• 日本文化にはまった外国人

    [From October Issue 2011]

    Explosions, Giant Robots, Monsters and Super Sentai

    Tokusatsu, or live action dramas from Japan featuring superheroes, monsters and special effects, are now popular all over the world. Sergio DE ISIDRO from Spain is just one of many passionate fans. “As a teenager, I developed an interest in kaijuu eiga (monster movies), which eventually led me to Super Sentai series and Kamen Rider series (Japanese heroes with super powers).”

    “The first Japanese Super Sentai series I watched was ‘Hyakujuu Sentai Gaoranger,’ and although it was in Japanese and I did not speak the language I was totally hooked. From there I discovered the Showa era tokusatsu and it totally blew my mind. I wouldn’t be living in Japan if not for tokusatsu. Also, I think Japanese society is thoroughly influenced by tokusatsu: most kids, if not all, watch these series while growing up and are taught about justice and retribution,” he says.

    De Isidro is so passionate that he owns around 300 tokusatsu figures. “Lots of them are small capsule toy figures. I have run out of space to display them now so I rarely buy toys any more – unless they are totally wicked that is.”

    When De Isidro was a teenager, finding out more about tokusatsu was hard. But, since the number of tokusatsu fans has increased overseas recently, it has become much easier to get information.

    He’s a particular fan of Showa era tokusatsu, but he enjoys all tokusatsu. “Explosions, lasers, fist fights, motorbikes, giant robots, superpowers, evil monsters, heroes of justice… what is NOT appealing about tokusatsu?”

    Japanese Music Freak

    Ever since she heard OTOMO Yoshihide and Hikashu broadcast on a radio program, Slovenian Zana Fabjan BLAZIC has been passionate about Japanese music. “It was something none of us had ever heard before, we were really young at that time, and we just started to dance and freak out in the room,” she says.

    “At the beginning I was into free and improvised music and bands like Boredoms, Boris and MELT-BANANA. Later on I became interested in Visual Kei and J-pop as well.” She thinks modern Japanese music is unusual because, it interprets Western music in a unique way. “Maybe they lack the understanding of the original or take it out of context. Kind of a cartoonish interpretation. Whatever it is, it’s amazing,” she says.

    Because she is so interested in Japanese music, she “saves up like crazy” in order to visit the country six months every year. “Since I’ve started coming to Japan more often, I really got into the indie scene and the electro club scene. Now my favorite bands are Praha Depart and Andersens and my favorite DJs are NAKATA Yasutaka from capsule and OSAWA Shinichi.”

    Coming to Japan has meant that she’s been able attend many gigs and to meet her favorite bands. “I met many musicians that I like, if you are in Japan they are really approachable. And I guess it’s easier if you’re a foreigner, they show a certain amount of interest in you as well. I’m happy I could meet MELT-BANANA, Acid Mothers Temple and of course all indie bands that I like. My happiest moment was when I met Nakata Yasutaka, I’m a big fan of his. It was on the last day of my stay in Japan the previous time. I was so excited I thought I don’t need an airplane to fly home.”

    Narrating Traditional Stories

    American Timothy NELSON-HOY lives in Japan and is a student of gidayu, the traditional Japanese art of chanting a play, best known for its use in bunraku (traditional Japanese puppet theatre). “A tayu (gidayu chanter) narrates the events of the play and does the dialogue for characters using a mix of melody and spoken word,” he says.

    “I like singing and I like storytelling, so gidayu is a very natural fit. It’s a very unique and intense experience to channel a complete story through your voice, playing all the characters with all of their conflicting motivations and following their various emotional journeys,” he explains. “A shamisen player accompanies the tayu, providing instrumental backup and also playing various musical cues that signal events like rain, crying, or running.”

    “I’ve had an interest in bunraku since elementary school. In college, I was lucky enough to do foreign study with a group that trains foreigners to perform bunraku, and I was one of the tayu for that group. Gidayu is a very portable art, so I tried my best to keep up practicing after the program ended, and eventually began studying formally with the Gidayu Association,” he says.

    Nelson-Hoy, who was studying for 2 kyu of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) when he began his studies says that he didn’t encounter too many linguistic problems at the beginning as teachers kept the vocabulary to his level, though “they did speak pretty quickly.”

    Nelson-Hoy is active in promoting the art amongst the foreign community in Japan. “Dramatic singing is something that has very broad appeal, so I think gidayu has the potential to bring a lot of joy to the various expatriate communities.”

    Nelson-Hoy’s class performs once at the end of each year. “When I next perform it’ll most likely be accompanied by a shamisen player, but first I have to get good enough to perform.”

    Gidayu Association,Incorporated





















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  • 「文化大国」へ動き出すニッポン

    [From October Issue 2011]

    With October 2011 issue Hiragana Times marked the 300th edition. Back in 1986 when the first Hiragana Times was published, the Japanese economy was at its peak, and Japan was almost as great an economic power as the USA. It’s now 25 years later and Japan has changed greatly after experiencing the failure of the bubble economy, the Leman shock and the Great East Japan Earthquake. On the other hand, with the economic success of Asian countries (especially China), the world faces a new age.

    While corporations from advanced countries moved their manufacturing overseas, the economies of those nations suffered and unemployment rates soared. Because of this, in place of manufacturing, many nations seeking fresh sources of income, instead depended on finance deals. However, as a result, many nations including the USA are experiencing the same conditions Japan did after the economic bubble burst.

    This year Japan’s GDP ranking fell from second to third place in the world after the USA and China. Under these circumstances, Japanese values have been changing. It has become apparent from surveys that the numbers of Japanese who place greater importance on a spiritually rich existence – rather than materially rich life achieved within a competitive society – are increasing.

    One of the main reasons for this is that most Japanese now enjoy a comfortable standard of living. The majority of Japanese families possess basic necessities such as electrical appliances or cars, while facilities like railroads and convenience stores are well developed. Japanese are now seeking a cultural environment which will enrich their spirit.

    The unique quality of Japanese culture seems to lie in its refined aesthetics. For instance, Japanese cuisine is not only delicious but is presented on exquisite dishes, resulting in wonderful color combinations and the good manners of waiting staff also add to its charm. Taken as a whole, these details lift dining to the level of a beautiful work of art.

    Thus the elegance of Japanese culture can be seen in traditional arts, architecture, manufactured goods and more. This comes from the tireless quest for improvement typical to the Japanese, often reflected in the punctuality of Japan’s transportation systems and in the unparalleled hospitality found in ryokan.

    Japan’s government is hoping that “Cool Japan” cultural property born out of this perfectionism will be a new source of growth following in the footsteps of the manufacturing industries. Anime and manga is already well-known, and Japanese cuisine is also well received worldwide. Recently the standard of service found in hairdressers and ryokan is also making waves abroad.

    “Cool Japan” is now gaining ground overseas, especially in Europe, the USA and Asia. Hiragana Times has asked foreign readers what they found appealing about Japan. Many of the replies cited the variety and tastiness of Japanese food, they also cited customer orientated hospitality including the friendly smiles and useful advice received from shop assistants.

    Also many cited the convenience and punctuality of the public transportation system, good public order, Japanese standards of hygiene, and the nation’s strong moral code. Rebecca, an artist from Australia says, “I like the fact that stores can leave items for sale out on the street with almost no fear of theft. The fact that I can walk home by myself at 5 am wearing a short skirt and more-or-less feel safe in doing so. The fact that I can leave my bag on a train and have it back in ten minutes untouched.”

    Among the replies, “Japanese kindness” was cited most often. Chinese student LUO Cheng Hua said, “When I ask someone for directions, they kindly tell me by pointing or writing them on a sheet of paper. I am thankful to the person who showed me how to buy a ticket when I took a train for the first time.” Many non-Japanese are bewitched by Japanese culture.

    “Culture Day,” on November 3 (this is a national holiday), encourages Japanese people to enjoy their native culture. Many events take place a few weeks before and after the day, including an awards ceremony for those who have contributed to Japanese culture. The Cultural Agency is encouraging organizations to hold culture events.

    The easiest way to get a taste of Japanese culture is through travel. In Japan there is an abundance of natural beauty and a great many places of historical interest which tourists can enjoy all year round. Canadian writer Andrea MORI says, “I like the fact that there are so many seemingly contradictory aspects to the country, such as traditional versus modern, or urban versus rural, that manage to coexist in relative harmony.

    Thus, Japan has now stepped up to move from being an “economic power” to becoming a “cultural power.” Fortunately Japan has abundant cultural recourses. Japanese culture has the potential to make the country’s revival possible.















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  • 緑豊かな城下町――会津若松

    [From October Issue 2011]


    Located in the west of Fukushima Prefecture, Aizuwakamatsu City has long thrived as a castle town. It’s famous for its history and rich nature. Situated in the Aizu Basin, the area has snowy winters and very hot summers. The east of the city faces Lake Inawashiro, the fourth largest lake in Japan, and rising high in the north is the majestic Bandai San (Mount Bandai).

    When they hear the name “Aizuwakamatsu,” many Japanese will think about the Byakkotai (White Tiger Force), a group of teenage samurai recruited by the Aizu domain. The Byakkotai fought in the Boshin War (1868~1869) to maintain the Tokugawa Shogunate. Nineteen of the group’s members committed suicide on Iimori Hill in order to remain loyal to their masters and families whom they believed to be dead. Halfway up Iimori Hill, the graves of the 19 Byakkotai are visited by many people. This sad story is famous and there have been many TV dramas based on it.

    To visit historic sites related to the Byakkotai and other sightseeing spots, it’s convenient to use sightseeing buses such as the “Haikara San” and “Akabei.” Running every 30 minutes, these buses stop at the major tourist spots in the city. A one-day pass for them is available for 500 yen. It’s fun to travel around the city on one of these colorful buses.

    The first spot to visit on the sightseeing bus is Tsuruga Castle in the center of town. The castle was renovated last year and its roof tiles were replaced with red ones similar to those used at the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Now visitors can see what the castle used to look like in those days. Tsuruga Castle is also where many people come to see cherry blossoms when they’re in season.

    Every autumn, the Aizu Festival is held. The main event is the Aizu domain procession, where 500 people dressed up as past lords of the domain or as Tokugawa Shogunate period style samurai parade through the city. During this period, the whole city is energized by the festival which brings the history of Aizu to life.

    One of the charms of sightseeing around the city is to look at the old fashioned buildings. There remain a number of buildings from the Edo to Taisho periods in Aizuwakamatsu City. Constructed in a mixture of Japanese and Western styles, these buildings are used as restaurants, general stores and other establishments. Especially popular among them are unique cafés. These rows of buildings are found on Nanokamachi and Noguchi Hideyo Seishun Streets, to the south of JR Aizuwakamatsu Station.

    Sazaedo Hall, located halfway up Iimori Hill, is recommended for those with an interest in unique buildings. At 16.5 meters tall, it’s a small building, but its interior structure is quite unusual. From the entrance you climb up in a spiral along a narrow hallway that winds round at an angle of 270 degrees. Instead of making a U-turn at the top, you wind back down another hallway at an angle of 270 degrees. Before you know it, you arrive back at an exit next to the entrance.

    The Sazaedo Hall was built in 1796. Originally a Buddhist temple, it housed statues of Kannon (the Goddess of Mercy) from 33 temples in Western Japan. Just by entering Sazaedo Hall, visitors here were able to simulate the experience of making a pilgrimage to the Kannon statues at those 33 temples. The Kannon statues were removed from the hall in the Meiji period. As one of the very few wooden buildings in Japan with a double-spiral structure, in 1995 Sazaedo Hall was designated an important national cultural property.

    The charms of Aizuwakamatsu City lie not just with its historic buildings and quaint landscape. The food produced by the fertile Aizu Basin is another attractive feature of the city. Aizuwakamatsu is blessed with an abundance of clear groundwater; sake and soba (noodles) are made using this high-quality water. The local climate’s extremes of temperature have also earned the area quite a reputation.

    Since Aizuwakamatu City is in an inland area removed from the ocean, a number of its traditional dishes contain dried seafood. Kozuyu is a traditional dish often served on festive occasions consisting of a soup made from dried scallops with vegetables and ofu (dried wheat gluten) added to it. In recent years, original local specialities, such as “sauce katsudon,” (a pork cutlet on a bed of rice topped off with a special sauce), and “curry yakisoba,” (stir-fried noodles with curry on top), have been gaining popularity.

    It’s also a good idea to go on a short trip from Aizuwakamatsu City to Lake Inawashiro, which takes 30 minutes on the JR Banetsusai Line. Lake Inawashiro is a place where you can play various outdoor sports in summer or watch white swans in winter, thereby enjoying Aizu’s natural beauty all year around. Another popular tourist spot in the town of Inawashiro is a memorial hall to honor NOGUCHI Hideyo, a famous bacteriologist whose likeness is printed on 1,000 yen bills.

    North of Mount Bandai stretches a plateau called ura (rear) Bandai, where Goshiki Numa (a cluster of lakes) is located. A 3.6 kilometer hiking trail through the area offers views of ten large and small lakes showing different colors, such as cobalt blue, red and emerald green, depending on the minerals contained within them.

    “The three tears of Aizu,” is an Aizu expression describing the way visitors there typically behave. This expression means: visitors to Aizu first cry over the difficulty of fitting in with the people there, then when they are accepted they are moved to tears by how compassionate the people are, and finally, they shed tears of sadness when they leave the city.

    To get to Aizuwakamatsu City from Tokyo, travel on the Tohoku Shinkansen Line for roughly one hour and 20 minutes to JR Koriyama Station. There, transfer to the JR Banetsusai Line and travel for about one hour and five minutes to Aizuwakamatsu Station. An expressway bus, which takes approximately four hours and 30 minutes, is also available from Shinjuku.

    Photos courtesy by: Aizuwakamatsu City
    Aizuwakamatsu Sightseeing and Product Association
    Inawashiro Town
    Kitashiobara Village

    Text: SHIBATA Rie



















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  • 高級品のイメージを変える、日用品としての漆器


    Have you ever heard the word “urushi”? Urushi (lacquer) is natural paint made of sap extracted from lacquer trees. Wooden objects coated with lacquer are called lacquerware. The fact that in written English some people refer to lacquerware as “japan,” demonstrates lacquerware’s importance as one of Japan’s most treasured artifacts. Lacquerware “wajima-nuri” produced in Ishikawa Prefecture is well-known.

    Born into a family of kijiya (craftspeople who construct the wooden bases) for wajima lacquerware, KIRIMOTO Taiichi, went on to study design at college after graduating from high school. Soon after entering college, Kirimoto was deeply moved by the words of a teacher he held in high regard: “designing is the act of enhancing the quality of people’s lives and making them feel more comfortable.”

    Many people still believe that wajima lacquerware is a luxury item. During the bubble years (the economic bubble of late ‘80s Japan), pieces of makie (a technique for drawing a picture or a pattern in lacquer, sprinkling it with gold and silver powder and then polishing it) furniture that were worth over 10 million yen were sold one after another. “Such a situation is not going to last for long, so we should seize the day,” Kirimoto said to his father. But after his father advised him to devote himself to the work at hand, he instead focused on putting the business on a firm footing.

    Before long, the bubble economy burst and orders for artistic lacquerware plunged. This prompted Kirimoto to start making lacquerware for everyday use as an “urushi design producer.” But in the traditional world of wajima lacquerware, the general practice is that nushiya (those who produce and sell lacquerware) take orders from customers first, and then pass on those orders to kijiya. Some of the nushiya weren’t pleased with Kirimoto’s innovative methods and stopped ordering wooden bases from him. Kirimoto, however, persisted in his belief that, “urushi can make life more comfortable and convenient.”

    Some people say that lacquerware cannot hold hot food and is a pain to take care of. But as long as you don’t pour boiling hot soup into lacquerware or put it in a microwave, there is no problem. All you have to do to take care of lacquerware is wash it in cold or warm water using a sponge with mild detergent. After rinsing it, dry it with a towel. If you discover scratches on your lacquerware after repeated use, you can have it recoated.

    One after another, Kirimoto has been coming up with pieces of lacquerware which go beyond the conventional wajima-nuri, including anti-scratch pasta plates, cell phone straps and business card holders. Under the brand name of Wajima Kirimoto, he opened a shop in Kanazawa in addition to the one in Wajima, and also established an online store. There are shops dealing in Kirimoto’s products throughout Japan, including well-established department stores in Tokyo.

    In 2007, Kirimoto designed and supervised the production of a small hexagonal box (called Boîte Laquée Wajima) for Louis Vuitton. Further proof that Kirimoto’s products have been gaining a global reputation came when the chairman of a global entertainment company, who has a fondness for Japanese food, ordered a variety of anti-scratch lacquerware from the workshop.

    “Since I’m doing things a bit differently, I sometimes find myself isolated within the production area of Wajima,” says Kirimoto. “But when customers embrace my product ideas, it makes me feel so happy and energized.” How can he combine the skills of craftsmen and create lacquerware that consumers will find “necessary in daily life?” Since hearing his mentor’s advice in college, this has been the key issue for Kirimoto.

    Wajimakirimoto・Kirimoto Wooden Studio

    Text: MATSUMOTO Seiya












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  • 地球の平和を守る月のプリンセスたちの物語

    [From October Issue 2011]


    Bishojo Senshi Sailor Moon: Super S Sailor 9 Senshi Shuketsu!
    “Black Dream Hole no Kiseki (Miracle of the Black Dream Hole)”
    (Directed by SHIBATA Hiroki)

    Though originally created by TAKEUCHI Naoko for young girls, in the 90s this cartoon series even became popular with male and adult female readers. The series was then adapted into an animation for TV, a musical and a live action TV drama. Both the cartoon and animation series have been translated into numerous languages and are popular all around the globe.

    Heroine TSUKINO Usagi and her junior high school friends, who in the story transform into sailor-suit wearing warriors in order to fight evil, have formed the model for female protagonists in anime ever since. A key part of Sailor Moon is Usagi’s catchphrase “Tsuki-ni Kawatte Oshioki-yo! (in the name of the moon, I will punish you!).”

    Her fellow Sailors include MIZUNO Ami, HINO Rei, KINO Makoto and AINO Minako who also represent Mercury, Mars and other planets in the solar system. Other characters include Usagi’s boyfriend CHIBA Mamoru who disguises himself as Tuxedo Mask to protect the Sailor Senshi (warriors) and Usagi’s future daughter, Chibiusa who comes to the present from the 30th Century.

    This animated film version was released in 1995. The story begins with Usagi, Chibiusa and others baking cookies together. They make fun of the ugly cookies that Chibiusa makes. Upset, Chibiusa takes her cookies and leaves the house.

    Chibiusa meets a boy named Perle in front of a sweet shop. Perle plays music on his flute, making the cookies in the window display dance. Chibiusa befriends Perle and gives him the cookies she baked when they part. In the meantime, Usagi hears the news that children all around the world are mysteriously going missing in the dead of night.

    That night, led by an alluring melody played on the flute, Chibiusa sleepwalks out of the house. Usagi and the girls follow her to discover all the kidnapped children in the town embarking aboard a huge flying ship. The source of the music is a boy named Poupelin, who is Perle’s older brother. The brothers were ordered by Queen Badiane, who is planning to take over the world, to take the children away to her castle in the sky.

    Queen Badiane is using their “energy” to feed her “Black Dream Hole” that will eventually engulf the whole of the Earth. Perle who started to question Queen Badiane’s orders revolts against his brother Poupelin. Poupelin attacks the girls by manipulating weapons with his flute.

    Usagi and her friends transform into Sailor Senshi. They follow the ship back to the castle with Perle, and then defeat Poupelin and the evil fairies. However, Queen Badiane, protected by a charm, tries to draw all of Chibiusa’s special energy.

    Sailor Moon stands up to Queen Badiane alone, while the other Sailor Senshi channel their powers through her and finally succeed in destroying the queen. Finally Chibiusa is rescued.



    美少女戦士セーラームーン Super S
    セーラー9戦士集結! ブラック・ドリーム・ホールの奇跡










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