• 日本で日本語を学ぶ

    [From February Issue 2013]


    The best way to learn a language is to live in the country where it’s spoken. In Japan, most learners go to a Japanese language school. Japan has many such schools. And there are a lot of learning materials.

    The Kichijoji Language School in Musashino City, Tokyo, has four terms a year. It has about 100 students, though this depends on the time of year. Courses are run for eight different levels. In addition to these, there are also private lessons and preparation courses for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

    “The goal of the Kichijoji Language School is to get you to be able to produce the language that you’ve studied,” says principal TSUCHIYA Iwao. “Teaching only to read or only to write isn’t effective. So we put emphasis on conversation practice where students use what they’ve learned at each level. Living in Japan, they hear honorific language used in everyday conversations. Since it’s hard for them to use such language, they practice it until they can.”

    One good thing about Japanese language schools is that the students can learn about Japanese culture and make friends through school events. The Kichijoji Language School offers excursions for those who wish to participate. Excursions are to well-known spots or places where they can learn Japanese history, places like Kamakura or Mt. Takao. Events like yearend parties or summer evening festivals, commonly held at Japanese companies or schools, are also organized. “Sometimes students organize their own trips and invite along classmates,” says Tsuchiya.

    At the Kichijoji Language School, about 20% of graduates go on to higher education institutions in Japan. “Some go to Japanese college or vocational school while others continue their studies in their own countries. We had a student who came to Japan to work after working as a cartoon animator in his country.”


    Evergreen Language School


    The Evergreen Language School is in Meguro Ward, Tokyo. In addition to running courses for those wishing to enter higher education, the school runs standard courses, two or three days a week courses and private lessons. Though it varies over the course of the year, the total number of students is currently about 20. The school takes part in events held in shopping arcades, holds speech contests and organizes cultural exchanges with private high schools.

    “It’s been 25 years since we founded our Japanese language school and during that time, people from 70 countries have studied with us,” says principal NAITO Sachiko. “Currently we only have a few students because we haven’t been recruiting overseas at study abroad centers.” The Evergreen Language School was founded in 1949 as an English conversation school. “We give lessons that are tailored to suit our students’ needs. In terms of Japanese lessons, five years ago the ambassador to Senegal studied with us every day for a year and a half and after this, ties between Japan and Senegal were strengthened,” says Naito.

    “We had a case in which a German who had come to Japan to start a headhunting business was transferred to our school from the Japanese language department of a famous private university. After graduation, some students stay in Japan to go on to higher education, to work, or to start a business. I’m glad they are active in so many areas.”


    Academy of Language Arts


    “Since we have students of so many different nationalities, I’ve often noticed a difference in each student’s background and general knowledge,” says KUROKAWA Hikaru who is an administrator for the Academy of Language Arts (Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo). The school has about 100 students and average class sizes of about 12.

    “We offer Japanese language classes that focus on improving communication skills in conversation, in conjunction with using a textbook we have lots of discussions, debates and pair work. I’m happiest when I see students making progress who didn’t speak a word before,” says Kurokawa.

    The advantage of studying Japanese in Japan is of course that you have more opportunities to engage in conversations in Japanese. When you go out, most people on the street are speaking Japanese. Most station names are written in kanji, but they are often also written in hiragana and the roman alphabet. You can practice reading those names.

    Watching TV is another effective way to learn. Advanced learners can pick up common Japanese expressions as well as words that have recently entered the language. Advanced learners can also learn about what’s happening in Japan and study the Japanese way of thinking. Beginners are ought to watching news shows with sign language. As they are aimed at people with hearing difficulties, the announcers speak slowly and the subtitles are accompanied by hiragana text. It’s possible to learn Japanese conversation while at the same time enjoying dramas and animations.

    For those who like to sing, karaoke is another good way to learn. The lyrics are shown on screen. So you don’t fall behind, the letters of the lyrics change color to indicate which part you should be singing. It’s important to choose slow tunes as most new hit songs have many words to pronounce in quick succession and are hard to sing.

    Working full time or part time is also a good way to learn. With your Japanese colleagues, you not only talk about work but also chat, so your vocabulary grows. At work, you are obliged to use honorific language which many foreigners tend to avoid. It is good practice. However, you need to be careful because, depending on the type of visa you have, the occupation you can have and hours you can work may be restricted.


    Japanese textbook section at a bookstore / Manga section


    Large bookstores often have a section containing textbooks for learning Japanese in which books for all levels are sold. Those bookstores also stock useful learning materials, such as cards for memorizing kanji. If you go to the children’s book section, you’ll find many easy, useful books such as illustrated dictionaries and picture books.

    Manga are also excellent materials for study. Most manga are covered in plastic film, so you can’t see the contents before buying. Some popular ones, however, come with samples that show what kind of manga it is. Manga cafes stock a wide range of comic books for you to browse. There it’s possible to choose a title based on whether the kanji has hiragana readings and on the kind of language used.

    Kichijoji Language School
    Evergreen Language School
    Academy of Language Arts
    Shinjuku Main Store, Kinokuniya

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo




















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  • 非日常を味わう脱出ゲーム

    [From February Issue 2013]


    “Escape games” are popular now. They begin with you suddenly finding yourself locked up in a room. To escape within the time limit you have to decipher codes and find special items.

    SCRAP Co., Ltd., the company behind “Real Escaping Game” has organized dozens of similar games within Japan and overseas. Participants go into a locked room full of clues. Though some people participate alone, it’s also possible for couples, groups of friends and other kinds of teams to play. Some teams are made up of family members from three generations, including grandparents, parents and children.

    You can participate if you understand kanji taught in the upper grade of elementary school and possess general knowledge. You can also enjoy the game with others if you can understand a normal Japanese conversation. The most important ability is to be able to think creatively and to cooperate with your teammates.

    Able to solve this difficult game that has an overall success rate of only 10%, NISHIMOTO Yukihiko recalls the excitement he felt during game play, “It is probably impossible for a single person to collect all the clues and solve the puzzle. I found myself cooperating with people who were in the same team, who I’d just met that day.”

    “Real Escaping Game is like a club activity for adults,” says KATO Takao, representative of SCRAP Co., Ltd. Adults rarely get the chance to cooperate with teammates, or to celebrate their joy by punching the air when they reach their goal.

    Recently, some companies use the game to encourage communication between coworkers as part of their employee training program. This is because many employees in large companies might only know each other by sight and not have actually spoken. The Real Escaping Game is becoming the most effective tool to break down the walls between them.

    The Escape Game began life as a popular game for PCs around ten years ago. Later, with the rising popularity of smartphones, it became known as a game that can be enjoyed easily, anytime, anywhere, and now many escape game apps are being made.

    “DOOORS,” which became the number one “free app/game app” in 25 countries is a simple escape game in which you have to continue solving puzzles in order to open the door and escape from the room you are locked in. Since all the clues are either pictorial or symbolic, language is not necessary, and this means that the game can be enjoyed by people from any country.

    Game developer NONOYAMA Koji of 58 Works, has developed popular games singlehandedly. He says, “I’ve created other kinds of games than escape games, but 90% of my ratings and feedback are about escape games, so I feel these are the ones that really resonate with people.” Though 40% of registered players come from Japan, the rest are from other countries.

    SCRAP Co., Ltd.

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi














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  • 日本がかかえる問題

    [From February Issue 2013]


    ABE Shinzo’s cabinet was formed after last year’s December election. Japan faces a number of difficulties that need to be resolved and Prime Minister Abe’s abilities will be evaluated depending on how well he deals with them. One problem is that of nuclear power. Should Japan continue to use it? Should Japan abolish it? Public opinion is deeply divided. One view is that nuclear power stations that have been deemed safe should be switched back on for the sake of economic growth and cost effectiveness. The other side believes that human life should be given priority and that the accident at Fukushima proved without a shadow of a doubt that there are no absolute guarantees for the safety of nuclear power stations.

    Pensions have also become a big problem. National pension payments by the working generation go towards paying the pensions of the elderly, but because of the declining birthrate and aging population, the existing pension system is heading for collapse. In short, the number of people receiving a pension is increasing, while the number of those making payments is decreasing. These days more and more young people are not paying, because there is a possibility that they will not be able to receive a pension in the future.

    Japan owes approximately 1,000 trillion yen in debts. The largest amount in the world by far. Because of this the former regime decided to raise consumer tax in 2014 in order to pay for social welfare. However, the stagnation of Japan’s economy is continuing. Many people oppose this and say that if consumption tax goes up, the economy will slump even further which would have a knock on effect, causing corporate tax to decrease.

    As the trend towards globalization continues, Japanese manufacturers have moved overseas in search of cheap labor and new markets. Because of this, within Japan fewer permanent staff are being employed, while the number of temporary and part time workers is increasing. Wages for workers have not increased so their purchasing power has decreased meaning that businesses cannot make enough profit. The government is planning to increase tax revenues in line with to economic growth, but there is strong opposition to this policy.

    Another problem is diplomatic. People are closely watching how the government deals with territorial disputes between China, Korea and Russia. The ruling Liberal Democratic Party wants to strengthen military power, which would mean revising the constitution to make this possible. Other people are objecting to this move, stating that a hard-line stance would worsen relations with these nations. Meanwhile the debate continues over whether free trade agreements, like the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), are in the national interest.

    Invisible Problems

    Now people are keeping a close eye on whether politicians keep their election pledges. Out of the many problems that need dealing with, citizens particularly want to see a decrease in the number of politicians, a wage cut for politicians, as well as a decrease in the number of public servants and a cut in their wasteful spending.

    People’s trust in the media, which often treats politics as some form of entertainment, is declining. There has been criticism of the opinion polls that they carry out immediately after a cabinet member has made a blunder; these give the impression that the approval rating for the cabinet has declined. Some say that this is one of the reasons that Japanese prime ministers are replaced after serving about one year in office.

    Some people say that the problem lies with voters who are either overly influenced by the media, or don’t bother voting at all because they believe that nothing will change no matter who the prime minister is. There is a saying that “the level of a nation’s politics is equivalent to the level of the people themselves.” Critics point out that this saying is applicable to Japan.












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  • 山口県――本州と九州の玄関口

    [From February Issue 2013]


    Located in the westernmost part of Honshu (mainland Japan), Yamaguchi Prefecture has prospered as a gateway between Honshu and Kyushu. Having long traded with other Asian countries such as China and Korea, these days the prefecture is still an important place for international trade. Bounded by the Sea of Japan to the north and the Seto Inland Sea to the south, the Chugoku Mountains run across its center. Even within the prefecture, there is a difference in temperature between the north and the south, but in general the climate is relatively warm and there are few natural disasters, making it popular not only as a tourist destination but also as a pleasant place to live.

    Yamaguchi Prefecture has produced brilliant politicians and cultural figures who have contributed to the development of modern Japan. In particular, figures who played a pivotal role in the Meiji Restoration (late 19th century), grew up there. These men were instrumental in overthrowing the Edo Shogunate, which wielded absolute power at that time.

    The first stop on your itinerary should be to Akiyoshidai, the largest karst plateau in Japan, located in Mine City in the central part of Yamaguchi Prefecture. Formed under water 350 million years ago when the area was a coral reef, these limestone remains have been eroded by the rain to create unique, strangely shaped rock formations. Stretching beneath Akiyoshidai, is Akiyoshido, the largest limestone cave in the Orient. In addition to the regular tourist route, there is an adventure route available.


    Akiyoshido / Kikuya Juutaku


    Hagi City in the northern part of Yamaguchi Prefecture is a castle town. Samurai residences and merchant dwellings built about 400 years ago look the same as they did in the old days. With its beautifully laid out streets of white-walled houses, the town is called “little Kyoto” and is bustling with tourists all year long. At its heart is Kikuya Juutaku (Kikuya Family Residence), where valuable artworks are exhibited and visitors can sense the changes in the seasons in its spectacular garden.

    Art lovers should check out hagiyaki pottery, a craft that has a 400 year old tradition in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Hagiyaki tea bowls have long been highly prized for use in tea ceremonies. There are numerous hagiyaki studios in Hagi City, some of which offer tourists the opportunity to make their own hagiyaki. Even if you are new to the craft, a veteran instructor will attentively teach you.

    If you come to Yamaguchi Prefecture, you absolutely must try its blowfish, a local specialty. You can enjoy blowfish in a variety of ways: savor its natural taste with thin slices of sashimi (raw fish); in nabe (a broth); or as hire-zake (simmered roasted fins in hot sake).


    Blowfish sashimi / Tsunoshima Ohashi


    Tsunoshima, an isolated island in the Sea of Japan, located to the north of Shimonoseki City, has been getting a lot of attention in recent years as a tourist spot. With its cobalt blue sea and silken white sand beaches, you can soak up the atmosphere of this southern land at this popular resort. The bridge to Tsunoshima is only 18 meters high, low enough to allow those making the crossing to take in the view. Tsunoshima has been used as a location in movies and for a car commercial on TV. In summer, the island is packed with tourists who come to bathe in the sea.

    One of Yamaguchi’s famous tourist spots is Ganryu-jima, an island in the Kanmon Straits, which separates Kyushu and Honshu. Legend has it that Japan’s greatest swordsman MIYAMOTO Musashi won a duel against his rival SASAKI Kojiro at Ganryu-jima. The island is accessible from Karato-sanbashi pier by ferry. On the island’s square, statues of Miyamoto Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro stand against the scenic backdrop of the Kanmon Straits. During 2012, various events were held on Ganryu-jima to mark the 400th anniversary of the duel. Other martial art events will also be held in 2013 to commemorate the duel.

    Spanning the Nishiki River in Iwakuni City in the eastern part of Yamaguchi Prefecture, Kintaikyo (the Kintai Bridge) is a modern Japanese structure with an old world feel. With its series of five arches, the structure of this arched bridge is one that is not common in any country. The lord of the Iwakuni domain ordered his vassal KODAMA Kuroemon to construct the bridge and the structure was completed under his direction in 1673. Using construction techniques from those days, the present bridge was reconstructed in 2001 and took three years to complete. Both sturdy and beautiful, Kintaikyo was indispensable to the political world of the Iwakuni domain.


    Ganryu-jima / Kintaikyo


    The steam locomotive that runs between JR Shin-Yamaguchi Station in Yamaguchi City and JR Tsuwano Station in Shimane Prefecture has captured the interest of not only railway enthusiasts, but also international travelers. Having been decommissioned, the train disappeared during the drive towards modernization in the 1960s and 1970s, but at the request of many steam locomotive fans, it was put back into service in 1979 and named SL Yamaguchi-go. Yamaguchi-go travels a distance of 62.9 kilometers in about two hours. The retro interior and the throbbing of the steam engine will make you feel as if you have stepped back in time. The steam locomotive runs from late March to mid-November every year.

    A hot spring will revive you after your tiring journey. There are over 50 hot springs in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Yuda Hot Spring in Yamaguchi City is the most easily accessible. A mixture of a bustling shopping district and a hot spring resort, Yuda Hot Spring is said to have been frequented by literary figures. The hot spring waters are effective in relieving neuralgia, muscle pain and fatigue.

    It takes about one and a half hours to fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Yamaguchi-Ube Airport or Iwakuni Kintaikyo Airport in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Buses and taxis are available at the airport to take you to any tourist spot. To get to Yamaguchi City, you can take the bullet train from JR Tokyo Station to Shin-Yamaguchi Station, a journey which takes roughly four hours and 20 minutes. To get to Shimonoseki City, it takes approximately five hours by bullet train from JR Tokyo Station to Shin-Shimonoseki Station in the city center. If you use an expressway bus departing from nearby Tokyo Station, it takes about 15 hours and 20 minutes.

    Yamaguchi Prefectural Tourism Federation

    Text: OMORI Saori




















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  • 保護が必要な子どもは誰が世話をするべきか

    [From February Issue 2013]


    Public Interest Incorporated Foundation, National Foster Parent Association, Vice Chairman,
    KINOUCHI Hiromichi

    In Japan there are some 40,000 children who are unable to live together with their families. This happens for a variety of reasons; sometimes because it would be inappropriate for them to live in an abusive environment. Many of those children live in care homes or nurseries. Only 10% live with foster families.

    While UN guidelines recommend foster care for children who’ve been taken into care, it’s not yet very common in Japan. The government has just begun efforts to help support foster parents and is aiming to increase the percentage of children in foster care to 30% within the next ten years or so.

    There are four kinds of foster parent in Japan: “child rearing foster parents” take care of children who, for whatever reason, can’t live with their parents; “specialist foster parents” take care of children who have been abused, or are mentally or physically handicapped; “parents hoping to adopt” who are aiming to adopt a child but haven’t yet done so; and “relations who are foster parents” – grandparents, uncles, aunts, and so forth. With the exception of relations who are foster parents, one becomes a foster parent with the approval of the governor of the prefecture. To become a “child rearing foster parent” or a “specialist foster parent,” training is obligatory.

    In Japan, foster care isn’t very common yet, but why isn’t institutional care good enough? One reason is that life in care homes is centered around group activities. That makes it hard for children to develop individuality and to learn about family life and social rules, which they need to know about to become responsible members of society. Also, it’s hard to develop an emotional relationship with individual caregivers, attachments which children need.

    So why is it that, in Japan, institutional care is so well established and has continued for so long at the expense of foster care? Some people point out that the public is generally unaware of the need for volunteers, but I think one of the reasons is the lack of government support for children who need care. Compared to institutional care homes, foster families require a lot of support from the system, but this support is sadly lacking.

    As institutional care is the norm in Japan, we are hosting an IFCO (International Foster Care Organization) World Conference in Osaka in September this year in order to promote foster care. It’s an opportunity to discover what can be done to promote foster care and with this in mind, experts from around the world will be invited to participate.

    The year before last, about 280 children lost both parents in the Great East Japan Earthquake. Most of them are living with relatives. They are being cared for by relying on the institution of “relations who are foster parents,” but some relatives are reluctant to register as foster parents as they themselves are struggling to get by.

    After the Great Earthquake at the IFCO World Conference in Canada, we talked about the Japanese custom of making senbazuru (a thousand paper cranes) for disaster victims. Following this, Wanslea, an Australian foster care association sent 5,000 of these cranes together with messages of support to the National Foster Parent Association. And we sent these on to the people in the areas affected by the disaster; this made them very happy.



    副会長 木ノ内博道さん









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  • ストロー笛で、人を笑顔にしたい

    [From February Issue 2013]


    KAMIYA Toru

    This artist custom-makes flutes from mass produced straws and in doing so, has created a sensation on TV with his performances. KAMIYA Toru, a resident of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, dreamed of becoming a recorder player while studying in the science department at Kyoto University, and, after graduating, threw himself into both performing and teaching the instrument.

    At a training camp for the college of music he taught at, one of his students crushed the tip of a straw and accidentally made a sound. Kamiya recalls having a go at playing it himself but felt that, even though it was a wind instrument, when it came to producing a sound, he himself was only a beginner. He continues, “I was curious to see what kind of tones I could produce if I practiced.”

    First he managed to play a scale by making finger holes in the straw. Then by trial and error he developed a range of flutes. For instance, to play low notes he needed a long straw, which he bent so his fingers could reach over the holes. With no one to play with, he struggled to create harmonies, but has now developed a flute on which he can play a solo quartet.

    He has often appeared on television and performed at concerts overseas. In the US, he played the Japanese children’s song “Mushi no Koe” (Singing of Insects) on a flute shaped like a grasshopper. “After a few seconds, the tone becomes high-pitched like that of a grasshopper, before returning to normal. People were surprised by this unexpected change. I use different flutes depending on the song I play. I only played short pieces, things like children’s songs. My playing is also fun to watch, as some flutes have moving parts. I got the same response from the audiences abroad as I had had in Japan.” The flute for the song “Shabon-dama” (soap bubbles) is made in such a way that real soap bubbles emerge while he’s playing it.

    During the Great Hanshin Earthquake his apartment block was completely destroyed. “I was at a loss, but my children said, ‘you’ll be all right with your straw flutes.’ It’s funny because there’s that phrase ‘to grasp at straws,’ and by rebuilding my life with straws, I had to do exactly the same. Because of my experience as a disaster victim, coupled with my desire to give people pleasure, I continue to give free concerts in the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

    “I think I’ve succeeded at improving my straw flutes because I’ve done other things in my life, so I’ve had all kinds of experiences and abilities to draw on. Since I have no predecessors, I’ve created a trail for others myself. It’s lonely and exhilarating at the same time. I’m happy that, wherever I go to play, people smile and enjoy themselves. I want to go on giving concerts and creating flutes that make audiences happy,” Kamiya says with a bright smile.

    KAMIYA Toru

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko












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  • 海賊王への冒険を描く

    [From February Issue 2013]



    This manga tells the story of its main character Luffy, who sets off on an incredible adventure in search of One Piece (a great treasure) in order to become king of the pirates. The series of comics first came out in 1997 and has continued up until today. It’s been a huge hit with the total number of copies printed domestically exceeding 280 million, the highest number ever. The translated version is also popular abroad and is sold in over 30 countries.

    The story takes place during the Great Pirate Era. The dying words of Gold Roger, the former king of the pirates, were: “My treasure? Why, it’s right where I left it… It’s yours if you can find it.” This pronouncement drove people out to sea in search of his fortune. Luffy is a young boy living in a port village, he wants to join the pirate Red Haired Shanks, but is turned away because he is “just a brat.”

    When Luffy accidentally eats a “gum gum fruit” which Shanks had stolen from an enemy pirate ship, he becomes a rubber human being, but the downside of this new ability is that he will be unable to swim for the rest of his life. Before long Luffy turns 17 and sets off on a grand adventure to find treasure and to fulfill his promise to meet up with Shanks again after he has become a great pirate.

    As he continues his adventure, one by one he acquires travelling companions. Currently, a crew led by Luffy includes Roronoa Zoro who wants to be the greatest swordsman in the world, Nami, a genius navigator, Usopp, an expert sniper who is good at cheering up his mates, Sanji, a cook whose fighting technique is delivering killer kicks, Chopper, a reindeer and ship’s doctor, Robin the beautiful archeologist, Franky a shipwright who made himself into a cyborg, and Brook, the skeleton who is both a swordsman and a musician.

    It’s not only Luffy’s companions that make this story interesting, there are also many other unique characters portrayed in the manga, including members of rival pirate gangs, the World Government, and the marines who chase Luffy. Additionally, the attention to detail in this vividly imagined universe makes these characters even more attractive. These elements give depth to the otherwise monotonous and repetitive story development of defeating each new enemy that stands in their way as they push on with the adventure.

    The themes running throughout the story are passion for adventure and friendship between companions. The characters literally bleed, sweat, cry, even snivel, and crumble to pieces at times. However, they always get back on their feet again and regain the determination to search for their dreams and protect their friends. There has been a long tradition of this kind of passionate determination in the history of shounen manga (boy’s comics).

    The animated version for TV first aired in 1999 and is still in production to this day, there are also ten movie versions too. In 2012 for the 15th anniversary of One Piece, a new movie was released and an exhibition was held. One Piece novels and games are also sold and many companies have produced One Piece merchandise. One Piece has transcended the bounds of manga to become a phenomenon in itself.

    Text: HATTA Emiko





    物語の舞台は大海賊時代。かつての海賊王ゴールド・ロジャーの死に際の言葉「おれの財宝か? 欲しけりゃくれてやるぜ。探してみろ。この世のすべてをそこに置いてきた」という言葉が、人々を海へと駆り立てました。ある港村に住む少年ルフィは、赤髪のシャンクスが率いる海賊団に加わりたいと思いますが、「ガキだから」と断られてしまいます。







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