• 亡くなった人の新たな旅立ちを支える納棺師の物語

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Departures (Directed by TAKITA Yojiro)

    “Departures” is the drama that won the 81st Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars. At the 32nd Japan Academy Awards, it won the Best Film Award, in addition to other awards for its cast and crew.

    The main character KOBAYASHI Daigo (MOTOKI Masahiro) is a former cellist. He gives up his career after his orchestra in Tokyo is disbanded. He moves back to his old home in Yamagata Prefecture with his wife Mika (HIROSUE Ryoko) and looks for a new job. He notices a classified ad that says, “assisting travels,” and feeling certain that the NK Agent company is a travel agency, he requests an interview.

    The company president (YAMAZAKI Tsutomu) doesn’t bother reading Daigo’s resume and hires him on the spot. But Daigo is worried because he still doesn’t know what kind of work it is. Timidly he asks, only to find out that his job is encoffinment, the task of placing dead people in coffins. Apparently the classified ad was miss-written and should have read “assisting departures (deaths).” Daigo further learns that the company’s name, NK, is short for “NouKan” (encoffinment).

    Daigo can only tell Mika that his work is related to “ceremonial occasions.” Mika misunderstands this to mean that he is now working at a wedding hall. On his first job, he deals with the corpse of an old woman who lived alone and was found two weeks after she died. He vomits.

    Gradually Daigo starts to feel pride in his work, which is greatly appreciated by the bereaved families. Then, Mika finally learns what he really does and begs him to “get a regular job.” While Mika gets upset and returns home to her parents, Daigo remains, instead, focusing on becoming a full-fledged mortician.

    Mika suddenly returns to tell Daigo that they are going to have a baby. He is happy to hear that, but again Mika presses him to change his job because she thinks their child will eventually be bullied because of it. Then, Daigo’s cell phone rings. It’s his childhood friend YAMASHITA, who also once suggested that he find a “better job,” telling him that his mother, Tsuyako, has just died.

    Daigo and Mika face Tsuyako’s corpse, and in front of Yamashita, his family and Mika, he encoffins the body. He makes up her face and dresses her in her favorite scarf and kimono. Finally Yamashita and Mika both realize just how serious Daigo takes his job, and they both come to understand and appreciate his work.

    Later, Daigo receives a telegram informing him of the death of his estranged father. He does not remember his father, who left his mother when Daigo was only six years old. For Daigo, who also lost his mother, the concept of “parents” is almost nonexistent. Initially Daigo refuses to claim the corpse. But, persuaded by Mika and others, he decides to see his father’s corpse. There, he is freed from his hatred and conducts his father’s encoffinment.


    おくりびと(滝田二郎 監督)









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  • 赤飯と紅白なます

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Ingredients [Serves 2]


    • 1 cup (180ml) sticky rice
    • 15g azuki (red) beans
    • 1 cup water (200ml)
    • 100ml water (inc. water used to boil azuki)
    • Goma-shio (sesame & salt)
    • 1 tsp toasted sesame (black)
    • 1/6 tsp salt


    • 150g daikon (Japanese radish)
    • 15g carrots
    • 1/4 tsp salt

    Sweet vinegar

    • 1 1/2 tbsp vinegar
    • 1/2 tbsp sugar
    • 1/2 tbsp Japanese liquid soup stock
    • a pinch of salt (between your thumb and forefinger)
    • 1 tsp white, roasted sesame seeds

    Shibu-kiri (lit. “harshness cut down”): boiling and discarding the liquid removes the scum (harsh taste), which causes harshness. The harshness of beans harvested during autumn will increase over time.


    1. Rinse sticky rice and soak in plenty of water for more than one hour.
    2. Place azuki (red) beans and plenty of water in a medium pot and boil over a high heat. Simmer for a couple of minutes then drain with a colander (shibu-kiri).
    3. Put the azuki beans back in the pot with 1 cup water, and let simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until soft (so that the beans can be mashed between your finger).
    4. Separate the azuki beans from cooked liquid. Add water to the cooked liquid to make 100ml.
    5. Drain the sticky rice. Once drained thoroughly, place in the rice cooker. Add mixture (4) and azuki beans, then turn on the rice cooker. After the rice is done, mix well.
    6. Lightly roast the black sesame seeds in a frying pan and add salt.
    7. Garnish each serving of red bean rice with the salted sesame seeds.


    1. Cut both daikon radish and carrots into 4cm long julienne strips. (You may cut carrots thinner since they are more colorful than the radish.)
    2. Sprinkle each with salt (do not mix together or colors will run) and then put the vegetables into separate bowls.
    3. Briefly stir each bowl then let sit for five to ten minutes so water accumulates.
    4. Mix together vinegar, sugar, liquid soup stock and salt to make the sweet vinegar.
    5. Drain all the vegetables then mix in the sweet vinegar.
    6. Garnish with sesame.




    • もち米 米用カップ1(180ml)
    • あずき 15 g
    • 水 カップ1(200 ml)
    • あずきのゆで汁+水100ml
    • ごま塩
    • いりごま(黒) 小さじ1
    • 塩 小さじ1/6


    • 大根 150g
    • にんじん 15g
    • 塩 小さじ1/4


    • 酢 大さじ1+1/2
    • 砂糖 大さじ1/2
    • だし(液状の和風だし) 大さじ1/2
    • 塩 少々(親指と人差し指で少しつまむ量)
    • いりごま(白) 小さじ1



    1. もち米はとぎ、たっぷりの水に1時間以上つけます。
    2. 鍋にあずきとたっぷりの水を入れ、強火にかけます。お湯がわいたら、弱火で2~3分ゆで、ざるにあけます。(渋きり)
    3. あずきを鍋に戻し、水カップ1を入れ、弱火で20~30分やわらかくなるまで(押せば変形するぐらい)ゆでます。
    4. あずきとゆで汁に分けます。ゆで汁に水を足し、100mlにします。
    5. もち米をざるにあけ、水気をきります。水滴がなくなったら、炊飯器に入れます。あずきと4を加えて混ぜ、スイッチを入れます。炊き上がったら、全体を混ぜます。
    6. フライパンで黒ごまをあたため、塩を混ぜます。

    7. 赤飯を盛り、ごま塩をふってできあがりです。


    1. 大根、にんじんは4cm長さの千切りにします。にんじんは色が目立つので、大根よりも細めに切ります。
    2. それぞれに塩をふります。一緒にすると色移りがするため、別々の器に入れます。
    3. 軽く混ぜ、5~10分おいて水気を出します。
    4. 酢、砂糖、だし、塩を混ぜ、甘酢を作ります。
    5. 2の水気をしぼり、甘酢であえます。
    6. いりごまをふります。

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  • 駅の設備は便利

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Japan’s train stations offer commuters many different conveniences, including public toilets. The word “toilet” has been adopted in Japanese, but the final “t” is silent. It is pronounced “toire.” In Japanese (romaji) “l” is generally replaced with “r.” You won’t find the signs of “男 men” or “女women,” at the entrance of most of toilets, however “men” and “women” pictographs are displayed. Some toilets have a Japanese sign written as “お手洗” (otearai: literally translated meaning “washing hands”).

    In Japan there are two kinds of toilets which are quite different from one another; youshiki, which is shortened word for seiyou-shiki (洋式western-style) and washiki (和式Japanese-style). “Wa” (和) was the old name for Japan and is often used in comparison to western items such as “washoku” (和食Japanese food) “washitsu” (和室Japanese room) and “washi” (和紙 Japanese paper). Instead of “washiki,” you can say “nihonshiki” (日本式Japanese style).

    Another convenient station facility is the “coin-locker,” in which for 300 yen (in the case of standard size) per day, you can store your luggage. In Japanese (romaji) “Koin-rockaa” is written with a “K” instead of a “C.”

    If you’ve lost or forgotten something in a train, you can report it to “Lost and Found.” But, while most large stations do have one, some of the smaller stations don’t. In that case, you must say to the station clerk, “densha no naka ni wasuremono o shimasita” (I left something in the train). The clerk will then ask you the station you were at, what time you were on the train, and what item(s) you left behind. And while it may take some time to find your items, there is a good chance that you will get your lost property back.

    Due to the popularity of cellular phones, public phones have recently started disappearing. However, station phones remain extremely convenient especially when you’ve forgotten your cellular phone, or if its battery runs out. Some public phones even let you make international calls. “Telephone” is commonly pronounced as “terehon” in Japanese. To make a phone call you need coins or a telephone card (available at most station kiosks).

    At most stations you can find kiosks, where beverages, snacks, masks as well as newspapers and magazines (mostly in Japanese) are sold. Furthermore, plastic umbrellas are also available, usually costing only 500 yen. Some bigger stations also offer coffee shops and standing noodle shops for a quick bite. And these days, some stations even offer bakeries, bookstores, flower shops and full convenience stores.

    Some station entrances and exits are named for directions, such as “East,” “West,” “South” and “North,” while other are named “Central Gate” and “Yaesu Gate” indicating locations. Subways usually have simpler names such as “Al” or “A2”.









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  • 外国文化が芽生えた港町― 神戸

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Kobe City stretches east to west, facing the Seto Inland Sea and with the lush green of Mount Rokko in the background. Since the opening of the Port of Kobe in 1868, Kobe continues to thrive as an international port city. With a fine mixture of retro and modern elements, this stylish city offers ritzy culture.

    Movies, jazz, soccer, golf, coffee, ramune (lemon soda), cafes, buta-man (steamed pork buns), Worcestershire sauce, karaoke equipment and even perms, have all spread from Kobe to the rest of Japan. The tendency of “Kobekko” (people in Kobe) to enjoy new things is seen everywhere across the city.

    Most of the tourist spots in the center of Kobe are within walking distance of one another, but you can visit these spots more efficiently by using the “City Loop,” a green bus route that covers Kitano Ijinkan-gai, the Former Foreign Settlement, Nankin-machi, Meriken Park, Harborland and other sights. The bus covers the entire route in about 60 minutes. You can get on and off the bus freely at any of 17 green stops if you buy a one-day pass, which also provides discounts at many tourist spots.

    The Sannomiya and Motomachi areas form the center of Kobe. Heading up the mountain from Sannomiya will take you to Kitano Ijinkan-gai. After the opening of the Port of Kobe, non-Japanese built their residences in Kitano-cho’s elevated area, overlooking the ocean. Many of the foreign residences are open to the public as museums, including Weathercock House, with the weathercock on its triangle-shaped roof, Moegi House, Rhine House, Uroko House, English House and Youkan-Nagaya-French House. Blending in with these foreign residences are a number of fashionable cafes and restaurants.

    No tour of this foreign community is complete without a visit to Kitano Meister Garden. Using the former Kitano Elementary School building, which faces the Tor Road, connecting Kitano Ijinkan-gai and the Former Foreign Settlement, it houses 21 unique ateliers, where you can browse and buy “Kobe Brand” items while observing the skills of the professionals firsthand. You can also try your hand at making your own Kobe Brand item.

    Shinkansen (bullet train) Shin-Kobe Station is a short walk from Kitano Ijinkan-gai, where the Shin-Kobe Ropeway (aerial lift) is available from the mountain side of the station. This takes about 10 minutes to arrive at the last stop, Nunobiki Herb Garden, offering greenhouses, museums, a restaurant, and a garden filled with pleasant and relaxing aromas, from which, you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view. Just under the elevated railroad on the first floor of Shin-Kobe Station, you will come to Nunobiki Falls. These falls are just one of the sources of “Kobe Water.”

    Sannomiya, where the city’s major transportation systems are concentrated, serves as Kobe’s gateway. Flower Road, stretching from JR Sannomiya Station both north and south, is the city’s main street. Located on the station’s south side are the Flower Clock Kobe, one of the city’s most famous symbols, Kobe City Hall Building with its 24th-floor observation deck offering panoramic views of the city, and Higashi Yuenchi Park, an oasis of relaxation for locals. Kobe Information Center (Hello Station Kobe) is located on the first floor of Kotsu Center Building near the West exit of JR Sannomiya Station, where non-Japanese tourists can obtain “welcome coupons” giving them discounts at many facilities.

    It has been 15 years since the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (the Kobe Earthquake) occurred in the southern part of Hyogo Prefecture on January 17, 1995. A memorial ceremony is held annually on January 17 at Higashi Yuenchi Park to mourn the victims and pass on stories of the disaster. At the park, “1.17 A Light of Hope,” is a memorial to the victims that is lit on this day. Another monument to the victims, which also symbolizes the city’s revival, contains plaques engraved with their names. At the park’s north side stands a monument featuring the statue of MARINA holding a clock that stopped at the precise time of the earthquake.

    Other spots of interest include Meriken Park’s “Earthquake Memorial Park” and the “Disaster Reduction and Human Renovation Institution” located in HAT Kobe, near the newly developed waterfront area. You can further visit “Nojima Fault Preservation Museum” in Hokudan-cho Earthquake Memorial Park on Awaji Island, and don’t miss Nagata’s symbol of revival, the giant-sized, “Tetsujin 28-Go” (Gigantor) figure created by Kobe-born cartoonist YOKOYAMA Mitsuteru.

    The Former Foreign Settlement is an area straddling Sannomiya and Motomachi, to the west of Higashi Yuenchi Park. After the opening of the port, it was organized as a center of commerce and trade and a residential area for non-Japanese. Lined with boutiques, restaurants and cafes, which are all housed in Western stone buildings, the area has a sophisticated feel. Since it is also home to the Kobe Lamp Museum, the Kobe City Museum and the Kobe Lampwork Glass Museum, visitors can also enjoy looking at works of art there. Along with Higashi Yuenchi Park, this neighborhood is the site of the popular winter illumination event “Kobe Luminarie.”

    To the south of the stylish Motomachi Shopping Arcade, defined by its arched, stained-glass entrance way, lies Nankin-machi, Kobe’s Chinatown. In a small area accessible through three two-story gates to the east, west, and south, a number of shops including Chinese restaurants, yum cha (dim sum) stands, Chinese variety stores and sweet cafes stand side-by-side. With raucous cries from merchants, the street is full of energy and always bustles with people, especially in the central Nankin-machi Square.

    Walking from Motomachi toward the beach, you will find the Bay Area. Meriken Park was built by reclaiming Meriken Pier, a remnant from Kobe’s earliest days as a port city. The red Port Tower, the city’s landmark, creates a beautiful contrast against the white Kobe Marine Museum, inspired by waves and sailing ships. The park houses a replica of the sailing ship Santa Maria, as well as the Meriken Theater, a unique monument to Japan’s birthplace of film.

    An esplanade connects the park and Harborland, located on the east side of the port, with various places for shopping, gourmet food and entertainment, most notably the waterfront commercial complex “MOSAIC,” which is also a popular dating spot. From nearby ports, you can take various cruises ships on a variety of routes, such as sailing around the bay and passing through the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge. The views from the sea are quite impressive as well, and since Kobe has many spots frequently used as movies and TV dramas locations, some people may enjoy visiting those places as well.

    When traveling from Tokyo to Sannomiya, take the shinkansen from JR Tokyo Station to JR Shin-Kobe Station, then transfer to the Kobe City Subway and get off at Sannomiya Station. When traveling from Osaka, take the JR Kobe Line from Osaka Station or the Hankyu Railway Kobe Line from Umeda Station, and get off at Sannomiya Station. Or, take the Hanshin Railway from Hanshin Umeda Station to Sannomiya Station.

    Kobe Information Center (Hello Station Kobe)
    Kobe Convention & Visitors Association

    Text: HATSUDA Sachiyo


















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  • 茶道の心を伝える種まきをしたい

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Randy CHANNELL Soei, a Canadian residing in Kyoto since 1993, teaches and trains day and night striving to convey the heart of chado – the culture of Japan’s traditional way of tea. He started studying the art in 1985 and in 1999 he was granted his chamei (tea name) Soei from the 15th Urasenke Grand Tea Master. He achieved his associate professor rank in 2001, and as he continues his daily training, his teaching career is now in its 15th year.

    Randy is very passionate about promoting chado in new and unconventional ways. Not only does he teach at the Nashinoki Shrine and his own shop “ran Hotei,” he often lectures at universities like Kyoto and Doshisha. He also supervises commercial photo shoots, and appears in various media including TV, radio, magazines and on the web. “I want to have people who have no idea what tea is to become interested in the art. I want to serve them a bowl, have them take a sip and enjoy the experience,” he says in fluent Japanese.

    “Before living here I visited many times so when I finally moved to Japan I didn’t really suffer from any culture shock, though I have had a few interesting experiences! I once bought a pack of what I thought was peanut butter only to open it at home and find out it was miso. Also, when I sometimes use the word ‘hiya’ instead of ‘mizu’ for water, I am misunderstood… I guess the person I’m asking doesn’t realize I’m speaking Japanese so I don’t get my water. Or maybe they don’t know the term!” he says smiling wryly.

    Originally coming to Japan to learn budo, Japanese martial arts, he earnestly trained in kyudo (archery), kendo (Japanese fencing style), iaido (sword drawing), naginata (a halberd-like weapon), and nitoryu (two sword kendo). Wanting to devote his life to the concept of “Bunbu ryodo” (the dual path of the martial and cultural ways) he tried to find something cultural to balance his budo training. Trying to find that balance is how he was introduced to the world of chado. “Though I was relatively quick to learn the physical side of the arts, studying the language was more difficult for me. Even now I am not very skilled in using polite Japanese.” He says that chado, which used to just be a hobby, is now the center of his life.

    Randy is also motivated to change tea’s traditional image and its rigidly formal ways. He often serves tea at wedding receptions to all the guests while also conducting a special presentation for the bride and groom. “Using a simple preparation with utensils set on a tray, on a table I prepare a bowl of usucha (thin tea) which the couple shares. Then I present them with the tea bowl. They are always delighted with the gift… the bowl is decorated with the kanji “kotobuki” (longevity). I am also honored to be present at the moment of their once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

    Three years ago, he opened a Japanese style cafe in an old Kyoto machiya, hoping to create a more relaxed atmosphere for people wishing to experience the culture of Japan’s traditional way of tea. The guests having Randy’s “tea experience” range in age from 5 to 80 and come from all over the world. “I recently looked at the guestbook and was surprised to see comments in 14 different languages! I am always impressed with the international interest in this art.”

    “I treat bowls crafted by both national living treasures and anonymous artists the same way. I consider price to be insignificant, and it’s the same way I interact with people. Whether you have money or not is incidental. More important is the heart of tea. The Four Principles of tea set forth by SEN no Rikyu are ‘wa-kei-sei-jaku’ (Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility) and putting these into your daily life while serving guests in this mindset brings hearts together in order to enjoy a bowl of tea.”

    However, Randy believes that the tea ceremony needs to adapt in order to continue being accepted by the general public. “I often see nervous lecturers on stage at demonstrations who do not convey the pleasures of the art. Of course you cannot be too casual, but to stage an enjoyable performance in a relaxed atmosphere is vital to hold beginners’ interest.”

    “I can communicate in both English and Japanese, so I do have some non-Japanese students, but I avoid translating the main tea terms such as names of the utensils used and some of the movements. Similar to other arts like ballet or even judo, wherever they are studied, original terms like ‘pas de deux’ and ‘ippon’ are taught.”

    “Chado is a composite art form. A profound appreciation can be had within the combined beauty of the seasonal sweets, the utensils, and the sound of an iron kettle’s boiling water, all held in a rustic atmosphere. Regardless of nationality, tea has a certain appeal for those who are ready to experience it,” he says, referring not only to the students studying the art, but “to planting seeds of interest in others as well.”

    Written on the hanging scroll in his room is the zen phrase, “kissako” which stated simply means “Drink tea!” “That’s how I feel at this time. I am not as aggressive now as when I was involved in martial arts. I would like to continue to communicate the charm of tea that helps one find their everyday mind,” he softly adds.

    Randy CHANNELL Soei website
    ran Hotei

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko













    らん 布袋


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  • 温暖化被害地ツアーはいかが?

    [From March Issue 2010]

    After Lehman’s fall, the number of Japanese tourists decreased due to the global depression. Travel companies are now developing new destinations to increase tourism. A Japanese travel company is planning “Global Warming Experience Tours,” taking advantage of the continued trend for eco tours. Hiragana Times CIA interviewed Ms. ONCHI Miyuki, the manager in charge of the plan.

    CIA: What is the exact meaning of “Global Warming Experience Tours”?

    Mgr.: As you know, abnormal phenomenon are occurring everywhere on the earth. The purpose of these tours is to provide an opportunity to visit the places suffering greatly from global warming, in order to really feel the global crisis. For instance, take a tour to Tuvalu, a little island in the Pacific Ocean, which is sinking due to rising water. The participants will stay and live together with the local people.

    CIA: Isn’t that taking advantage of unfortunate people?

    Mgr.: Not at all! You should know that our tourists spend money there and as a result the locals will profit. Nothing gets resolved by merely sympathizing with the m, something must be done, and this will help their livelihood. We are planning on sending great numbers of tourists to those places in cooperation with travel companies worldwide.

    CIA: What other tours are being offered?

    Mgr.: There is a large Australian lake that dried up and became a desert, which tourists can cross by foot. In Brazil, there is a camp site where the forest has been completely raised. There are also many other destinations, including Northern Europe where falling ice can be seen.

    CIA: Recently the world has started to take global warming more seriously. Do you think you can carry out your plan?

    Mgr.: At COP15 it became obvious that it is hard to calm some countries egos. After all, CO2 emissions are not decreasing.

    CIA: Do you think some positive changes will result from the success of such tours?

    Mgr.: Ironically, the more an area suffers, the more tourists will visit it. Their CO2 complaints will stop, and instead, they will welcome CO2 emitting nations. If CO2 restrictions are abolished, CO2 manufacturing countries will be more productive and consequently the income of their workers will grow and they will have more opportunities to travel. There is no doubt that the tourists from CO2 emitting countries visiting suffering areas will increase, and all parties will be happy. Don’t you think that this is a wonderful plan?

    One Comment from CIA

    Dear Readers, have you heard of the book “The Spider’s Thread” written by AKUTAGAWA Ryunosuke, in which he describes how Buddha pulls one person out of Hell and up to Heaven by a single spider thread for showing compassion. Upon climbing up, the person notices many others following him, so fearing the thread breaking and his descent back into Hell, he shouts, “Get off.” Suddenly the thread breaks in front of him and he plunges back down into Hell again. So readers, please be aware of just how fragile our ecological thread really is.

    * CIA(Cynically Insulting Agency)


    リーマン・ショック以後、世界的な不況で日本人観光客が少なくなった。旅行会社は観光客を増やそうと新しい観光地を開発している。最近はエコツアーの人気が続いていることに目を付けた日本のある旅行会社が、「温暖化体験ツアー」を企画している。Hiragana Times CIAは、その企画の責任者、温地みゆき部長にインタビューした。




    部長:とんでもない! いいですか、観光客はそこでお金を使うので、現地の人はうるおうのです。行動を起こさず、ただかわいそうだと同情するだけでは何も起こりません。何かをしなければなりません。これは現地の生活を助けることになります。私たちは、これらの場所に世界中の旅行会社と一緒にたくさんのお客を送る計画を立てています。









    * CIA(Cynically Insulting Agency /皮肉冗談局)

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  • 飛行船-文明社会の新たなシンボル

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Airships were first used for advertising in Japan in the late 1960’s when the Japanese economy was strong. It’s a time that WATANABE Hiroyuki, Representative Director of the Nippon Airship Corporation, fondly remembers. “I was in fifth grade living in Sakai City, Osaka. One day in December 1968, the school principal gathered all the students in the schoolyard during class time. Then a huge airship flew by, hovering twice above us, as the pilot waved to the students. It was very exciting.”

    After graduating from university, Watanabe found work at a merchant ship company. He got involved in a new venture, an airship company, and was promoted to department manager. However, in the mid-1990’s, his company and its competitors were forced to stop high-cost airship operation, due to the poor economy.

    However, airships finally made a comeback at the eco-themed 2005 World Exposition, Aichi, Japan. With public interest growing for airships as a viable, environmentally-friendly mode of transportation, industry experts soon established the Nippon Airship Corporation. After three years of preparation, official commercial flights then started in November of 2007.

    The NAC’s German-made Zeppelin NT airship is one of only three in the world. Measuring 75 meters in length, it is five meters longer than a Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet. It uses non-flammable helium gas, which has zero impact on people or the environment. And while the other two airships operate in Germany and the USA, the Nippon Airship Corporation’s Zeppelin NT is the only one that flies over urban areas.

    To date 2,000 people have flown with the Nippon Airship Corporation. The roomy cabin (referred to as a gondola) can hold two pilots, one crew member and ten passengers. They can see high-rise buildings up close while cars and trains down below resemble miniature models. Passengers can also walk around inside the cabin and take pictures, after the seatbelt sign is turned off.

    The company offers several tour packages, including one over Saitama Prefecture (50,000 yen/30 min.), where the landing field is located. Another popular sightseeing tour is over downtown Tokyo (starting from 126,000 yen/90 min.) with several seasonal tours over Yokohama City, Kamakura City, and both Kyoto and Nara Prefectures. Sightseeing tours over both Kagoshima and Osaka Prefectures, as well as special flights from Osaka to Tokyo, are also planned for this coming March. Nippon Airship Corporation is looking for more landing fields in Tokyo in the hopes of making their tours more affordable for the general public.

    Nippon Airship Corporation also offers their Zeppelin NT as an advertising medium, displaying company names and logos on the airship’s sides. SATO Yuji, section manager of NAC’s sales department says, “Showing the names of companies and products seems to be effective advertising but it also makes employees feel proud and motivated.” SATO’s colleague, NAKA Yusuke, further added that the airship once assisted the National Institute of Information and Communications Technology with an illegal radio wave investigation. And, the airship also provided free air-support during relief efforts to those who were affected by the Noto Peninsula earthquakes that hit three years ago.

    “I think the teachers who gave students the opportunity to see the airship back when I was in school were more relaxed. I believe that airships which do not destroy nature but let people dream are needed now more than ever. These airships will become a new symbol of a civilized society,” affirms Watanabe.

    Nippon Airship Corporation











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  • 高水三山ハイキングコース

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Located in Tokyo’s Okutama area, this hiking trail traverses three separate mountains: Takamizusan (759m), Iwatakeishiyama (793m) and Sougakusan (756m). Despite their modest heights, hikers can still enjoy fine views of the Kanto plain, Mt. Tsukuba, the Nikko Mountain Range, and neighboring mountains including Tanigawadake on the Jouetsu boarder (between Gunma and Niigata Prefectures) as well as the Okuchichibu mountain area. Hiking the Takamizusan trail is an ideal introduction to other Okutama-area hiking trips.

    The hike begins at Ikusabata train station, where 50 meters to the left of the ticket gate you’ll find a railroad crossing. About 15 minutes after crossing over you’ll come to the Hiramizo Bridge. At the bridge follow the signpost to the left and pass through a quiet mountainside village. You will then come to the Hiramizogawa Bridge. Cross it then and follow the “Tozanguchi” signpost to the beginning of the ascent.

    Ten minutes after passing the landslide marker, you will see the Sabo Dam, where the road you are now traveling on becomes the trail. Crossing a stream, you will climb the mountainside that leads to a small waterfall, and arrive at “Kata no Kohiroba” – a tiny open space on the mountain’s shoulder.

    But don’t stop to rest just yet, for a little further along are some benches and a nice view from Rokugome – the sixth of this mountain’s ten stage ascent. About another 30 minutes up a log stairway is Joufukuin Temple. Rebuilt in 1822, the main building offers various sculptures of lions, elephants and dragons. And while the peak of Takamizusan is located just behind the temple surrounded by trees, with no view to speak of, you can still greatly enjoy the changing colors of maple trees during the autumn season.

    The trail then descends northwestwardly down a steep slope towards Iwatakeishiyama. Flattening out, you can now view from a distance and to the right, the dome-shaped peaks of Nikko’s Nantaisan, just over the mountains of Okumusashi. Then, at the foot of Iwatakeishiyama the trail splits in two, with the right trail leading upwards towards the peak where the mountaintop commands a full view of the Kanto plains and Bou no Oreyama. For a short rest there are benches at the summit.

    Lined with rocks, the trail then meanders southwest towards Sougakusan. Passing through a reforested area, it climbs to the flat hilltop, where Aoi Shrine, dedicated to Okuninusi no Mikoto, stands. After descending the Sougakusan’s southern face, the trail continues along the ridgeline eventually doubling back through the reforested area. You will eventually find yourself walking along the Ome Kaido Street towards Mitake. The Mitake train station is located on your right.

    Ome City Tourist Information

    Text: YAMAMOTO Masanori










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  • どうして駅弁は日本でこんなに人気がある?

    [From March Issue 2010]

    “Ekiben,” boxed meals sold at train stations, are very popular among the Japanese. They are typically filled with locally grown ingredients and dishes unique to their region, and their wrapping paper usually depicts the scenery or a specialty of the particular town. Ingenuity is often exercised in the containers as well, with shell-shaped containers being used for ekiben sold near the seashore and pottery used for ones available in towns known for their pottery.

    Take for example, “Gyuuniku-domannaka,” sold at Yonezawa Station in Yamagata Prefecture. It’s an ekiben that uses ”Domannaka,” rice grown in the prefecture, and is popular nationwide. The rice that makes up two thirds of the obento (boxed meal) is topped with domestically-produced beef cooked in the style of sukiyaki (a dish of thinly sliced beef flavored with sugar, soy sauce and sake). Since it is very popular, this ekiben is sold not only at Yonezawa Station, but also on the Yamagata Shinkansen (bullet train), as well as at stations like Tokyo, Ueno and Omiya.

    The “Ikameshi” from Mori Station in Hokkaido also has a reputation as a delicious ekiben. Ikameshi is a dish made by boiling squid stuffed with rice. This obento contains two pieces of squid and is sold for 500 yen, a fairly low price for an ekiben. It is so popular among ekiben fans that merchandise such as ikameshi-shaped straps and bags with the same pattern as its wrapping paper, are sold.

    Not only are ekiben sold at their respective places of origin, but they are also available at ekiben events held in big cities such as Tokyo. For example, in October 2009, “Higashi Nihon Jyuudan Ekiben Taikai” (The Fair of Ekiben from around Eastern Japan) was held at Tokyo Ekitchen inside Tokyo Station. Thirty-seven companies known for their ekiben across eastern Japan participated and sold about 100 kinds of ekiben, including ones made exclusively for the event.

    There are also some shops that specialize in popular ekiben. Umaimon, with branch stores in Tokyo and Omiya (Saitama Prefecture), sells 50 to 60 different kinds of ekiben from various stations around Japan. They not only gather and sell ekiben, but create new ekiben in cooperation with regional ekiben companies. They also carry hard-to-find ekiben that are not widely available at other ekiben shops.

    Some people eat ekiben as a hobby while others write about ekiben for work. One person who does both is UESUGI Tsuyoshi, who has been eating and comparing all kinds of ekiben for over 30 years. He has launched a website called “Ekiben no komado” (Small Window to Ekiben), where he recommends ekiben and provides information about ekiben events. He also collects ekiben wrapping paper and has written a book about it.

    Rankings of the most popular ekiben are often released on the Internet, some by food companies and others by individuals. In addition to rankings based on taste, there are various other rankings such as for containers. Uesugi’s website even ranks ekiben that are no longer available but that ekiben lovers want to see return.

    Why are ekiben so popular? “Ekiben is one of the most enjoyable parts of traveling by train,” says a woman living in Tokyo, adding that eating ekiben while looking out the window at the passing scenery is fun in itself. Speaking about an ekiben that she bought at an event, she says: “By eating the ekiben, you can enjoy the feeling of traveling somewhere without doing so. I also feel happy to be able to eat something at home that I normally cannot buy unless I visit the particular town.”

    “Famous ekiben at major stations are good, but there are also tasty ekiben at small stations in the country,” says KONDO Masaaki of Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co., Ltd., the company which runs Umaimon. “Some ekiben sold at small stations in Nagano and Niigata Prefectures are handmade by cooks who are particular about seasoning and the way they broil fish.” Finding such ekiben is another fun aspect about them.

    “They are fun to look at and taste great. What’s more, they’re convenient,” says MIURA Yukie of Umaimon’s Omiya branch, speaking about the appeal of ekiben. Having started selling ekiben part-time after her children had grown up, Miura is now the manager of the store. She boosted sales by recommending to her customers ekiben that she likes herself. Miura shared the following memory about ekiben.

    “One time I was focusing on selling this particular ekiben by recommending it to customers. Then a customer who had bought the ekiben came back and bought it again. He said, ‘This ekiben was so good that I thought I would buy it for my mother. She is dead now, but I will place one on her grave and then share this ekiben with my family while she is with us in spirit.’ When I heard this story, I was really glad that I had recommended it to him.”

    Most Japanese had their parents make boxed meals for them when they were children. Those nostalgic memories may be the reason why they are so attached to, and particular about, obento. The appeal of ekiben includes memories of travel, unique dishes and beautiful wrapping, as well as all the merits of a satisfying boxed meal. Given all that, it is only natural for the Japanese to love them.

    In Japan, There are Many Kinds of Obento

    Some, such as boxed meals for cherry-blossom viewing in the spring time, and ones featuring broiled eel in summer, are seasonal fare. Many people also buy or make obento for lunch. Most Japanese know ways of making a boxed meal last longer, including putting an umeboshi (sour pickled plum) in the rice.

    Many people are particular about the way they make their obento. For example, some use cups or wraps to separate the different dishes from one-another, so that they don’t touch, while others consider the colors of the ingredients used so that they look beautiful together. Some even make artistic obento called “chara-ben” (boxed meals inspired by anime or manga characters) and “deco-ben” (decorated boxed meals) such as HAMA Chiharu’s. For all obento makers, a variety of stores carrying special utensils exist.

    Shops that sell obento are also particular about their services. Most obento come with a pair of chopsticks and tsumayouji (a toothpick), as well as otefuki (a wet tissue for wiping your hands clean) and, you can often have your obento microwaved.

    Ekiben no komado
    Tokyu Hands
    Nippon Restaurant Enterprise Co., Ltd.
    Obento by HAMA Chiharu

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo /文:砂崎 良


    「駅弁」という駅で売られるお弁当が日本人の間でとても人気です。駅弁にはその土地で取れる食材や、めずらしい料理などがつめられ、「掛け紙」には その町の風景や名物などが描かれています。容器も工夫されています。海の近くでは貝の形をした駅弁がありますし、陶器の町では陶器入りの駅弁があります。

















    Text: SAZAKI Ryo /文:砂崎 良

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  • クルーザーで探検する工場夜景見学ツアー

    [From March Issue 2010]

    Centered around both the ports of Tokyo and of Yokohama, the Keihin Industrial Zone has developed into Japan’s largest industrial area. With metal, mechanical and chemical plants standing side-by-side and intricately entangled in pipes, smoke and rising steam, with their lights illuminating the night’s darkness, the scene resembles those of science fiction movies. “The Jungle Cruise for Night Views of Factories,” a boat tour of the industrial zone surrounding the Port of Yokohama, started in June 2008, and costs 4,500 yen per person.

    The cruise, which starts near the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse and lasts one-and-a-half hours, is so popular that it’s usually fully booked several months in advance. On the deck of the Ootori, a wooden boat that holds up to 30 passengers, the captain and the chief engineer describe places of interest around the city, including 17 must-see factories. Since it is a night tour for adults, original cocktails are also served on-board.

    The tour is conducted by the KMC CORPORATION, a company involved in operating both regular and chartered passenger liners as well as other marina-related businesses including the storage of private boats. IWATA Hideo, the company’s general manager, says: “MARUMARU Motoo, the famous night view critic, proposed and produced this tour, which made it all possible. We spent a lot of time on preparing for the tour, including choosing the route and instructing the guides.”

    “The echoing sound of metal and the way the boat passes through a narrow canal reminds you of a jungle expedition. But, since the boat sails on the canal, where there are few waves, you hardly need to worry about getting seasick. With permission from the Transport Ministry, you can look at the enormous factories from as close as 30 meters away, which is the real appeal of this tour. The boat departs at dusk and returns after sunset, so you can enjoy a different version of the same views on the way back,” says Iwata.

    In recent years, Japanese history, and trains, have both captured the attention of many young women. Now it’s similar with factories, where young participants have also included young women. The tour is popular among men and women of all ages, with many repeat customers. And aside from the factory-fanatics, those who work, or who used to work at factories, also take their families on these cruises. Some participants even come all the way from Hokkaido or Kyushu for this cruise.

    Last October “The Adventure Cruise” started. This tour uses the largest boat the company owns, which accommodates up to 50 passengers. Passing under the Yokohama Bay Bridge, the boat heads for the famous “Castle of Light” oil refinery. Chartered, group cruises (for 10 to 50 passengers) with hotel catering services are available for parties and other special occasions.

    These night cruises of factories, which were Japan’s first, have prompted some other local administrations to develop their own original tours as new tourist attractions. “I don’t want this to be just a temporary fad. So in order to keep providing this service, I’d like to further improve the content of the tours, rather than merely increasing the number of cruises that are currently provided only on Saturdays and Sundays. Taking our customers’ comments to heart, we’re striving far continuous improvement,” Iwata says.











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