• 「ワンダーランド」へ誘うさまざまな看板

    [From November Issue 2011]

    If you walk around the streets of Japan, you will encounter numerous eye-catching advertisements, containing a variety of different scripts including hiragana, katakana, kanji, the alphabet, and various symbols and illustrations. These commercials are a poignant reminder to foreigners that they’re actually in Japan.

    A closer look reveals that a large portion use Chinese characters. This is because each kanji character stands for a concept and thus, it takes fewer characters to convey meaning. For example, in katakana it takes five letters to describe「レストラン」(restaurant) but in kanji,「食堂」(shokudou) only uses two letters.

    However, in recent years, more companies use katakana to spell out English words, and with the wave of globalization, English words spelt with the roman alphabet are used more and more frequently. Katakana and the alphabet both convey a Western cultural impression as well as a modern image. There are not many signs written in hiragana.

    Pictures are also used. An especially notable visual image is the “manekineko (beckoning cat),” which is a sitting cat holding up one of its forelegs. In Japan this cat is traditionally considered a good omen for business because its raised paw resembles a welcoming gesture. A raised right foreleg is said to bring in money and the left foreleg is used to invite customers. Many businesses use this figurine in place of signage.

    Since signs need to stand out, the appearance of neon signs that use luminescent glass tubes was a breakthrough. After the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, neon signs become a fundamental part of modern Japan and soon brightly lit districts with restaurants and pachinko parlors were referred to as “neon-gai (neon streets).” In the past few years, light-emitting diodes (LED) have become a common tool for illuminating signs. However, the unique colorful glow and flexibility of neon tubes mean they’re still a popular choice when creating illuminated signs.

    A new and attractive type of display is digital signage, which is an electronic display that connects to the internet. Many ads can be posted on one screen and the display time and duration can be adjusted for each ad. The technology reduces the time and effort involved in changing a display and also keeps down costs.

    For example, one kind of digital signage is a liquid crystal display used by the JR rail company inside trains. As there’s no audio, subtitles and visuals advertise companies and products. Also displayed is up-to-date information on the name of the next train stop, how to transfer lines, service status updates and, news and weather forecasts.

    Furthermore, there are even digital signs that can emit sounds. At a certain supermarket, a screen is mounted above the vegetable section on which the farmers who grew the vegetables displayed testify to the taste and freshness of their produce. The ad aims to give shoppers piece of mind.

    In addition to this, digital advertising holds huge promise in developments such as a device that emits the smell and scent of a shampoo in order to pique the customer’s interest. With the development of the internet, signage has moved into a new era.

    In contrast, classic and rare “enamel signs” (made from metal with an enamel coating) with their retro feel make people pine for the old days and even now are attracting attention. Each metal sign has its own unique charm. Older people even appreciate them as works of art.

    In recent years, Ome City in Tokyo restored signs that advertised films released in the Showa era as a part of a campaign to promote the area. Japanese and foreign film posters were placed over plywood boards in wooden frames and mounted all around the area, transforming the streets into a tourist destination.

    In this way, there is a variety of signage on the streets in both old and new styles. These signs give us the feeling that we’re in a foreign country and as a result contribute to the sense that we’re off sightseeing somewhere.

    East Japan Marketing & Communications, Inc.














    株式会社 ジェイアール東日本企画

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  • 歌や踊りで地域発信を担う、ご当地アイドル



    Recently many “gotouchi idol” groups have formed to play an active role in promoting various regions of Japan. Gotouchi is a Japanese term used by tourists to respectfully refer to a local area. Gotouchi idols are based in a particular area so their area of activity is limited, but this new type of advertising is becoming popular as a way to promote sightseeing destinations and regional produce.

    Because they liven up the local area, many gotouchi idols are supported by their local governments and local shopping streets. The activities of some idol groups have even had a hugely positive effect on local economies. For example, one of the first gotouchi idol groups, the Nagoya Omotenashi Busho-Tai (Nagoya Hospitality Lords), is thought to have generated 2.7 billion yen for the city of Nagoya.

    The Nagoya Omotenashi Busho-Tai, established in 2009 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of Nagoya, is a mixed gender group of ten members. Dressed in the armor typically worn during the warring states period, they mainly work as guides to Nagoya’s castle grounds. They became popular with women interested in Japanese history, and in 2010 increased the annual number of visitors to the Castle by 270 thousand people compared to the previous year. Now various goods including a book dedicated to the unit are on sale.

    Nagoya Omotenashi Busho-Tai performs weekends and on national holidays in Nagoya Castle grounds. A member who plays the part of feudal lord TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi says with some satisfaction, “I am happy that some people refer to me as ‘Hideyoshi!’ even outside Nagoya Castle grounds.” Another member who plays the feudal lord MAEDA Keiji says, “We struggle with language the most because the samurai language is sometimes difficult even for Japanese, much less non-Japanese people. Also, the Nagoyan dialect is very unique, so it is hard for people outside of Nagoya to understand.”

    Many people say “AKB 48” is the most popular Japanese idol group of today. While they are based in Tokyo and perform all over Japan, the job of the gotouchi idols is to promote their local regions from their own area to the nation. These gotouchi idols, with their mission of promoting their local area and of energizing their respective regions, are sure to increase in number in the near future.

    Nagoya Omotenashi Busho-Tai blog

    Text: ITO Koichi










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  • ロボットのソフトクリーム屋さん

    [From November Issue 2011]

    “Yaskawa-kun, the Soft Serve Ice Cream Vendor,” is a robot that skillfully makes soft serve ice cream. After inserting money, customers use a touch panel to choose the flavor of their ice cream. Then, accompanied by a cute tune, the robot takes out a cone and makes soft serve ice cream. The process ends with the robot pouring on sauce and sprinkling on toppings. Anywhere the robot vendor goes, it attracts so many people that they form a three-hour queue.

    The developer of this robot is Yaskawa Electric Corporation, a company which has the number one share in the global robotic market. Looking towards the 100th anniversary of the founding of their company in 2015 and with an eye to the problem of declining birth rates in the first world, the company is striving to develop high functioning robots that can coexist with humans. Yaskawa-kun is a prototype that was born from this endeavor.

    HAYASHIDA Ayumi, head of public relations, says, “There are seven joints in a human arm. A robot made with the same number of joints is called a seven-axis robot. Having these joints means that the robot can move more freely than human being, giving it more flexibility and a wide range of motion.”

    “Before Yaskawa-kun was created, most industrial robots were made with six-axis arms. To create the slim seven-axis arm, it was essential to hide the cables by placing the wiring inside the arm and to develop new motors. Yaskawa Electric Corporation’s technology was up to the task of developing suitable motors for the robot,” he continues.

    The next stage was to teach the machine to smoothly make soft serve ice cream by mimicking human movements. After much trial and error, they succeeded in getting the robot to acquire the ability of making ice creams of a uniform size, a process that could be repeated billions of times over.

    Yaskawa-kun, the Soft Serve Ice Cream Vendor, can make one soft serve ice cream in about a minute. This robotic mini shop can be set to sell not only soft serve ice creams, but also kakigouri (shaved ice with syrup), takoyaki (octopus encased in a circular dumpling) and various other kinds of food.

    Although the majority of robots are used for industrial purposes and up until recently did not typically enter into our daily lives, it appears they are now becoming a more familiar sight.

    Yaskawa Electric Corporation

    Text: TAKAHASHI Yoshinori











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  • 阿蘇の山景色から天草の海景色まで――熊本

    [From November Issue 2011]


    Clear blue skies, vivid green meadows, majestic mountains, and a sea so transparent that you can see down to the rocks below – Kumamoto Prefecture, located in the center of Kyushu, south-west Japan, is blessed with an abundance of beautiful natural scenery. It also boasts a number of historical spots including Kumamoto Castle, built in the Edo period, as well as numerous unique hot springs like Kurokawa Onsen.

    Kumamoto’s famous Mount Aso is actually a gigantic caldera (volcanic crater) that encloses five peaks called “Aso-Gogaku.” Within these peaks lie craters which were formed by subsequent volcanic activity. These include Naka-Dake (Mt. Naka), an active volcano. The caldera is one of the largest in the world and inside it are fields and houses inhabited by people.

    To fully enjoy the magnificent view of this Aso mountain range, a visit to Daikanbo Peak to the north of the caldera’s rim is recommended. Here, those in the middle of a long motorbike ride or a drive can take a little break to gaze out at the spectacular view of the Aso-Gogaku mountains, and the caldera. You can also enjoy the stunning vistas of Aso by going horse riding in Kusasenrigahama, a vast meadow at the foot of Eboshi-Dake (Mt. Eboshi) near Naka-Dake.

    There are quite a few hot spring resorts in the vicinity of Aso, most notably Kurokawa Onsen, which is famous nationwide. This hot spring resort is characterized by its open-air baths, each one unique to each inn. You can enjoy any of these outdoor baths without booking a room in the inns that operate them by simply paying a small fee at the door. Another popular thing to do is to take a walk alongside the rows of restaurants and souvenir shops that line the town’s streets.

    Kumamoto is also well known for the Amakusa Sea. The view of green islands of various sizes floating on the blue ocean is spectacular. The scenic roads on Amakusa-Gokyo – the five bridges connecting the islands – are a popular route with those wanting to take in the superb view. In addition to its beautiful blue sky and sea, the sight of the sinking sun in Amakusa is splendid too. Seen from the west coast, the way the evening sun sets slowly beyond the horizon is mystical and breathtaking.

    The picturesque sea of Amakusa has beautiful white sand beaches which become crowded in summer with people who come to swim. Watching wild schools of dolphins from a boat is another popular activity. The dolphins are so friendly that you can even see them swimming alongside the boat. You can also try scuba diving to get an enjoyable look at coral reefs and tropical fish.

    Kumamoto Prefecture has an abundance of historical sites. A typical example is Kumamoto Castle in Kumamoto City. Built in the Edo period, this castle, overlooking downtown Kumamoto has characteristic stone walls which were designed to become steeper the higher up enemies tried to climb – by the top they are almost vertical. During the cherry blossom season in spring, the contrast of beautiful flowers against the austere castle attracts crowds of sightseers.

    In Kumamoto City trams run along the streets. Getting on a tram from the nearest stop to Kumamoto Castle – Kumamoto-Jo/Shiyakusho-mae (Kumamoto Castle/City Hall) – and getting off at Suizenji-Koen (Suizenji Park) about 15 minutes later, you will find Suizenji Jojuen (Suizenji Garden) within the park’s grounds. With a pond as its center, the garden, built in the Edo period, consists of hills, stones, lawns, and plants, whose arrangement imitates famous landscapes found elsewhere in Japan. Along with Kumamoto Castle, the garden attracts a number of tourists.

    Kumamoto also boasts a variety of delicious dishes. Kumamoto ramen is especially famous nationwide. There is another famous kind of ramen in Kyushu, this is called Hakanta ramen and is found in Fukuoka, but the tonkotsu soup (pork bone soup) of Kumamoto ramen is richer than that of Hakata ramen and the noodles are thicker and have more elasticity. It is characteristically eaten with garlic chips which are made by deep-frying or with oil made from deep-fried garlic.

    Its natural bounty has made Kumamoto one of the largest agricultural prefectures in Japan. Tomatoes are grown all year round and watermelons have long been cultivated here making it one of the biggest fruit producing regions in the country. Many citrus fruits, such as the mandarin orange, are also farmed in Kumamoto. There are a wide variety of them available, including dekopon, a type of sweet juicy orange characterized by a distinctive raised knob on its top.

    Banpeiyu, which can grow to the size of a human head, is another famous citrus fruit produced in Kumamoto. In addition to its extraordinary size, its charm lies in its crisp, elegant flagrance and refreshing sweetness. Because the fruit lasts a long time, you may choose to place it in a room to enjoy its aroma for a while before eating it. The thick white part between the skin and the pulp can be candied to make it edible.

    It takes about one hour and 30 minutes to fly to Kumamoto Airport from Haneda Airport in Tokyo. Also, using the Kyushu Shinkansen, which opened in its entirety in March 2011, allows you to get to Kumamoto Station from Hakata Station in Fukuoka within 33 minutes.

    Photos courtesy by Kumamoto Prefecture
    Kumamoto City
    Amakusa Touism Association
    Yatsushiro City
    Kurokawa Spa Hotel Association Information Center
    Aso City

    Text: MIYAZAKI Nagisa















    社団法人 天草宝島観光協会

    文:宮崎 渚

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  • 見本が生んだ奇跡の糸

    [From November Issue 2011]

    Sato Seni Co., Ltd.

    When the Inauguration Day ceremony of American President Barack OBAMA was held in Washington DC, the attire worn by Michelle OBAMA caused a stir. It is customary for First Ladies to wear suits for official functions, but Michelle instead wore a cardigan designed by the famous French fashion brand, Nina Ricci. The yarn used to create the cardigan was developed by Sato Seni Co., Ltd.

    Sato Seni started out as a knitting subcontractor. But in the 90s business became very tight. This was because many Japanese companies moved production to China. Many clients repeatedly pressured Sato Seni to lower their prices. Sales figures dwindled to just a third of what they had been during the company’s peak. In 1991, Sato Seni had no other choice but to cut its staff of 130 by almost half.

    The president of the company, SATO Masaki himself scrambled this way and that to get commissions. Still no sales were made. In the midst of this, an Italian company from whom Sato Seni purchased yarns invited Sato to their factory. The owner took Sato around the factory, showing him how yarns were processed for high-end and specialty materials.

    “Even first-rate designers cannot make yarn. That is why factories like us have to motivate fashion designers,” said the Italian factory owner, holding himself with pride. “I felt embarrassed that we only created things that we were ordered to make. It was also shocking to find that the specialty yarns were made with the same machinery we used,” says Sato.

    Sato returned to Japan determined to start afresh. “To meet the orders we received we had been copying Italian products and technology, but from here on there would be no more copying. Rather than blindly creating yarns, we had to copy the spirit of Italian manufacturing and create our own one-of-a-kind yarns.” This is how development began to create specialty yarns. It was very difficult to alter the mindset of the craftsmen, but through brainpower, guesswork and hard graft, Sato Seni succeeded in developing unique yarns. The next task was to find a way to have people appreciate the quality of these products.

    Sato reasoned that if the product’s value could be approved by internationally acclaimed figures, the brand value would soar. With that thought, Sato proactively took the most unique yarns to various international exhibitions. At one of these major exhibitions, namely the Italian Pitti Immagine Filati, the designers for Nina Ricci took notice of them.

    Sato Seni provided Nina Ricci with what is generally called “mohair yarn.” The knitted cardigan that Mrs. Obama wore was made from the finest mohair in the world. Mohair yarn is made from the rare natural hair of Angora goats. It has a very soft feel to the skin. The designers of Nina Ricci gasped in surprise at the fineness of the yarns created by Sato Seni.

    Sato Seni grew into a successful company that provides over 1,500 kinds of specialty yarns, busily receiving orders from internationally famous fashion brands including Chanel. They have strengthened their brand identity brand in Japan as well as throughout the world. Their net income has successfully grown six fold in the past five years.

    Sato Seni Co., Ltd.

    Text: TAKAHASHI Yoshinori













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  • 侍の誇りと夫婦の愛を描く時代劇

    [From November Issue 2011]

    DVD cover. 121 minutes. 3,990 yen
    発売・ 販売元:松竹
    © 2006 「武士の一分」製作委員会


    Love and Honor (Directed by YAMADA Yoji)

    Released in 2006, following “The Twilight Samurai” and “The Hidden Blade,” “Bushi no Ichibun” or “Love and Honor” is the final chapter of Yamada Yoji’s “Samurai Trilogy.” The main character is portrayed by KIMURA Takuya, a member of the popular idol group SMAP.

    At the end of the Edo era, a lower ranking samurai named MIMURA Shinnojo lives a modest but happy life with his wife, Kayo. One day, Shinnojo tells Kayo that his job as the “food taster” for the feudal lord is “unbearable and pointless.” Then he shares his dream of opening a fencing school for village children of all castes. Sadly a few days later, Mimura eats some bad shellfish at work, and loses his eyesight.

    No longer useful as a samurai, Mimura loses his will to live and even considers taking his own life with his sword. But, to his relief, his feudal lord allows him to keep his rank and he is ordered to take some time off to recuperate. With Kayo’s deep love and support from Tokuhei, who has been a servant to the Mimura family from the time Mimura’s father’s was head of the household, Shinnojo soon regains his strength and sense of humor.

    However, one day Mimura finds out that Kayo is having an affair with Shimada, his boss. Mimura confronts Kayo, who confesses in tears that Shimada, her childhood friend promised her that he would ask their lord to maintain Mimura’s rank in exchange for sexual favors. Mimura tells Kayo that he will divorce her on the spot, and kicks her out into the rain.

    Mimura spends a lonely life with Tokuhei. The meals that Tokuhei prepares taste awful, and the dullness of everyday life without Kayo makes them both miserable. After a while, Mimura is informed that the lord’s decision to protect his rank was not made at Shimada’s request but was a personal choice. Mimura makes a pledge on his samurai’s ichibun (pride and honor) to pay Shimada back for tricking Kayo by challenging him to a duel.

    He visits his fencing master and trains to fight by listening to the sound of footsteps and by sensing his enemy’s presence. Wearing Kayo’s sash around his head as a headband, Mimura summons Shimada to a riverbank for a duel. Though in great peril, Mimura manages to cut off Shimada’s left arm, then leaves him without finishing him off. Shimada later commits seppuku and dies without revealing the name of his opponent.

    One day Tokuhira hires a maid to take care of the house and instructs her to make a meal for her master. Mimura takes a bite and then calls the maid to his dinner table. He realizes that the maid is actually Kayo and tells her, “I thought I would never be able to eat your cooking again.” Her eyes filling up with tears, Kayo asks, “Does that mean I can stay by your side?” Mimura replies, “Thank you for coming back home,” and gathers her in his arms.


    DVD ¥3,990(税込)/ブルーレイ ¥4,935(税込)
    発売・ 販売元:松竹
    © 2006 「武士の一分」製作委員会


    武士の一分(山田洋次 監督)

    山田洋次監督の「時代劇三部作」として、「たそがれ清兵衛」「隠し剣 鬼の爪」に続いて映画化され、2006年に公開された。主役を演じる木村拓哉は、人気アイドルグループ、SMAPのメンバー。







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