• 卒業式で人生の節目を感じる日本人

    [From March Issue 2013]


    At the end of the calendar year and in March, new pocketbooks are displayed in the stationery sections of book stores and in stationery stores. There are two types of pocketbook: some begin from January and others begin from April. This is because there are two ways of thinking about the year: one is the “calendar year” which runs from January to December, and the other is the “fiscal year” which runs from April to March.

    In Japan, many events in government offices, companies, and schools are timetabled according to the “fiscal year.” It appears that the reason why life in Japan is organized around the fiscal year is related to the fact that the school year begins in April, and ends in March the next year. This timetable effects society at large, so that things like personnel transfers in companies take place according to the new fiscal year. These changes occur across the country. Students also move to a new district in order to enter their educational institution of choice.

    There are a variety of events related to ushering in the new fiscal year, but for any Japanese person, graduating after completing their studies is an important milestone. You might even say that graduation ceremonies are the most important event of the season for all educational facilities from nursery schools, to kindergartens, elementary schools, junior high schools, high schools, vocational schools, universities, and graduate schools. Most of these ceremonies take place in February or March.

    Many graduation ceremonies start with an opening address, and continue with everyone singing the national anthem, “Kimigayo.” The program also includes presentations of diplomas, a speech by the school principal, congratulatory speeches by illustrious guests such as the mayor, speeches by current students and graduating students and the presentation of graduation gifts. Students might sing “Hotaru no Hikari” or their school anthem before the closing address. Sometimes, the entire graduating class may recite “chikai no kotoba” (a graduation oath) or “kadode no kotoba” (parting words). These words are intended to show junior pupils, teacher and parents, their determination to succeed in the next stage of their lives.

    Traditionally, “Hotaru no Hikari” and “Aogeba Toutoshi” are sung by a chorus. The melody of “Hotaru no Hikari” is the same as the Scottish folk song, “Auld Lang Syne.” In the latter half of the 19th century, Scottish teachers of technology sang the song when they were returning to their country, and thus the tune became known in Japan as a farewell song. The lyrics to “Aogeba Toutoshi” (Respecting Teachers) express gratitude to teachers for their care.

    A recent standard song is “Tabidachi no Hi ni” (On the Day of Departure). This song was composed for a graduation ceremony by the principle and music teacher of a junior high school in Saitama Prefecture, but has become popular nationwide. Other schools use suitable J-pop songs that take the theme of “parting and friendship.” For many Japanese, graduation ceremonies are not just a formality, but are sad occasions signaling the fact that they’ll soon be leaving behind special friends and memories. This is why many attendees burst into tears. They cry even harder because they are overwhelmed by wonderful memories.

    NAGATA Momoko, of Aichi Prefecture, who graduated high school last year, reflects on her own graduation ceremony, “In order to make the ceremony even better, we spend a lot of time practicing. During this time, we practice the songs the most. Before the actual ceremony, we practice our school anthem, ‘Hotaru no Hikari’ and ‘Aogeba Toutoshi’ over and over again. By practicing a lot, when it comes to finally singing the song at the ceremony, our sense that ‘this is the last time we’ll sing this’ is heightened and we can’t help but tear up.”

    Graduation ceremonies are not only memorable for the graduating student, but also for the parent. But the way parents behave has changed dramatically compared to previous generations. ASHIDA Miri of Yamagata Prefecture, who is also the mother of two children says, “At the ceremony I am moved to tears by the parting words and expressions of thanks. But when I see fathers frantically recording their child during the ceremony on video, I think, ‘Isn’t it a waste not to see your grown child with your own eyes?’”

    SAWAE Misa of Niigata Prefecture, who is also a mother of two, says, “It’s more common now for both parents to attend the ceremony. Only about two or three mothers wear kimono, with the rest in western clothes; a big difference from when I was a child. When the diplomas are presented, rather than turning their backs to us, children receive the diploma in a way that allows the parents to see their expression. In the old days this didn’t happen.”

    While uniforms are worn by students at the majority of junior high and high schools, at university, students typically wear their own clothes, so for graduation ceremonies, most women dress in a hakama. Hakama were originally worn by teachers of women’s schools from the Meiji to Taisho eras (the second half of the 19th century to the early half of the 20th century), but gradually the practice spread to students. However, in modern times, it is considered to be a special outfit worn only at graduation.

    Most wear rented hakama. This is because there are hardly any other occasions for which it can be worn. SAITO Yasuko of Saitama Prefecture, who is an expert kimono dresser, says, “Dressing one person takes around fifteen minutes. Because they are at an age in which fashion is important, many want to express their personality through color choice and accessories. No matter who they are, I get the sense that they’re full of hope for the bright future that awaits them after graduation.”

    Graduation day is the perfect opportunity to confess your love for someone you’ve had a crush on for a long time. At mixed sex schools, there’s a long tradition of boys giving away the second button down from their school jacket as a keepsake to girls. Because the second button is closest to the heart, this is probably signifies “giving one’s heart away.” For this reason girls descend on popular boys, vying to get their buttons.


    Hakusen nagashi


    One high school has a tradition called “hakusen nagashi” (floating white line) in which the white piping sewn onto a boy’s school cap is attached to the scarf of a girl’s sailor uniform and floated down the river in front of the school. This tradition has been going for over 70 years and takes place after the graduation ceremony at Gifu Prefectural Hida High School in Takayama City, Gifu Prefecture. A TV drama was inspired by this tradition.

    The word “graduation” in Japanese, is not only used in reference to education, but also to express the fact that many other kinds of things are “finished.” On the other hand, it is said the word “graduation” includes the nuance of the word “commencement” in USA. It seems that many Japanese feel that milestones in life are reached during events, such as graduation, that take place at the end of the fiscal year.

    Most schools hold graduation ceremonies at the end of March, which is around the same time the cherry trees on Honshu Island begin to bud. These buds swell little by little, and, at the beginning of April the cherry trees planted around school grounds are in full bloom by the time entrance ceremonies are held and the new school term begins. Therefore, for many Japanese people, cherry blossoms are often symbolic of being promoted, going up a grade, entering a school, or entering the world as an adult member of society.

    Gifu Prefectural Hida High School

    Text: ITO Koichi




















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  • 走るだけじゃない「ユニークマラソン」

    [From March Issue 2013]


    For the past several years there’s been a “marathon boom” in Japan. The Tokyo Marathon was first held in 2007 and every year there are so many people applying to enter, that only one in nine are able to participate. Similar events are held all over the country, but the kind of marathon that’s really been attracting attention are “unique marathons.” Unique marathons include a “sweets marathon,” where runners are given cakes and other desserts along the route, instead of water, and a “konkatsu marathon” where runners search for a spouse.

    In Minami-uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, there is the “Minami-uonuma Gourmet Marathon.” Popular since it began in 2010, this year’s event will be held on June 9. One interesting feature of this event is that every participant is rewarded with an all-you-can-eat meal of Koshihikari-brand rice produced in Minami-uonuma. Producing a brand of rice that’s well-known throughout Japan, this idea could only have come from Minami-uonuma.

    At the main meeting area, a “gourmet village” is set up, where dishes that go well with rice are served up. After crossing the finish line, each participant is given a bowl of cooked rice and with that in hand, are able to sample local dishes. “We started with the intention of promoting our wonderful local food. Food such as edible wild plants and pork,” says IGUCHI Noriko, secretary of the Minami-uonuma Gourmet Marathon.

    Using the marathon as a promotional tool has been a big success, and participants have commented, “I run as fast as I can in anticipation of the delicious meal.” Just a 13 minute’ walk from Urasa Station on the Joetsu shinkansen, access to the site is easy and the number of applicants is increasing every year.

    Another popular marathon is the “Fuji Marathon Race,” which involves running up Mt. Fuji. At an altitude of 3,776 meters, Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. Since it is difficult to even walk up the mountain, this race to the top is really punishing. There are two routes: the 21-kilometer “Summit Competition” and the 15-kilometer “5th Station Competition.” Beginners can only participate in the “5th Station Competition.”

    This event has a long history, with the first competition being held in 1948. This year’s event will be held on July 26 and marks the 66th time the event has been held. Since 2013 is the year that Mt. Fuji is due to be listed as a World Heritage Site, people in Fujiyoshida City, Yamanashi Prefecture, where the event takes place, are getting really fired up about it. A festival on the day before the event will be held at 10 a.m. in Fujihokuroku Park. There, lectures will be given by famous runners and running seminars will be held. Many stalls selling delicious B-class (inexpensive but satisfying) food will also be set up.

    Runners of all different ages, from those in their teens to those in their 70s, take part and you can see both parents and children cheering each other on to reach the finish line. “It is an extremely tough and tiring race, but when you finally reach the top and take in the view below, you will be deeply moved,” says TAKAYAMA Kurato, secretary of the executive committee of the Fuji Mountain Race.

    YANAGIOKA Hideo, a resident of Tokyo, who has been running marathons for 30 years says, “The Fuji Mountain Race gives me a greater sense of accomplishment than races over flat terrain. ‘Unique marathons’ give you something extra to enjoy in addition to the pleasure of running.”

    Minami-uonuma Gourmet Marathon
    Fuji Mountain Race

    Text: MUKAI Natsuko













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  • 日本人の宗教は何?

    [From March Issue 2013]


    During spring and autumn, many wedding ceremonies are held in Japan. Though the number of practicing Japanese Christians is thought to be around 1% – that’s including Catholics and Protestants – nearly 70% of Japanese weddings are held in a chapel. By contrast, almost all funerals are Buddhist. On the other hand, events like shichigosan, which celebrates the growth of children, are held at Shinto shrines. In Japan, religions are able to coexist without any friction between them.

    Shinto has been the religion of Japan since ancient times. Sensing a mysterious power residing in things like rocks, waterfalls, rivers and mountains, Japanese worshiped natural objects, animals and humans as gods. Shinto shrines are symbolic places. In Japan many gods coexist. In this way, Buddhism has been accepted since the sixth century. For their first visit of the year, people may go to pray at either a shrine or a temple.

    Since Japan is polytheistic, Japanese are tolerant of foreign religions. Because of this they have incorporated western religious events and ceremonies, like Christmas and Halloween, into their lives. For most Japanese they are merely fun events.

    However, besides funerals, events and ceremonies connected with Buddhism are regarded as old-fashioned, and these days Japanese distance themselves from them. Japanese know Christ’s birthday, but hardly anybody knows Buddha’s. However, in recent years, Asian countries have taken center stage and because of this, religious events originating from these countries that are perceived as being “cool,” may be adopted.

    The Japanese pagan attitude to religion can be seen as tolerant, but on the other hand, it may be seen as impious or even indifferent. From the standpoint of fiercely religious countries, the Japanese might appear to be heathens. However, due to this attitude, Japan hasn’t been involved in any religious disputes, and because religion is not an integral part of everyday life, it’s a peaceful country.

    The Other Side of Religion

    Zen, which can be a religion or philosophy, has greatly influenced Japanese culture and bushido (the samurai code). Leading to enlightenment, zazen (meditation) training is well known, but few people fully understand it. Its central message to “Accept reality as it is” might be more easily understood through the Beatles’ song “Let it Be” or Doris DAY’s “Que Sera Sera.”

    In Japan there are no religious political parties, but a party supported by a religious group exists. New Komeito, a political party that has formed a coalition cabinet with ABE Shinzo’s Liberal Democratic Party was founded by Soka Gakkai, a religious Buddhist group. Candidates of newly formed religious groups occasionally run for office in national elections, but almost all fail.

    In 1995, many people were victims of the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo metropolitan subway. This was carried out by cult religious group Aum Shinrikyo. Though all the suspects were arrested, having divided into splinter groups, Aum still survives under different names. As a result, many Japanese are suspicious of new religions.












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  • 新宿――何でもあるみんなの街

    [From March Issue 2013]


    There are many unique districts in Tokyo, each with its own special features: for luxury shopping, there’s Ginza, for young women’s fashion, there’s Shibuya and for anime and electrical goods there’s Akihabara. Shinjuku is “a town for everybody that has just about anything.”

    With six railways running through it, Shinjuku Station is a major terminal. In just one day 3.46 million passengers pass through this station, the largest amount in the world, a fact that has been recognized in the Guinness Book of Records. Shinjuku Station has six adjoining department and specialty stores: Lumine 1, Lumine 2, Luminesto, Keio, Odakyu and Odakyu Halc.

    These stores have their own special features. On the seventh floor of Lumine 2 is “Lumine the Yoshimoto,” a comedy theater. Run by Yoshimoto Creative Agency, many comedians from its stable perform at daily shows.


    Omoide Yokocho


    To the north of Odayku department store is Omoide Yokocho, an area with a nostalgic feel. The narrow alleyways of Omoide Yokocho are lined with tiny eateries, the majority of which are yakitoriya (restaurants that serve grilled chicken on a skewer). Walking down these streets, the smoke and smell of yakitori is enticing. The spot is crowded with office workers, couples and tourists in the evening, and is also popular among non-Japanese.

    The west exit of the station is a bus terminal. Limousine buses depart from here to Narita and Haneda airports. Night busses to local cities are popular among young people as it’s possible to travel cheaply, while sleeping. Behind the bus terminal are electronic discount stores, such as Yodobashi Camera, and the beyond that is a business district filled with skyscrapers.

    One of these skyscrapers is Tokyo Metropolitan Office; its viewing platform is a popular sightseeing spot, visited by approximately 1,800,000 tourists a year. From there which you can view the whole of Tokyo, including Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower and Mt. Fuji. Volunteer guides give humorous explanations about the view in English, Chinese and Korean. On the first floor is Tokyo Tourist Information Center, where leaflets with sightseeing information and PCs are available.

    From the south exit of the JR station, you can see Takashimaya department store. Inside the department store you can find Tokyu Hands, a large DIY store. A few minutes’ walk from the department store is Shinjuku Gyoen, an oasis for city dwellers. It has an elegant traditional Japanese garden and in spring is a well-known spot for cherry blossom viewing.

    At the east exit, Studio Alta is used as a meeting spot and Shinjuku Dori, the main shopping street, runs away from here towards the east. On this street is the large bookstore, Kinokuniya, and Bicqlo (a store which is a collaboration between Big Camera and Uniqlo), further down is Marui department store and Isetan department store. In this vicinity there are a variety of different restaurants.


    Bicqlo / Isetan department sore


    Leaving by the east entrance and heading north you soon come to Yasukuni Dori. Beneath this street is “Subnade,” a huge underground shopping mall. Crossing Yasukuni Dori, you will come to Kabukicho, Japan’s largest entertainment district. It’s packed with recreational facilities and restaurants, including movie theatres, pachinko parlors (much loved by Japanese) and game arcades.

    Kabukicho is also an adult entertainment area. There are many adult entertainment establishments and adult video shops. Among these are host clubs where male hosts entertain rich women and off-duty hostesses. Pictures of handsome hosts are displayed in front of these clubs. In recent years a cleanup campaign has been carried out by the Metropolitan Government and an association of local small businesses, so harassment of tourists has practically died out. The northern part of Kabukicho is the love hotel (special hotels for couples) district.

    Shinjuku Goldengai is in the east next to Kabukicho. Its old fashioned narrow alleys are packed with tiny bars. Though each bar fits only about ten around its counter, customers can enjoy a conversation with the mama (female proprietor) and other customers. Many customers are involved in the media or cultural arts, be they people in the movie or theatre business, novelists, writers or journalists. You may even come across some famous people.


    Kabukicho / Manga bookstore


    Next door to Goldengai is the scarlet-colored Hanazono Shrine. Its peaceful grounds are encircled by trees. Stalls are set up in its grounds on festive occasions. About five minutes’ walk from Hanazono Shrine to the east is Shinjuku-nichome, an area packed with gay bars. Many gay celebrities who appear on TV started out here.

    As you can see, Shinjuku is rich in variety. For this reason, it’s much loved by people, because men and women of all ages can visit without feeling out of place. In a survey of foreign tourists, Shinjuku was chosen as the town that most lived up to people’s expectations.

    Official Tokyo Travel Guide

















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  • 世界に広がる折り紙

    [From March Issue 2013]


    Origami Artist SHINGU Fumiaki

    As an origami artist I’ve been asked by the government to promote the art of origami to the world by doing things like setting up a website that shows people how to make origami. Because it uses few natural resources, origami is eco-friendly. An outstanding example of “cool Japan” culture, it’s a pastime that both children and adults can enjoy.

    Sometimes I’m asked to give lectures by universities overseas that specialize in the arts, but I’ve also started work on a big origami commission that I received from a Japanese person living in Europe. He said to me, “Though I brought a book on origami with me from Japan, it hasn’t captured the interest of children here. Could you please introduce me to origami that can capture the imaginations of European children.” With this in mind I made, “Origami for Christmas” and “Origami for Halloween.”

    In western countries origami is regarded as a kind of paper craft. Origami is translated into English as paper folding, butrecently the word “origami” is more generally used.

    The method of manufacturing paper was invented in China and brought to Japan in the early 7th century. Before long, manufacturing methods and materials used in Japan changed, producing durable, beautiful washi of excellent quality. Appreciated by the samurai classes, the use of washi spread, spawning a unique Japanese “paper culture.” In the early days, it was used for special envelopes that contained gifts of money; to express one’s hospitality. It was also used in daily life to create things like “shouji ” (sliding paper doors) and “fusuma” (sliding paper screens).

    “Yuugi origami,” or the art of folding paper into things like cranes or helmets, and “unit origami ” constructing threedimensional out of identically shaped pieces of paper –popular in Europe – were invented in the Edo period (17~19 century). In the Meiji period the government invited the world famous German educator, Friedrich Wilhelm August FROEBEL, to Japan. He utilized origami in his child education program. This is how origami began to be taught in kindergarten.

    In recent years, people in Hindu and Islamic societies have taken an interest in origami and I sometimes receive mail from them. They say that because it has no religious affiliations, origami can be easily accepted into their culture. It seems that my work will continue.

    Origami Club



    折り紙創作作家 新宮文明さん





    江戸時代(17 – 19世紀)に入るとツルやかぶとなど、具体的な物の形に折る「遊戯折り紙」や、ヨーロッパで人気がある、特徴ある形に折ったものを組み合わせて立体的に作る「ユニット折り紙」が考案されました。明治時代に入ると政府から招かれたドイツの世界的な教育学者のフリードリヒ・W・A・フレーベルが、幼児教育のプログラムの一環として、折り紙を採用しました。これが幼稚園で折り紙を教える始まりです。



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  • 「スキル」を売買できるウェブサービス「ココナラ」

    [From March Issue 2013]


    WelSelf Inc.

    “An illustrator will draw a portrait of you.” “A parliamentary aide will recommend you a suitable gift.” “A professional author will write a novel for you with you as the main character.” “Coconala,” a website where you can make use of these kinds of services for 500 yen, has been gaining attention.

    Coconala is a site where knowledge, skills and experience can be bought. The site was launched in July 2012 and has acquired 33,000 users in about six months. At the time of writing more than 3,700 unique services were up for grabs.

    At 7:3, the proportion of male users far exceeds female users, and the largest age group is 25 to 35 year olds. Business orientated services to improve skills, such as advice on starting up a business, are popular with men. For women, services that give personal advice, such as fortune telling, are popular. Portrait drawing and illustration services are popular with both men and women.

    Calico, an illustrator who offers a portrait drawing service on Coconala, says, “I was working for a company as an ad designer, but I quit because they were not sympathetic about childrearing issues. While thinking of continuing to draw portraits at home, I discovered Coconala where you could offer your services for 500 yen. I made my portrait drawing services available in order to brush up my skills and to reach a wider audience.”

    MINAMI Akiyuki, a representative of WelSelf Inc., the company that runs Coconala, says he would like the site to be a place for “business” rather than for making pocket money. “Business has its origins in bartering. Bartering is exchanging what one has for what another person has in order to improve each other’s life. Everyone has some unique kind of experience, knowledge or skills. By offering these skills, people can help some one somewhere in society.”

    Minami says, “If you are aware that you have a skill to offer to someone in society, your view of society will change. If there’s a system through which you can offer your skills, even if it’s just for 500 yen, what’s going on in society is no longer somebody else’s business, it gives you a deeper sense of involvement. Through taking action yourself you get a sense that this is a place where you can make a difference to society and by doing so you feel less isolated and get a sense of wellbeing. We run Coconala in this spirit.”

    Coconala is now thinking of diversifying their services by setting up a varied pricing system and making the system easier to use via a smartphone.


    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi







    ココナラで似顔絵を描くサービスを出品しているイラストレーターのCalico さんは、「会社で広告デザイナーをしていましたが職場が育児に理解がないため退職しました。自宅で似顔絵サービスを続けようと思っていたときに500円でサービスを出品できるココナラを知り、自分のスキルアップのためと、似顔絵サービスをもっと多くの人に身近に感じてもらいたいという気持ちから、出品を始めました」と言います。




    Calico さん


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  • 二人の男を通して描く幕末

    [From March Issue 2013]


    Hidamari no Ki (Tree in the Sun)

    TEZUKA Osamu, the author of this work, is hailed as “the God of comics” in Japan and is also credited with being the founder of modern manga. A doctor of medicine himself, Tezuka made own great-grandfather, Doctor TEZUKA Ryoan (later named Ryosen), the hero of this story. The story is set in the Bakumatsu era, during the closing days of the Tokugawa shogunate.

    Born the son of a “ranpoui,” or doctor of western medicine, Ryoan is quite fond of women and enjoys going to the “yuukaku” red light district. Born into a samurai family, IBUYA Manjiro on the other hand is a serious man, who detests womanizing and flattery. At first, the two men do not get along, occasionally even coming to blows, but gradually become friends. The title “Hidamari no Ki” (Tree in the Sun) is how FUJITA Toko, the feudal retainer of Mito, describes the structure of the Tokugawa shogunate to Ibuya, “It appears to be a splendid tree but, its insides, eaten up by insects, are rotten.”

    When told by Fujita to “prop up the huge tree of the Tokugawa Shogunate,” Ibuya feels he has found his purpose in life. In recognition of his role in helping people evacuate during a major earthquake, Ibuya was appointed as bodyguard to Townsend HARRIS, the USA’s first consul general in Japan. Through this relationship, a friendship developed between Ibuya and Harris’ assistant, Henry HEUSKEN. However problems arise because this young American can’t control his sexual desires, causing embarrassment to Ibuya and Harris.

    Meanwhile, Ryoan leaves Edo for Osaka in order to study western medicine at “Tekijuku” a school run by OGATA Koan. However, unable to resist the urge to check out to Osaka’s red light district, he goes there before going to Tekijuku. There he sees a prostitute suffering from stomach pains and has the idea to carry out abdominal surgery, which he has never attempted before. However, in the end, he cannot save the prostitute. Ryoan decides to dissect the body of the prostitute determined to see the internal organs for himself.

    Ryoan seeks permission to dissect the corpse from an Osaka government official. But the official refuses saying, “What foolishness!” However, in actual fact, he has been secretly granting exclusive permission for dissections, to the pupils of Tekijuku. When Ryoan is allowed to watch, he realizes the extent of his ignorance about the human body. Meanwhile, in Edo, Ryoan’s father and his colleagues are attempting to get permission from the shogunate to construct a western medical facility that will carry out vaccinations. However, their lives are in danger due to political pressure from doctors of Chinese medicine, who hold a grudge against them.

    Though Ryoan doesn’t break his habit of going to the red light district, he is also a diligent student. When he hears that Ibuya is a bodyguard to the USA’s consul general, he coerces Ibuya into introducing him to Heusken, so he can ask Heusken to translate English medical books into Japanese.

    This work has many different themes, including: friendship between men regardless of character, social standing or nationality; Japanese passionately fighting against prejudice against western medicine; the state of the Tokugawa shogunate at that time; duels to the death between swordsmen; love affairs between men and women; and the behaviour of prostitutes and customers in red light districts.

    Text: MATSUMOTO Seiya











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  • 大震災後に広がる多種多様の支援プロジェクト

    [From March Issue 2012]


    The scars from the Great East Japan Earthquake are still deep in the devastated areas. After the earthquake, unique projects that look to the future were established by people from around the world from various walks of life.

    The “Tohoku Kyushu Project” is an attempt to encourage the cultural revival of disaster hit areas. Part of this project is an art exhibition which is touring around Kyushu for a year, selling and exhibiting works made by Tohoku and Kyushu artists. Paintings, ceramics, sundry goods, clothing, music and a variety of other works are on sale. Though artists of the Tohoku area can exhibit items free of charge, participating Kyushu artists pay a handling charge to fund the project.

    This project was first started by the Kyushu Creative Unit, TRAVEL FRONT. The group’s leader, NODA Tsuneo started the project after personally witnessing the difficulties in continuing with the arts in the Tohoku area. Not by relying on charity, but by encouraging trade, the program focuses on fostering long term cultural links between the artists of Tohoku and Kyushu.

    The exhibition started out in Fukuoka in July 2011, continued on to Nagasaki in October, and Kagoshima in November. At each venue talk show events were held and, at the Fukuoka venue, approximately 1,500 people attended the event. Popular items from the exhibition include tenugui (traditional Japanese cloth hand towels) and smocks made from patterned fabrics of distinctive Tohoku design, and shoehorns made from used skateboards. Currently approximately 20 artists from Tohoku are participating in the exhibition.

    Since Kyushu and Tohoku are geographically distant, interaction between the regions was rare and Tohoku artists were not well known in Kyushu. However, “Thanks to this project, some artists feel Tohoku and Kyushu have become closer,” says MIYAZAKI Yukiko of TRAVEL FRONT. The project is scheduled to continue until July 2012, and exhibits will be held once every two to three months in various venues around the Kyushu area.

    Another project utilizes the new media of e-books. Available online, “You Are Here: Write for Tohoku” is a collection of articles written and edited in English by volunteer writers from around the world. All proceeds are donated to the devastated areas through the Japan Red Cross.

    As e-books are not printed on paper, the whole production and publishing process took a mere three months. In addition, people all around the world are able to purchase the book and start reading it right away.

    The writers, who have all lived in Japan, contributed a variety of articles about their experience of the country. The book contains short stories and poems with a Japanese theme. Humorous articles describe experiences, such as a first encounter with a bidet toilet, or working at a Japanese company. There is also an article about life in affected areas after the disaster by a writer who was one of the victims in Sendai. Readers around the world can catch a glimpse of Japanese culture and customs through these articles.

    Annamarie SASAGAWA, a Canadian native currently living in Tokyo who has experience as a tour guide, began the project. Sasagawa has visited the Tohoku area numerous times with tour groups and on her personal travels. “As more and more overseas news outlets showed footage of the disaster in Tohoku, I worried that people overseas would only associate Tohoku and Japan with this terrible natural disaster, so I decided to publish an e-book,” she says.

    Jeremy BOOTH, an American living in Japan who bought the e-book says, “I was able to learn and sympathize with the interesting experiences and hardships the non-natives living in Japan went through.” Conversely the book also serves as an introduction to native Japanese readers to the other side of Japan as seen through the eyes of foreigners. A Japanese version and a sequel are scheduled to be published.

    A new large-scale project to rebuild the local agriculture in the devastated areas has been launched. The “Tohoku Cotton Project” aims to consistently produce and sell items made from raw cotton grown on tsunami stricken farms. Farmers, apparel manufacturers, fiber spinning firms and agricultural unions have cooperated to set up this project.

    After the earthquake, the tsunami covered farmlands located in coastal regions of Eastern Japan in sea water, rendering them unfit for farming. Some regions were particularly affected: a thick layer of sludge covered the land and drainage facilities were destroyed. In these regions farmers are unable to extract salt out of the soil, a process that has to be carried out in order to continue cultivating rice. Companies witnessing the situation joined forces to start this project.

    Raw cotton has a long history of being grown on drained land. Cotton can be grown on land which has such high saline concentrations that rice cannot be grown. In June 2011, cotton was planted in the Arahama area of Sendai City and Natori City both in Miyagi Prefecture. Agricultural work was done in cooperation with volunteers from all over Japan, locals and employees of participating companies.

    Beautiful white flowers bloomed all over the cotton fields in August 2011. KOZATO Tsukasa of the Japanese Central Union of Agricultural Cooperatives says, “The piles of sludge make it hard for the soil to retain nutrients. The cotton is very weak but we are relieved that flowers bloomed. It is all thanks to the local people and the volunteers from all over Japan.”

    There are difficulties unique to cotton farming which are different from growing rice. During last autumn’s typhoon, disaster struck as a makeshift bank burst and the cotton fields were submerged in water. There was also damage caused by cotton worms, and the resulting crop was smaller than originally expected. Still, more companies are joining the movement and many people are looking forward to this new Tohoku brand cotton business. This spring, products will be sold at participating brand store and department stores.

    Tohoku Kyushu Project
    Tohoku Cotton Project

    Text: SHIBATA Rie





    このプロジェクトは九州のクリエイティブユニットTRAVEL FRONTが始めた取り組みです。主宰の野田恒雄さんは被災後の東北でアートの活動を続けていくことの難しさを実感し、このプロジェクトを始めました。募金などの形ではなく、文化を通して東北と九州のアーティストが長期に渡り連携していこうという考えから活動が行われています。


    九州は東北と距離が遠いなどの理由で交流も少なく、東北のアーティストの知名度は低いものでした。しかし「このプロジェクトを通して東北と九州の距離が近くなったと感じているアーティストもいます」とTRAVEL FRONTの宮崎由子さんは話します。プロジェクトは2012年7月まで、2~3ヵ月に一度をめどに九州各地で展示会を開く予定です。

    e-bookという新しいメディアを使った取り組みも行われています。「You Are Here: Write For Tohoku」は、各国から集まったボランティア・ライターの英語で書かれた記事を編集し、インターネットを通して販売しています。販売した売上金は全て日本赤十字社に寄付され被災地に送られます。










    Tohoku Kyushu Project


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  • エコおもちゃ人気の理由は節電だけじゃない?

    [From March Issue 2012]


    After the Great East Japan Earthquake rolling blackouts on a large scale made people all over Japan more conscious of the importance of conserving energy. This new eco-friendly attitude also had an influence on children’s games.

    Eco-toys are toys that can be played without using electricity – that includes board games such as Othello. The new eco-toys on show at last year’s Toy Show were able to light up or make sounds without using conventional batteries. Parents are hopeful that toys which run when the child pushes them around, or use solar or bio-technology batteries, will stimulate the intellectual curiosity of their children.

    MegaHouse Corporation unveiled their Ecolo, a hybrid mini car that does not use batteries at the show. The korogashi hatsuden (rolling power generation) unit mounted on the mini car transforms the spinning motion of the tires into electricity; by pushing this miniature car around, its lights illuminate, its sirens wail and music plays. Retail and department stores are now selling the first series of these products, which includes a patrol car, fire engine and garbage truck.

    OSUO Masahiro in charge of Marketing and Sales Promotion, says, “It all started when one of our developers came up with the idea for his own children. Children love toys that flash and make sounds. We want children to be able to enjoy a toy without having to experience the hassle of changing batteries. It was difficult to develop an energy device that small children could charge themselves, but we’ve received a really positive response from customers and that motivates us to work harder. We’re currently developing other new products.

    At the trade show, TOMY Company Ltd. introduced their “Tecology Tomica” and “Tecology Plarail” mini-car and train toys, both of which are powered by a micromini electricity unit mounted on the toy that generates electricity when the toy is pushed along. TOMY is also developing a Plarail series of trains powered by a solar battery mounted on the roof, and a remote controlled mini car powered by fruit juice.

    In order to launch their Eco Toy activities, TOMY Company has established an environment department; in doing so they aim to raise awareness through play amongst this generation of children. The department manager TAKABAYASHI Noriyuki says, “In order to develop new toys, we needed to create a company standard; to figure out what kind of toys are ecologically friendly, save resources, save energy, and are fit for long term use. Environmental concerns are something that we should address as a society. We hope our actions will take root, and in time, bit by bit, develop and sustain this movement.”

    Meanwhile, analog toys such as board games, card games and three dimensional puzzles – toys such as Othello, playing cards, and Jenga – are being reevaluated. At MegaHouse and TOMY, sales of such games have increased since last year. Of course people buy them partly because they’re eco-friendly, but that’s not the whole story, they are also in part seen as a way to develop communication skills.

    As video games have become more common in households, it has been said that communication through play has decreased. Analog toys that provide opportunities for people of all ages to interact are being reevaluated as a way to nurture children’s communication skills. From now on we are bound to see more progress in a variety of forms for eco-toys that are built to support the three core values of protecting the environment, developing intellectual curiosity, and encouraging communication.

    MegaHouse Corporation
    Tomy Company Ltd.

    Text: HATTA Emiko













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  • 夢ではなく目標を持ち続けたい

    [From March Issue 2012]


    Patisserie es Koyama

    The confectionary shop Patisserie es Koyama is located in a new residential development in Sanda City, Hyogo Prefecture, in an area rich in natural beauty. Ever since its establishment in 2003, their Swiss roll sponge cake “Koyama Roll” has been a popular choice for customers, who even to this day form long lines outside the store. “I chose this location because I wanted to create a product from the finest materials in a natural setting,” says owner and patisserie, KOYAMA Susumu.

    In consideration of those queuing up, many of whom have traveled long distances to visit the store, there’s also a café and chocolate shop. Fruits, such as blueberries, grow in the spacious garden outside and benches, and so forth, make for a relaxing space.

    In October 2011, Patisserie es Koyama debuted at Salon de Chocolat, a chocolate festival held in Paris, France. There, Koyama’s chocolates, which used ingredients unique to Japan, such as green tea powder and soybean paste, drew a lot of interest. He became the first foreign chocolatier to receive “five tablettes” (the equivalent of three Michelin stars), the Highest Honor presented by the prestigious Chocolat Club that hosted the show and was also the first to receive the Most Outstanding Foreign Chocolatier award.

    Koyama presented five types of chocolate to the judges, to be eaten like kaiseki ryouri (a selection of small dishes eaten one after the other), just like a work of art. Each dish bore a detailed explanatory caption. “I wanted to use ingredients that no one has used in France before, so I chose to use the daitokuji natto (a type of fermented beans made in Kyoto) in one of the chocolates,” he explains.

    “I never had any overseas training either, but I think that was good because I was able to work on my pieces without obsessing over trying to satisfy the tastes of non-Japanese people. The judges commented that they felt like they were all being entertained at a dinner party. They also valued the meticulous approach to work, that Japanese pride themselves on,” continues Koyama.

    “FüKAN” is a booklet that can be found in Koyama’s store. It was published with the aim of motivating the young staff working at the store. The booklet features interviews that Koyama has conducted with people from various fields including sushi chefs and television writers.

    “I often tell my staff that a sense of playfulness and flexibility is essential for work, but that this is something born after fully mastering their art. I do not like to use the word ‘dream,’ because it has connotations of escapism. I would rather set an example to the younger generation by demonstrating how to achieve goals one by one,” says Koyama.

    Koyama is not thinking of expanding his business to other locations, but is planning to create an outlet selling dagashi – a traditional form of Japanese sweets – aimed at children, on the premises. “Growing up in Kyoto, I had pleasurable experiences in dagashi and miso sweet shops, and that formed the foundation of my manufacturing process. I want to fill our cabinets with good quality petite cakes and cookies. It would make me very happy if the experience of eating my confectionery eventually inspires these children when they too become adults.” It seems that there are no limits to Koyama’s ambitions for the future.

    Patisserie es Koyama

    Text: KAWARATANI Tokiko



    パティシエ エス コヤマ

    兵庫県三田市の自然に恵まれた新興住宅地の一角に、洋菓子店「パティシエ エス コヤマ」があります。2003年の開店当初から発売のロールケーキ「小山ロール」は、行列ができるほどの人気が今も続いています。「素材にこだわった商品を自然のなかで作りたいと思い、この場所を選びました」とオーナーパティシエの小山進さんは話します。








    パティシエ エス コヤマ


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