• 外国人観光客誘致に取り組む地方自治体――藤枝市の場合

    [From July Issue 2012]


    In recent years, all over the country there has been a movement towards regenerating local communities. One famous example of this is the “B-1 Grand Prix,” a festival that gives regions good PR by showcasing inexpensive and delicious dishes (B-grade cuisine) loved by locals. With 63 exhibitors from all over Japan, attracting over 500,000 visitors, last year’s festival was held at Himeji City, Hyogo Prefecture.

    To revitalize their towns, most municipalities are pouring their efforts into tourism. To attract tourists, especially foreign tourists, they are pulling out all the stops in order to uncover the previously overlooked charms of their local areas. The Japanese government is behind this movement and is encouraging tourism with the aim that it will become a key industry for Japan. The Government Tourist Office is advocating “new tourism” holidays, through which tourists can find out about Japanese lifestyle and culture.

    Famous tourist spots, like Kusatsu in Gunma Prefecture, Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture, and Okinawa, are finding out how to attract foreign tourists, by holding “monitor tours” for foreign residents in Japan, or by inviting over members of the foreign media. These efforts are being carried out not only in major sightseeing spots, but also in towns and villages which foreigners are not familiar with.

    Towards the end of March this year, Fujieda City, Shizuoka Prefecture invited foreign media and government officials from foreign embassies in Japan over for a monitor tour. Shizuoka Prefecture is located in the center of Japan and is a long prefecture that stretches 155 kilometers from east to west. Flanked by the sea and home to Japan’s iconic Mt. Fuji, it is known for being a beautiful place boasting both attractive scenery and a warm climate.

    Fujieda is located in the center of Shizuoka Prefecture, and it takes about two hours by car from Tokyo to Fujieda. The city is known to Japanese as “the football kingdom.” Fujieda Higashi High School has done extremely well in the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament. It is the home town of J-league striker NAKAYAMA Masashi and the Japanese national team captain HASEBE Makoto. However, the town is not well known for anything else.

    Shizuoka is the number one producer of tea in Japan. Fujieda Tourist office, which planned this sightseeing tour, highlighted tea as one of the area’s most important attractions. The itinerary included a trip to a tea plantation to show how “gyokuro,” (high quality tea) is made and to a tea factory to show how tea is produced. In addition, at Gyokuro no Sato, you can drink tea served by women in kimono while gazing at a traditional Japanese garden.

    The tourist office intends to highlight its many temples and castles as sightseeing spots. The group visited Daikei-ji temple, where you can see a 750-year-old pine tree, works of calligraphy and paintings of historical note. They also visited Jurin-ji temple, where you can see Buddhist monk Mokujiki’s famous two smiling Buddha sculptures. In addition, they visited Tanaka Castle Villa located on the site of Tanaka Castle, which was built 500 years ago. Completely surrounded by a moat, as a result, the castle has never been attacked by enemies.

    Furthermore, the group visited Kashiwaya, a samurai period inn. In the old days, between Edo (present-day Tokyo) and Kyoto, there were 53 post stations. One of them is Okabe which, in recent years, was merged with Fujieda. Kashiwaya is located in this area. The tour participants were interested in the life size dolls and tools that vividly brought the period back to life, as well as a diorama that showed what the town was like in those days.

    The “cherry blossom tunnel” alongside the Seto River running through the city is a sightseeing attraction in spring. The group had lunch at Suigetsuan, where customers could enjoy a traditional Japanese shoujin (vegetarian) meal, overlooking the river. The participants were impressed with the variety of dishes that had been cooked with local vegetables and fruits. The mayor of Fujieda City came to greet them and gave a welcome speech. On top of this it had been arranged that a local journalist would cover their trip to the cherry blossom tunnel.

    The group visited Shidaizumi Sake Brewery on the banks of the Seto River, and sampled sake made from its delicious waters. It’s expected that this renowned sake will become a popular souvenir. Shizuoka Prefecture is also famous for strawberry production, and a visit to “Japan berry,” the largest strawberry farm in Japan was also included. There you can indulge in a “30 minute all-you-can-eat” package; picking and eating as many strawberries as you like in the vast plastic greenhouse. It seems like the tourist association is intending to make food and beverages one of the area’s attractions.

    Fujieda also intends to get tourists to visit the surrounding area, including the nearby city of Yaizu, which was also a stop on the monitor tour. Yaizu is well-known as a port for tuna fishing boats to land in, and the group visited the port. They stayed at the Yaizu Grand Hotel, which has a view of the Pacific Ocean. This hotel is ideally located with a view of both the sea and Mt. Fuji from its hot spring.

    Those staff from the national tourist bureau and from Fujieda City, as well as the volunteer interpreter, who were responsible for running the tour, promoted the local area passionately. The participants in turn were satisfied with their hospitality. However, it’s a pity that Fujieda does not have any distinctive attractions like Nikko’s Toshogu or Kamakura’s great Buddha. The tour participants were really aware of this, and the tourist office seemed to be groping around for something eye catching.

    Fujieda is located in the center of Japan, and has both sea and mountains, as well as a variety of sightseeing spots. The population of Fujieda City is currently 145,000, and, in spite of the fact that Japan’s population is decreasing in many municipalities, that figure is continuing to grow. The city has enough charm to attract tourists and could be described as “a miniature version of Japan,” where typical Japanese people live. It might be a good idea to promote it to foreign tourists as a “sightseeing spot in which you can witness everyday Japanese life.”

    Japan has a wide variety of tourist attractions, and moreover it enjoys a good reputation for its “omotenashi” (hospitality) all around the world. If local municipalities keep up their efforts to attract foreign tourists, it might not be long before Japan’s localities become well known as a tourist destination.

    Fujieda City Tourist Agency


















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  • 橋下代表は日本の政治制度を変えられるか?

    [From July Issue 2012]


    Now, a big movement from Osaka, that advocates completely overhauling the Japanese political system, is underway. Standing at the vanguard as the head of the Osaka Restoration Association, is HASHIMOTO Toru, the mayor of Osaka. When he became governor of Osaka Prefecture in 2008, he vigorously carried out administrative reforms to slash the outstanding deficit that Osaka Prefecture had had since 1998, putting the prefecture back in the black in 2009. In order to cut wasteful expenditure caused by the dual administrations of prefectural and municipal bureaucracies in Osaka, in 2011 he resigned his post as governor of Osaka, becoming Osaka city mayor.

    By unifying Osaka’s administration under his “Osaka Metropolitan Plan,” Hashimoto aims to make Osaka like Tokyo, and is now promoting the reform of the city. To realize this plan, it’s necessary to revise the law. Judging that he won’t be able to gain support for revising the law from the party currently in power, Hashimoto is grooming more than 200 candidates for the next general election.

    Furthermore, Hashimoto is advocating that national referendums be used to vote for prime ministers, and is pressing for other radical reforms to change the stagnant political system. Hashimoto is popular with voters, so that in the early stages, most political parties got on the bandwagon and were favor of the Restoration Association. However, politicians and political parties who view his political reforms as being too radical and aggressive have gradually been distancing themselves from him. There are also people who accuse Hashimoto, who aggressively carries out reform, of being like HITLER.

    Conservative governments, with the Liberal Democratic Party generally being in office, have continued to be in power for the 50 years since the Second World War. During this period bureaucrats have held the reigns of political power from behind the scenes and people’s frustration with politics has increased. In the general election three years ago, the Democratic Party of Japan rose to power by advocating administrative reforms aimed at cutting wasteful expenditure on bureaucracy, and providing better benefits to the population. These policies gained them the full support of voters.

    However, citizens were disappointed with the DPJ as they did not vigorously pursue these reforms. Spearheaded by Hashimoto, the Restoration Association, which advocates genuine reforms, has appeared on the scene, and citizens are expecting great things from him. He has a strong belief that Japanese politics cannot be altered unless political systems are changed. He has proposed that the prime minister is not chosen by Diet members, but is directly elected by citizens.

    How is the Japanese Prime Minister Currently Elected?

    Having two legislative houses, the Japanese Diet is modeled on Great Britain’s system of government. The total number of members of the House of Representatives is 480. Three hundred of these are selected from 300 constituencies (one from each constituency). One hundred and eighty are selected from each party’s list of candidates by a system of proportional representation (people vote for a party in 11 separate constituencies). One term is four years, but if the prime minister dissolves parliament during that term, members lose their seats and an election is called.

    The membership of the House of Councilors is fixed at 242. Divided up into prefectures, 146 members are selected from each constituency. Ninety six are selected by the whole country through a system of proportional representation. Their term of office is six years, but half of them are re-elected every three years. The minimum age of candidates for the House of Representatives is 25, and for the House of Councilors, 30. The voting age is over 20.

    The Japanese prime minister is elected by the members of the Diet and is usually the most influential man in the party. If the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors select different candidates in the elections for prime minister, the candidate selected by the House of Representatives becomes prime minister.












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  • 雲上と峡谷で出あう自然の神秘――立山と黒部(富山県)

    [From July Issue 2012]


    Toyama Prefecture is located along the Sea of Japan, just about in the center of Honshu (Japan’s main island). Located in the Northern Alps, it’s surrounded on three sides by steep mountain ranges like Tateyama, and is blessed with an abundance of beautiful nature. The Kurobe Gorge is a deep v-shaped gorge that runs between the Tateyama Mountain Range and the Ushiro-Tateyama Mountain Range.

    The distance between the mountaintops and the bottom of the gorge can be as much as 1.5 to two kilometers, and until around 1927 the area was a secluded region, off limits to tourists. Today, however, trains nicknamed “Torokko Densha,” run through the area, allowing anyone to easily visit the Kurobe Gorge. Torokko are carts used to carry dirt and stones from construction sites. Torokko Densha have roofs, but unlike normal trains, they have no windows, enabling passengers to get a physical sense of the vast wilderness. A one way trip is an adventure of about 20 kilometers, through 41 tunnels and across 22 bridges, and takes about one hour and 20 minutes.


    A trip on the Torokko Densha starts out from Unazuki Station, Kurobe Gorge Railway. In the vicinity is the hot spring town of Unazuki, bustling with tourists who have come to enjoy the onsen. A characteristic of Unazuki Onsen is its smooth, transparent water, which has been long been known as “hot water for beautiful skin.” As much as 3,000 tons of hot water bubbles out of the spring each day, and you can see 60-degree hot spring water shooting up like a fountain in front of Unazuki Onsen Station, Toyama Chihou Tetsudou Honsen Line.

    After departing from Unazuki Station, the Torokko Densha travels through some spectacular scenery, stopping at Kuronagi, Kanetsuri, and Keyakidaira stations. Kuronagi has the oldest open-air baths in the gorge, and in Kanetsuri there is an observation deck which commands a view of “Kurobe perpetual snow” – mounds of snow that have accumulated from avalanches. At Keyakidaira, the last stop, there are paved walkways so that visitors can enjoy seeing the Kurobe Gorge up close. Around each station, there are hot spring inns, which are popular because they can only be accessed by Torokko Densha.


    Walking up a gentle slope from Keyakidaira Station for about 50 minutes, you arrive at Babadani Onsen. The name “Babadani” (baba means an old woman) comes from a legend about an old woman who went up the mountain to look for her adulterous husband, but she died without finding him and her flames of jealously caused a hot spring to bubble up from the ground. On the banks of the river in Babadani, hot water can be seen boiling up everywhere.

    Along with the Kurobe Gorge, the most famous scenic spot in Toyama Prefecture is the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route. Running through the Tateyama Mountain Range – which comprises of mountains that reach 3,000 meters high – this world famous mountain trail connects Tateyama-machi, Toyama Prefecture, with Omachi, Nagano Prefecture. Although it’s just less than 25 kilometers as the crow flies, it should be noted that it spans 2,000 kilometers from its lowest to highest points, offering fantastic and beautiful views from above the clouds.

    One of the charms of the Alpine Route that it’s impossible to overlook is its many unusual modes of transport. On these you can enjoy rides unique to the Alpine Route, such as: the Tateyama Cable Car, which goes up slopes as steep as 29 degrees; the Kurobe Cable Car, the like of which cannot be found anywhere else in Japan, which runs underground for its entire route; and a trolleybus that passes through a tunnel that is situated at the highest altitude of any other in Japan. The Ropeway in particular has been called a “moving observation deck” and offers panoramic views of the magnificent scenery.

    Starting from Tateyama Station, this cable car travels for about one hour until it gets to Murodo Station which sits at the highest point of the Alpine Route. There are a number of must-see spots along the way. On the Midagahara Plateau, located 1,600 to 2,100 meters above sea level, you can enjoy a stroll while looking at the Alpine flora. At Shomyo falls, water collects from the Tateyama Mountain Range and flows down rapidly in four stages from the Shomyo Gorge; taken as a whole this is the biggest waterfall in Japan and has been designated as a national natural treasure.


    Located at the highest point of the Alpine Route, Murodo is extremely popular with tourists and mountaineers who use it as a base. From there, you can enjoy views of 3,000-meter-high mountains, including three mountains in the Tateyama range. You can also walk around a variety of tourist spots like Mikuriga Pond, one of the most beautiful sights in Murodo, and Jigoku-dani (Hell Valley). About a two hour climb up from Murodo is the highest point of the Tateyama mountain range (on Mount Oyama). At the summit of Mount Oyama is a shrine, Oyama-jinja Mine-honsha, from which you can see Mt. Fuji far in the distance as well as Mt. Ontake and the Toyama Bay.

    The Alpine Route has attractions unique to each of the four seasons. April begins with walls of snow that have built up during winter along the Alpine Route. In years when there have been heavy snowfalls, these walls can be as high as 20 meters, giving the route its nickname “Yuki no Otani” (Great Valley of Snow). In summer, the alpine plants on the plateau begin to simultaneously burst into bloom. When the short summer is over, the whole mountain range turns yellow, heralding the arrival of kouyou, or autumn leaf viewing, season. When the autumn leaves have all gone, the first snow of the year falls, and silence returns to Tateyama.

    Tateyama is a mountain range high above sea level where a wide variety of animals and plants can be seen. Bijodaira is known as being a treasure trove of wild birds and many kinds of birds can be spotted there, such as the Bush Warbler, the Robin, and the Blue-and-white Flycatcher. The sight of alpine plants like Cotton Grass and Tateyama-rindo (Gentiana thunbergii var. minor) delights tourists. In Murodo, if you are lucky, you might encounter a Japanese ptarmigan, a bird that has been designated as a special national natural treasure.


    Flowing through the 3,000-meter-high Tateyama Mountain Range and running along the Kurobe Gorge, the Kurobe River is one of Japan’s major rivers, and has been chosen as “the clearest stream in the country.” The snow falling deep in the mountains of Kurobe doesn’t melt until early summer, bringing with it an abundance of water even in midsummer. A wide range of products unique to the region, that are popular as souvenirs, are made using this famous water, including local beer, sake, and curry.

    It takes about one hour to fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Toyama Airport. From the airport, located in a suburb of Toyama City, it takes approximately 25 minutes by bus to Toyama Station. If you’re travelling by JR railways, it takes about one hour to get to Echigo-Yuzawa Station by Joetsu Shinkansen from Tokyo Station, transferring there to the Hokuriku main line, you arrive at Uozu Station in roughly one hour and 50 minutes. To access the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route and the Kurobe Gorge, transfer at Uozu Station to the Toyama Chihou Tetsudo Line and get off at Tateyama Station and Unazuki Onsen Station, respectively.

    Official site Tourism Information in Toyama
    Kurobe City
    The Kurobe Gorge Railway Co., Ltd.

    Text: HAMASAKI Yayoi






















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  • 和室で使われる畳とその応用商品

    [From July Issue 2012]


    You could say that traditional Japanese rooms naturally derive their beautifully simple ambience from tatami flooring. Tatami is made of three components: the surface known as tatami omote, the inner part called tatami doko, and the edging, tatami beri. The surface is made of igusa, a species of rush that has been used in Japan for around 2000 years.

    The inner part of the tatami is about 5.5 centimeters thick and is made from straw. The material used for the edging binds the inner part to the surface of the mat. Depending on the purpose of the tatami, the material for the border can be made of cotton, linen or silk. The fabric is decorated with typical Japanese patterns that enhance the beauty of the tatami mat.

    Tatami mats are of a fixed size of 174 centimeters long and 87 centimeters wide (in the east of Japan) and are also used for measuring square footage. The length of a tatami mat is always exactly twice as long as its width. The size of a room is measured in tsubo (3.3 square meters). One tsubo is equivalent to the size of two tatami mats.

    Tatami were first used as cushions to elevate the person with the highest status. It was later customary to use it as flooring for tea ceremony rooms and then was more widely used in normal rooms. Shoes are not permitted on tatami. Furthermore, you should not place your feet on top of the border. There are also regulations concerning how far the chawan (teacup) should be from the edge of the tatami.

    The use of tatami is waning: modern apartments and houses might have only one tatami room, or none at all. Tatami is usually made locally by small businesses, who are now seeking new practical applications for tatami. Products such as tatami cell phone and iPad covers, tatami clocks, or vase coasters, have recently appeared and are becoming more and more popular, not only amongst foreigners, but also with Japanese.


    Text: Nicolas SOERGEL










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  • ダンボールで作った仏像で日本美術を伝えたい

    [From July Issue 2012]


    HONBORI Yuji

    This artist makes Buddhist images out of discarded corrugated cardboard. HONBORI Yuji who lives in Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, studied sculpture at Aichi Prefectural University of Arts and, after completing graduate school, has been constructing works made out of junk and construction waste. “The Great Hanshin Earthquake completely destroyed my house and when I saw the damage to the surrounding area, I was completely shocked. Since then I’ve felt some reluctance about using fresh timber as a raw material.”

    Moving to a new location, he spent days searching for the right material, experimenting with soil, wood chips, and so forth. “On one occasion I made a sculpture of a likeness of a zushi (miniature shrine to display Buddhist images) with scrap wood taken from an old shrine. The shape of the left over wood unexpectedly resembled a Buddhist statue. This incident was the impetus for me to create my first work by dissolving a milk carton in water and pouring it into a plaster mold to make a Buddhist statue. After that, I finally hit on the idea of using discarded corrugated cardboard as a material,” says Honbori.

    It takes about a month and a half to make a 160 centimeter Buddhist image. One characteristic of these works is that, from the side, you can see colored text printed onto the corrugated cardboard, which has been intentionally left that way. And from the front, through undulating spaces in the cardboard, you can see right through to the back. A circle has been created in the center of the Buddha; a void made from poured concrete. This resembles a tainaibutsu (a small Buddhist statue placed within a larger one), a devotional kind of statue that dates from the Heian period.

    “It would make me happy if people want to see traditional Japanese Buddhist statues after viewing mine. I make statues based on my own mental image, but I have difficulty walking that fine line of creating a form that is just about recognizable. But that is also why the production process is enjoyable,” Honbori says.

    In March this year, his works were exhibited at ART FAIR TOKYO for the second time. They were displayed in the same space along with joumon doki (straw rope-patterned ancient Japanese pottery) and ancient Buddhist statues. This juxtaposition attracted a great deal of attention. “I used the eleven-faced Kannon (Goddess of Mercy) of Shorinji Temple in Nara as the model for my work. Although these are modern art works made of corrugated cardboard, I realized that their charm could be seen in a new light if they were exhibited with art works from antiquity that were of national treasure quality,” Honbori says. In May, he also participated in the Hong Kong International Art Fair, the biggest Art Exhibition in Asia.

    “When I see people putting their palms together in prayer in front of my work, I realize that because I’m making an image of Buddha, I can’t create half-hearted works. With a playful heart, I want to continue making pop art,” says Honbori, who continues to challenge audiences with his works.


    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko












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  • 大人気ブログから生まれた青春コメディー

    [From July Issue 2012]


    700 Days of Battle: Us vs. the Police (Director: TSUKAMOTO Renpei)

    Based on an extremely popular “blog novel,” this story is partly true and partly fictional. It was subsequently adapted into a comic book, and translations have been published overseas. The movie was released in Japan in April 2008 and was later shown in Taiwan and Korea. The original story was set in Yamagata Prefecture in 1975, but in the movie version, this became Tochigi Prefecture, 1979.

    In a certain rural town, seven high school friends generally make a nuisance of themselves in their school and town. Their ring leader is nicknamed “Mamachari,” because he rides around on a type of bicycle commonly used by housewives that has a basket in front. One day, one of the gang, Saijo is arrested by a policeman for breaking the speed limit on his moped.

    Looking to get even with the police and believing that they won’t get arrested on their bicycles, the seven friends ride their bikes at great speeds in front of the device used for recording speed violations. However, a policeman who is at first convinced that the speed infractions were caused by an automobile, finds out that this is a prank carried out by the bicycle-riding kids and catches them in the act. He summons one of their high school teachers and orders him to strictly discipline the boys.

    But even after this incident, the high school kids wage war by playing one prank after another on the police officer. In response, playing fast and loose with the letter of the law, the officer gets his revenge. On one occasion, saying that he’d like to make peace with the boys, he invites them out for a drive to the neighboring town. He takes them to a scenic spot deep in the mountains and lets them out of the car to watch the sunset. Then he seizes the opportunity to leave the boys stranded. This is just one example of his behavior.

    During the summer holidays, Saijo is involved in a traffic accident on his moped and is hospitalized. When his friends visit him in hospital, he asks them to steal the fireworks that were going to be used at a display in a neighboring town and begs them to set them off in a dry riverbed near the hospital. He insists that this is part of their campaign against the police officer. However, regardless of whether the plan is successful or not, if they get caught by the police officer, they’ll be expelled from school.

    While everyone is half-hearted about carrying out this plan, Mamachari realizes why Saijo thought up the scheme. Mamachari understands the tender side to Saijo’s personality and explains the reason to his pals. Resigned to being expelled, the friends decide to steal the fireworks. However, when they set off towards the neighboring town, the officer, who has been informed of their plans, stands in the way.

    This movie is set in 1979. In that year young people all over Japan were caught up in the “Space Invaders” craze, but it was also the year in which standardized entrance exams for national universities were introduced. This movie draws a partly humorous, partly heart-rending portrait of the war between a group of rural high school students overwhelmed by the upcoming challenge of these fiercely competitive high school entrance exams, and a police officer who seriously tackles them head on and tries to teach them how to live correctly.










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