• 大人にも広がるカプセルトイ

    [From January Issue 2014]

    A capsule toy is a small capsule with a toy or figurine inside. Insert the money into a vending machine containing the capsules, turn the handle and a product tumbles out. As it doesn’t cost much, some people try again and again until the product they want comes out.
    In the past there was a strong perception that capsule toys were something for kids and machines were installed in toy stores and shopping centers. Now new products targeted at adults are being launched one after the other. Priced between 100 to 400 yen, they can be found in all kinds of places, including CD shops.
    Because they’re so realistic, many adults are fans of Kitan Club Co., Ltd’s “NATURE TECHNI COLOUR” series of figurines of living creatures. Since going on the market in 2012, the “CUP ON THE FUCHICO” series has sold a total of more than 4.4 million units. These are figurines that can be hung from the rim of a glass. As many people upload photos onto SNS when using a Fuchico, photo contests were held and 6,000 entries were submitted. Related products and picture books are also on sale.
    Another hit product that’s flying off the shelves even faster than CUP ON THE FUCHICO is “Koko wa ore ga kuitomeru! Omae wa sakini iku nya-!” (I’m holding it up! Stand well back meow!) suction cup stand. “I think there are many reasons why adults are so enchanted by this, including the fact that it reminds them of their childhood, it’s cheap and delivers the excitement of the unexpected,” says SHIKI Seita, PR man for Kitan Club.
    “However, I feel that the biggest factor is that word gets out through SNS,” says Shiki. “You burst out laughing as soon as you see a photo uploaded by a friend and want one for yourself. Since you don’t know what’s going to come tumbling out, it’s exciting when you get hold of your product and end up uploading your own photos on SNS. It could be that this cycle creates a huge buzz.”


    Kabuki Handkerchief

    It doesn’t end there, some elderly people are also getting their hands on capsules. “Kabuki Handkerchief” by Bandai Co., Ltd. is so popular that kabuki fans wait in line for them. “We usually have only a few repeat production runs for capsule toys, but this item will continue to be on sale for some time,” says WASHIZU Tomomi from the PR team at the president’s office.


    Shimanekko metal badges

    In some cases capsule toys have helped to raise funds for charity. A capsule containing a metal badge with “Shimanekko” – the tourism mascot for Shimane Prefecture – and a red feather printed on it costs 100 yen each and all the proceeds are donated to Community Chest. “Red Feather Community Chest” is one of Japan’s well-known charities and it’s used to help the elderly and the disabled in the area, as well as disaster victims. Originally intended to be on sale for a limited period of time only, the badges were more popular than expected and now they are always on sale.
    Besides this, capsule vending machines selling sets containing a fortune and lucky charm are placed in hospitals. It’s been said that vending machines selling capsule toys outnumber postboxes, and they may further increase in number in the future.





    Read More
  • 文化財の修復に使われる世界一薄い紙

    [From January Issue 2014]

    There’s a paper called “Tenguchoushi” that’s so thin that if you put it on your palm, you can see the creases in your skin beneath. If you place it over a newspaper, you can easily read the articles underneath. Tenguchoushi is currently thought to be the world’s thinnest paper. One square meter weighs 1.8 grams. A sheet the size of half a tatami mat is lighter than two one yen coins.
    A company called Hidaka Washi Co., Ltd. (President CHINZEI Mariko) in Hidaka Village, Takaoka County, Kochi Prefecture, developed this paper. The “washi” that constitutes part of the company name, is paper made from natural ingredients to a traditional Japanese method. The company used to make each sheet by hand, but began using machines in response to demand for rolls.
    It is said that Tenguchoushi originated from “usu-mino” manufactured in Mino (today’s Gifu Prefecture) in the 17th century. From the middle of the Meiji era (19-20 century) Kochi Prefecture began production of it in earnest. Exported in large quantities to the West, it was used mainly as typewriting paper, wrapping paper and for coffee filters. In those days Tenguchoushi wasn’t as thin as it is today.
    Since the company was established (in 1949), it has specialized in making thin paper. In order for the quality of its paper to be better known, the company has made it available for use in the restoration of so-called cultural assets: old paintings and documents. To repair a heavily damaged document, it is sandwiched between thin sheets of washi. As Tenguchoushi is robust despite being so thin, the company was asked to make it even thinner.
    Tenguchoushi’s reputation for being thin and durable immediately spread to museums, art galleries and libraries around the world. The lack of fine paper suitable for the restoration of damaged cultural assets and old documents had been an issue in other countries, too. The company not only supplies paper, but also provides explanations, using examples, of the proper use of washi. “Apart from Africa, Tenguchoushi is now used on all continents,” says senior managing director, CHINZEI Hiroyoshi.
    Shedding light on the company’s effectiveness, Chinzei says, “Without chemicals, using only natural fibers, we manufacture ultra-fine paper. We also specialize in matching the color of our paper to that of the item being restored, a service other companies can’t provide. Tenguchoushi is too thin to be dyed afterwards. So we dye the fibers used as raw materials to match the color of old documents and suchlike.”
    “The hardest part is making delicate adjustments to the quantity of ingredients and water used, and to the speed of the machinery, in order to achieve the optimal paper thickness to make a satisfactory product,” says Chinzei. “However, if we only consider our own convenience as manufacturers, we may become complacent. To prevent that from happening, we’d like to further improve our technology by taking challenging orders from customers.”
    Hidaka Washi Co.,Ltd.
    Text: ITO Koichi[2014年1月号掲載記事]


    Read More
  • 梅田スカイビル空中庭園

    [From January Issue 2014]

    This skyscraper is 40 stories up and 173 meters high. Two skyscrapers are joined together to create this building and on top of them is an open air viewing platform. To ascend, visitors take a see through escalator from the 35th floor. From the observatory there is a 360° panorama of the city. Staff are on hand to assist you with taking photographs and suchlike.
    Closest train station: seven minutes on foot from JR Osaka Station
    Admission: 700 yen for the general public
    Opening hours: 10:00 am to 10:30 pm (no entry after 10:00 pm)
    Subject to seasonal changes.
    Floating Garden on Top of Umeda Sky Building[2014年1月号掲載記事]


    Read More
  • 丸亀製麺

    [From January Issue 2014]

    Priding itself on its handmade, fresh dishes, Marugame Seimen chain of self-service restaurants specializes sanuki-udon. These udon (noodles) have a characteristic springy texture and natural wheat flavor. The noodles are made right in front of customers in an open kitchen. Made from only domestically produced wheat, salt and water, no additives whatsoever are used. Side dishes include tempura, omusubi (rice balls) and others.

    [No.1] Kamaage Udon (regular size) 280 yen

    Boiled udon freshly scooped out of a pot. Before being eaten it is dipped in a thick, hot soup of ginger and sesame. This is the best dish on the menu.

    [No.2] Kake Udon (regular size) 280 yen

    Boiled noodles are cooled in cold water to create the firm texture characteristic of sanuki udon. These are to be eaten reheated just before being served in a hot soup.

    [No.3] Toro-tama Udon (regular size) 380 yen

    Boiled udon served with grated yam and onsen tamago (a hot spring egg). This is especially popular with women.
    We introduce the three most popular items on the menu.
    Marugame Seimen[2014年1月号掲載記事]


    【No.1】釜揚げうどん (並)280円


    【No.2】かけうどん (並)280円


    【No.3】とろ玉うどん (並)380円



    Read More
  • 地方を元気にするビジネス

    [From January Issue 2014]

    With 25% of its population over aged 65 as of 2013, Japan has entered the era of the aging society. Young people, particularly those from provincial towns, tend to move to larger cities in search of work. Therefore, the population of so called productive age – aged 15 to 64 – is decreasing. As a result, economic activity has decreased and it’s become a serious problem. However, there are examples of people tackling this problem, and reviving their regions.
    SHIRAMIZU Takahiro runs a shop called “Unagi no Nedoko” (Eel’s Bed) in the city of Yame City, Fukuoka Prefecture, with HARUGUCHI Shogo, a former college classmate. They deal mainly in products made in the local region of Chikugo, where Yame is located. “From kasuri (patterned cloth), Buddhist household altars, paper lanterns, bows and arrows, to artisanal earthenware and woodcraft, the region of Chikugo produces both new and old products,” Shiramizu says, outlining Chikugo’s characteristics.
    “Unagi no Nedoko” also deals in unique products, such as modern style monpe made with kurume-gasuri (a traditional kind of patterned cloth). Monpe are traditional Japanese trousers many women used to wear for physical work in the past. “At first, I thought that both kurume-gasuri and monpe were for elderly ladies. I changed my mind when I went to a weaver’s and saw different fabrics and patterns. I thought that I might be able to wear them myself.” This experience led to him organizing a “Monpe Fair.” It was an opportunity to let many people find out about the existence of kurume-gasuri and about the variety of patterns available.
    While monpe were sold at the fair, many locals already had kurume-gasuri fabrics at home. In response to a demand from those who wanted to make their own monpe with these fabrics, it was decided that they would also sell sewing patterns. Traditional monpe were made to fit loosely, in order that physical work could be done with ease. These original patterns are slender enough to make efficient use of the 36 to 38 centimeter-wide kasuri fabrics. Modern-looking silhouettes were created as a result. Monpe made from those patterns and sold on have been adopted by many young people as part of their fashion.”
    Shiramizu believes that it’s important to first display products, so that people can become aware of them. “We run our shop as a kind of showroom. We don’t aim to sell large quantities. We sell products that have taken time and effort to make for reasonable prices. By doing this, their worth is properly appreciated. If they’re properly appreciated, those items will sell and that craft will be passed down to the next generation, I think.” He says that, from now on, they want to concentrate their energies on introducing Chikugo on their website.


    Rhubarb Production Cooperation

    There is also an example of a new local specialty being created. This is rhubarb from Fujimi town in Nagano Prefecture. Well known in Europe as an ingredient for jam and other confections, people aren’t familiar with the plant in Japan. Chiyoko ANGEL, who moved from Chiba Prefecture to Fujimi in 1992, cultivated it at home because her English husband liked it.
    Native to Siberia and well-suited to Fujimi’s cool weather, the rhubarb thrived when cultivated through division. Angel’s rhubarb was noticeably red. Angel was aware of the tough conditions the aging farmers were dealing with. So around 2004, she began to wonder if she could turn rhubarb into a local specialty. She organized tasting events in order to distribute rhubarb to farmers she was acquainted with and asked them to grow it with no pesticides. Her intention was to respond to the demands of those who want to eat safe food.
    She also set out to create sales opportunities. “First I searched for ‘rhubarb’ and ‘red’ on the Internet and wrote emails to people who might be interested.” She hoped to get people to try Fujimi red rhubarb and to write their impressions of it on blogs and so forth. The reaction from consumers was pretty good, she received orders from people who’d seen this positive response and the amount she shipped also grew through word of mouth.
    The town hired a consultant three years ago and has expanded its market to include department stores in Tokyo. Through these channels, this year, about three tons of rhubarb was sold. The number of families growing the plant has increased from 15 in 2006 to 74 today. Angel says, “In the provinces, you’re more familiar with the problems of local government than those in the heart of a big city. That’s why I thought we might be able to change the region in some way with our initiative.”
    She’s constantly getting closer to her dream of making Fujimi Japan’s largest producer of red rhubarb. But she has some pending issues, too. With increased shipment volumes, a stable supply of pest-free products is needed. She therefore has to reconsider her pesticide-free method of cultivation. The new challenge she faces is balancing quality with shipment volumes.


    Irodori Co., Ltd.

    By creating a specialty from a local item, the town of Kamikatsu in Tokushima Prefecture has created added value. Once known for its production of wood and tangerines, bad weather in the 1980s dealt a major blow to the area. It became tough to maintain the local business.
    In those days, as farming advisor to the Kamikatsu Agricultural Cooperative, YOKOISHI Tomoji was looking for new businesses opportunities for the town. In the fall of 1986, the idea struck him to use tree leaves growing on the town’s mountains as decoration for Japanese food. Picking, wrapping and shipping leaves requires little physical exertion and can be done by the elderly. In this way, the leaf business was launched. Irodori Co., Ltd. was founded in 2002 and Yokoishi has been its president since 2009.
    Currently 200 farming families ship those leaves. The work is mostly done by women with an average age of 70. An original communication network has been set up to receive orders and control shipments. It may seem hard for the elderly to operate tablets and PCs, but Yokoishi says, “As it’s a necessity, they all naturally pick it up.” His believes that if he can identify the needs of both producers and consumers, things will naturally run smoothly. Kamikatsu’ initiative was featured in a film.
    Yokoishi is also actively involved in a project to attract young people from outside town. In addition he provides young interns with jobs and housing and organizes lectures on starting businesses. The elderly now make up around 50% of the population of Kamikatsu and, by increasing the number of young people, Yokoishi aims to bring this ratio down to about 35%.
    Yokoishi is from the city of Tokushima City and came to Kamikatsu for work. “It made a lot of sense to take a step back to look at this place from an outsider’s standpoint. There are also things I’ve come to realize after years of putting my hypotheses into practice.”
    In recent years, Yokoishi has witnessed growing interest among young people in country life. “Now the tide is turning for the provinces,” he says energetically. “There must be many other places with potential. I hope they can effectively make their regional attractions appealing to others.”

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年1月号掲載記事]





    Read More
  • 黒に染めることで服が生まれ変わる

    [From January Issue 2014]

    WWF Japan
    Though there’s growing interest in ecology in Japan, in reality, all kinds of things are still being thrown away. It’s said that Japan’s rate of recycling clothing is particularly low. WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) Japan is raising awareness of this by promoting its “PANDA BLACK -REWEAR PROJECT 2013-.”
    Even though its activities are guided by the policies of its international office, WWF Japan particularly focuses on consumer lifestyle. This is because, from a global perspective, Japan consumes a large amount of natural resources. WWF Japan is working with corporations and the government in order to prevent Japan from becoming too much of a burden on the global environment.
    Stained or yellowed clothes are re-dyed black for the project, transforming them into new-looking items to be reused. Wearing the same items of clothing for a longer time lessens the impact on the Earth’s environment.
    “The project got underway because of a suggestion made by a young duo – the designer SHIBATA Kenzo and copywriter MAKINO Keita,” says ONISHI Haruka, public relations officer at WWF Japan. “They told us they wanted to use their skills and abilities to benefit society. They wanted to do something with the WWF. I had a hunch that the idea of dyeing things black could become an innovative project, so I decided to go with it right away. I also thought it was good to focus on the color of black, which is used in WWF’s panda logo.”
    Shibata and Makino found Kyoto Montsuki Co., Ltd., a company specializing in dyeing black montsuki. As it happened, Kyoto Montsuki, too, was thinking of starting up a re-dyeing business. Because of this good timing, the project was put into practice without a hitch.
    “I think that people associate recycling and ecology with self-denial,” says Onishi. “Dyeing clothes black, however, gives it a fashionable and fun twist.” They are reused because they are fashionable and fun. Onishi believes the project can improve the image of recycling and ecology.
    WWF Japan had a booth at this fall’s “Tokyo Designers Week 2013” where they exhibited clothes that had been dyed black. Onishi says, “A lot of people reacted by saying that dyeing stained clothes black, as opposed to bleaching them, was an interesting idea.”
    Kyoto Montsuki, the company responsible for dyeing the clothes, has specialized in dyeing things black ever since its foundation in 1915. A montsuki is a black kimono emblazoned with a family crest that’s worn like a jacket over other clothes. It’s still worn today as formal attire for men.
    Dyes made from natural fibers are used, so 100% cotton and hemp turn pitch black, while fabrics such as polyester turn grey. You can’t dye parts made with synthetic fibers, such as embossed designs, but they stand out and look fashionable. Clothes are priced at 2,000 to 5,000 yen an item, depending on their weight. A portion of the proceeds is donated to WWF Japan’s nature conservation activity funds.
    Kyoto Montsuki is now getting a lot of inquiries about re-dyeing. It seems that the project has also opened a window for the art of dyeing montsuki, which was gradually slipping into obscurity, to be rediscovered.
    Kyoto Montsuki Co., Ltd.
    Email: kyotomontsuki@kmontsuki.co.jp[2014年1月号掲載記事]

    日本でもエコロジーへの関心は高まっていますが、さまざまなものが捨てられているのが現状です。特に日本は衣類のリサイクル率がとても低いといわれています。このことに着目し、WWF(世界自然保護基金)ジャパンが進めているのが「PANDA BLACK -REWEAR PROJECT2013-」です。
    Email: kyotomontsuki@kmontsuki.co.jp

    Read More
  • 医療の限界に苦悩する孤独な医師

    [From January Issue 2014]

    Black Jack
    Dubbed the God of manga, TEZUKA Osamu continued working as a cutting edge author for over 40 years. More than 50 million copies of “Black Jack” were published and it is considered to be the masterpiece of his later years. The work was serialized in the weekly boy’s magazine Shukan Shonen Champion from 1973 through to 1983. Pioneering the new medical manga genre, it was adapted into an animated cartoon and live action movie.
    Each episode contains a complete story. In general, patients who cannot be treated by standard medical care are operated on by Black Jack. Different variations on this theme are depicted in the entirety of its 242 episodes. Black Jack is the alias used by the protagonist whose real name is HAZAMA Kuroo. When he was young, he sustained serious injuries all over his body when an unexploded shell accidentally went off.
    His life was saved by an operation, but he had scars all over his body and half of his hair went grey from the shock. His mother who had taken care of him, lost her life, and his father, who was away on a business trip to Macao at the time of the accident, choose to live with his lover, abandoning him. In order to overcome the after effects of the accident, young Kuroo tackled his tough rehabilitation all by himself. His chief physician, HONMA Joutaro supported him.
    Loving Dr. Honma just as he would his own father, when he grows up, Kuroo set his sights on becoming a doctor. Though he was an excellent medical student, he becomes an unlicensed doctor who demands vast fees. Then, he applies his exceptional surgical skills to treating patients whom other doctors have given up on and to taking on illegal work that has ties to the criminal world.
    As the story progresses, it is revealed that the reason he requests large fees is that he is gauging the determination of his patients. Black Jack’s first priority is to help the patient. Depending on the circumstances, he occasionally waives his fee. However, patients still lose their lives even if he does treat them. Faced by his inability to save lives, Black Jack is overwhelmed again and again by the limits of medicine and by his own powerlessness.
    Pinoko offers him support when he is suffering. She was supposed to be born as a twin, but only possessing a brain, internal organs and other parts, was given human form by Black Jack. She says she is 18 years old as raised for 18 years in her twin sister’s body, but she still has the body of a child. Sympathetically watching over Black Jack, Pinoko says, “The doctor seems lonely.” When there’s an operation to be done, she helps out as an assistant.
    Another side to the story comes out when Dr. Honma speaks his dying words, “Don’t you think it’s presumptuous of humans who are living creatures themselves to play with life and death?” When confronted by certain death, what can a doctor do? The work comes to no definite conclusions. He does his best for the patient in front of him, and never stops questioning even when in despair. By depicting a man who continues to waver, Tezuka points to an honest answer.
    Text: HATTA Emiko[2014年1月号掲載記事]


    Read More
  • ホストファミリーとの会話で日本語上達

    [From January Issue 2014]

    Ariadna ROVIRA TENAS
    “Learning languages isn’t difficult at all for me. Stuff like math and calculation feel very hard, though,” laughs Ariadna ROVIRA TENAS. Ariadna is Spanish. She speaks Spanish, Catalan, German, French, English and Italian. In college, she studied language interpretation, translation and Japanese. “I passed yon kyuu (the fourth level) of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test two years ago. I want to try san kyuu (the next level up) next time.”
    In her teens, Ariadna became interested in Japan because she liked Japanese cartoons such as “Crayon Shinchan.” When she was 19, she did a homestay in Japan for a month. She liked Japan even more, so she started studying Japanese in college and came to Japan in October 2013 for another homestay. She used Nextage Co., Ltd. / Homestay in Japan each time.
    “At the moment I’m planning to stay for half a year, but I’d like to stay in Japan as long as possible. So I’ve started working part-time for a Spanish restaurant,” says Ariadna. Before returning to Japan, she got together 14,000 euros for expenses for half a year. “This consisted of 7,000 euros from my grandmother, 3,000 from my father and 4,000 from my savings. The money was saved working in the restaurant my mother runs.”
    At first, her grandmother was against her going to Japan for the second time. She said, “I may not be alive when Ariadna returns.” “But I had a deep desire to go to Japan. When I told her this, she gave me the money she’d saved up over many years.” Ariadna called her grandmother by Skype as soon as she arrived in Japan. “My grandmother was surprised to see my face for the first time on Skype. She looked very happy, though.”
    She’s now staying with the HIRASAWA family; a household of three people: father, mother and daughter. Her Japanese language school is a 15 minutes bike ride away. She gets up at eight in the morning, attends classes from nine to one and works from five to eleven pm. She now makes 800 yen an hour, but might get a raise if she applies herself.
    She often cooks with Tsuyako, her host mother. “I like most Japanese dishes such nikujaga (meat and potato stew), okonomiyaki (Japanese pizza) and shabushabu. I don’t mind the sticky texture of okura, either. But I can’t stand the texture of konnyaku, nor nattou, which smells like the soles of socks. I recently prepared a Spanish dish and they all loved it.”
    For fun, she goes to all kinds of places with her host sister Ami. They’ve been to a music event near Mt. Fuji as well as to Tokyo Skytree. “If there’s something I don’t understand, I ask my host mother or Ami right away. There was a rather large earthquake the other day. I was told to take shelter under a table when the ground shakes. They also took me to a school that becomes a shelter in the event of an emergency.”
    As soon as she hears new words in conversations, Ariadna writes them down on word cards. “I recently added the word moto-kare (ex-boyfriend) after hearing it from my host mother,” she laughed. “I converse as much as possible using words I’ve learned from the cards. I make full use of my brains doing this and the words stick in my memory. Because I can talk with my host family whenever I want, my lifestyle now is well suited to study.”
    Nextage Co., Ltd. / Homestay in Japan
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2014年1月号掲載記事]

    アリアドナさんは10代の頃、「クレヨンしんちゃん」など日本のまんがが好きで、日本に興味を持ちました。そして19歳のとき、1ヵ月間日本にホームステイしました。日本がもっと好きになったので大学で日本語の勉強を始め、2013年10月、またホームステイのために来日しました。どちらも株式会社ネクステージ・ホームステイ イン ジャパンを利用しました。
    株式会社ネクステージ/ホームステイ イン ジャパン

    Read More