• Sharp rise in the number of women interested in swords

    [From August Issue 2015]

    Following on from “rekijo” – women who like history – in recent years there are more and more “touken joshi,” that is women interested in swords. There are many kinds of swords in Japan. It’s said that this trend was kick-started by a video game. The swords in the game take the form of attractive young men and many women became fans for this reason.
    The Tokugawa Art Museum, in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture, houses numerous famous swords. Up until now this museum used to mainly be visited by elderly men. But recently more and more women in their 20s and 30s are visiting the museum. “I think women have come to be fascinated by swords because they’ve entered pop culture through video games,” says YOSHIKAWA Yuki, a member of staff at the museum.
    While swords are attractive artistic objects, besides their beauty, so-called famous swords also have historical tales behind them. For example, according to legend, “Katana Mei Muramasa” brought bad luck to the Tokugawa family; this sword has appeared in many games and novels and is popular nationwide. “The unique crest on the blade creates a mysterious mood and its charm draws you into its legend,” says Yoshikawa.
    “I got into swords through video games and have discovered the charms of actual swords,” says NAKANE Tomoko, a sword fan. Nakane travels by night bus to visit museums all over Japan and see their swords. Sometimes she goes to the same museum three days in a row.
    Besides their aesthetic charms, there are other ways to enjoy swords. As well as giving Skype-based “Samurai Experience Lessons” to American children, “Sousaku Kenbu Tachibana Ittouryu” runs “Samurai Training Tokyo,” a samurai workshop for foreigners visiting Japan.
    “Sword Exercise” got started in 2008. Created by producer TAKAFUJI Ukon its key characteristic is that it gets you in shape through kenjutsu (swordsmanship) forms. Its popularity lies in the fact that in contrast to exercises that concentrate on developing muscles, it’s an easy to perform full body aerobic workout.
    “I feel that the number people interested in swords has increased considerably,” says TSUNODA Tomohiro, the manager of Sword Exercise. While there has always been a high demand from men and from foreigners interested in swords for experience-based lessons, the number of female participants has increased tenfold since the start of the craze for swords amongst women.
    The craze continues to spread as special displays in bookshops to sell new books on swords are set up and replicas of swords sell out. Who knows, perhaps more people will fall in love with swords in the future.


    刀剣は美しい芸術品ですが、名刀といわれる刀は美しさに加えて、歴史的な物語を持っています。例えば、全国的に人気のある「刀銘 村正」は徳川家に災いを呼ぶ刀という伝説があり、ゲームや小説などによく登場します。「独特の刃紋(刀に浮かぶ模様)はいかにも妖しい雰囲気を持ち、伝説に引き込まれるような魅力があります」と吉川さんは話します。
    鑑賞の他にも、刀の魅力を楽しむ方法があります。「創作剣舞橘一刀流」は「SAMURAI TRAINING TOKYO」を訪日外国人向けに開催したり、アメリカの子ども向けにSkypeを使った「サムライ体験レッスン」を実施したりしています。


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  • Tap Water in Japan is Safe to Drink

    [From August Issue 2015]

    Today, more than 97% of Japanese have access to the public water supply. The water supply is hardly ever cut off due to shortages. In general, no matter where you are in Japan, it’s possible to drink the tap water. However, although the Ministry of Health carries out 51 checks on water quality, some people install filters or buy mineral water.
    In June, an event was held in eight locations in Tokyo to compare the taste of tap water with store bought mineral water. It was organized by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Waterworks. Passersby were asked to drink tap water and mineral water – both at a temperature of between 10°C to 15°C – without knowing which was which.
    This wasn’t the first time this event had been held. During the fiscal year 2014 (April 2014 – March 2015), it was held 153 times and a total of 52,747 people took part. Forty six point seven percent of them answered, “Tap water tastes better.”
    The 1960s was an era of rapid economic growth and even purified, tap water had a nasty smell because of pollution in rivers. Since at that time a lot of people were moving from regions with good quality water to metropolitan areas, there was a widespread perception that “tap water in large cities tastes bad”.
    Since then the taste of tap water in large cities has improved due to developments in water purification technology and stricter controls on pollution. Some municipalities, such as Tokyo Prefecture are tackling the issue by setting “water quality targets.” YAMADA Tomoaki, PR manager at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Waterworks, says, “I’m glad when someone tells me, ‘I’ll drink tap water from now on since it tastes better.’”
    To demonstrate the good taste of its tap water, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Waterworks distributes “Tokyo Water” in PET bottles at events. Other local governments, too, are selling and giving out PET bottles of their tap water to advertise its good taste and quality. Such water is sometimes handed out during natural disasters.
    Japan’s waterworks is highly regarded: its pipes have few leaks, its water purification technology is high tech, and its equipment is well maintained. The government and some local authorities in Japan have, for many years, been offering technical cooperation to countries with poorly developed waterworks.
    Bureau of Waterworks Tokyo Metropolitan Government
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年8月号掲載記事]


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  • Music is the Bridge Between Latvia and Japan

    [From August Issue 2015]

    Dace PENKE
    Wife of the Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia
    Located in Northern Europe, the Baltic state of Latvia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Mrs. Dace PENKE has been living in Tokyo since her husband, Mr. Normans PENKE, was stationed in Japan on September 2013 as the Ambassador of Latvia. She studied architecture at university and finds Tokyo’s combination of traditional and modern very interesting.
    When she has time, she goes to exhibitions at galleries and attends craft classes and workshops. She is particularly impressed with the transportation system in Tokyo. “I can go anywhere by train, subway, and bus. It is amazing! However, the only challenge for me is the language barrier, as I’ve found that not so many Japanese speak English. Learning Japanese is not an easy task, but I try to do my best,” she says.
    So many things have impressed her in Japan. For example, fresh and delicious Japanese food, sushi, and sashimi are her favorite dishes. She talked about a special experience at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Kagurazaka where she ate Japanese kaiseki.
    “The attention to detail, the presentation of the food, the seasonal and local food, the food textures, the service, and so on, is amazing. I saw a geisha performance for the first time, and I really felt the hospitality of the Japanese in this traditional setting. Japanese hospitality is something we want to introduce in my country. Japan’s old traditions, like wearing kimono, tea ceremonies, traditional crafts, and its many religious ceremonies, are still alive. I hope that these traditions will be practiced for many years to come. One of the strengths of the Japanese people is the way they keep traditions alive,” she says.

    Speaking of Latvia, the four cornerstones of the Latvian economy are agriculture, chemical industries, logistics, and woodworking. Other prominent sectors include textiles, food processing, machine production, and green technologies. Innovations made in Latvia are highly appreciated by world markets. Recently Latvia has been focusing on design.
    “The Latvian Embassy in Japan just organized the Latvian Design and art week in Minami Aoyama at the gallery Athalie, and it was very successful. Art and design traditions are very strong in Latvia; rooted in traditional craftsmanship, they also draw on contemporary global trends. Many young Latvian designers that have been studying abroad are now coming back to Latvia and expressing their creativity in amazing ways. I really want to promote such things to Japan,” says Mrs. Penke.
    “The most important national festival of the year is Jani (Summer Solstice Festival). On this day, the cities empty, and every civil servant and bank clerk shows their pagan side. It started out as an ancient fertility festival celebrated after sowing the crops and before gathering the harvest. Families get together in their countryside homes. They make bouquets and wreaths out of herbs, flowers, and leaves. Women traditionally wear flower wreaths, while men have theirs made of oak leaves or twigs.”
    “The livestock and fences are adorned with wreaths. Gates and rooms are decorated with birch, oak, and rowan branches. Latvians sing, dance, eat, and are merry during Jani. Cheese with caraway seeds, meat patties, and beer is a must for every table. People light bonfires and celebrate until sunrise. Romantic couples leave the crowds to look for the ‘flower of the fern,’ which is alleged to bloom only on the night of Jani,” says Mrs. Penke.

    “The Latvian folk singing tradition is more than a thousand years old, and those folk songs are deeply connected with our spirit. For Latvian people singing and music is not just a form of entertainment but the core of our identity and one of the most important reasons why Latvia, a small nation, was able to preserve its language and culture for many centuries. These factors also played a major role when Latvia first gained independence in 1918 and re-gained it after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.”
    “These folk song texts are called dines and come in a format of four short lines. Dainas can be sung as songs or recited as short poems. About 1.2 million dines with 300,000 different melodies have been identified. Our drains have been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World list. Being brief forms of expression, dines and haiku have something in common,” she says.
    “The musical relationship between Japan and Latvia is very active. “More than ten years ago, the Latvia Japan Music Association was established by Japanese people who had visited Latvia and been impressed by Latvia and its music. One of the most interesting things is that there is a choir called Gaisma (Light), where Japanese men and women from the association sing Latvian songs in the Latvian language.”
    “Ms. KATO Tokiko’s song ‘A Million Roses’ became a big hit. This song was composed by the Latvian composer Mr. Raimonds PAULS. Culture is the bridge between nations that reflect that we all share the same core human values. At a basic level, we are all the same, with the same aspirations for peace, freedom, and happiness,” says Mrs. Penke.


    The people in Latvia appreciate nature. “I recommend that the Japanese visit my beautiful country. A must-see is the capital city of Riga which has more than 400 Art Nouveau buildings. It has been named one of the most attractive tourism destinations in the world by leading newspapers. The wonderful old town – old Riga – is 800 years old and is on the UNESCO heritage list.”
    “The seaside town, Jurmala, with more than 500 kilometers of pristine white sand beach, is beautiful. If you want to see an old castle, Sigulda has great views of a river and valley. I also recommend Cesis, an 800-year-old castle town.”
    “It takes about 14 hours from Tokyo to Riga via Helsinki. In Latvia a lot of information is available online and printed material is available for tourists. Every city has a tourist information bureau with maps and clear explanations, mostly in English. There are several companies specializing in attracting tourists to Latvia from Japan. So please come to Latvia,” she says.
    Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Japan[2015年8月号掲載記事]

    時間があるときにはギャラリーへ行ったり、工芸教室やワークショップに参加したりします。東京の交通システムには特に感銘を受けています。「電車、地下鉄、バスでどこへでも行くことができるのは驚きです! でも、英語を話せる日本人はそう多くないので、言葉の壁を乗り越えるのが大変です。日本語を学ぶのは容易ではありませんが、ベストをつくしています」と夫人は言います。




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  • Meiji-mura Museum

    This outdoor museum has a collection of rare architecture built in the Meiji era (19th to 20th centuries). This year it celebrates its 50th anniversary. Here you can enjoy a light meal at the former Imperial Hotel built by the distinguished American architect Frank Lloyd WRIGHT. Steam locomotives, retro Kyoto trams, and buses are operated every day, and can be used to move around the vast grounds. Many seasonal events are held, including sessions where visitors can wear kimono or hakama and have a commemorative photo taken. It is often used as a location for movies.

    • Access: 20-minute bus ride from Inuyama Station on the Meitetsu Inuyama Line. Near the Meiji-mura bus stop.
    • Business hours: from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm (hours differ depending on the season)
    • Closed days: August 4, 18, 25, December 31, every Monday from December to February. Closed on some days in January for maintenance.
    • Admittance: 1,700 yen for adults (aged 18 and over). 2,700 yen for a ticket with a one-day pass for rides.

    Meiji-mura Museum

    • 交通:名鉄犬山線犬山駅から路線バス明治村行き20分、下車すぐ。
    • 営業時間:午前9時30分~午後5時(季節によって時間帯の変更あり)
    • 休村日:8月4日、18日、25日、12月31日、12~2月の毎週月曜日。1月に数日間メンテナンス休日あり。
    • 入村料:大人(18歳以上)1,700円、乗り物一日券付きは2,700円

    博物館 明治村

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  • Jonathan’s

    [From August Issue 2015]

    “Jonathan’s” is a family restaurant franchise that has approximately 300 restaurants in the Tokyo metropolitan area. The numerous dishes on offer contain carefully selected ingredients sourced from various regions. “Appetizers” are reasonably priced at 250 yen a dish and are popular with those who fancy a light meal or something to nibble on while having alcoholic drinks. Some restaurants locations also offer home delivery.

    [No.1] Tandoori Chicken & Mexican Pilaf 899 yen

    This long-selling dish has been on the menu for over 20 years. The curry-flavored chicken and spicy Mexican pilaf (fried rice) pairing has become a favorite for many.

    [No.2] American Sauce Spaghetti with Snow Crab 869 yen

    This pasta dish is made with flaked snow crab meat and is topped with a specially-made American sauce that gives it a creamy finish. It is a classic and popular Jonathan’s dish.

    [No.3] Doria with Brightly Colored Vegetables 799 yen

    This rice casserole contains lots of vegetables. The dish is accentuated with thick cream and a signature meat sauce.
    Availability and prices may vary according to the restaurant.


    【No.1】タンドリーチキン&メキシカンピラフ 899円


    【No.2】ずわい蟹のアメリカンソーススパゲッティ 869円


    【No.3】1日分の緑黄色野菜が摂れるドリア 799円



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  • Uniqlo’s Unique Business Model Sets a New Standard

    [:ja][From August Issue 2015]

    文:伊藤公一[:en][From August Issue 2015]

    For the first time in his career, pro tennis player NISHIKORI Kei made it to the quarterfinals of this year’s French Open. During the tournament he wore the logo of the casual fashion brand “Uniqlo” affixed to his tennis wear. This is because Uniqlo began sponsoring him in 2011.
    The brand name “Uniqlo” is an abbreviation of “Unique Clothing Warehouse.” The parent company is Fast Retailing (FR). Formerly it was “Men’s Shop Ogoori Shoji” – a company founded in 1949 in Ube City, Yamaguchi Prefecture. As of the end of February 2015, the FR group had a total of 2,872 shops around the world. FR’s core business Uniqlo accounted for 1,558 of these stores; more than half.
    Uniqlo was an overnight sensation when it started selling fleece jackets in 1998. It established its reputation because of the range of colors on offer and the low price of 1,900 yen. In 2007, Heattech became a huge success. Heattech was developed in answer to a demand to “replace cotton thermal underwear with garments made from another material.”
    Heattech’s unparalleled snug fitting lightweight fabric that “feels as if you’re not wearing anything,” was much discussed. As a result, in the fall-winter season of 2007 (to 2008), production failed to keep up with demand and Heattech products sold out in one shop after the other. Now Airism – suitable wear for summer that absorbs sweat and is quick to dry – is in the spotlight.
    Uniqlo is known as an SPA (specialty store retailer of private label apparel) and offers good quality reasonably priced products to the world. SPA is a business model in which everything is done in-house; from product planning, to production, to distribution, to sales. It’s thanks to the SPA system that Uniqlo was able to create so many unique products.
    One of Uniqlo’s aims is to unite the world through fashion. President YANAI Tadashi explains the company’s philosophy: “We allow people the world over to attain the joy, happiness, and satisfaction that comes from wearing quality clothing.” In fact, Uniqlo is strengthening its ties with other countries through the procurement of materials, manufacturing, and sales. It’s fair to say that Uniqlo is an unusual company not only because it manufactures clothing, but also because of its business model.
    Uniqlo Co., Ltd.
    Text: ITO Koichi[:]

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