• 鉄道模型――いろいろな楽しみかた

    [From August Issue 2011]

    Tetsudou mokei are models that are made to resemble real trains as closely as possible. Many of these models run on electricity. They are popular with people around the globe and the Japanese are no exception. As there are a range of different ways to enjoy the hobby, there’s no stereotypical model train fan.

    “Two prominent types of fans exist: Some enjoy the train carriages, and others enjoy the sight of trains running along tracks,” says FUJII Yoshihiko, Chairman of Japan Association of Model Railroaders (JAM). “Some carriage fans enjoy building the carriages themselves and others enjoy collecting carriages. Some people who enjoy the trains running along tracks enjoy making dioramas (miniature landscapes) or running the trains on train timetables.”

    “However, these are mere preferences. Not all fans can be divided into categories such as ‘diorama makers’ and ‘carriage collectors’,” continues Fujii. “Most fans love to both watch the trains running and to create dioramas. I myself love to purchase carriages and to add parts to them. I also enjoy making dioramas.”

    One of the ways Fujii enjoys his hobby is to take photos of the model trains. Depending on the lighting and diorama used for background, model train photography can express a variety of scenes: One can also recreate favorite locations, seasons, and eras. “Sometimes, landscapes can be expressed using photos or pictures. When you place photos and pictures near to a window under natural light, these landscapes look surprisingly realistic,” Fujii points out.

    JAM has been hosting summer conventions since 2001. At the event, visitors can enjoy model trains using “modules.” In model train jargon, module means a miniature diorama built to a given scale. For example, if a group of model train fans agree on the size “60 centimeters x 80 centimeters,” each member brings their own module of the same dimensions. The modules are put together at a venue to form a large diorama on which trains can then run freely. The total size of the diorama may turn out to be an impressive 8 meters x 12 meters.

    In Japan where space for housing is limited, it is not easy to create a large-scale diorama. That is why the “rental layout” business exists. Large dioramas, built in storage space, are rented out to customers by the hour. Since customers can use dioramas that will never fit in standard households, and show off their prized cars to other model train fans at the same time, it is a popular service.

    There are other businesses making money from large scale dioramas. At the Akihabara Washington Hotel located in Akihabara, Tokyo, a large diaorama is located in a hotel room. The diorama measures 4 meters x 4 meters and its track length totals approximately 30 meters. There is also a paid train rental service for hotel guests.

    IMON Yoshihiro has a flamboyant way of enjoying his hobby. Imon is the president of Imon Corporation, a company that owns electronics stores and other outlets. Imon is not only a model train fan, but also the president of Models IMON, a model train store.

    “Approximately 20 years ago, I thought that ‘eventually furniture and electronics stores will become a difficult business.’ So I began to look for a business that had good future prospects. A model train shop storekeeper who I was close to told me that the model train business would not make a profit, but I was confident that I could succeed in the field,” says Imon. “Not only that, I would be able to make my mark on the history of Japanese model trains.”

    Models IMON not only sells, but also manufactures model trains. “I have taken in a whole group of artists from manufacturers who shut up shop. It would be unfortunate to lose their skills,” reflects Imon. Imon’s diligence and strategy succeeded and Models IMON is now a profit making business.

    “Up until today model train manufacturers have continued to create products in a way that suited their own convenience. They have not met the needs of model train fans,” Imon reasons. Fully utilizing his expertise as a model train fan, he created a new model train standard. “Creating new products for the future of the model train industry is my pride and joy,” beams Imon.

    At the home of SUZUKI Noriko, three generations get a kick out of model trains. “I myself am not very knowledgeable about model trains. I actually prefer real trains, especially British ones: when I travel, I cannot help but look at them with affection,” says Noriko. “After my grandson Jin was born, at the age of around three he became interested in model trains. So I bought some for him.”

    However, once she bought the model trains, the other family members also got caught up in the craze. Both Noriko’s son, Seiichi and her husband Morio got interested in model trains. “Seiichi is especially into them. He connected track after track and now it has grown into a 180 centimeter x 120 centimeter masterpiece,” says Noriko. Jin, who has turned six, fully understands how to properly use the tracks his Uncle Seiichi has laid. He sometimes attends model train events with his grandfather, Morio. But they each have their preferences: while Morio is attracted to locomotives, Jin’s favorite is the Hayabusa (the new bullet train that connects Tokyo and Aomori).

    Seiichi modified one of his train collections and mounted lights on the inside. “I do not have a deep understanding of model trains, but I like doing this: When I run the cars in the dark, it is very beautiful, just like the scene from the movie ‘Spirited Away’ by MIYAZAKI Hayao,” smiles Noriko.

    Some people say model trains are “complicated” or “only for enthusiasts,” but there are restaurants that use model trains to bring meals to the table and bars that keep “personalized cars” instead of “personalized bottles.” There is no limit to the ways in which model trains can be enjoyed, though some ways are simpler than others.

    Japan Association of Model Railroaders (JAM)
    Akihabara Washington Hotel
    Models IMON

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo









    井門義博さんの楽しみかたは、とても豪華です。井門さんは井門コーポレーションという、家電店などいろいろなお店を持っている会社の社長です。井門さんは鉄道模型の愛好家であると同時に、models IMONという鉄道模型店の社長でもあるのです。


    models IMONは鉄道模型を販売するだけの店ではなく、メーカーでもあります。「事業をやめたメーカーから、技術者たちをまとめて引き取ったことがあります。彼らのすぐれた技術が失われてしまうのは残念ですから」と井門さんはふり返ります。井門さんの努力と戦略が成功して、models IMONの売上げは好調です。






    Models IMON


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  • 楽しくておいしいエコ活動

    [From August Issue 2011]

    The number of people who have created “veranda saien” on their apartment balconies, by growing edible herbs and vegetables, has grown. Lined with pots full of fruit and vegetables, these balconies resemble small patches of farmland. People have various reasons for planting their saien: some don’t have a real garden but want to enjoy gardening, and others want to cut down on their food expenses.

    SASAKI Yumiko, who lives in an apartment in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, has been working on her balcony garden for about two years. “I think the vegetables I grow and harvest myself are much tastier. It also makes economic sense because I don’t have to buy vegetables, and since I now use kitchen scraps for fertilizer, it is ecologically friendly, too,” she says.

    At a DIY center in Saitama City, there is a wide selection of vegetable seedlings and seeds for growing tomatoes, eggplants, and cucumbers. The store clerk says that pots that are easy to use on balconies are selling well, and low maintenance mini-tomato seedlings are also popular.

    Many customers ask for advice on how to start a balcony garden, and some of them have surprising ambitions to grow larger vegetables and fruit such as pumpkins and melons. Another popular vegetable that sells well every year and can tolerate the intense summer heat is goya (or bitter gourd), which many people use to create “green curtains.”

    Green curtains are vines grown from goya or Japanese morning glory, whose rich foliage forms a green shade. KIKUMOTO Ruriko, an elementary school music teacher and an executive board member of the nonprofit organization Midori no Kaaten Ouendan (Green Curtain Support Group), has been promoting the green curtains since 2003.

    Green curtains have become popular in recent years as a measure against global warming, since, in the severe heat of summer they block direct sunlight and external heat. There’s approximately a 10 degree (Celsius) temperature difference between a room with a green curtain compared to one without. These green curtains are now appearing, not only in households, but also in hospitals and corporate buildings.

    “Thanks to the green curtains, summers can be very comfortable and cool. It’s even possible to go all summer long without turning on the air conditioning. The sunlight gently seeping through the leaves has a healing effect, as if you were in a forest,” Kikumoto says. Creating a green curtain also contributes to energy conservation because it’s not necessary to use the air conditioner, which in turn prevents air conditioner sickness. Moreover, it is a healthy, and appetizing enjoyable eco-friendly option.

    Recently, Kikumoto has started the “temporary housing × green curtain” project to aid survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake. She is touring the temporary housing in disaster-stricken areas and evacuation centers to set up green curtains. With hopes to further conserve energy and expense, the popularity of balcony gardens and green curtains is sure to increase in Japan.

    KIKUMOTO Ruriko
    Nonprofit organization Midori no Kaaten Ouendan

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko












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  • コーナーを曲がりやすく、速く走れる子ども用運動靴

    [From August Issue 2011]

    At kindergartens and schools in Japan, sports days are held once a year. Parents bring along cameras and root for their children. Among the many sporting activities held on the day, the most popular is the “footrace” (a short sprint round a circular course). Focussing on this event, Achilles Corporation has developed “Syunsoku,” shoes that enable runners to turn corners without sliding.

    TSUBATA Yutaka, Deputy Director General of Product Planning and Development, has been recording the movements of children’s feet on camera at sports days since 2000. He has discovered that as they run around the course counterclockwise, many of them lose their balance when turning corners. “When we started our developmental research we thought, ‘Can’t we make shoes that stabilize runners going around corners?’”

    The planning stage began by taking a fresh look at the lives of elementary school pupils. Though schools differ in the enthusiasm they bring to sports, sports day remains an activity common to all schools.

    To counter centrifugal force at corners, you tend to tilt your body to the left. Tsubata thought that if protuberances were placed correctly on the sole, they could develop a shoe that gave reliable support, even when the runner goes around a corner.

    Made to prevent feet from sliding round corners, the totally new technology of Syunsoku was inspired by the design of products like studless tires that are used on snow covered roads. “Even at the production stage, we received inquiries from the factory, worrying that the asymmetrical design might be a mistake,” Tsubata says with a laugh.

    Up until then, for shoes and other fashion items, designs that incorporated Disney characters and such like, were in vogue. None of these shoes had a practical appeal. “We launched the shoes with the catch phrase, ‘Be the leader in the corner!’ Attracted by this advertising strategy, parents introduced the product in blogs or by word of mouth, making the campaign a big hit,” Tsubata explains.

    Tsubata, who has been recording athletic meets for 11 years says he still comes up with various ideas. He discovered, for instance, that since 2009, many children’s shoes accidentally slip off. The cause was the smaller width, lower instep and less-developed arches of children’s feet. Last year, taking this into account, they released “Syunsoku Slim,” which became the No. 1 hit product for girls footwear.

    Now they release somewhere in the region of 200 Syunsoku designs every year and they have become such a hit item that one in every two Japanese children are wearing a pair of them.

    Achilles Corporation

    Text: TAKAHASHI Yoshinori












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  • ワイルドな自然に遊ぶ――徳島

    [From August Issue 2011]

    Shikoku is one of Japan’s four main islands. Tokushima Prefecture is in the eastern part of this island. The population of the prefecture is approximately 800,000. Eighty percent of Tokushima is mountainous. Bordered by the ocean and rivers, it is rich in natural beauty. Because of its lush greenery and mild climate, a variety of different crops can be harvested there throughout the year. Among these crops, the sudachi (which is similar to lime) is a specialty of Tokushima. The prefecture’s charm lies in its delicious food and wild vegetation.

    Tokushima also boasts Mount Tsurugi, which is known as a sacred mountain. Standing at 1,955 meters high, the mountain provides spectacular views of the sun rising through a sea of clouds. In the precincts of Ohtsurugi Shrine, near the summit, water gushes out from a natural spring. The spring is considered to be one of the top 100 water sources in Japan. Fascinated by its abundant nature, a number of foreign artists have visited Tokushima. Kamiyama, one of the largest production areas of plums in western Japan, actively encourages artists to visit and engages them in a variety of artistic activities.

    A gorge cuts through the deep mountains. Driving along a highway past dizzying cliffs, you come to Iya Valley, one of Japan’s three most secluded regions. A number of poignant legends concerning the Genpei War (a battle between the Taira and Minamoto clans) are told about this beautiful village. The village is built on the steep slopes of the surrounding mountains. Terraced rice paddies appear differently in the morning and evening light. Suspension bridges called kazura-bashi made from wild vines have been designated as Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan.

    The Iya River, flows from its source at Mount Tsurugi, under unsteadily swaying vine bridges. Running into Oboke-kyo gorge, the Iya River connects with the Yoshino River. The Yoshino River, flows rapidly, throwing up spray and white water rafting along it is popular. After enjoying the sport to the limit, it may be a good idea to eat Iya soba noodles while gazing down at the gorge. In summer, you can eat outside while listening to the murmur of the river.

    The Yoshino River is sometimes called Shikoku Saburo, which is a male nickname. The reason being, it used to be a violent waterway and often caused floods. Old jizo statues in this area are mounted on high plinths so that they do not get submerged if there’s a flood. This violent river doesn’t just bring floods, it also deposits a huge amount of nutrients in the soil.

    Because of the fertile soil brought by the Yoshino River, Tokushima used to be a major producer of indigo plants. Since the dye from those plants acts as a pesticide and also as a disinfectant, samurai warriors are said to have worn indigo-dyed underwear beneath their suits of armor. In Wakimachi, aka “Udatsu Town,” the former residences of indigo-dye merchants remain to this day. Those merchants built their houses with expensive fire protection walls called udatsu and competed with their neighbors to erect the most splendid facades.

    The famous Awa Odori (The Awa Dance Festival) began 400 years ago, a period in which Tokushima flourished thanks to its monopoly of the indigo and salt trade. Awa Odori events are held in all parts of the prefecture, kicking off with Naruto-City’s Awa Odori tournament, which takes place in early August. Tokushima-City’s Awa Odori is the most popular, attracting crowds of tourists every year. The way groups of more than ten performers (ren) dance is so dynamic that you cannot help being excited when you see it.

    If you visit Tokushima during the festival, you’ll hear festival music in the distance. The scent of grilled squid and dishes from food stands wafts through the air. It’s not a bad idea to wander aimlessly around the town and check out the street stalls, but if you start from Tokushima Station for Aibahama Enbujo and then walk past the yatai (food stalls) toward Mizugiwa Park, you will be able to watch the Awa Odori performance. There is a tourist information center near the station, where you can receive advice on which route to take.

    While walking around the prefecture, you may come across people dressed in white wearing straw hats similar to those seen in period dramas. These are the “ohenro-san” pilgrims, who journey to visit 88 Buddhist temples located throughout Shikoku. In the past, those pilgrims must have been fiercely committed to undertaking the trip: It is said that if a pilgrim dies during the journey, their white garments serve as burial vestments and the cane, in which the spirit of Kobo-Daishi (a great teacher of Buddhism) dwells, can be used as their grave marker.

    Ohenro-san travel 1,200 to 1,400 kilometers, visiting the hallowed grounds of Shikoku Hachiju Hakkasho (88 temples in Shikoku), which were built around 1,200 years ago. The journey takes about 40 days on foot and roughly ten days by car. Temples (known as fuda-sho) number one to 23 and 66 are located in Tokushima. In modern times, not only Buddhists, but also those seeking solace often undertake the journey.

    If you have made it to the first fuda-sho, Ryozenji Temple, in Naruto City, you might as well go to see the uzushio (whirlpools) while you are at it. Up to 20 meters in diameter, uzushio whirl vigorously at speeds of up to 20 kilometers per hour. A cruise in which you leisurely watch these currents from a boat is very popular. You can experience yet another side of Tokushima, by sailing along the rough Naruto Strait for 30 minutes, while deeply inhaling in the fresh ocean air.

    Some restaurants in Naruto City serve fresh seafood that the owners themselves have caught by setting out early in the morning in fishing boats. Fish that have endured the rapid currents of the Naruto Strait are firm and tasty. Popular dishes include fresh fish eaten raw with sudachi juice, kamameshi (rice cooked in a small iron pot) with plenty of sea bream, and miso soup with locally grown wakame seaweed.

    When you come to Tokushima, don’t forget to eat Tokushima ramen. Tokushima ramen is divided into three types according to the color of its broth: white, yellow and black. It’s the black broth ramen which is famous nationwide. Thinly sliced pork is placed on the noodles instead of char siu (Chinese-style barbecued pork). Quite a few customers visit the prefecture just to eat this unusual ramen topped with a raw egg.

    The journey from Tokyo to Tokushima takes one hour by air and about ten hours by overnight bus. If you’re coming from the Tokai or Kinki region, it’s convenient to cross the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge by express bus. From Wakayama Prefecture or Kyushu, you can also use a ferry. To travel around the prefecture, it’s convenient to rent a car. August is peak season so you’ll need to book a hotel room well in advance.

    Photos courtesy of the Tokushima Prefectural International Exchange Association

    Text: NARUTO Kouji


















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  • 中洲に造られた「生」の文字

    [From August Issue 2011]

    At Takarazuka City, Hyogo Prefecture, on the sandbank of the Muko River, the kanji character for life (sei) has been created using piles of stones. ARIKAWA Hiro, a novelist living in the city, says that this art installation inspired her to write the novel, “Hankyu Densha” (the Hankyu Line). The beginning of the novel contains a description of how this kanji character comes into view just as the train is crossing a bridge over the Muko River.

    This kanji character was created in 2005 by modern artist OHNO Ryohei, who was born and still lives in Takarazuka City. Ohno says, “On the tenth anniversary of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, I was planning an art exhibition on the theme of “reproduction,” and I was wondering if there was any place outside the venue where I could express this concept. It was then that I thought of this place. The fact that there was a big river with a beautiful sandbank flowing through the middle of the city really made an impression on me and I decided to create the character “sei” in order to offer up prayers for the dead.

    In 2006, the river swelled and the installation disappeared. But in 2010, when “Hankyu Densha” was made into a movie, it was decided that the artwork would be reproduced in cooperation with volunteers, including students from Takarazuka University (Ohno’s alma mater), local residents and children. UEOKA Hidehiro, assistant professor at the art and design department of Takarazuka University, who also participated in the effort along with the students, says: “The sandbank was overgrown with grass that reached the tops of our heads, so it was really hard work to cut it back. The students were all working silently, carrying the cut grass across the river in high boots. Since they had already developed mental and physical strength through creating their own works of art, I think they were able to toil away without too much difficulty.

    Ueoka says that, starting with the largest, he put his heart and soul into piling up stones one by one. “At the time of the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, I was buried alive for three to four hours under the beam of a Japanese-style house,” he says. “Because of this experience, as I added each stone, I thought about those who had died.” The huge art installation, measuring about 20 meters long and 10 meters wide, was restored in December 2010 with the help of a total of 100 volunteers.

    This art installation was much talked about after it was shown at the ending of the film, and was also featured in “Masashi to Yuki no Monogatari” (The Story of Masashi and Yuki), a spin-off TV drama taking the theme of the letter “sei.” The installation was also featured in various media, including newspapers and TV. Having received a lot of attention as a new tourist attraction in Takarazuka City, the big character vanished again last April, when the water rose.

    Ohno continues, “It was sad, but it makes us want to cherish moments that have disappeared. From the outset, rather than using concrete, I decided to use materials that would harmonize with nature. Every tangible thing disappears eventually, but I think the feelings of those who piled up the stones will surely remain. This time, the installation was filled with so many people’s emotions that it became a piece of art that captivated the hearts of even more people than the last one.”

    By popular demand, a movement to reproduce the character “sei” has begun again. Ohno says, “From Takarazuka, which has recovered from a disaster, we would like to send the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake the message that it is possible to reproduce what has been washed away.

    Photos courtesy of the Project to Reproduce the Character “Live”

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko











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  • 原爆を通じて描かれる、世代を越えた人間ドラマ

    [From August Issue 2011]

    Yunagi City, Sakura Country (Directed by SASABE Kiyoshi)

    This movie is adapted from a manga written by the Hiroshima-born artist, KOUNO Fumiyo. The book received many awards, including the Tezuka Osamu Creative Award, and the translated version is published all over the world. This adaptation was released in 2007. The movie consists of two parts: Part one is about the atomic bomb survivors 13 years after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and part two tells the contemporary story of the next generation.

    Part one is set in 1958 Hiroshima. The central character HIRANO Minami, who lives an impoverished life with her mother, Fujimi, is a survivor of the atomic bomb. In order to avoid radiation exposure, her younger brother Asahi has been placed in the care of relatives who live far away.

    One day, one of Minami’s colleagues, UCHIKOSHI, confesses his love to her. Although she secretly has a crush on him, Minami cannot accept his feelings. His confession of love triggers a memory of her younger sister calling “oneechan” (older sister) out to her.

    When the atomic bomb was dropped, Minami was safe inside a warehouse, but Midori was exposed to the blast. Minami found her and then carried Midori on her back as she wandered around the devastated streets. “Oneechan, you live a long life, okay?” said Midori, after which she died, while still on Minami’s back. Ever since, every time Minami feels happiness, she begins to feel guilty for surviving the bomb.

    After hearing her story, Uchikoshi holds Minami in his arms and says, “Thank you for staying alive.” But soon after, Minami starts exhibiting symptoms of radiation exposure. Then, with Asahi and Uchikoshi by her side, she breathes her last and dies.

    Part Two of the film is set in 2007 Tokyo. The story revolves around Asahi who has retired, his daughter Nanami, and son, Nagio. Asahi’s wife was also exposed to radiation when she was young and died when Nanami was in elementary school. One night when Nanami sees that something’s the matter with Asahi, she decides to follow him when he goes out for a walk. By chance, in front of the station, she meets Touko. Touko is her childhood friend and Nagio’s colleague (she works with him at a hospital). Touko becomes interested and joins Nanami in the chase, following her father onto a bus heading for Hiroshima.

    As she tails her father, Nanami finds out that Nagio and Touko are intimate, and that Touko’s parents are against the match as Nagio is the child of a bomb survivor. After returning to Tokyo, Nanami creates an opportunity for Nagio and Touko to talk. Asahi confesses that he went to Hiroshima to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Minami’s death, and that he met Uchikoshi and other people who knew Minami. He says, “Nanami, there’s a slight resemblance between you and my sister. So it’s your turn to become happy.”


    夕凪の街 桜の国(佐々部 清 監督)








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