• 日本で親しまれている飲み物

    [From August Issue 2012]


    If you feel like having something to drink while walking along the street in Japan, you can purchase drinks from a vending machine, conbini (convenience store), or supermarket. Alternatively, you can stop by a coffee shop or restaurant. In establishments where food or drink is served, waiters automatically set down water or tea, free of charge, as soon as the customer is seated.

    Probably the easiest way to get your hands on a drink is by using a vending machine. Most vending machines sell soft drinks in cans and plastic bottles. In Japan, “juice” does not necessarily refer to 100% pure fruit juice, it also refers to non-fruit juice. Cola is commonly referred to as juice in conversation. Vending machines generally stock chilled beverages, but hot drinks like coffee and tea are also available during winter. There are also vending machines which dispense drinks into paper cups.

    Many people choose to stop by the conbini because they have a wider selection of drinks than vending machines. Conbini also sell larger one-liter size bottles of soda or liquor, but, since they are very easy to carry around, the most popular size are 350 milliliter and 500 milliliter pet bottles that have re-sealable caps.


    At coffee shops and restaurants, the so-called “self-café” system is on the rise. Based on the self-service system, after ordering at the counter, the customer carries his own food and drink to the table. Especially popular are “Doutor” and “Starbucks,” and these big name stores have outlets across the country. In addition, at fast food stores like McDonalds, you can purchase a wide variety of beverages for around 100 yen.

    As can be seen from the proliferation of cafés, coffee is a very popular drink in Japan. Some unique ways to enjoy coffee in Japan are the “American,” which uses a smaller amount of lightly roasted coffee beans, and “ice(d) coffee” which is coffee with ice. Instant coffee, made by pouring hot water over powdered coffee, and black tea made from tea bags, are also widely enjoyed. Also sold are coffee and tea drinks that have already had milk added to them.

    In addition to coffee and black tea, Chinese teas are also very popular. Many people favor these teas for their health giving or weight loss properties. The most well-known are oolong tea, jasmine tea and tochuu tea.

    Nihoncha, or Japanese tea, is the most popular tea for Japanese people and these teas are mostly green teas such as sencha or genmaicha. Tea leaves are grown in many parts of Japan and are typically brewed and drunk in specially made green tea pots and cups, called kyuusu and yunomi respectively. However, in recent years, green tea beverages, in cans or bottles that have been brewed before being packaged, line the shelves of conbini. Mugicha, a tea made from roasted barley, is another popular drink in Japan. Drinking a glass of chilled mugicha straight from the refrigerator on a hot sunny day is an activity that really symbolizes summer in Japan.

    Blended teas of Chinese tea, Japanese tea, and grains (like barley) are also popular. In addition there are fizzy drinks like cola and cider, fruit juices (both with and without pulp), sports drinks, and mineral water.


    In Japan you can drink alcohol from the age of 20. If you’re talking about an alcoholic beverage that is exclusively manufactured in Japan, then it’s got to be nihonshu (Japanese sake). Made by fermenting rice, sake is referred to in Japan as “nihonshu,” “seishu” or “sake,” but is commonly known throughout the world as “sake.” Hardly ever diluted with water or ice, sake can be drunk warm as “atsukan,” or chilled as “reishu.” There are many ways to refer to it depending on the temperature it is drunk at. For example sake drunk at room temperature is referred to as “hiya” and sake warmed up to around 40 degrees Celsius (a little over room temperature) is referred to as “nuru-kan.”

    There are various kinds of liquor sold in Japan, including, shouchuu, beer, wine, whiskey, and brandy. The word “sake” in Japanese does not only refer to nihonshu, but also to any other kind of alcoholic drink. For example, if someone invites you out by saying, “Sake demo nomou,” this means, “Let’s go out for a drink.”

    Also, “toriaezu bi-ru” (first of all, beer) is a typical phrase used at boozy gatherings. This phrase is used when the person orders beer as their first drink. It shows how popular beer is in Japan. In recent years, sales of “happoushu” (low-malt beer) and “daisan no bi-ru” (beer-flavored sparkling liquor) have increased because they are more affordable than beer but have a similar taste. Beer uses malt as the main ingredient, but happoushu and daisan no bi-ru have a lower malt content and include ingredients not usually found in beer.


    “Chuuhai” is another popular type of alcoholic drink. Chuuhai is kind of cocktail that has a “shouchuu” base mixed with carbonated water, fruit juice and syrup. Shouchuu is a type of strong liquor made from rice, barley or sweet potatoes, and if mixed, can be easily drunk at restaurants. Chuuhai in cans is also common.

    However, an alternative to these alcoholic drinks are non-alcoholic beverages, and these kinds of drinks are now trending. Non-alcoholic beer is selling especially well. These denote carbonated beverages that look like beer but contain no alcohol at all, or less than 1% alcohol. As penalties for driving under the influence get stricter, major beer manufacturers have been launching one product after another onto the market.

    Non-alcoholic chuuhai and cocktails are also on the market. These drinks have been welcomed not only by drivers, but also by people who are unable to drink alcohol because of a weak constitution. On the other hand, some news stories have pointed out that these types of non-alcoholic drinks “encourage under aged children and alcoholic people to drink,” and are also “not good for pregnant women.”

    Photos courtesy by Seven & i Holdings Co., Ltd.

    Text: KOMIYAMA Ranko



















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  • お坊さんの世界にも広がるイケメンブーム

    [From August Issue 2012]


    Due to the fact that many Japanese believe in Buddhism, there are many Buddhist temples all over Japan. Some have even become famous tourist destinations. “Obousan” are monks responsible for carrying out duties such as preaching the faith and holding memorial services for the deceased. Recently, a free paper and book that introduce the personalities and actions of such monks have become popular amongst young women.

    What kicked things off was the publication of “Bibouzu Zukan: Otera-e Ikou, Obousan-wo Medeyou” (The Illustrated Book of Beautiful Monks: Visit Temples, Love Monks) by Kosaido Co., Ltd., which featured photographs of 40 ikemen monks from various temples around Japan. Ikemen are handsome men who are attractive to women. Though people may think that the world of Buddhism is behind the times, the book shows that there are actually many cool guys involved.

    The book’s editor is TAKADA Junko. “Many people immediately equate monks with funerals, so we wanted to introduce the public to the younger monks who were volunteering after the Great East Japan Earthquake,” she says, reflecting on the reasons for publishing the book. “Younger women find that they can more easily place their trust in monks when consulting them about troubles concerning affairs of the heart, or their careers. They are much more reliable than shady fortune tellers,” she continues.

    HIGASHIYAMA Kyousei, Mirokuin priest in Koyasan (Wakayama Prefecture), who is featured in the book, is surprised at the attention he has received since the book was published: “It was the catalyst for many people to develop an interest in Buddhism. The numbers of visitors who tell me that they read the book and decided to come all the way to see me have increased. Now many people call out to me when I’m walking through the temple grounds. Sometimes they even ask if they can have their photo taken with me.”

    There is also a free paper published every other month by a group of young monks from various sects, and other authors, titled “Furi-sutairu-na Souryotachi-no Furi-magajin” (Freestyle Monks’ Free Magazine). This publication has been put together to inform the community about the “Furi-sutairu-na Souryo-tachi” (Freestyle Monks) project, and is available at temples, shrines and cafés in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.

    IKEGUCHI Ryuho, a monk from the Jodo (Pure Land) sect of Buddhism, works as the project’s representative. “In today’s society, young people are resistant to the idea of religion, so we are looking for ways to make Buddhism viable. As the magazine is edited mainly by young people, it is possible to make it a bold publication. It’s useful in helping us to spread the idea that Buddhism is not only for funerals. Many people have felt able to approach us with their troubles,” he says.

    The appearance of ikemen obousan has made a positive impact on younger women who used to view Buddhism as being overly formal. A few books written by monks have been published and have received positive reviews; there is also a female monk that hosts concerts at temples. Who knows, this trend may even cross over into other religions with Catholic or Shinto ikemen priests.

    Kosaido Publishing Co., Ltd.
    “Furi-sutairu-na Souryotachi-no Furi-magajin” (Freestyle Monks’ Free Magazine)

    Text: ITO Koichi












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  • 最後のオウム逃亡者の逮捕に潜む本当の怖さ

    [From August Issue 2012]


    The last Aum fugitive, TAKAHASHI Katsuya, was arrested on June 15. Aum Shinrikyo was responsible for numerous atrocities and is known overseas as a cult organization. Seventeen years ago they carried out the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in which 13 passengers died and more than 6,000 others were injured.

    Aum preached the attainment of enlightenment through yoga, its founder ASAHARA Shoko (real name: MATSUMOTO Chizuo) took in young people who felt suffocated by society and cleverly brainwashed them into becoming his followers. Furthermore, in the guise of training, he created a hierarchy, in which followers had to obey the orders of their superiors without question.

    Believers were not welcome in society and gradually they began their anti-social and anti-political activities. Asahara even incited murder, by using the term “phowa,” which means execution. They killed a lawyer – who was perceived as being hostile to their cause – and his family in a coldblooded act.

    Furthermore, Aum manufactured sarin for the purposes of terrorism. The sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway targeted the Kasumigaseki area, which houses Japan’s governmental departments. Afterwards, the chief of the National Police Agency, was shot. A series of criminal cases lead to the indictment of 189 Aum members, the death sentence for 13 executives and life imprisonment for five others. The majority of these had some form of higher education and had lived ordinary lives before entering Aum.

    The media gave a lot of coverage to this, the worst crime in Japanese history, whenever a new development arose. After this crime, people have been extremely suspicious of new religious groups that are soliciting for large donations. However, the new religious organizations “Aleph” and “Hikari no Wa,” formed by former Aum followers, are still active.

    Aum Criminal System can be Found Wherever you Look

    This kind of abnormal criminal activity occurred before Aum. The Japanese Coalition Red Army, which advocated simultaneous world revolution, brutally killed 12 of their comrades in group lynchings. The coalition adhered to a hierarchical system with strict rules, and those violating the rules were executed.

    These two cases share a common feature. Both these organizations had strict rules and those found to be in violation were strictly punished. Furthermore they were forced to watch each others’ movements and advised to inform on each other in secret. It is not easy to get out of such a group. Conversely, the system is set up so that the leader can exercise absolute power.

    This system can be found not only in the yakuza (gangster) world, but also in military regimes and in some socialist nations. The Aum incident teaches us that we are constantly in danger of being brainwashed to become the puppet of an ambitious leader, or of being forced to live in a world without freedom.












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  • 日本を元気にする東京スカイツリー

    [From August Issue 2012]


    A large number of people have been to visit Tokyo Skytree. For the Japanese, it is encouraging news that the world’s tallest tower has been built successfully, a testament to the country’s technological achievements. Some people feel nostalgic, recalling the construction of Tokyo Tower in 1958 during the days when the country was recovering from World War Two and beginning to experience rapid growth.

    Another reason for the tower’s popularity is that it has numerous features that highlight the history and traditions of Japan. The tower has one thick pillar in the center, a structure reminiscent of the central column of a five-story pagoda. Part of its outline is shaped like a sword. Its color is based on aijiro (bluish white), a shade which has been used in Japan since the old times. For its lighting, two colors of pale blue and edo-murasaki (violet) are used. Pale blue represents the water of the Sumida River while Edo-murasaki is a color which was hugely popular in the Edo period. Japanese people, disheartened by the prolonged recession and the Great East Japan Earthquake, are fascinated by this tower as it allows them to reaffirm their identity.

    Standing 634 meters tall, Tokyo Skytree has two observatories. At 350 meters above ground, the shape of Tokyo Skytree Observation Deck projects out over the main body of the tower. This shape was difficult to construct, but it was adopted because it would provide better views of the scenery below. Part of the flooring is reinforced glass, allowing visitors to stand on it and look down at the streets below.

    Tokyo Skytree Observation Galleria is located 450 meters above the ground. After getting off the elevator, visitors gradually walk up a corridor shaped like a glass tube which spirals around the tower until they reach the highest platform. It’s constructed in such a way that visitors are entertained by letters projected onto the glass walls, and through illuminations, sounds and LED lights in the highest “Sorakara Point.”

    There are a number of attractions to enjoy in Tokyo Skytree. On the first floor, for instance, you can see the tower’s foundation through glass windows. Observing the huge steel frames and the parts connecting them, while reading the explanations about the construction process, you can witness how the structure was assembled millimeter by millimeter. In addition there is the elaborate and humorous exhibit, Sumidagawa Digital Emaki (scroll painting) in which ships and people actually move around the town.

    On the fourth floor, art objects have been set into a wall 3.5 meters tall and 22 meters wide. Divided into 12 categories, the objects are made of materials used by local craftsmen, such as bamboo and Edo-kiriko (cut glass, which began to be produced in Tokyo in the Edo period). Also, if you are lucky, you will encounter Sorakara-chan, the official mascot of Tokyo Skytree.

    The Tenbo Shuttle, Tokyo Skytree’s highspeed elevators, are also much talked about. There are four elevators to the observatories, which ascend at a speed of approximately 600 meters a minute. The inside of each elevator is decorated respectively with spring, summer, autumn, or winter as its theme. Created with techniques used in traditional local crafts, each depicts the defining characteristics of the season, such as cherry blossoms in spring and fireworks in summer. Part of the elevator ride, between the Observation Deck and the Observation Galleria, is see-through, enabling visitors to look out on the scenery below during their ascent.

    The views from the tower can be compromised on rainy or cloudy days, but there will be other sights for visitors to enjoy. A panorama screen at the observation deck shows views from sunny days, or sights that can only be seen on rainy days.

    The commercial facility downstairs, Tokyo Soramachi, houses shops, a tourist information center. In addition to local food and sweets, and goods exclusive to Sumida Ward, some of the shops carry souvenirs, depicting characters such as kabuki actors and samurai, designs that make them popular among non-Japanese people. Throughout Tokyo Skytree Town, there are an aquarium, and a planetarium, as well as numerous spots where you can sit and look up at the tower or eat a shop-bought lunch, encouraging many tourists to sit back and relax.

    Tokyo Skytree is expected to revitalize the neighborhood, so the area around the tower has been redeveloped. A promenade has been built along Kitajikken River, which flows by the tower, allowing visitors to go down to the riverside and take a walk. Water fountains can be seen on the river’s surface. There are rows of cherry trees by the river and plants growing in flower beds.

    There is also a deck and a square, from which you can enjoy a close-up view of Tokyo Skytree. Some restaurants and cafés in the area have special Tokyo Skytree dishes. These dishes have been named “Skytree gourmet” food and have created so much of a stir that they have been featured in magazines.

    The area around Tokyo Skytree is called shitamachi, and this word refers to a town in which merchants and craftsmen lived in the Edo Period. Its characteristic qualities are said to be clusters of small houses, the high quality of its traditional craftsmanship, and the warmth of human relationships. In fact, some residents are voluntarily extending their hospitality to tourists. For example, by placing large mirrors in front of their stalls, shop owners help tourists to take photographs of themselves with Tokyo Skytree in the background.

    At the eastern end of Tokyo Skytree Town is Oshiage (Skytree-mae) Station, and at the western end is Tokyo Skytree Station, so it’s possible to access the tower from four different train lines. From Narita Airport, it takes about one hour on the Keisei Line, and from Tokyo Station, you can get there by train and subway in less than 30 minutes. It’s about a 20-minute walk to Asakusa, a tourist spot popular for its historical temples, such as Senso-ji Temple. A unique way for tourists to get about is by rickshaw. Shuttle buses that connect Asakusa, Ueno, Tokyo, Haneda Airport, Tokyo Disney Resort and Tokyo Skytree Town, are also available. It looks like Tokyo Skytree Town will be a major tourist attraction for years to come.


    Text: SAZAKI Ryo


















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  • うちわと扇子の違いをご存じですか



    Japan has been using hand-held fans for a variety of purposes, including for ceremonies, decoration, and, of course, to keep cool, for many hundreds of years. These days, fans are still widely used during hot and humid Japanese summers and many foreigners buy them as souvenirs.

    The foldable fan (sensu) was invented in Japan. It is made of Japanese paper or cloth fixed to a collapsible frame of bamboo or wood. Some variations use sandalwood, to lend a pleasant scent to the cooling breeze.

    The uchiwa is a hand-held fan that was originally introduced to Japan from China. Plastic frame versions bearing company logos and advertisements are distributed for free. But there are still a few companies that make artisanal uchiwa constructed out of bamboo and Japanese paper or cloth.

    Hinaga uchiwa is a hand-held fan typical of the Hinaga district in Yokkaichi City, Mie Prefecture close to Nagoya. A characteristic feature of the hinaga uchiwa is that whole fan is made from one single piece of bamboo. The top of the circular bamboo handle is carefully bent to create the frame on which the paper is attached. This creates an empty space just above the handle into which a small paper ball is placed. When fragrant oil is dropped onto the ball, the hinaga uchiwa becomes a fragrant fan. As the handle is perfectly round, it’s possible to add extra functionality and you can also turn it into a flute.

    The frame of the hinaga uchiwa is generally covered with Japanese paper featuring traditional motifs such as bamboo, sakura or ume blossoms, pine trees, or cranes and other animals. But Yokkaichi is also very close to famous centers of traditional textile production and local companies sometimes cooperate to make hand-held fans covered with kimono cloth.

    Fuurin wind chimes are also very popular items during summer. They are placed close to windows or doors, or used outside the home as ornaments for the garden. These bells make a pleasant tinkling sound when the wind plays with them. Fuurin wind chimes come in many shapes and are usually made of glass, bamboo or metal.

    Many glass wind chimes are decorated with beautiful hand painted pictures; the sound they generate is made when a central glass clapper touches the sides of the bell. In the old days small cast iron clappers were used. Very often a strip of paper is attached to the end of the clapper to better catch the breeze. Animals, plants or cages are commonly used to adorn the bells.

    How about enjoying a hot summer day Japanese style, by wearing a yukata, drinking a glass of cold tea and feeling the cooling breeze from your hand-held fan, while listening to the sound of your wind chime?


    Text: Nicolas SOERGEL













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  • 少ない方が効果的――日本人の美学をつくる無の哲学

    [From August Issue 2012]


    Contributor: Wang BAOSHENG (China)

    During an excursion I took the other day with my friends to Roppongi, Tokyo, we came across an interesting scene: an area of lawn was encircled by a boundary made of chains. This little example of Japanese wit deeply impressed us and warned us not to cross the boundary; it was a more powerful and effective deterrent than strong words or high fences.

    Indeed, the philosophy of emptiness, or “less is more,” can be seen in many aspects of Japanese life. For instance, the Japanese national flag is simply a red dot in the middle of a white square, but can interpreted in a variety of different ways.

    If you have ever been to a Japanese teahouse garden, you might have seen a sekimori ishi or tome ishi stone, bound in a cross made from bracken or palm frond and placed on a path of stepping stones. This stone is not decorative, neither has it been left on the path by a lazy worker. Instead, it conveys the subtle message that a tea ceremony is underway and no one is allowed to enter. This method is much more appealing and persuasive than a straightforward “keep off the grass” sign.

    With its tatami flooring, sliding doors and windows, the teahouse is a Japanese style room; devoid of furniture, it is a completely empty container. Yet the imagination of both the host and guest can fill this enclosed tranquil hollow space; in this peaceful atmosphere beautiful scenarios can be called to mind.

    Owing to modernization, traditional Japanese houses have been gradually disappearing. Fortunately, during a field trip to Kyushu last year, I lodged at a traditional Japanese minshuku – a private home providing meals and lodging for travelers – giving me a good opportunity to observe and study the layout of a traditional Japanese building.

    My attention was drawn to a space called the tokonoma. The tokonoma, or alcove, is a recessed space built into a traditional Japanese room, in which articles, such as calligraphy and pictorial scrolls, ikebana (flower arrangements), ceramics, or bonsai, are displayed. The items displayed are carefully chosen and their number kept to a strict minimum.

    According to Japanese custom, the most important guest should be seated with his or her back facing the tokonoma, while the host should sit on the opposite side so that he cannot be accused of showing off the items displayed in the tokonoma to the guest. My Japanese friend, who had accompanied me on the visit, told me that the tokonoma is an integral part of a traditional Japanese room. It is no exaggeration to say that the tokonoma is the soul of a Japanese building.

    The philosophy of emptiness is particularly reflected in this sacred space. Just imagine the light seeping in through the paper doors onto these carefully chosen objects that sit quietly in their special place, and, as the light gradually changes, a mysterious atmosphere is created. In this narrow empty space, a beauty can be sensed that is hard to put into words.

    It seems that, from the Japanese perspective, an inconspicuous space is more meaningful, formidable and instructive than a flashy space crowded with ornaments. It is plainness and simplicity rather than adornment and complexity that count in getting your message across. In other words, “less is more.”



    投稿者:王 宝升さん(中国)










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  • 夜間中学校に通う大人たちの人間模様を描く

    [From August Issue 2012]


    Gakko (Directed by YAMADA Yoji)

    Released in 1993, “Gakko” (School) is a human interest drama, directed by YAMADA Yoji, who is known for his “Otoko wa Tsurai yo” (It’s Tough Being a Man) series and “Kofuku no Kiiroi Hankachi” (The Yellow Handkerchief). Set in a night school that allows students who, for various reasons, were not able to graduate from high school, to complete their high school education, it depicts the personal growth of these students and their teacher.

    KUROI has been teaching evening classes in a downtown district of Tokyo, which is tightly packed with small factories and houses. On a winter’s day, with that year’s graduation ceremony drawing near, he is called up by the principal and is told: “It’s about time you transferred to another school.” However, Kuroi declines the job offer, saying, “I would like to stay here so that students can drop in and visit us any time after graduation.”

    That day during the lesson he gets the students to compose an essay about what they want to do after they graduate. As he watches them write, he recalls his first encounter with each student.

    Among the students, there is Midori whose father is addicted to alcohol and has dabbled in drugs herself; there is Kazu, a young guy, who is managing to hold down both a manual labor job along with doing evening class; there is Chinese student Chou who, despite having a Japanese mother, is having trouble fitting into Japanese society; Omoni, a Korean living in Japan, who is a mother and owner of a yakiniku (Korean barbeque) restaurant; and there is Inoda, who loves horse racing, but has grown up without learning how to read or write.

    Kuroi, not only teaches these “socially disadvantaged people,” but also treats them as a parent or friend would: he lets Midori into his house for a bowl of ramen when she is roaming the streets weak from hunger, and when he sees how Kazu often dozes off during class, he helps him out with his day job to find out just how physically punishing it is. The students in turn become deeply attached to Kuroi, as if he were a parent or friend.

    After the essay class, when all the students are having supper in the cafeteria, a call comes through to Kuroi informing him of the death of Inoda, who has been in hospital. Having received a letter from Inoda which expressed his wish to return to school for his graduation ceremony, Kuroi had just conveyed this news to the students. Kuroi changes the next class to a homeroom session to tell the students about Inoda’s death.

    After this movie, sequels were produced under the supervision of Yamada. “Gakko II” (1996) is set in a special school that helps students with disabilities. In “Gakko III” (1998) students, such as single mothers with disabled children, are depicted attending a vocational school. “Age 15 – Gakko IV” (2000), depicts a bunch of students who skip school to go on a hitchhiking trip. Various forms of school education and interactions between teachers and students are depicted in these movies.










    この映画はその後シリーズ化され、山田監督の下、障害をもつ生徒たちが通う特別支援学校を舞台にした「学校II」(1996年公開)、障害児をもつシングルマザーなどが再就職を目指す職業訓練学校を描いた「学校III」(1998年公開)、不登校の生徒がヒッチハイクの旅に出る「十五才 学校IV」(2000年公開)と、いろいろな学校教育とそこに集う先生や生徒との交流が描かれている。

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