• A Shared Passion for Baseball

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Hector DOMINGUEZ
    Ambassador for the Dominican Republic
    When I was in the Dominican Republic, I had the impression that Japan was a great country with both political and economic power. In 2013, I’d received an offer from our President to be posted as ambassador to a different country, but I personally told him I wanted to go to Japan. If I had gone to a country in South America, my connections and language skills would have made things easier, but sensing that there was a potential for trade with Japan to grow, I took up the challenge.
    Since I arrived, my impression of Japan has improved even more. The buildings and railways are good, but above all else, I thought that the people were wonderful; everyone is modest and very polite. I highly value that.
    I like all Japanese food. It’s healthy. I would probably be slimmer if I only ate Japanese cuisine. My wife and I often go out to Japanese restaurants and whenever we have guests from our country, we take them to eat out. They all appreciate the variety and delicious taste of Japanese cuisine.
    I’ve visited many parts of Japan in my first year here. I liked them all. I discovered two positive aspects of Japan while traveling to those places. Firstly, marvelous historical landmarks, such as castles and old houses, have been preserved. Secondly, wherever you go in the country, there’s always a modern infrastructure.
    The place I’m now interested in visiting is Hokkaido. I want to go and see the snow, which we don’t have in our country. I also want to see more of Tokyo. I want to go to places like Asakusa, to get in touch with its artistic and cultural side.
    I think Japanese people are passionate about maintaining the cleanliness of their cities. That’s great. Nothing is particularly problematic for me in Japan. The lifestyle is very convenient. My only regret is I came here with my wife. Joking aside, I think Japanese women are graceful and very attractive.
    I believe that Japan and the Dominican Republic have two things in common. The first thing is the people. The people of both countries do their best each day to fulfill their ambitions. The second thing is baseball. Japan and the Dominican Republic are the only countries that have been world champions in the World Baseball Classic tournament. The Dominican Republic is the current champion.
    I believe our two countries will in the future become closer, not only through trade, but also through scientific, cultural, and political exchanges. Prime Minister ABE has made statements to the effect that he is paying particular attention to Latin America. We’re hoping to strengthen ties with Japan. There are many Dominican companies that want to do business with Japan.
    The year 2014 is the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Dominican Republic. To commemorate this we have organized all kinds of events. The year 2015 will mark the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the five countries of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica). We Dominicans intend to play our part as a member of the Central American Integration System.
    The most attractive feature of the Dominican Republic is its people. We are all open-minded and hospitable to foreigners. Our country receives the greatest number of tourists in the Central American and Caribbean area. Our population is about ten million and we receive about five million tourists a year. So that we’ll have more tourists from Japan, I’m working hard to develop ties with companies in Japan’s tourism industry.
    The Dominican Republic occupies the largest portion of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The climate is pleasant all year round. Superb beaches and beach resorts are dotted along the whole coastline. It’s so beautiful that it’s been likened to “a piece of blue sky.” Legend has it that when he arrived in Hispaniola in 1492, COLUMBUS remarked, “I bet no one has ever seen such natural beauty.”
    Our country is rich in natural resources such as nickel and bauxite. Our GDP comes from tourism, agriculture and mining, and 4% of this is invested in education. Education is the key to a country’s development. We learned that from Japan.
    I once appeared in a TV commercial that was shown in Daiei – a Japanese supermarket. It was advertising mangos from the Dominican Republic. On the subject of food, I should say that our tropical fruits – mango and bananas and so forth – are very delicious and so are our avocados, honey and casabe crackers.
    Please everyone go and visit the Dominican Republic, the most beautiful country in the world. Once you go there, you’ll certainly be captivated. We’ll be waiting for you.

    Interview: KONO Yu[2015年1月号掲載記事]






    Read More
  • Establishments that Aim to Attract Female Customers

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Horse race tracks, pachinko parlors, motorboat race tracks… all of these are places where the majority of visitors are male. Recently, these kinds of facilities are devising various schemes to increase female custom. For example, Boat Race Edogawa holds art tours to show off the facility’s art collection.
    During the tour, a guide accompanies customers around the Art Museum located in the facility. The combination of a motorboat race venue and art is surprising and SUZUKI Kenji, who is in charge of this Art Museum, talks about how the art collection increased: “About seven or eight years ago, we began decorating the dreary reserved seating area with object d’art.”
    The tour of the works scattered around the hall began in 2010. In 2012, when the collection increased and it became difficult to travel round the hall on foot, an Art Museum was established to bring the artworks together in one place. Currently, the museum houses many works, including pieces by Muttoni – known for his mechanical dolls – and FUKAHORI Riusuke – who creates three-dimensional goldfish with acrylic resin. The museum is highly regarded for its large collection of valuable modern art.
    The tour costs 1,500 yen including lunch. It’s also possible to watch races from reserved seats, which usually cost 2,000 yen. The tour does not make a profit, but Suzuki says, “A boat racetrack is a difficult place for a casual visitor to drop in on. We hope that this tour will provide a different way in for those visiting our boat racetrack.”
    The impression that this is a male dominated place with a rough atmosphere has been successfully changed, with some tour participants remarking, “Is this really a boat race track?” The art tour only takes place on boat race days and is by reservation only. Numbers are limited to ten people per day. Since the artwork can only be seen by participating in the tour, bookings are always made on holidays.
    Considered to be mostly full of male customers, pachinko parlors also hope to attract more female visitors, particularly housewives. This is because the regular pachinko crowd is on the decline. Eyecandy Co., Ltd. specializes in designing pachinko parlor restrooms and gift exchange counters for women. All the employees are women, which is unusual in the male dominated pachinko industry.
    Originally the company created pachinko hall advertisements, but came to deal in interior decor at the request of the parlors. The parlors particularly want housewives in their 50’s and 60’s to visit. However, the interior decoration, being rather gaudy, does not create a tranquil atmosphere. “Because we want to create a space for women to shine, we intentionally avoided age-appropriate designs,” says the CEO, FUKUMORI Kanae.
    Devices that appeal to the customers’ inner girl have been installed; for instance “actress mirrors” in the powder room create a flattering reflection. The designs suggested by Eyecandy Co., Ltd. were sometimes ridiculed by other competitors when the company was bidding for an interior design contract. However, its bid was successful and after the refit was complete, it was popular with female customers. Other halls have altered their interior decor to be more appealing to women after seeing this response.

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2015年1月号掲載記事]




    Read More
  • Experience and Learn the Charm of Traditional Performing Arts in Tokyo

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Tokyo Traditional Arts Program
    Launched in 2008 by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, “Tokyo Traditional Arts Program” is part of the Tokyo Culture Creation Project. In Tokyo there remain numerous performing arts traditions. The scheme aims to hand down these skills to future generations.
    This year, three major events took place: Traditional Arts Performances, Traditional Performing Arts for Kids, and Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony 2014. The content of the programs is specifically chosen with an emphasis on making traditional performing arts welcoming and accessible. At Traditional Arts Performances, for example, a show called “Japanese Comedy Traditional and Contemporary” was held. Kyogen actors and comedians perform together and explore the differences and similarities between classic and modern comedies.
    Traditional Performing Arts for Kids operates training programs. Children choose their favorite art from options such as Noh, Japanese dancing; shakuhachi (bamboo flute)and shamisen (Japanese guitar). They then receive lessons directly from top-notch artists. At the end of the program, they have a public show. MORI Ryuichiro, a public relations director of Tokyo Culture Creation Project says: “Learning traditional performing may feel awkward. But these programs offer seven months of intensive training so they can learn in a relaxed atmosphere.” So far, some 1,800 children have participated in these programs.
    Mori says he wants students to get a sense of the value of Japanese culture through these programs; that nothing similar can be found in the rest of the world. “Practiced continuously for 600 years, the art of Noh is an aural tradition that has been handed down through imitation. Registered by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, it’s the world’s oldest performing art tradition still in existence. By experiencing such Japanese traditional performing arts, they will hopefully develop a sense of respect for Japanese culture.”
    Mori says that one characteristic of Japanese traditional performing arts is that they are linked to ordinary people’s everyday lives. “In Japan, Noh stages can be found in the countryside, and kabuki is performed in some farming villages.” Nagauta (long epic songs), kouta (ballads) and the shamisen were popular accomplishments amongst the merchant classes in the Edo period. Bon odori dances held in summer throughout Japan are also a traditional performing art.
    The Tokyo Olympics, scheduled to be held in six years, will be a great opportunity to promote traditional performing arts in Tokyo. “In the Olympics, the host city is expected to hold cultural and educational programs. We’re still deciding what we’re going to offer, but there will be many opportunities for people to immerse themselves in traditional arts. Rather than just watching professional performances, for a more direct experience, I want people from abroad to informally participate in bon dancing.”

    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2015年1月号掲載記事]



    Read More
  • The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, Saitama

    [From January Issue 2015]

    This is the world’s first public museum of bonsai art. Seasonal bonsai are exhibited inside the museum building and in the garden. Audio guide devices in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese are available to rent. Many workshops and themed exhibitions are organized here. Paintings to celebrate the New Year will be on display from December 13 to January 21, 2015. Around the museum, six bonsai gardens are located, where you can enjoy bonsai throughout the day.
    Access: five minute walk from the east exit of Toro Station on the JR Utsunomiya Line
    Opening hours:
    November – February: 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
    March – October: 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
    Admission for the general public: 300 yen
    Closed days: every Thursday and December 29 – January 3
    The Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, Saitama [2015年1月号掲載記事]


    Read More
  • Nagasaki Champon Ringerhut

    [From January Issue 2015]

    “Champon” is a dish of pork, seafood and vegetables cooked together in a soup. Including its overseas branches, there are more than 650 “Nagasaki Champon Ringerhut” stores. In addition to smaller sized champon served with plenty of vegetables, there are a wide range of varieties available to choose from. Popular too are gyouza (fried dumplings) that have a casing made from a mixture that contains rice powder. Flour, rice powder and vegetables are all made in-house. No preservatives or artificial colors are used. A set menu is also available for children.

    [No. 1] Plenty of Vegetables Champon 680 yen

    A 480 gram serving of seven kinds of vegetables are used in this champon. Compared to regular Nagasaki champon, double the quantity of cabbage, bean sprouts, and onion is used. A bowl of this champon provides the correct amount of vegetables (350 grams) a person needs per day.

    [No. 2] Nagasaki Champon 540 yen

    This standard dish at Ringerhut is made with 255 grams of vegetables. Many people order this dish together with gyouza.

    [No. 3] Nagasaki Sara Udon 580 yen

    Together with Nagasaki champon, this is one of the company’s trademark dishes. Slathered in a thick starchy sauce, this dish is poured onto a bed of deep-fried crispy thin noodles.
    Prices quoted are for eastern Japan.
    Nagasaki Champon Ringerhut[2015年1月号掲載記事]


    【No.1】野菜たっぷりちゃんぽん 680円


    【No.2】長崎ちゃんぽん 540円


    【No.3】長崎皿うどん 580円



    Read More
  • Promoting the Charm of Plants to the Masses

    [From January Issue 2015]

    NISHIHATA Seijun, Plant hunter
    There is a plant hunter who collects plants not only from within Japan, but also from all over the world. NISHIHATA Seijun grows plants from the thousands of seeds he has collected. Based in Tokyo, he is attracting attention in the media – TV, radio, magazines, and so forth – for the numerous projects he began in 2012.
    Seijun says he hasn’t always been interested in plants. When he was studying abroad aged 21, an incident occurred that changed his mind. “When I climbed the 4,000 meter high Mt. Kinabalu in Borneo, I happened to see Nepenthes rajah, the world’s largest carnivorous plant on the summit. That plant made a huge impression on me.”
    Hanau Co. Ltd. in Hyogo Prefecture is a wholesaler of flowers and potted plants, founded 150 years ago. The business has been in Seijun’s family for five generations. After returning to Japan, he spent his days learning the family business as an employee. “I think my skills were refined through encounters with masters of flower arrangement, and others.” Meanwhile, some simple doubts began to emerge in his mind. “I noticed that neither the Japanese technique of adjusting the flowering period, nor rare foreign plant species, were widely known to the general public.”
    “I began giving seminars to explain how and from where we get hold of materials for flower arrangement.” The number of invitations to give seminars increased and he started getting project proposals from both inside and outside Japan. Today he deals with more than 2,000 requests a year from companies, organizations and individuals. “The number of known plant species exceeds 260,000. It’s a wide field.”
    “I once collected an olive tree that was hundreds of years old. After it was transported, we discovered it was infected and lost a large amount of money sending it back. Climbing cliffs to collect plants and communicating with local staff via English and body language is work that involves both risk and effort. Despite the risks, I want to satisfy those who need the trees.”
    At Tokyo Designers Weeks 2014, an international creators’ event, 30 people chosen by lottery planted an Argentine palo borracho tree together with Seijun. The aim was for the participants to get a sense of the heft of the four-ton tree by pulling it on a cart. “Through contact with plants, I’d like people to experience a variety of things, in addition to their beauty and healing influence.”
    At Yoyogi Village where his office is located, plants from different countries of the world are grown. To acknowledge the contribution this green tract of land has made to society and the environment, Yoyogi Village was designated an “Urban Oasis” in 2014. “In the future, I’d like to create fun botanical gardens in which I can collaborate with artists and musicians.”
    Photos courtesy of Sora Botanical Garden
    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko[2015年1月号掲載記事]

    プラントハンター 西畠清順さん

    Read More
  • Improving Smash Speed with Lightweight Rackets

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Yonex Co., Ltd
    Badminton is a sport that flourishes in various Asian countries. During his foreign travels in October, 2013, Prime Minister ABE Shinzo presented the Bruneian King with a badminton racket. The gift given at that time was a product made by Yonex Co., Ltd – a company which produces and sells sporting goods.
    At the Thomas Cup (a global men’s team badminton competition) held in May, 2014, the Japanese men’s team won for the first time. In October, the Japanese women’s team became the world’s top ranking team. Many top players use Yonex rackets.
    Yonex was founded in 1946 in Niigata Prefecture under the name Yoneyama Company. Originally they made paulownia wood floats that were used by the fishing industry. However, they withdrew from float production when the materials used to produce them changed from wood to plastic. Around 1957, taking advantage of the badminton boom, they began producing rackets. Niigata Prefecture benefits from easy access to the kind of lumber that is suitable for making rackets with.
    The company has gone through some tough times, including a fire that completely destroyed its factory and a bankruptcy crisis. However, they have diversified to become a sporting goods manufacturer that deals not only in rackets, but also in sports related items such as shoes and uniforms. The company has also concentrated its energies on product development, by developing materials from wood, aluminium, stainless steel, carbon, and more. In particular, the company is enthusiastic about making the most of the cutting edge materials of each era. In addition to badminton, the company also manufactures items related to other sports, including tennis, golf, and snowboarding.
    The development of the Yonex badminton racket reflects the history of weight reduction and the pursuit of increased smash speeds through the adoption of graphite materials. In February 2013, the company created their lightest racket yet; the “Arc Saber FB,” that weighs 73 grams. In September, the Malaysian athlete TAN Boon Heong used the “Nanoray Z-speed” when he set a smash speed record of 493 kilometers per hour initial velocity. Furthermore, the square shaped “isometric form” racket that the company developed in 1980, had a huge impact on the tennis world, which up until then had favored rackets with a round shaped head.
    The company name was changed to Yonex for overseas trading. “We removed a part of ‘Yoneyama,’ because it was difficult for foreigners to pronounce. Instead, we attached an ‘X’ to signify future possibility,” says TAKANO Yuzo of Yonex’s publicity department. This name reflects the company’s desire to create lighter and faster products in the future. Yonex has many contracts with sales agents throughout the world. The Yonex Cups for badminton and tennis are also held to make a contribution to the promotion of sport.
    Photos courtesy of Yonex Co., Ltd
    Text: ITO Koichi[2015年1月号掲載記事]

    ヨネックスのバドミントンラケットの開発はカーボン素材の採用による軽量化とスマッシュスピードの追求の歴史でもあります。2013年2月に「アークセイバーFB」が同社最軽量の73グラムを実現。9月には、マレーシアのタン・ブンホン選手が「ナノレイ Z-スピード」を使い、初速で時速493キロメートルというスマッシュスピードを記録しました。また、1980年に同社が開発した「アイソメトリック形状」の四角い形のラケットは、それまで丸型が主流だったテニス界に大きな衝撃と変化をもたらしました。

    Read More
  • Improving Japanese Ability by Being the Only Non-Japanese in the Workplace

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Lewis Winglam PONG
    “I started studying Japanese when I came to Japan in September, 2013. I took the N3 (Japanese Language Proficiency) examination in December and passed. I took N2 in July, this year, and passed again. This month I took N1,” says Lewis Winglam PONG, from Hong Kong. In 2013 he began working at the Japanese head office of Sojitz Cooperation. Now he is working as an investment advisor in the structured finance division.
    Pong majored in risk management and finance at Hong Kong University. Then, he went to study finance and management at a graduate school in the U.K., staying on to do an internship for two months. Before long, he got anxious about his parents and returned to Hong Kong, where he started job hunting. Then, he bumped into a friend who was employed by Sojitz who told him about working conditions there.
    “What impressed me was that the company was hiring people who were not able to speak Japanese at all and giving them six months intensive Japanese instruction,” recalls Pong. Pong did some research into Sojitz. Learning that the company was a general trading company of a type unique to Japan, and that it was doing businesses in various fields around the world, he was intrigued.
    “I became curious about Japan, too. Japan is poor in natural resources and suffers from many natural disasters, such as earthquakes. Despite suffering heavy damage in World War II, Japan regenerated itself in only a few decades to become the second biggest economy in the world,” says Pong.
    Pong applied for a job at Sojitz and was hired. There, he received intensive Japanese instruction. “During the first three months, I received lessons to prepare for the N3 test in the morning at Waseda University and studied in a group of two to three people with one Japanese language teacher in the afternoon. Over the next three months, I studied with a Japanese language teacher in the morning and did on-the-job training, in other words learning Japanese from my colleagues while we worked.”
    “Since I’m surrounded by Japanese people at work and the majority of business is in done in Japanese, it’s quite a challenge. For instance, at meetings, everybody speaks quietly and it’s sometime hard for me to catch what they’re saying. There were occasions when I could finally understand what the meeting was about after reading the minutes afterwards. In Hong Kong and the U.K., people try to show how confident they are by expressing their opinions in a loud voice, but in Japan it is a virtue to speak modestly. Also, when you have an objection, rather than say ‘I object,’ it’s customary in Japan to mention the reasons against it,” says Pong, smiling wryly.
    He also had trouble with honorific expressions. “It is much more complicated than in Cantonese. In Japan you have to adjust your level of respect depending on whether you are talking to your manager or to a senior colleague. With people outside your company, you have to use another set of expressions. Honorific expressions used for communicating with them change according to which side is asking for a favour. Now, however, I naturally produce honorifics whenever I feel a sense of respect,” he says.
    “I am hooked on snowboarding, which I started doing last year. I’m also enjoying golf,” says Pong, discussing his private life. “I used to think that if I’d gotten a job in Hong Kong, I wouldn’t have had such language difficulties. But now I feel that through studying Japanese I have widened my job opportunities. If I improve my Japanese, I’ll be given greater responsibility at work.”
    Sojitz Cooperation
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年1月号掲載記事]


    Read More
  • Bygone Days Still Beautiful

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Honey and Clover
    Set in an art school, this work depicts the exploits of a group of young people who are awkwardly falling in love while trying to puzzle out their own futures. The series started in 2000, and was completed in 2006 after twice switching to different magazines. The animated cartoon televised in 2005 was so popular that a sequel was made the following year, and movie and TV drama adaptations have also been produced.
    Along with his friends, who are attending the same school, TAKEMOTO Yuta lives a carefree life in a rundown apartment. One day he meets a young woman called HANAMOTO Hagumi. Due to enter art school the following academic year, she is on her way to visit her relative, the lecturer HANAMOTO Shuji. Takemoto falls in love the moment he sees Hagumi. However, at the same time, MORITA Shinobu, his senior, is also attracted to Hagumi.
    Bowled over by Hagumi, who works on her art as if possessed, Takemoto gradually falls in love. Hagumi is blessed with an innate artistic talent, while Morita’s talents extend even beyond the artistic sphere, so the two are naturally drawn to each other. Takemoto, who considers himself to be mediocre, has an inferiority complex, so his heart is shaken by conflicting feelings of admiration and frustration towards the two.
    Takemoto gradually realizes that Hagumi is experiencing a lot of pressure and is feeling isolated. Because she’s been praised for her talents from a young age, her classmates keep their distance from her, so until she meets Takemoto, she has no friends. Rather than force his feelings onto her, Takemoto decides to watch over Hagumi. In order to regain what she was unable to acquire before, Hagumi makes wonderful memories with Takemoto and friends.
    Their limited school days draw to a close. While those around him choose their future careers, Takemoto’s job search falters and he buckles under the stress. In the end he repeats the year, postponing his graduation. When he finally obtains a promise of employment, the company goes bankrupt, so a brooding Takemoto sets off on an aimless bicycle trip. After spending a long period traveling, Takemoto sorts out his feelings and returns to his friends. And, though knowing that he will be rejected, he confesses his feelings to Hagumi.
    Having considered Takemoto to be a close friend, Hagumi is perplexed. Additionally, just before graduation, a tragic event befalls Hagumi. Both Takemoto and Morita reach out to support Hagumi, but the decision that Hagumi arrives at massively alters her relationship with them.
    The suffering caused by being unable to let someone know you like them and the angst that comes from being unable to visualize one’s own future are experiences anyone can identify with. Both for those people who hold something dear to their heart and for those who never look back, there is meaning in time spent together. This is what this story teaches us.
    Text: HATTA Emiko[2015年1月号掲載記事]


    Read More