• 横綱をめざすエジプト人力士

    [From October Issue 2013]


    Real name: Abdelrahman SHALAN

    “I was very happy when I qualified as a ranking wrestler (sekitori),” says OOSUNAARASHI Kintarou. Oosunaarashi is a sumo wrestler. Sumo is a traditional martial art in Japan. There are about 700 professional sumo wrestlers, but only 8% of them are recognized as sekitori (fully-fledged wrestlers). Oosunaarashi is now 21. He was promoted to juuryou (the second highest division) only two years after making his debut.

    Even though the history of sumo in Japan’s stretches back over 1,000 years, there has never been a wrestler like Oosunaarashi until now. Oosunaarashi is the first Egyptian, the first African and the first Muslim. Moreover, he’s risen through the ranks so quickly that he’s famous enough to be invited to the Japanese Prime Minister’s parties.

    Oosunaarashi was born in 1992 in the Dakahlia Governorate of northern Egypt. His father was a professional soccer player, but because he didn’t like soccer, Oosunaarashi trained as a bodybuilder since childhood.

    When he was 14, he met someone at a bodybuilding gym who was into sumo. He was invited to have a go himself. Sumo is not widely practiced in Egypt. There are only about 50 enthusiasts. “Two overweight men were pushing each other; they looked just like jostling elephants,” says Oosunaarashi candidly.

    Oosunaarashi weighed around 120kg then. He challenged a wrestler who weighed 75kg. He thought he could “win easily,” but lost every time. Shocked, he thought, “What kind of a sport is this?” As soon as he got home he did some research on the Internet. He was impressed when he watched the famous wrestler Takanohana in a bout.


    Oosunaarashi went to the gym the following day and told his trainer, “I want to be a pro wrestler in Japan.” Of course, he wasn’t taken seriously, so he practiced everyday by watching footage on the Internet. As a result he came second place at the Egyptian championships a month later and took first place the next year. He performed exceptionally well at the World Championships, too. However, when he posted that he wanted “to go to Japan to be a sumo wrestler” on a sumo chat site, he was mocked. He wrote letters to people involved in sumo in Japan, too, but got few answers.

    However, his enthusiasm was eventually recognized, and he was able to go to Japan in September 2011. Since it was soon after the Great East Japan Earthquake, his mother was vehemently opposed to the idea. Oosunaarashi was able to come to Japan by persuading her that, “I’ve been dreaming of going to Japan for five whole years. I’ll do my best for you, too.”

    There are considerable cultural differences between Japan and Egypt. For example, when a problem occurs, Egyptians make their opinions known, whereas Japanese immediately apologize. Men walk hand in hand in Egypt, but not in Japan. Japanese are used to the sight of near-naked wrestlers, but Egyptians are uncomfortable with this. This is because, according to Islamic doctrine, men must also cover their midriffs.

    “In Egypt, everyone wore sport shorts under their loincloths. I was ashamed, too, at first, but I soon began to joke about it. Mawashi (loincloth) means cow in Arabic.” Oosunaarashi says bellowing like a cow. “I’m already used to it. This is my formal attire now,” he laughs.

    Oosunaarashi is a positive person, but he often experiences culture shock. “Egypt and Japan are worlds apart. Moreover, the culture of sumo isn’t exactly the culture of Japan.” Sumo has a strict hierarchy with elders giving orders to their juniors. Newcomers can’t come and go as they please because they have to do chores like cleaning, laundry and dishwashing. Such customs in sumo seem quite conservative even to Japanese eyes.

    “When I was new, I lived in a room for six and did a lot of chores,” says Oosunaarashi. In sumo, there are other peculiar customs, such as being given a wrestling name like “Oosunaarashi Kintarou,” having an old samurai hairstyle, and wearing a kimono as part of your everyday routine. There are unique words like “heya” which means a stable for sumo wrestlers.


    Right: master, OOTAKE Tadahiro


    Even Japanese quit if they can’t adapt to the world of sumo. “Quite honestly, I haven’t overcome my culture shock yet. The food, the people and the culture are all really different. I encounter problems every day. I’m learning Japanese by listening to others talking around me, but I can’t speak well yet,” he says with a sad look on his face. “But I’m training hard every day and studying the culture. All I can do is my best,” he says.

    In the world of sumo, sekitori wrestlers get special treatment. They are allowed to wear high quality kimono and have someone to look after them. They also customarily perform a ceremony before each bout in a spectacular apron-like loincloth. “I felt good, but I was nervous.” Non-ranking wrestlers only get six payments a year of 70,000 to 150,000 yen each. Ranking wrestlers (sekitori) get more than a million yen a month.

    But Oosunaarashi says, “Money isn’t everything. You can’t buy health with money.” During sumo bouts wrestlers shove each other violently and quite a few get injured. “My mother tells me ‘You don’t have to buy anything to bring back from Japan. Just stay well.’ It’s a great thing being a ranking wrestler, but it’s also tough. I feel I have a duty to remain in the sekitori (above juuryou division).”

    During Ramadan, Oosunaarashi won despite not having eaten anything since the morning. Although Islamic diet and customs are often controversial, he swears that, “Religion isn’t a barrier. I haven’t been a victim of any prejudice, either. There’s pressure from being in the spotlight, but I try not to think about it too much.” Oosunaarashi’s dream is to become yokozuna (champion). “My idol is Takanohana. He’s a man with a good heart. I too would like to be a wrestler loved by family and friends, who everyone is proud of.”

    In cooperation with: Embassy of Egypt Tourism Office
    Nihon Sumo Kyokai

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo
    Photos: HAMANO Yutaka























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  • 新しいイメージのモダンな神社

    [From October Issue 2013]


    When you mention Shinto shrines, an image of old looking wooden buildings sitting in spacious grounds comes to mind. However, these days more and more stylish shrines can be found all over Japan. More and more shrines architecturally differ from the traditional model, for example, there are shrines with modern designs that look just like hotels.

    The Akagi Shrine is in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. Due to wear and tear, it was replaced between 2009 and 2010. KUMA Kengo devised the design. Kuma is also known for designing the new version of the Kabuki-za Theatre, which was constructed this year. He put himself forward to oversee the project because his nephew and niece were going to a kindergarten that stood on the grounds of the shrine. The main building is glass fronted and there’s an Italian-style cafe on the grounds.

    “It is a modern design, but the shape of the old building has been preserved. Between the Edo era (17-19 centuries) and the prewar years, there used to be a teahouse in the grounds for visitors to relax in, we’ve revived this as a cafe. It looks modern, but it’s based on the old design. The design has attracted increasing numbers of foreign and young visitors,” says KAZEYAMA Hideo, the chief priest of the Akagi Shrine.

    A flea market called “Akagi Marche” is held every month in its grounds. With stalls selling handmade goods, china, and confectionery, this flea market is mostly popular with young women and is one of the reasons why the number of visitors has increased.


    Some shrines are housed in office blocks. Among these is Yatsumitake Shrine in Nakano Ward, Tokyo. A branch of a sect that is based in Yamanashi Prefecture, this shrine was built in an office block and is so small that was impossible to install an altar.

    “By using marble rather than woods such as cypress, we improved the acoustics for gagaku (a traditional form of Japanese music) and norito (chanted Shinto prayers to obtain divine protection). I’ve been told by other chief priests that it ought to be a template for big city shrines. It’s been featured with more and more frequency in magazines aimed at women, like “Hanako,” as a power spot (site with powerful mystical energies),” chief priest YAMAMOTO Yukinori says with a smile.

    As many buildings fall into disrepair, opportunities to remodel or totally redesign shrines have increased. This has motivated people who previously had little interest in shrines to visit them. In the future, the number of these sophisticated, modern shrines may increase within Tokyo.

    Akagi Shrine
    Yatsumitake Shrine

    Text: TSUCHIYA Emi















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  • クリーンと省エネを両立させた地下工場

    [From October Issue 2013]


    Many products around us are made of parts which are shaped or bored metal and resin. A car, for example, is assembled from 30,000 parts made this way. Mobile phones and digital cameras, too, contain many precision parts. Machines that make parts for such products are called “machine tools.”

    Yamazaki Mazak Corporation of Oguchi Town, Aichi Prefecture (President YAMAZAKI Tomohisa) is one of the world’s most prominent manufacturers in this field. In addition to other machine tools, they also make “laser processing machines” that cut and bore through iron plate or steel with heat from a laser. This contains a mechanism that amplifies and reflects the laser’s strong beams through lenses and mirrors, onto parts to be processed.

    For a laser beam machine to do precise work, it’s absolutely necessary for the lenses and mirrors to be clean. Dust and impurities contained in the air pose a threat, potentially having a negative effect on performance. So, to produce laser processing machines more rapidly, the company built a special underground factory in 2008. In the factory’s clean hermetic environment, lenses and mirrors are not adversely affected by dust or other contaminants in the air.

    The factory was built in a hilly area. Buried underground at a depth of 17 meters, the building is two stories high in some parts, covering a total area of 10,000 square meters. One of the company directors was inspired to build an underground factory when he visited an underground facility in the former Soviet Union where a metric standard instrument was kept. Spokesman TOMITA Kazuhiko says, “I don’t think there’s another underground factory of this scale anywhere in the world.”

    A hygienic environment is the foremost advantage to building a factory underground. Compared to a factory build above ground, the quantity of dust has been reduced to 1/20. The second advantage is that with a year round subterranean temperature of 16-18℃, the temperature is naturally regulated. By pumping air into the factory from above ground and circulating it through its inner walls, in summer temperatures reach 28℃ at their highest and in winter 18℃ at their lowest.

    The heat emitted from machines undergoing testing on the assembly line is expelled through concrete tubes crisscrossing the floor. That heat is used for internal heating in wintertime. The factory contains no large air conditioning system. But since the temperature is kept within a certain range, the company saves about 90% on annual air-conditioning costs for the factory.

    Other advantages include: “the aboveground space is available for practical use” and “minimal vibrations from cars and railways.” Because of these original features, the factory won the “Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism’s Land Utilization Model Grand Prix” in 2008 and the “Nikkei Earth Environment Technology Award/Production Environment Special Award” in 2009. More underground factories, based on this design, may be built all over Japan in the future.

    Yamazaki Mazak Corporation

    Text: ITO Koichi













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  • 佐賀県――豊富なやきものと遺跡の地

    [From October Issue 2013]


    Saga Prefecture is located in the northern part of the Kyushu region. The Genkai Sea to the north in the Sea of Japan is popular for farming wakame seaweed and abalone. Nori (dried seaweed) is found to the south in the Ariake Sea, which is the number one area of production in Japan, both in quantity and quality. Since ancient times this area has had strong ties with the Asian continent, and there are many places and crafts that reflect that history.

    Saga is known for pottery such as Imari ware and Arita ware. Generally, this kind of porcelain has a luxurious image, but Arita ware is an everyday item for locals, some of whom even use it as a container for school lunches. Pottery festivals and fairs are held throughout the year, and a number of places offer opportunities to experience the art of ceramics.

    In order to prevent trade secrets from being stolen, top quality Imari ware was made at Hiyo no Sato Okawachi-yama (The Village of the Secret Kilns Mt. Okawachi), in Imari City. There, checkpoints and artisan’s homes have been faithfully reproduced. There, too, is Meotoshi Tower, where ceramic wind chimes make beautiful music, as well as Nabeshima Hanyo Park.

    Every year between April 29 and May 5, pottery enthusiasts from around the country visit the Arita Pottery Fair held in Arita-cho. It’s possible to buy a wide variety of pottery, from everyday items to top-of-the-line porcelain, from the 550 stores set out side by side across roughly 4.5 kilometers. At Arita Hall, beautiful puppets made of pottery perform local legends. In addition, a pottery theme park and art museum can also be found in the town.

    Saga’s most famous festival, The “Karatsu Kunchi,” is well-known throughout Japan. It’s an autumn festival, held annually between November 2 and 4 by Karatsu Shrine. Participants yell out “enya enya” as they march around the city of Karatsu, holding up fourteen portable shrines called “hikiyama.” The city’s symbol, Karatsu Castle, is also known as Maizuru Castle for its resemblance to a fluttering crane (maizuru). Because it was built facing the ocean, one can also enjoy such sights as the Niji no Matsubara or “Rainbow Pine Grove.”


    Karatsu Kunchi


    Niji no Matsubara is a forest of roughly a million pines approximately five kilometers long. It’s a popular destination for yacht and windsurfing enthusiasts. Those who enjoy hang gliding, paragliding and other aerial sports visit Mount Kagami, located behind Matsubara. This area is part of Genkai Quasi-National Park.

    Described as “art crafted by nature,” one of the highlights at the park is Nanatsugama Sea Caves. The caves have been carved out over centuries by the rough waves of the Genkai-nada. The mouth of the largest cave is three meters tall and goes back nearly 110 meters. You can view the caves up close by taking a pleasure cruise from Yobuko Harbor. Above the Nanatsugama Sea Caves is a meadow with a promenade and an observation deck for sightseers.

    Straddling Kanzaki City and the town of Yoshinogari is Yoshinogari Historical Park, which is worth a visit even if you’re not a history buff. The Yoshinogari archaeological site dates from approximately the 5th century B.C. to the 3rd century A.D. and has been designated as one of the country’s “Special Historical Landmarks.” In order to preserve valuable cultural assets, it was opened to the public in 2001 as Japan’s second national historical park. Covering an area of 84.7 hectares, there is an Exhibition Hall inside the park that houses many reconstructions based on artifacts found at the site including the sanctum (the most important area where politics and rituals were took place), dugout dwellings, watchtowers, and the natural scenery of the period.

    The ebb and flow of the tide along the Ariake Sea, in the southern part of the prefecture, is very pronounced, rising and falling a full six meters each cycle. Mudskippers and other rare creatures inhabit this area. If you visit the observation deck overlooking the Ariake Sea around November, you can view large red fields of shichimensou – a plant that grows only in salty environments.

    From spring to autumn one can experience this area’s tidal flats. The Kashima Gatalympic (tidal flat races) is held every year from the end of May to the beginning of June. Unique games are played, including “Gata-chari,” in which bicycles traverse a narrow plank laid out along the tidal flats. During the tug of war, the harder players pull, the more they sink and get stuck in the mud, much to the amusement of the spectators.


    Kashima Gatalympic


    Kashima City is the home of Yutoku Inari Shrine, one of Japan’s three largest Inari shrines. Entirely lacquered in vermilion, the shrine contrasts beautifully with the green summertime mountains behind it. The shrine attracts millions of visitors every year who pay homage to a deity thought to promote business success and traffic safety. Famous for its tsutsuji flowers, right next to the shrine is Higashiyama Park.

    People from all over the world come to visit every autumn for the Saga International Balloon Fiesta. This is an international competition in which over one hundred hot air balloons take flight above the Saga Plain. Attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors, various events are held the banks of the Kasegawa River and around the area.


    Saga International Balloon Fiesta


    Saga’s trademark confectionary is youkan (boiled sweet beans solidified with gelatin or kuzu) and the prefecture consumes the largest amount of it in Japan. As a high-grade Japanese beef, Saga beef has many fans all over the country. With the open sea to both the north and the south, fresh seafood is readily available. Highway 207, running alongside the Ariake Sea, is called “Kaki-yaki Kaido” (grilled oyster coastal road), and from November kakigoya (oyster huts) line the road. You can enjoy barbequed seafood right along the coast.

    A popular food at festivals or celebrations is suko-zushi, a traditional dish dating back 500 years. Local dishes of Saga City include Sicilian rice: rice topped with beef and onions stir-fried with a salty-sweet sauce, garnished with vegetables such as tomatoes, and sprinkled with mayonnaise.

    There are many hot springs in Saga; as evidenced by an anecdote about a hot spring bubbling up when someone was digging a well. Among these, Takeo Hot Spring and Ureshino Hot Spring have a long history. Ureshino Hot Spring is said to be one of Japan’s three great hot springs for promoting beautiful skin. Meltingly soft tofu in a tasty soup, onsen yudofu (tofu boiled in a hot spring) is a tasty dish that utilizes hot water from this spring. At Ganso Ninja-mura Ureshino-onsen Hizen Yume-kaido (Original Ninja Village Ureshino Hot Spring Hizen Dream Road), you can enjoy a spectacular ninja show and get an opportunity to throw a shuriken, or ninja star, (a kind of weapon).

    It takes one hour and 45 minutes to fly from Haneda Airport in Tokyo to Saga Airport. You can also take a bullet train from JR Tokyo Station to Hakata Station in about five hours. After that, it takes 40 minutes to Saga by express train and one hour and 20 minutes to Karatsu. You can obtain tourist information and discount coupons from “SAGAPP!” (available in Japanese), a free smartphone app.

    The Saga Sightseeing Information




















    井戸を掘っていたら温泉がわきだしたというエピソードがあるほど、佐賀にはたくさんの温泉地があります。なかでも武雄温泉と嬉野温泉は長い歴史があります。嬉野温泉は「日本三大美肌の湯」といわれています。この温泉のお湯を使った「温泉湯どうふ」は、とうふがとろけるようにやわらかく、スープもおいしいので人気です。また、「元祖忍者村 嬉野温泉肥前夢街道」では迫力ある忍者ショーを楽しんだり、手裏剣(武器の一つ)投げなどの体験ができます。


    一般社団法人 佐賀県観光連盟

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  • 性同一性障害者に希望を与える性転換者

    [From October Issue 2013]


    INOUE Kento,
    Representative of G-pit Networks

    It is believed that currently approximately 7% of the population of Japan belongs to a sexual minority. These people are also referred to as LGBT: L stands for lesbian, G stands for gay, B stands for bisexual, and T for transgender.

    However, there are many troubled people who are not able to be open about being LGBT. Particularly of concern are transgender people: women by birth who identify themselves mentally as men, or men by birth who identify themselves mentally as women. At G-pit Networks, an organization that provides support for these people, approximately 170 people per month come in for a consultation. Through his blog and other mediums, their representative, INOUE Kento, organizes mixers twice a month.

    Inoue says, “Everyone is afraid to let it be known that they feel uncomfortable in their own bodies. Things get lively when they are able to exchange opinions with others who suffer from the same disorder.” G-pit also offers a service to introduce those suffering from gender identity disorder who wish to undergo a sex change to Thai specialists. The reason why Inoue enthusiastically tackles this problem is because he has suffered from gender identity disorder himself.

    Inoue explains, “From around the age of four, I hated wearing red clothes and skirts. When I was in high school I had a crush on a girl, and everyone around me thought I was homosexual. It was tough not being able to talk about it with my parents.” After consulting a doctor, he was diagnosed with gender identity disorder.

    At the age of 24, in order to become a man, he had an operation in Thailand to remove his breasts and uterus. He chose Thailand because people there are tolerant and do not have any prejudices against transgender people. Another factor was the low cost of the operation and the advanced medical technology there. The operation was carried out without complications, and Inoue’s body became that of a man’s. After this he fell in love with a Thai woman and one day went to her apartment for the first time.

    She thought Inoue was a normal man. Although he had become a man, Inoue couldn’t give her a child. He had to tell her this. She couldn’t understand either English or Japanese. Thai was their only means of communication, but Inoue only had basic Thai. When his girlfriend finally understood what he was trying to say, she was so surprised that she dropped the plate she was holding.

    Then, using a dictionary, Inoue desperately explained how much he loved her until she finally understood. In fact, she had a secret. She had lied about her age and was actually a single mom with a child. Overcoming these obstacles, the two got married. In 2004, a special law was introduced, allowing a person with gender identity disorder who has undergone a sex change operation to change their name in the family register and to get married.

    Approximately 3,500 Japanese people have undergone sex change operations, and approximately 70% of these operations were from female to male. People who have had a sex change hope to have families and children. In order to do this they consider fostering or adopting. Inoue is open about his own experiences and, by helping troubled people, broadens the understanding of the general public.

    G-pit Networks













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  • 獣医を目指す学生たちのゆかいな日常を描く

    [From October Issue 2013]


    Doubutsu no Oishasan (The Animal Doctor)

    “Doubutsu no Oishasan” (The Animal Doctor) is a manga for girls serialized from 1987 to 1993 in the magazine “Hana to Yume.” A comical portrait of the lives of students studying in veterinary school, it was a big hit. The action takes place in the veterinary department of H University, Sapporo City, Hokkaido. The main character is NISHINE Masaki – nicknamed Hamuteru. He is a quiet young man who lives with his grandmother, Mike the cat, Hiyo-chan the rooster, a Mongolian gerbil, and Chobi the Siberian husky dog.

    The story begins when Hamuteru and his pet dog Chobi meet for the first time. One night, lost on the grounds of H University, high school student Hamuteru stumbles upon Chobi the puppy. When Chobi’s owner, Professor URUSHIHARA, decides to hand the puppy over to Hamuteru, he makes a strange prediction: “In the future, you will become a vet.”

    Hamuteru, of course, does not believe in the prediction. However he begins to believe that if his pet got sick, “Curing him myself would definitely be quicker and in terms of costs, it would be economical.” He then makes a decision to become a veterinarian. After entering the veterinary department and embarking on his student life, he surrounds himself with unique individuals such as his best friend NIKAIDO who hates mice, and the graduate student HISHINUMA Seiko who does things at her own pace.

    One of the unique aspects of these comics is that it depicts the rarely seen world of the veterinary department. Despite the comedy, the story is moving, being a realistic portrayal of veterinary students; their worries about the future and difficulties with exams.

    Part of the work’s charm is the lively descriptions of the animals that appear one after another. In addition to Hamuteru’s pets, his encounters with horses, cows, pigs, flying squirrels, and various birds are depicted. Siberian husky dogs became popular after this manga became a hit.

    In manga, lines spoken by characters are usually written in so called speech bubbles, but in this series, while dialogue spoken by humans is written inside speech bubbles, animal dialogue is written outside the speech bubbles. This technique gives the reader the sense that animals and humans are actually talking to each other.

    Besides writing this story about a veterinary department, the author SASAKI Noriko has also published detailed and humorous works about restaurants, nurses and newscasters. Adapted into a live action TV drama in 2003, the work was also published in electronic form for the Kindle this year.

    Text: SHIBATA Rie












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  • 学んできた日本文化を体験できた

    [From October Issue 2013]


    Maria REYES

    “As a matter of fact, I was in Japan from the age of four to eight for my father’s job,” says American Maria REYES. Growing up, she began to miss Japan and joined a Japanese culture club in college. “I began to read books on Japanese culture and took up tea ceremony as a hobby.”

    She made a lot of Japanese friends through these club activities. After one of them told her about the International Cross-cultural Committee, an organization that arranges internships in Japan, she applied. “I was in my second year of Japanese language studies, so my speaking ability was limited. My knowledge of the language, however, compared to other applicants, was an advantage.”

    As part of the ICC program, the intern works for two months in Japan and is able to have the experience of going on two trips within the country. The cost, including rent and a 24-hour phone support service, is US$5,500. Maria passed the selection process, but her parents didn’t approve of the idea. Her father had concerns about the cost and whether the program would really be useful for Maria’s studies. Her mother was worried about her safety.

    Maria says, “So I persuaded my father by saying, ‘This is a wonderful opportunity.’ I told my mother that ‘Japan is safe and I’ll have some support.’ My family isn’t rich, but they put up the money in the end, saying, ‘If it’s for Maria…’”

    Maria arrived in Japan on June 25 and settled into a shared house in Ota Ward, Tokyo. The other residents there besides Maria, are two Japanese, one Malaysian and one American. Maria’s bedroom is about 20 square meters in size. The living room and the kitchen are shared. She’s doing her internship at Takaso Inc., a company based in Akihabara with links to the fashion industry. She sometimes goes to their office in Shibuya, too. Her hours are from ten am to four pm.

    “I’ve been lucky,” says Maria. “Some companies only give simple tasks to interns, but I’ve been put in charge of a project. Also, when they learned my major was international marketing, I was asked to ‘Please do a presentation on how this company’s marketing should be done.’”

    “The best thing about this internship is I’m actually using knowledge of Japanese culture I acquired from books,” says Maria. “For example, when I made my presentation, I asked if there were ‘Any questions?’ However, no one said anything. I anticipated this, so I made eye contact with my boss. He then encouraged questions by saying, ‘Does anybody have any questions?’ Then they all began to ask questions.”

    “The difficulty of Japanese is that people don’t voice their opinions. You have to read the atmosphere,” says Maria. “But if you are in trouble, people sense this and come to your rescue. One day four or five people came to my help.” On her days off, she wanders around searching for nice cafes. “Japanese sweets aren’t too sweet and that’s what’s great about them. I love matcha and tea so much that I’m thinking of opening a cafe one day to introduce the custom of tea drinking to the US.”

    International Cross-cultural Committee

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo














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