• 現代の招き猫

    [From November Issue 2012]


    Figurines of ceramic cats are often displayed in Japanese stores. These cats sit with one paw, or both paws, raised to their ears. This engimono (talisman or lucky charm) is a “maneki neko” (literally a beckoning cat). The raised paw of the maneki neko resembles a gesture used by Japanese to beckon someone over. That is why the maneki neko is said to bring in customers and good fortune.

    Cats used to be kept in Japanese farming villages in order to prevent mice from spoiling the rice harvest. Furthermore, Japanese believe that animals can also become gods and even cats are worshipped in some shrines and temples. It’s thought that these customs are the origins of maneki neko. These days cute cats can become famous and a recent phenomenon is the sight of maneki neko promoting a locality or company.

    In Wakayama Prefecture, there is a cat who became a real life maneki neko for the local railway and the local community. The cat, owned by Wakayama Electric Railway, is named Tama, a common name for cats in Japan. Tama is the official station master of Kishi Station on the Kishigawa Line and is an executive board member of Wakayama Electric Railway. She has been given the title “Wakayama de Knight,” so she is now Lady Tama.

    Lady Tama was originally taken care of by the owner of a newsstand that stood adjacent to Kishi Station. When the Kishigawa Line changed hands, the owner of the newsstand asked the new president to, “Permit Tama to live in the station house since she will no longer have a place to live.” The moment the president met Tama face to face, he was able to imagine the cat being a station master. Moreover, it felt like Tama was saying to him, “I will be the station master, so please help me.” This is how Tama came to be appointed as the station master of Kishi Station, which had been up until then an unmanned train station.

    “Station Master Tama” was a big hit. The mass media covered the story and visitors turned up to see Tama, admiring the way she is so unfazed by humans and her beautiful calico coat. A university professor announced that the results of his research showed that, “Thanks to Tama, Wakayama Prefecture’s economy was boosted by 1.1 billion yen in one year.” Kishigawa Line had been running at a loss and was scheduled for closure, but was rescued by the cat it had rescued.

    “Tama is so popular now that not a day goes by without a tourist bus coming to see her,” says YAMAKI Yoshiko, a spokesperson. “Some people have found work after putting Tama merchandise in the entrance to their home and some come back to say thanks because they found love after meeting Tama.”

    Since Tama is in her twilight years, sometimes her subordinate Nitama helps out. Nitama has calico markings, just like Tama and was “hired” because of her easygoing character. She usually takes care of customers at Idakiso Station, but on Tama’s day off, she serves as “acting stationmaster.”

    There are other instances of cats becoming popular after being used as PR mascots. In order to boost their company profile, “Jalan,” a travel information website operated by Recruit Lifestyle Co., Ltd., adopted a cat named “Nyalan” as their company mascot. Commercials showing Nyalan going on a trip became so popular that DVDs were released. Nyalan has even started his own Twitter account.


    Recently, Nyalan has an apprentice and a commercial showing the two of them going on a trip together has been getting a lot of attention. This was the trigger for the number of his Twitter followers to reach over 40,000 in a month, making the Nyalan phenomenon topical as far away as China.

    “Nyalan currently has about 60,000 followers on his Twitter account. You can get a sense of just how popular Nyalan is by looking at the number of comments and retweets made by his followers,” says MIYASHITA Maiko, a member of the editorial department. “The first DVD was very well-received, so we are planning a second one.”

    Cats from Tashiro Island are contributing towards the restoration effort after the Tohoku Earthquake. Located in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, about 70 people live on this 3.14 square kilometer island. In rural areas and isolated islands in Japan, aging and depopulation is a big worry, Tashiro Island is no exception. The island’s main industry is fishing, especially net fishing and oyster farming, but with an elderly population of around 80%, the island was in need of revitalization.

    To the surprise of the Tashiro islanders, the past few years has brought an increase in the number of camera toting tourists. Because the island has a tradition of respecting cats it has a neko jinja, or cat shrine, where cats are worshipped, and the fishermen have a habit of feeding fish unfit for sale to the cats. As a result, the cat population soared and the media picked up the story of “the island with a larger population of cats than humans,” bringing cat enthusiasts to the island.


    There were some residents who disliked the tourists’ lack of manners. But a few saw an opportunity to revitalize the island with the help of these cats. In an effort to encourage tourism, they did things like putting up cat-shaped signs. However, just as they were getting started, the island was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake that hit on March 11, 2011.

    The oyster farm was completely destroyed by the tsunami. As the area of devastation was so wide, central and local government was unable to decide where to allocate funds for relief. So the islanders proceeded to collect funds for the restoration themselves. They launched “Nyanko The Project,” an investment fund which pays investors a return in oysters after a few years.

    The word “nyanko” means cat. Taking into account the concerns people had about the safety of the cats, they widened the remit of the project to include using some of the money to care for the cats. Investors would also receive cat themed items. In just three months, the project reached its target of 150 million yen. Because they’d collected so much money so fast, they quickly had to stop taking donations.

    “Last March, we registered the project as a corporation. After we repair the oyster farms using the financial aid, if all goes well we will be able to ship oysters to our supporters as early as next year. We are also rebuilding the public restroom which was washed away,” says Chairman, OGATA Chikao. PR spokesperson, HAMA Yutaka says, “Cats in Tashiro-jima are thought to be guardian deities that bring fishermen in a good catch. They are like members of the family.”

    Meiji era novelist, NATSUME Soseki became famous after writing “I am a Cat,” a book based on his pet cat. It is said that an elderly lady in the neighborhood told the novelist that, “This cat will bring you good fortune.” To the Japanese, cats are a cute and lucky animal.

    Wakayama Electric Railway Co., Ltd.
    Nyanko the Project

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo






















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  • ドライブに便利な「道の駅」

    [From November Issue 2012]


    The refreshing snap in the air and unbroken days of clear skies, makes autumn the perfect season for excursions. When it comes to getting to tourist destinations, each mode of transport has its strong points: airplanes are convenient for reaching far off places, trains allow you to enjoy the gradual change in scenery and buses can efficiently ferry you around different sites. But if you want the freedom to travel to places at a time that suits you, a car is the best option. For such car users, “michi no eki,” or road stations, are very useful.

    Michi no eki are free facilities built along national or major roads. Visitors can stop by for a break from driving and enjoy doing some shopping. Shopping and resting facilities on Japanese highways are called service areas or parking areas. But until michi no eki were built, easily accessible rest stops for drivers taking main roads, like national routes, were nonexistent.

    Since michi no eki were first given a trial run in Yamaguchi, Gifu and Tochigi Prefectures in 1991, the idea has taken off, and now there are 996 michi no eki in locations all over Japan. The increase in the number of michi no ekihas brought a corresponding increase in the number of customers; approximately 40% in the last decade. At some michi no eki stops, there are even museums, art galleries, hot spring baths and restaurants that serve up dishes made with local ingredients. In this way michi no eki differ from the facilities available on highways as the stations themselves can be enjoyed as tourist destinations.

    For example, “Den Park Anjo” located in Anjo City, Aichi Prefecture is located in the parking lot adjacent to “Anjo Denpark” – a theme park which opened in 1997 that is also known as “Anjo Sangyo Bunka Koen.” KITAGAWA Tsuyoshi, the PR representative for the theme park says, “Because of its sophisticated agricultural industry, Anjo City was formerly compared to the agriculturally advanced country of Denmark, and that’s why we offer interactive zones and gourmet dishes made from our bountiful harvests.”

    Kitagawa says, “The park has 300,000 plants from 3,300 species. We pay close attention to the cultivation and landscaping of our plants, so that visitors can enjoy beautiful flower beds and flower shows any time of the year.” Visitors to the park have commented that, “I’m happy because it’s a place the whole family can enjoy: not only are there seasonal blooms, but you also savor hand-made sausages and local beers.”

    With their spacious parking lots and bathroom facilities open to the public 24 hours a day, michi no eki have also came under the spotlight as disaster prevention centers. In reality, during the Great East Japan Earthquake last year, michi no eki in nearby areas were used as operations bases by the self-defense forces and as evacuation areas. There’s been a recent movement towards equipping michi no eki with emergency rations and power generators.

    Since michi no eki are operated by local townships, each facility is unique. But one thing you will find at all these facilities is a souvenir stamp pad. Many of these road stations also have pamphlets in English, so if you stop by a nearby “station,” you will be able to enjoy both driving and Japanese culture at the same time.

    Michi no Eki (Road Station)
    Den Park Anjo

    Text: ITO Koichi












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  • 解決が見えない尖閣諸島紛争

    [From November Issue 2012]


    This September the Japanese government purchased territory on the Senkaku Islands – which it regards as being part of Japan – from a private Japanese owner, placing the area under state control. China strongly objected to Japan claiming the Senkaku Islands as its own territory and sent several patrol ships to the area. Violent anti-Japanese demonstrations took place all over China. In contrast, Japan has remained calm and there has hardly been any harassment of, or violence towards, Chinese residents in Japan.

    After making sure that the Senkaku Islands hadn’t been claimed by any other nation, Japan listed the Senkaku Islands as part of Okinawa Prefecture in 1895. It’s now an uninhabited island, but there was once a dried bonito factory there and more than 200 Japanese inhabitants. In San Francisco in 1951 Japan entered into a peace treaty with the allied nations, officially bringing the war to a close. In the treaty, the Senkaku Islands were not included in the list of territory Japan surrendered.

    On the Chinese side the Diaoyu Islands (China’s name for the Senkaku Islands) first appeared in a document from the Ming period (14~17 century). They claim that China did not participate in the San Francisco treaty and that Japan illegally stole the islands during the First Sino-Japanese War. China began insisting that the islands were part of Chinese territory in the 1970s after the UN reported that the waters around the Senkaku Islands were potentially rich in oil reserves.

    In China the gap between the rich and poor has widened and the frustration of the populace has risen. It is said that the Chinese government is making a show of taking a tough stance, and demonstrators have become angry mobs. In order to let the Chinese people vent their frustrations, the Chinese government hasn’t called a halt to the demonstrations. However, images of violent demonstrators were broadcast all over the world, reaffirming China’s image as a reactionary country.

    Japan has been carefully monitoring the situation, but some people criticize the government’s attitude as being too weak. If the Chinese military intervenes in this issue, it will develop into a serious situation involving the USA. Japan and America are bound together by the US-Japan security treaty and the Senkaku Islands are part of Okinawa Prefecture, where the most important American military bases are located in the Far East. The US State Department has stated that the Senkaku Islands are covered by the security treaty.

    The 40 Anniversary of Normalization between Japan and China

    This year marks the 40th year since Japan-China Joint Communique of 1972. In the communique the following sentence states that both sides will: “Settle all disputes by peaceful means, without recourse to the use or threat of force.”

    Six years later in August 1978, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between Japan and China was signed by Prime Minister FUKUDA Takeo. In the same year October, Chinese Vice Premier Deng XIAOPING visited Japan and said, referring to the issue of the Senkaku Islands, “It does not matter if this question is shelved for some time, say, ten years. Our generation is not wise enough to find common language on this question. Our next generation will certainly be wiser. They will certainly find a solution acceptable to all.”

    Now Japan and China have strong economic ties. In 2011 trade between Japan and China is so big that it accounted for 23.3% of “world trade.” China is Japan’s most important trading partner and Japan is China’s third most important trading partner. With more than 22,000 Japanese companies operating in China employing ten million Chinese, Japan is the number one investor in China. If both countries enter into a conflict, both will lose out.









    今年、1972年の日中共同声明から40周年を迎えました。共同声明にはこんな一文が含まれています -- 日本国及び中国が、相互の関係において、すべての紛争を平和的手段により解決し、武力又は武力による威嚇に訴えないことを確認する。



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  • 香川県高松市――瀬戸内海に面した、歴史とアートとうどんの街

    [From November Issue 2012]

    Kagawa Prefecture is located in the north east of the Shikoku region. In recent years it’s been gaining a lot of attention as the “Udon Prefecture” because of a PR campaign promoting the unique appeal of the area’s “sannuki udon” (noodle soup) dish. To the north, facing the Seto Inland Sea is a wide flat plain and to the south, surrounded by the Sanuki Mountains, is an area which has a long history of maritime trading.

    Since the Seto Ohashi Bridge opened in 1988, connecting Shikoku with Honshu (the main island of Japan), Takamatsu City, the capital of Kagawa Prefecture, has been playing an even more important role as a gateway to the Shikoku region. It’s a hub for artistic events, like the Setouchi International Art Festival that will be held for the second time next year.

    You might want to begin your trip by visiting Ritsurin Garden. Built during the Edo Period, it took about 100 years for successive daimyou (lords) of the Sanuki Takamatsu Domain to complete the garden. Divided into a southern garden and a northern garden, the garden contains six artificial ponds and 13 miniature hills. It’s not only been designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty in Japan, but it’s also known all over the world for being a lovely garden and has been featured in foreign magazines.

    Kagawa Prefecture is a place deeply associated with the military leader, TAIRA no Kiyomori, who is featured in a period drama currently being broadcast on NHK. Partly because of this, the Takamatsu Heike Monogatari Historical Museum is attracting attention. The museum allows you to see the world of “The Tale of the Heike,” an epic which centers around Taira no Kiyomori and depicts the rise and fall of the Heike clan in the Heian period (8 ~ 12th century). The 300 lifelike wax dolls are a must-see.

    Yashima appeared in “The Tale of the Heike” as the site of the battle that took place between the Genji and the Heike. Having a number of landmarks related to the battle, it is constantly being visited by history buffs. This area also boasts a host of leisure facilities. At the summit of Mount Yashima, there is an observation deck and an aquarium commanding beautiful views of the Seto Inland Sea. The New Yashima Aquarium houses 300 kinds of creatures and is the only aquarium in Japan to stand on top of a 290-meter mountain. Dolphin and sea lion shows are very popular among children.

    When you get hungry, go to a sanuki udon shop. The udon is a delicious al dente noodle and its base is a refreshing broth made from small dried sardines. With more than 900 sanuki udon shops, Kagawa Prefecture boasts the highest number of udon shops per capita and produces the largest amount of udon noodles in Japan.

    The climate and soil in Kagawa Prefecture is well suited for growing wheat and the prefecture has long thrived on producing salt and soy sauce, as well as dried sardines, all of which are used to make the broth. Featured in magazines and movies, Kagawa became known all over the nation. Many tourists visit the prefecture to eat udon, and there are even “udon tours” available.

    Art lovers should visit the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum. The museum has a collection of over 150 works by NOGUCHI Isamu. One of the foremost sculptors of the 20th century, Noguchi spent his twilight years in Kagawa Prefecture and wanted his works to be a source of inspiration for future artists and researchers. It’s no exaggeration to say that the museum, which embodies that wish of his, is his life itself.

    Another place known for art is Naoshima. Located about 50 to 60 minutes away from Takamatsu Port by ferry, the island is a popular tourist spot that blends nature, urban life and modern art. In 2013, the Setouchi International Art Festival, a modern art festival that showcases the islands in the Seto Inland Sea as one museum, will be held once again. As a major attraction of this festival, Naoshima captivates visitors from both home and abroad.

    A must-visit place in Kagawa is Kotohira-gu. This historic site enshrines a god of the sea. Especially famous is the long approach of stone steps connecting the main shrine with the rear shrine. With 1,368 steps in total, it’s known for its great length. Attracting scores of visitors throughout the year, the shrine has a number of treasure halls containing important cultural properties and ancient shaden (buildings that enshrine holy objects).


    Kotohira-gu / The Old Konpira Ooshibai Kabuki Theater


    Close to Kotohira-gu is the Old Konpira Ooshibai Kabuki Theater (Kanamaruza), known as Japan’s oldest existing playhouse. Designated as an important cultural property, this place is considered to be a mecca for kabuki by actors and fans. Held in April each year, Shikoku Konpira Kabuki Ooshibai is a traditional event that heralds the arrival of spring.

    Inside Takamatsu City is Aji Onsen, a hot spring that commands views of the Seto Island Sea. Here you can enjoy open-air baths, saunas and cold-water plunge pools. The hot springs are effective for treating neuralgia, muscle pain and skin diseases, as well as for relieving fatigue. You can also savor reasonably priced seafood dishes made with the fresh catch of the day from Aji Port.

    To get to Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, it takes about one hour and 15 minutes to fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Takamatsu Airport. There are limousine buses available from the airport to JR Takamatsu Station. From JR Tokyo Station, you can take the Tokaido Shinkansen and get to Okayama Station in roughly three hours and 15 minutes. Transferring for the JR Seto Ohashi Line at Okayama Station, you will arrive at Takamatsu Station in approximately 50 minutes. You can also get there in about 11 hours on an expressway bus departing from the vicinity of Tokyo Station.

    Kagawa Prefecture Tourism Association

    Text: OOMORI Saori


















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  • 日本の線香

    [From November Issue 2012]


    About 70% of Japanese incense is made on Awaji-shima, an island in Hyougo Prefecture. In 1850 Awaji City Port opened up to traders from overseas, so that materials used for the production of incense could be imported. The steady westerly wind blowing over the island also proved to be useful for drying incense. Over time, incense from Awaji-shima became renowned throughout Japan and many famous brands still produce their incense on Awaji-shima.

    High quality incense is made entirely from natural ingredients, such as the very best herbs, spices, resins and aromatic woods. Sandalwoods and agar with their high density of resin are most commonly used. Highly skilled incense masters carefully blend these ingredients, creating a broad range of fragrances of different styles.

    Incense comes in various shapes. Incense sticks are best known in Western countries but incense cones and spirals are also widely used. Temples and shrines use a lot of incense, as do many traditional Japanese inns, where it’s used to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere.

    The best way to appreciate incense is to “listen” to the fragrance using a technique described in “Ko-do” (the way of incense). Similar to the tea ceremony, there are two schools of incense: the Oie and the Shino schools, who have practiced the art of enjoying incense for five centuries.

    Many famous incense brands started out in Kyoto. TANAKA Hajime, the founder of Shofuan, was inspired by the changing scents he perceived when walking through the streets of Kyoto at different times of the year. He then decided to create an incense series that would recreate the atmosphere of Kyoto month-by-month, season-by-season. The result is a wonderful series of 12 different fragrances. January’s incense is called Hatsukama, its name referring to a tea ceremony performed to welcome in the New Year. June’s incense is called Hotaru Kari (firefly hunting) and refers to events that can be seen during the summer.

    Before devoting himself to the world of incense Tanaka was a producer of kimono and obi (kimono belts). With his deep knowledge of kimono cloth and patterns Tanaka has also developed unique packaging for his incense. The sticks are stored inside a paulownia wood box, which is wrapped in Japanese paper. The patterns on the boxes reflect the month the fragrance represents and feature motifs such as sakura or temari thread balls.

    With his creations of timeless beauty Tanaka not only wants to preserve the culture of Japanese incense, but also intends to pass it on to the next generation of young Japanese, as well as to people all over the world.


    Text: Nicolas SOERGEL












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  • メール翻訳コンシェルをご存じですか?

    [From November Issue 2012]


    “It’s fine weather today.” “It’s not raining today.” Both these sentences mean it’s not raining, but the nuance is different, depending on whether you use the word “fine” or “rain.” It’s important to choose the right words when expressing yourself and this is especially true if you’re talking to a foreigner. NTTdocomo’s “Mail Translation Concier” is an app to help you out in these kinds of situations.

    Translating inputted text into foreign languages, “Mail Translation Concier” has been developed for NTTdocomo smartphone users. It’s very easy to use. You start the app and, simply type in a sentence like, “What’s your favorite food?” The text will be translated immediately into a foreign language of your choice.

    Text in, say, English, will be translated into Japanese, furthermore the translated Japanese can be translated back into English with a Japanese nuance. You can tell how your text has been understood by whoever you are communicating with. One of the characteristic features of this app is that it displays three sentences allowing you to make comparisons. As it can translate foreign languages into Japanese and vice versa, it’s quite useful for foreigners learning Japanese. Three languages are available to be translated into Japanese: English, Chinese and Korean.

    With this app, foreigners learning Japanese can learn Japanese expressions. Of the three sentences, the original and the translation can be emailed, or can be sent via SNS sites such as Twitter. They can also be saved to a memo pad. If a foreigner in need of directions shows the translation, perhaps a kind Japanese will show him the way.

    Japanese can be input not only through a touch screen, but also orally. The translation will be displayed just as if the text had been typed in. It’s much easier to have your speech directly translated. The app is free of charge, but we recommend you subscribe to a fixed rate plan as downloading and using the app will incur packet communication charges.

    You should always use your own head rather than relying too heavily on an app. However this is useful for those times when you need to look up a Japanese phrase, want to learn an expression, want to communicate by email with Japanese people, or send messages through a SNS. Furthermore the retranslation function will allow you to communicate without fear of being misunderstood. You can use the app to study Japanese, or to communicate with Japanese people.

    NTTdocomo “Mail Translation Concier”
    Download site

    Text: ITO Koichi









    NTTdocomo メール翻訳コンシェル


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  • 孤独な駅長に訪れる奇跡

    [From November Issue 2012]


    Railroad Man (Directed by FURUHATA Yasuo)

    This movie is based on a novella by ASADA Jiro that won the Naoki Prize. Its Japanese title is “Poppoya.” The word “poppoya” comes from the “sho shoo, poppo” noise made by steam locomotives. Employees working for the railroad, or “railroad men,” proudly called themselves “poppo-ya.” Released in 1999, the movie is about SATO Otomatsu who, nearing retirement, looks back on his life as a poppo-ya. Shortly before he retires something miraculous occurs.

    Otomatsu is the stationmaster of Horomai, the terminus of the Horomai Line, a route that is about to be closed down. Once a flourishing coal mining town, the population of Horomai is now down to about 200 elderly people, and hardly anyone uses the Horomai Line. Despite this Otomatsu removes snow from the platform and carefully keeps a diary, never failing to carry out his duties.

    One day, after the New Year’s holidays, SUGIURA, an old friend from the time Otomatsu was taking his apprenticeship in the locomotive business, visits. At Otomatsu’s home in the station house, they drink sake and reminisce about the good old days. Sugiura, who is the stationmaster of Biyoro City, is the same age as Otomatsu and is also nearing retirement. He suggests Otomatsu joins him in applying for a job at a resort hotel, but Otomatsu turns his offer down.

    When, after 17 years of marriage, Otomatsu’s wife finally became pregnant with a daughter, Yukiko, she sadly died shortly after being born. Two years ago his wife also passed away. As the life of a poppo-ya is all he knows, Otomatsu believes that he isn’t fit for any other kind of work. Although he doesn’t regret that he always put work first, even though this meant he wasn’t around during these family deaths, he feels responsible and cannot leave the station house where he lived with his wife and daughter.

    It gets late, Sugiura falls asleep and a young girl appears at the station building. She says she’s looking for a doll that her younger sister left behind in the station during the day. Otomatsu offers her a drink and together they have a pleasant conversation. The girl leaves, forgetting to take the doll along with her. Sugiura wakes up and hears Otomatsu’s story, then jokes that the girl was a snow fairy.

    The next day, a girl wearing a high school uniform, who says she is the “oldest sister” appears at the station house. She is a railroad enthusiast and asks questions about the subject, so Otomatsu enjoys her company. After he receives a phone call, he discovers the true identity of the three sisters.

    Though the station name is fictitious, Ikutora, a real station on the Nemuro Honsen Line in Hokkaido, was used as the location for the film and this station is still visited by movie fans. The central character is played by TAKAKURA Ken, an actor who used to star in Japanese gangster movies and later became known for his performances in “The Yellow Handkerchief” and Ridley SCOTT’s “Black Rain.”



    鉄道員(監督:降旗 康男)








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