques are applied,” says Yoshida.

    Yoshida became president 33 years ago, at the age of 28. “I was not pressured about taking over a tradition. It is purely business, so I continue to think about what kind of products we manufacture, and how we can provide them to more customers,” he says. He started their internet shopping site about 5 years ago describing it as “a doorway for the customers to step into.”

    In fact, the company offers many more products than are listed on their site. Apart from the regular, company-designed items, custom-made fans using personal photos, illustrations and poems that are brought in by individuals are also popular. A majority of the customers who visit their store are in their 30’s and 40’s with many non-Japanese tourists also coming by to try the actual items and ask the store staff for advice before purchasing one.

    Apart from their own store, Ibasen products are also sold in department stores and, the company also actively participates in events that promote Japanese concepts such as “Wa (harmony, peace and balance).” “We hope to advance further into the Asian markets in the near future. For example, we would like to open a shop in Shanghai, China, and demonstrate our design skills, which is our pride and joy, to give it our best shot,” he says.











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  • 遠くに住んでいる人とコミュニケーションがとれる道具

    [From May Issue 2010]

    TSUJITA Hitomi of the Ochanomizu University Graduate School of Humanities and Sciences, is developing tools to help couples who live far apart, better communicate with one another, such as pairs of trash bins and desk lamps. When a person uses one trash bin, that information is conveyed via the Internet, automatically opening the lid of the other bin. Likewise, when a person turns on their desk lamp, the other lamp also gets turned on. As a result, even when living far apart, you can know whenever your loved ones use the trash bin or turn on the lights.

    “We would like to communicate with our partners without being a nuisance. I thought it would be nice if we could do so through our daily appliances,” says Tsujita, who asked three couples to try these devices. The results showed that when the couples were quarrelling, the men frequently used the trash bin repeatedly to draw the women’s attention.

    “I, myself was living far away from my partner. So, I felt I would like to have a tool that would let me communicate with him, which led me to this study,” says Tsujita. Professor SHIIO Ichiro, Tsujita’s advisor, adds that: “Computers used to be very expensive, so they were only used in research, business, military, and other fields that were male-dominated. But, since computer technology has become very cheap, it is now used in daily products. From now on, I predict that computers will be utilized more in daily life in ways that are more in tune with the female intuition, like in this study.”

    Household appliance manufacturer Zojirushi Corporation is another company making a similar item – the “i-POT,” a tea pot that facilitates communication over great distances. When you push the button to pour water, an e-mail is sent to a registered address in the “Mimamori (watch over) Hot Line” system, informing the recipient that the tea pot is being used.

    The i-POT system allows children living far from their elderly parents to know if their parents are okay or not. In Japan, since older people tend to drink lots of tea, this system utilizes that custom as a tracking device. When parents go out, the “going out” button can be pushed, informing the children that their parents are out of the house, and not sick or in trouble.

    It was developed soon after a sad incident in 1996, where a sick son and his mother who were living together, were both discovered a month after their deaths. Learning from that, they installed the e-mail function and made the i-POT. “Now it is used by about 3,900 people. It is a tool not for ‘looking out’ but for unobtrusively ‘looking over’ old people,” says YAMASHITA Naoki, of Zojirushi Corporation’s Public Relations Department. According to him, Zojirushi received responses like, “I found out that my parent was sick with the help of this pot” and “I feel that this pot is like my child.”

    Amongst Japan’s aging population, the instances of older people living far from their children are increasing. Many people also live far apart from their families because of their jobs. These products are a reflection of this reality, and enable people to better communicate with one another, without becoming a nuisance.

    Zojirushi Corporation

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo










    文:砂崎 良

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  • 屋上菜園―東京の新しい農業

    [From May Issue 2010]

    Japan’s capital city of Tokyo is crowded with a population of approximately 13 million people, and a city-center crammed full of tall buildings. However, even within such a dense environment, the number of people promoting rooftop agriculture is increasing.

    Ginza is widely known as one of Tokyo’s upscale areas, full of luxurious boutiques and expensive restaurants. In 2006, a Ginza business executive, and community project leader, TANAKA Atsuo, started keeping honeybees on a local rooftop. “After hearing that you could keep honeybees in urban areas, I thought it would be interesting to see if I could gather honey in Ginza, so I started. The bees gather nectar from trees in parks more than one kilometer away, as well as from trees lining the streets,” says Tanaka.

    Tanaka thought that using the harvested honey could help better promote the area, so, he founded the “Ginza Mitsubachi (honeybee) Project.” “There are many wonderful chefs, bartenders and other food artisans in Ginza, so we’ve asked them to make food and confectionery items with our honey. We thought it could become the talk of the town and attract more shoppers, further enriching Ginza,” he says.

    Tanaka’s idea soon became a great success. The word about Ginza’s honeybees spread instantly and TV networks and newspapers started reporting on the area’s newest venture. Chefs soon also visited Tanaka’s bees and were very impressed by their dedicated work, as well as by the difference in taste among honeys collected from various kinds of flowers. With that in mind, the chefs started creating many, delicious, honey-based dishes that tasted so good, and that were so well-received, that a honey shortage almost ensued.

    Rooftop agriculture soon spread to other buildings around Ginza, with even the century-old Matsuya Department Store creating their own garden in 2007 where they started growing flowers and vegetables from which nectar could be gathered. They also invited people involved in environmental activities to an event where they served curry with summer vegetables that were grown on their rooftop.

    “During the summer, we had to water the plants many times a day. Some of them were even eaten by birds,” explains Matsuya PR staff member OOKI Yukio about the problems they had to overcome. “But the customers were pleased, and they kept telling us that they were looking forward to seeing the vegetables grow. Also, when we saw the honeybees coming, we felt like we were contributing to nature and so we started thinking more about the environment,” he added.

    Also in 2007, The Japanese Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Company started gardening on its Ginza head office building rooftop, growing rice from which they make sake. “None of our employees had any agricultural experience, so when we faced problems, we had to think and study, and solve them one by one. When the weather was bad, the rice plants became ill. Since we didn’t use any pesticide, they got attacked by harmful insects. We were surprised by the fact that any insect would fly to the rooftop of such a high building in Ginza. But, we were emotionally moved when the plants finally bore rice,” says ODA Asami, Senior section chief of the Tokyo branch office.

    “By growing rice we’ve widened our circle of friends,” says Oda, adding that “at harvest time, our employees’ families come along. When we make sake, we also invite people from outside the company as well.”

    “Through the Honeybee Project, community interest is growing,” says Tanaka. “When I’m taking care of the honeybees, I can see people taking care of their vegetables on the roof of the next building. Just by waving to one another, we become closer. The social bonds of people in the area have strengthened. On top of that, we started to think more about agriculture and the environment.”

    The non-profit Oedo Agricultural Research Society (OARS) is also trying to spread the concept of “roof planting” (rooftop plant growing). Their aim is to create gardens all around Tokyo using light, well-nourished soil specially developed for rooftop agriculture. To help, they advise people interested in starting gardens by holding workshops and teaching agricultural skills.

    One example of OARS’ success can be seen atop the Kitasenju Station Building in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward, where only 10cm of topsoil could be laid. In spite of that, through advanced planning and careful soil care, they successfully harvested various kinds of vegetables, including turnips and cabbage. In 2009, they took up the challenge of growing watermelons and succeeded in producing more than ten.

    OARS also cooperates with other organizations, such as the Akihabara-based, Licolita NPO, who are themselves growing “Akiba-mai” (Akihabara Rice). This project has “maid-uniform-wearing girls, growing rice in buckets in Akihabara.” Now in their second year, they are also trying to grow strawberries and herbs.

    “Licolita is an organization that aims to connect ‘lico’ (self-interest) with ‘lita’ (altruism). So, to do something with “maids” connects to the concern with agriculture and food issues. We hope that young people will learn more about agriculture through Akiba-mai,” says OARS member MUKUNOKI Ayumi.

    “People living in cities will be able to better distinguish between good and bad vegetables. As a result, they will better appreciate farmers who grow good ones,” says TAKASHIO Kenji, OARS Chief Administrative Officer. “Now, many people have worries about food because of the widespread use of agricultural chemicals. Knowing that, we really hope that people living in cities will learn and think more about agriculture.”

    Ginza Honeybee Project
    Hakutsuru Sake Brewing Company
    Oedo Agricultural Research Society

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo

















    文:砂崎 良

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  • 日本のストリートパフォーマーの実情

    [From May Issue 2010]

    Musicians who perform in public near train stations and artists who draw portraits tend to attract passersby. While some artists sell poems written on pieces of thick paper that they arrange on the ground, it is the street musicians who are most popular, usually surrounded by many fans, especially young people.

    But eventually the police come to admonish them because performing in public, or selling things on the street, are prohibited in principle as they violate Japan’s Road Traffic Laws. As a result, few officially approved public performances ever take place.

    The “Heaven Artist” program, started in 2002 by Tokyo Governor ISHIHARA Shintaro, is a Metropolitan government-approved plan that supports street performers, or so-called daidou geinin. The program allows those who pass an audition to perform in public or near commercial facilities, mainly in and around Tokyo.

    Successful artists are permitted to perform at 49 facilities and 66 spots, including the Tomin Hiroba (Citizen’s Plaza) of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building, Marunouchi, and Ueno Park. But, while annual auditions do attract some 300 applicants, the screening process is so rigid that only about 20 get approved.

    Popular marimba duo Natsu & Kayo have been performing, mostly in Ueno Park, since 2006 as part of the Heaven Artist program. Both, professional marimba players who graduated from prestigious music colleges, captivate their spectators by playing classical pieces such as Vittorio MONTI’s Czardas and Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART’s Turkish March.

    “Because the Metropolitan government has given us a place to perform, we can play music with peace of mind,” says the duo, adding that the appeal of a street performance is that they feel closer to their audience than when they play in a concert hall. Typically, 4 to 8 different street performances are held one after another, each lasting about 15 minutes. Selling items such as CDs is prohibited, so the performers’ source of income comes from nagesen (money thrown by spectators/donations). The performers often invite people watching from afar to get closer, but shy Japanese people tend to stay back.

    TOMMY, the 2004 World Yo-Yo Champion, enjoys stunning his audiences with a variety of impressive tricks. While regularly appearing in Muscle Musical, a musical variety show where the performers use their physical abilities, TOMMY also performs, street shows saying that “it’s the place where I can express myself freely,” emphatically adding, “I find enjoyment and good times there. I love the close feeling with the audience and the live atmosphere. This thing I do is not just my job, but my existence itself.”

    Marimba duo Natsu&Kayo
    YoYo Paformer TOMMY

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko




    2002年、東京都の石原慎太郎都知事に よって創設された「ヘブンアーティスト事業」は、路上パフォーマンスを行う人たち、いわゆる大道芸人を支援する東京都公認の制度である。審査会で合格した人に、主に東京都内の公共施設や民間施設などを活動場所として積極的に提供している。


    2006年からヘブンアーティストとして上野公園を中心に活動を始めているマリンバデュオ、Natsu & Kayoは、華麗なマリンバ演奏で人気だ。二人とも有名音楽大学を卒業したプロの演奏家である。モンティ作曲のチャルダッシュやモーツァルト作曲のトルコ行進曲などのクラシック演奏で観客を楽しませている。



    マリンバデュオ Natsu & Kayo
    ヨーヨーパフォーマー TOMMY


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  • 世界を駆けめぐる最強スナイパーのアニメ映画

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Golgo13 (Directed by DEZAKI Osamu)

    Golgo13 is a professional assassin whose real name, age and nationality, are unknown. In this hard-boiled action film, the multilingual Golgo, alias Duke TOGO, kills indiscriminately at the request of politicians, millionaires and ordinary citizens. With a grim outlook, Golgo is a cool guy who never wastes time, and he is merciless, with everyone.

    The original character written and illustrated by SAITO Takao has been serialized in print since January 1969, and still continues today. Initially released in 1983, Golgo13 is known as the world’s first animated film to use computer graphics. In 1973 a live-action version was produced, starring TAKAKURA Ken, after whom Saito had supposedly modeled Golgo. More recently, the first animated TV version was also broadcast.

    The story starts just off the Californian coast where wealthy oil baron Leonard DAWSON is celebrating his 62nd birthday aboard a cruise ship. No sooner does he announce that he will remain his company’s chairman, while welcoming his only son, Robert, as the new president, than Robert is shot dead, by Golgo.

    Following another successful assassination assignment, this time of a woman in Sicily, Italy, Golgo finds himself the target of a volley of bullets, but manages to escape. General T. JEFFERSON, the Director of the U.S. Pentagon Intelligence Agency, along with the FBI and the CIA, continue plotting his eventual demise.

    It is soon revealed that the mastermind behind the failed Golgo assassination attempt is none other than Leonard Dawson. Having vowed vengeance for the murder of his only son, Dawson uses his influence to contract the agencies for the kill. However, Robert’s widow, Laura, attacks Dawson, saying the person they should kill is the one who initially hired Golgo. But Dawson doesn’t respond.

    One after another formidable adversaries such as the quick and flexible Big Snake, as well as the notorious assassins, Silver and Gold, are sent out to try to kill Golgo. He struggles to defeat them, and finally corners the puppet master Dawson, who admits that it was Robert himself who requested his own assassination, as a way of foregoing his father’s impossible expectations. Dawson then jumps out of a window of his company’s building, but is shot in the head by Golgo just before impact.

    One night, a women with lifeless eyes stands in the streets as Golgo passes her by. Recognizing him as her beloved husband’s assassin, Laura reaches for the gun that she secretly carries and takes aim from behind. A shot rings out, but it’s never known whether or not the bullet hits its target. The film ends with Golgo just walking away from the camera.


    ゴルゴ13(出崎統 監督)








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  • 茶碗蒸し

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Ingredients [Serves 2]

    • 1 pc (40g) sasami (white chicken meat)
    • a pinch of salt
    • 1/2 tsp sake
    • 2 mid-size prawns
    • 1/2 tsp sake
    • 1/4 pkg (30g) shimeji mushrooms
    • 2 sprigs mitsuba (honeywort)

    Egg liquid

    • 2 eggs
    • 1 1/2 cups dashi (see below)
    • 2 cups water (to be boiled down to 1 1/2 cups)
    • 5 x 10cm long kelp slices
    • 1/2 cup shaved dried bonito
    • (A) 1/3 tsp salt
    • 1/2 tsp mirin cooking sake
    • 2 or 3 drops soy sauce

    Tips on Making Smooth Chawan-Mushi

    For a smooth taste keep the ratio of eggs to stock at 1:3. Since eggs solidify at 80℃, keep the steamer temperature between 80 ~ 90℃, but pay attention. Continuous steaming over a high flame will result in air-bubbles. (“su ga tatsu” in Japanese.)

    1. Leave the kelp unwashed as the white surface powder adds flavoring. Clean with a dry cloth then let soak in (2 cups) of water for about 30 minutes.
    2. Heat all the above over a low flame removing the kelp just before it boils. Add shaved, dried bonito, bring to a boil, and then turn off heat. Let cool for a minute or two, then strain stock through a damp, tightly wrung out dishcloth or paper towel.
    3. With stock still warm (approx. 60℃, the temperature of lukewarm tea), add (A) salt, mirin cooking sake and soy sauce.
    4. Remove prawns from shells leaving only the tails intact. Devein then pour sake.
    5. Strip the sasami (white chicken meat) of any bones or cartilage then cut into 4 pieces by sogi-giri (long, thin diagonal cuts). Season with salt and sake.
    6. After removing the hard tips from the shimeji mushroom, divide them into small amounts. Similarly divide the stems and the leaves of the mitsuba (honeywort). Slice the stems into 2-to-3 cm lengths.
    7. Break the eggs but do not beat them. Add them to no. 3 above, then strain.
    8. Put all ingredients except for mitsuba into tea bowls then slowly pour in the egg mix, careful to avoid any air bubbles.
    9. Put water in steamer and heat over a high flame. When steam occurs, place the tea bowls inside.
    10. Steam over high flame for 3 minutes. When the surfaces turn whitish, lower the flame and continue steaming for another 12 to 13 minutes.
    11. Poke a bamboo skewer into a tea bowl, to see if the soup is still clear – if so, stop steaming.
    12. Turn off heat, then place mitsuba on element and continue steaming with the remaining heat for about a minute.
    13. Remove tea bowls from steamer and cover with lids. You are now ready to serve.



    • とりささみ 1本(40g)
    • 塩 少々
    • 酒 小さじ1/2
    • えび 中2尾
    • 酒 小さじ1/2
    • しめじ 1/4パック(30g)
    • みつば 2本


    • 卵 2個
    • だし カップ1+1/2
    • 水 カップ2(出来上がり量 カップ1+1/2)
    • こんぶ 約5x10cm角
    • けずりかつお カップ1/2
    • (A)塩 小さじ1/3
    • みりん 小さじ1/2
    • しょうゆ 2~3滴



    1. こんぶは、表面についている白い粉もうまみの成分なので、洗わずに乾いたふきんでふきます。分量の水(カップ2)に30分以上つけます。
    2. 1を弱めの火にかけ、ふっとう直前にこんぶを取り出します。けずりかつおを入れ、再びふっとうしたら、火を止めます。1~2分おいて、かたくしぼった布きんやペーパータオルでこします。
    3. だしが温かいうち(60℃。ぬるめのお茶くらいの温度)に(A)塩、みりん、しょうゆを加えます。
    4. えびは尾の1節を残して殻をむき、背わたをとります。酒をふります。
    5. とりささみは筋をとり、ささみを4切れのそぎ切りにします。それに塩、酒で下味をつけます。
    6. しめじは石づきを落し、小房に分けます。みつばは茎と葉に分け、茎は2~3cmに切ります。
    7. 卵は泡立てないようにほぐし、3とあわせてこします。
    8. みつば以外の材料を茶碗に入れ、卵液を静かに注ぎます。表面に泡が出来たら泡をとります。
    9. 蒸し器に水を入れ強火にかけます。蒸気が充分に出てきたら、茶碗をのせます。
    10. 始めの3分は強火で、表面が白っぽくなったら弱火にして、12~13分蒸します。
    11. 竹串を刺してみて、穴の汁がすんでいれば蒸し上がりです。
    12. 火を止めて、みつばをのせて、1分ほど蒸らします。
    13. 取り出してふたをしてできあがりです。

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  • 銀行を利用する基礎知識

    [From April Issue 2010]

    While living in Japan it is important to learn how to use the various banking services. The Japanese word for “bank” is ginkou, however, most Japanese understand the term “bank.” There are three major banks in Japan: “Tokyo-Mitsubishi-UFJ,” “Sumitomo-Mitsui” and “Mizuho.”

    To convert foreign currency to yen, follow the signs to a kawase or gaika ryougae (money exchange counter), and take a number from the automated dispenser. When it is your turn, your number will be displayed on an electronic signboard, and called out loud.

    The word for bank note, or bill, is shihei or satsu. Japan uses four different bank notes: sen en (one thousand yen), ni-sen en (two-thousand yen, which is rarely used nowadays), go-sen en (five thousand yen) and ichi-man en (ten thousand yen). Japan also uses six different coins: they are ichi en (one yen), go en (five yen), juu en (ten yen), go-juu en (fifty yen), hyaku en (one hundred yen) and go-hyaku en (five hundred yen).

    Learning how to count money properly is also important – 1, 000 yen is not issen en, but sen en, 10,000 yen is not pronounced juu sen en, but ichi-man en.

    The method of opening a kouza (your account) differs from bank to bank. The kouza-mei (the account holder’s name) is usually registered in kanji, but for non-Japanese it can be in either katakana or English. In Japan a hanko, or inkan (personal seal/stamp) is generally necessary, but for non-Japanese people many banks will accept your signature instead.

    Katakana is Japanese script based on foreign word sounds, and does have its limitations. For instance, in Japan there is no such word as “victor,” because there is no ‘v’ sound in Japanese, so it may be written as “ヴィクター,” or “ビクター.” There are no official katakana rules, so you can choose your own spelling.

    You can access your account in person, or more likely by using your bank card at an ATM. If you want to withdraw money from your overseas account, or get a cash advance on your credit card, places are usually limited to post offices and 7-ELEVEN convenience store ATMs. Also, some overseas credit cards are not accepted in Japan, so remember to check beforehand.

    When receiving money from overseas in the form of a money-order, expect banks to charge a fee of roughly 5,000 yen per transaction. For instance, if you have a money-order valued at 10,000 yen, after paying the fee, you will only receive 5,000 yen, so it is best to get money sent from overseas in a lump sum, or check Japan’s post offices, where the fees tend to be less.










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  • 世界自然遺産の森と歴史につつまれて― 青森

    [From April Issue 2010]

    Aomori Prefecture is located on the northernmost tip of Honshu Island, where the Mutsu-wan (bay) nestles between the eastern Shimokita, and western Tsugaru Peninsulas. It is a region blessedly surrounded by the abundant waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Japan and the Tsugaru Kaikyo (Straits). The Aomori Nebuta Matsuri Festival held annually in August is a well-known festival. Currently only accessible via the Touhoku Shinkansen to Hachinohe station, the Shin-Aomori station is scheduled to open this December, enabling visitors to travel without transferring, directly from Tokyo station to Aomori City.

    In Aomori City visitors can explore the Sannai Maruyama Site, Japan’s largest archeological dig that dates back to the Jomon Period (approximately 16,500 to 3,000 years ago). The full-scale excavation, which began in 1992, revealed that ancient residents lived communally in neighboring villages and regularly interacted with one another.

    Findings considered between 4 ~ 5,500 years old reveal pit-house remains, grave sites, traces of larger buildings, Jomon-era clay pots, stone ware, clay figures, jewelry, jade and obsidian (volcanic glass) from far off regions. DNA analysis further revealed that chestnuts were also cultivated – a discovery which greatly changed the perception of Jomon-era culture.

    Renown for its history, Aomori Prefecture is also known in the literary world as the birthplace of author DAZAI Osamu (1909~1948), whose works include “Shayo (The Setting Sun)” and “Ningen Shikkaku (No Longer Human).” Dazai, the youngest of eight surviving children, was born into a wealthy landowner family in Goshogawara City. Now, both his enthusiastic fans and the local citizens look after his home, which houses the Dazai Osamu Museum, or “Shayo Kan.” And more recently, Dazai’s work has attracted new fans through the comic book version of “Ningen Shikkaku” and the film adaptation of “Viyon no Tsuma (Villon’s Wife).”

    Hirosaki is known for Mount Iwaki and Hirosaki Castle. Mount Iwaki, also referred to as “Tsugaru Fuji,” stands tall at 1,625 meters above sea level. At Hirosaki Castle, annual cherry blossoms bloom just in time for May’s Golden Week holidays (from the end of April to the beginning of May), making it a favorite viewing spot for visitors from all across the country.

    The castle grounds, measuring 385, 200 square meters, were built during his reign of TSUGARU Nobuhira, daimyou (lord) of the Tsugaru Han (domain), and can hold more than 10 Tokyo Domes. The current tenshukaku, the castle’s tallest and most-central building with rooftop views, was rebuilt in 1811. Hirosaki Castle is one of last 12 remaining castles that have tenshukaku from the Edo period, along with the hori (moat) and ishigaki (stone walls).

    Aomori prefecture also grows the most apples in Japan. The Tsugaru region around Hirosaki City, which is located in the Southwestern part of the prefecture, is the main apple-producing area. During typhoons it is common for apples to fall from the trees, with those that remain known as “unfailing apples” which some farmers sell to students preparing for exams.

    Additionally, Aomori Prefecture is proud to have the “Shirakami Sanchi” (Mountains) designated as a UNESCO World Nature Heritage Site. Spreading over to its neighboring prefecture of Akita, it is one of the largest, primeval, beech tree forests in the world, and home to various precious flora and fauna, including black bears, Japanese Macaques, black woodpeckers, and golden eagles. All of Shirakami Sanchi, with its roaring waterfalls and beautiful landscape, is said to be a natural, living, outdoor museum, and as a Heritage Site designee, it is an invaluable and precious global asset.

    Similar to Shirakami Sanchi, Towada Lake also adjoins Akita Prefecture. Surrounded by primeval forests, it is 378 meter deep, with 20 meters of underwater visibility. On its lakeshore stands the bronze statue of “Otome-no zou (maiden by the lake)” created by the poet and sculptor, TAKAMURA Kotaro.

    Drained by the Oirase River, Towada Lake is such a popular spring and autumn tourist attraction, with its roughly 14 kilometer walkway, that there are often traffic jams getting to and from the area.

    Another popular tourist destination is Mount Osorezan, located near Mutsu City, in the middle of the Shimokita Peninsula. According to Japanese tradition, “Dread Mountain,” where the smoky, sulfur smell always hangs in the air, is the gateway to Hell or the Pure Land, through which souls pass on their way to the underworld.

    During the summer festival season, worshippers gather at Mount Osorezan from all over Japan to welcome back the itako (spiritual mediums), who return in the hopes of communicating with the departed. Popular itako usually have very long line ups. At Mount Osorezan, lodging at the temple is also available.

    The three, spoken Aomori dialects are so distinct that sometimes people in Aomori prefecture can’t understand one another. Their dialects are all short. For example: asking “Ku?”, or saying “Ku.” or “Ke.” while similar sounding, all mean slightly different things: “Would you like to eat this?” “I want to eat it.” “(Go ahead and) eat it.” When Aomori people are interviewed on national television, sub-titles are sometimes included so that viewers can understand what is being said. Aomori Prefecture: pleasantly filled with unique surprises.

    Aomori Prefectural Tourism Federation
    Hirosaki Tourism and Convention Bureau

    Text: HAMADA Miyako

















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