• 山頂での芸者体験

    [From October Issue 2014]

    Tenku (Celestial) Geisha Night
    Mt. Mitake in Ome City, Tokyo Prefecture, has been revered since ancient times as the most sacred spot in Kanto. On the summit is the Musashi Mitake Shinto Shrine. Since the middle of the Edo era (17 – 18th centuries), the people of Kanto have been visiting this shrine to the God of farming. It was once common for people to make so-called Mitake moude (shrine visits) in order to receive lucky charms for a bumper harvest.
    The vestiges of this history can be seen near the summit, where shukubo (shrine lodging) are clustered. Even today, you can spend a night in one of them and taste traditional, simple dishes, containing seasonal produce from the mountain and homegrown vegetables. Many people voice such opinions as: “The food was good and I’m glad I had a relaxing time in such a quiet environment.”
    By taking a train, bus, cable car and then continuing on foot, it takes three hours to reach Mt. Mitake from Tokyo. Just 929 meters above sea level, it’s a popular mountain which anyone, from children to seniors, can easily climb. It’s also a treasure house of birds, insects and plants. An oasis within Tokyo Prefecture, here you can enjoy forest walks, visits to the shrine or relaxing at a shukubo.
    Currently, an event called “Tenku (Celestial) Geisha Night” is being held once a month near the summit. There’s little explanation in English, but it’s organized in such a way that non-Japanese can also have a good time. It’s composed of two parts: for the first part geisha dance and play music on a specially made stage in front of the Musashi Mitake Shrine; for the second part guests move to their shukubo’s dining hall where they can play ozashiki (games while drinking) and enjoy music as well as dancing.
    The first part requires no prior reservation. Typically between 100 and 200 people participate. Antonio GUERRERO from Spain had spent the previous night at a shukubo and said excitedly, “This mountain is magnificent because of its tranquility. I enjoyed watching geisha dancing up close.”
    The second part requires a reservation and numbers are limited to 50 people. Guests get fired up playing “omawarisan” (Mr. Policeman) and “toraken” (tiger game) – games based on rock-paper-scissors. American Maggie ROBY who teaches English in Japan said, contentedly, “I joined up after seeing this on a blog. It was so much fun that I want to come back in the near future.” Her friend Bridget Wynne WILLSON also commented, “I really enjoyed myself. It’s my first time at a shukubo, so I’m looking forward to my stay tonight.”
    BABA Yoshihiko is vice president of Mt. Mitake Commerce Association which organizes the event. He says, enthusiastically, “Through such events, we’d like to demonstrate the appeal of Mt. Mitake’s culture to foreign tourists.” The event will be held until December of this year. There’s no charge.
    Tenku (Celestial) Geisha Night
    Text: KONO Yu[2014年10月号掲載記事]


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  • 「枡」の新しい役割を探して

    [From October Issue 2014]

    Masukoubou Masuya
    “Sake comes in a one ‘shou’ bottle.” “Boil two ‘gou’ of rice.” ‘Shou’ and ‘gou’ are both units for measuring volume. These units are measured in a special container made from Japanese cypress called a “masu.” Japan used to use shou and gou for measuring units, but nowadays liters and kilograms are mostly used. Masu are used more often as cups for drinking sake, rather than as measuring utensils. And even this (way of using them) isn’t very common.
    OHASHI Hiroyuki, the third generation director of Ohashi Ryoki (Ogaki City, Gifu Prefecture), is trying to find new uses for his masu. Masu have been familiar objects to Ohashi since childhood, but upon graduating from college, he joined IBM and his life took a completely different course. However, when he went home at the age of 27 to announce his engagement to his parents, they asked him to take over the family business. Two years later he quit his job and took over the business, initially with little enthusiasm.
    He changed his mind when he took a look at their accounts. “The sales figures were about half of what I’d heard from my parents when I was in junior high school. I was so alarmed that I made the round of our customers across Japan.” In four years, sales rose back up to 80% of what they once were. Yet, around the same time, he started feeling that his sales efforts weren’t making much difference anymore. “I began to understand that if we continued to sell cheap we couldn’t expand.” That was the second time warning bells went off.
    So he began to wonder if he could create something new by improving his masu. At the same time, he tried to satisfy all of his customer’s requests. He soon secured a large order. It was a huge opportunity, but the quantity was such that he failed to handle it properly and ended up delivering a large amount of defective products. “That was a huge failure. Since then, I’ve decided never to take on any work we can’t deal with.” Adopting a policy of selling only quality handmade products, he managed to create different models of masu by producing a variety of prototypes.
    To sell these items, in 2005 he opened the factory store “Masukoubou Masuya” on his factory site. By offering unusual products – storage cases for knickknacks with synthetic marble lids, triangular sake cups, different-sized masu for easily measuring ingredients for bagels or buns with a bean-jam filling – more people took an interest in masu itself and the sales of traditional masu also increased.
    Ohashi is enthusiastic about overseas marketing. In order to do this, rather than advocate that they are used in the same way as they are in Japan, he intends to suggest different uses of masu to suit different lifestyles. “Should we market masu with additional features or create something entirely new? It’s hard work to come up with ideas, but I wouldn’t be happy if our products were only used for a short time.” At a trade fair in New York, he showcased them as containers for seasonings, including sugar, and also as utensils for measuring ounces.
    Masu have been used for 1,300 years since the Nara era (8th century). Ohashi describes the appeal: “Its story has been cultivated by its long history. It’s possible to sense the smell and warmth of Japanese cypress. It also has a complete, simple beauty.” His newly purposed masu have inherited those characteristics.
    Masukoubou Masuya
    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年10月号掲載記事]


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  • 紙のように薄い老眼鏡

    [From October Issue 2014]

    Nishimura Precision Co., Ltd.
    As the name suggests, Paper Glass are quite literally paper thin reading glasses. They can be folded flat to a thickness of two millimeters. If you open them out, the lenses tilt downward to help you read the text before you. The temple arms that fit over the ear curve gently round to match the shape of the head. These portable and beautifully designed reading glasses were created in 2012 and won a special award at the Good Design Awards in 2013.
    SAITO Rikito, PR staff member for the sales company Nishimura Precision Co., Ltd. cries out delightedly, “Until then, we were taking two to three months to produce a batch of 100 pairs. Since the award, this has risen to 6,000 a month.” From this it’s possible to deduce that a lot of people were waiting expectantly for them.
    Paper Glass are made by Nishimura Co., Ltd. in Sabae City, Fukui Prefecture. Sabae City produces 90% of Japan’s eyeglasses and has a 20% share of the world market for eyeglasses. Nishimura was once a manufacturer of screws and hinges for eyeglasses. However, in the beginning of the nineties, they started losing work to China. Because of this, in addition to manufacturing glasses, they began taking metalworking contracts to make the best use of the technology they’d developed as a manufacturer of other metal parts.
    At the start of the millennium, they received a tricky commission to produce robust reading glasses which are easy to carry and stylish. Through trial and error, they came up with a way to fix the hinges on the frame at a diagonal angle. With all the requirements met and the hinges installed at this angle, the lenses naturally tilted forwards when worn. This is ideal for reading and for peering over the lens to view objects further away. It dispenses with the need to constantly put on and take off your glasses. The company has patented this technology.
    Nishimura had never produced a complete pair of eyeglasses itself. The company launched its own brand when another company in Sabae City taught them the basic knowhow required to produce a pair of spectacles. In order to develop new sales channels, the decision was made to sell the glasses on the company’s own website.
    The advantage of online sales is that user feedback directly reaches the company. Taking these opinions into consideration, minor changes are occasionally made. For example, the frame width has been adjusted. Although all Paper Glass were designed as one-size-fits-all models for both men and women, some female users commented, “They are so wide that they fall off.” In answer to those complaints, the models were redesigned to fit women’s faces.
    “Elderly ladies in particular have told us that ‘you’ve made reading glasses that I can finally use outside my home.’ Some say they didn’t even feel like going out because they didn’t want to wear reading glasses in front of others,” says Saito.
    If all you want is to be able to see, it’s even possible to buy glasses at 100-yen shops. Paper Glass provides extensive customer service: different strength lenses for each glass are available and repairs are basically free. Paper Glass spectacles have completely revamped the image of reading glasses.
    Paper Glass
    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年10月号掲載記事]


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  • 天丼てんや

    [From October Issue 2014]

    This store specializes in tempura and tendon (a bowl of rice topped with tempura and covered in a salty-sweet sauce). Freshly fried and reasonably priced tempura can be eaten here. There are 145 stores around the capital and five overseas stores. The tempura oil used is 100% vegetable oil which has zero cholesterol. Rice, soba (thin buckwheat noodles), or udon (thick wheat noodles), can be added to a set meal for an additional fee. Takeaway is available as well.

    [No. 1] Tendon (regular portion) 500 yen

    Signature dish with prawn, squid, sand borer (a kind of whiting fish), pumpkin, and kidney beans tempura topping. Unchanged since the business was established 26 years ago, this is the most popular item on the menu.

    [No. 2] The Original All-Star Tendon (regular portion) 720 yen

    Rice bowl topped with prawn, large squid, scallop, maitake mushroom, lotus root, and eggplant tempura. This combination of fish and vegetable tempura is popular among their tempura.

    [No. 3] Vegetable Tendon (regular portion) 500 yen

    This tempura bowl has six kinds of vegetable tempura toppings (eggplant, maitake mushrooms, lotus root, sweet potato, pumpkin, and kidney beans). It’s possible to enjoy the changing colors and textures of the vegetables according to the season.
    All prices include sales tax.
    TEMPURA TENDON TENYA[2014年10月号掲載記事]


    【No.1】天丼(並盛) 500円


    【No.2】元祖オールスター天丼(並盛) 720円


    【No.3】野菜天丼(並盛) 500円



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  • 途上国の子どもの未来をひらくランドセル

    [From October Issue 2014]

    Many women in developing countries still die from pregnancy and childbirth. Hoping to decrease the numbers of these victims, the Japanese Organization for International Cooperation in Family Planning (JOICFP) began its activities in 1968. The main focus of its efforts involves giving women from developing countries the opportunity to have health checkups and providing them with health advice. For the past ten years, the organization has been actively engaged in the “Omoide no Randoseru Gift” (Memorial Backpack Gift) project. For this project, school supplies and used randoseru (school backpacks) are sent to children in Afghanistan.
    Peculiar to Japan, randoseru are leather bags used by primary schoolchildren on their school commute. Shaped like a box, these are carried on the back. Back when they were conceived of in the Meiji era (19 – 20th centuries) only children from affluent families possessed them. Nowadays, nearly 100% of children have one. Typically given by parents or grandparents upon enrollment, when the child leaves primary school the randoseru’s six year duty is over.
    The randoseru are sent so that more Afghan children can receive an education. In addition to providing concrete support, they create an environment conducive to education. Under the Taliban regime – which collapsed 13 years ago – women were forbidden to receive an education. There are still a lot of parents who think that education is not necessary for girls. In addition, many poor families rely on child labor to survive.
    “Many women have lost their lives because knowledge about health and hygiene is poor. If they could read and write, they could acquire knowledge that would safeguard their own lives, and could secure their own future,” JOICFP Partnership Promotion Group Program Officer YUYAMA Satoru says.
    “It would be hugely significant if boys and girls made their way to and from school carrying the same items. It may be that if parents who believe that it’s not necessary for girls to go to school see a neighboring girl going to school with a randoseru on her back, their mentality might gradually change. Through study, boys will also be able to protect their families in the future.”
    The unique form of the randoseru also helps students to learn. Due to a shortage of classrooms – many of which were destroyed in the civil war – classes often take place outdoors. In such cases, the box-shaped randoseru can be used as a desk.
    The campaign to collect randoseru is held every year from March to May and this year 18,674 randoseru were collected. However, Yuyama say that it is not yet enough. “In Nangarhar Province where JOICFP distributes randoseru, it’s estimated that approximately 90,000 children enter school each year. It’s believed that the same amount of children are unable to attend school.”
    A randoseru is no ordinary bag. It is crammed with the good wishes of parents and grandparents celebrating a child’s entry to school and packed with the child’s own memories. Yuyama says that it would be nice if, by sending their precious randoseru over, Japanese families begin to think of these Afghan children.
    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年10月号掲載記事]


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  • わけあって安い商品で人気

    [From October Issue 2014]

    Mujirushi Ryohin
    Dried shiitake mushrooms that taste no different even though they’re cracked; recycled memo pads that aren’t pure white but are good enough to use; u-shaped pasta made from spaghetti that has been discarded to create uniform strands; clothing and small items made of purposely un-dyed material that utilizes the cloth’s natural hue. These are all products “Mujirushi Ryohin” planned and developed soon after the company was founded.
    Mujirushi Ryohin was conceived in 1980 with the catchphrase “There’s a Reason It’s Cheap.” Before that, shops were crammed with products that had unnecessary features, had too much decoration and had excessive packaging. Mujirushi Ryohin focused on producing goods stripped of such wasteful excess. Its product line is comprised of such things as clothing, household goods, and food.
    Each Mujirushi Ryohin product needs a good reason to come into being. This reason is outlined on packaging, wrapping paper and price tags. At first, the company was a private brand owned by Seiyu, but in 1989, as Ryohin Keikaku Co.,Ltd., it became an independent enterprise. It’s grown into a global brand that now has 269 stores in Japan, supplies another 116 stores and operates a total of 255 stores outside the country. It operates overseas under the name of MUJI.
    The idea of “no branding, but quality products” is contained within the name Mujirushi Ryohin. For product planning and development, the company therefore places importance on “creating things that are really necessary in everyday life, made in the most functional form.” In order to achieve this, the company strives to source different materials, to cut down on production time and to simplify packaging.
    A characteristic of Mujirushi Ryohin is that customers’ opinions gathered in shops, by phone, by email and on the Internet are taken into account when it comes to product development and the quality of service given. For example, the “Body Fitting Sofa” was developed in answer to those who had commented that “I wish I could buy a sofa, but it would take up too much space in my room, so I’d rather have a big cushion that I could comfortably sink my body into.” It was a big hit and more than 60,000 were sold in the first year and a half.
    Ryohin Keikaku has a number of rules about “things Mujirushi Ryohin shouldn’t do.” These include: “No brand name on products;” “Only sell things designed for Mujirushi Ryohin;” “No use of strong colors on products” and “Never hire celebrities for ads.” This is so employees never forget the essence of what Mujirushi Ryohin is about.
    Inspired by Mujirushi Ryohin, other companies launched successive products with a similar aim. Most have vanished, however. They didn’t last because the attitude to production of these imitation products was based on vague notions. Mujirushi means no brand. But you could say that “Mujirushi” itself is now recognized as a reliable brand.
    Ryohin Keikaku CO., Ltd.
    Text: ITO Koichi/文:伊藤公一













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  • 地域ごとに異なる人の気質に興味

    [From October Issue 2014]

    Eleonora FLISI
    Eleonora FLISI came to Japan from Italy a year ago. She’s been working for the past half a year as a PR representative for a company that manages Italian restaurants and a catering service. Seventy percent of their clientele are Japanese, so she mostly uses Japanese at work. On hearing her speak she sounds as fluent as a native Japanese person, but, she says, smiling awkwardly, “I’m not good at writing. Handwriting is particularly difficult.”
    Eleonora started studying the Japanese language at university. An economics major at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, she chose Japanese for her primary foreign language as the university was well-known for its Chinese, Korean and Japanese programs. “I also studied Chinese, but I chose Japanese because its pronunciation is closer to Italian.”
    During her studies, she twice made use of an exchange program to study abroad at Meiji University. She was surprised at the differences between colleges in Italy and Japan. “Colleges in Italy have neither sport events, nor school festivals. I didn’t have any seminar activities, either.” In those days, she lived in a dormitory and spoke Japanese with her non-Japanese roommate. Even now, she spends some of her days off with friends from those days.
    “I wanted to live abroad while I was still young. I thought Tokyo was safe and easy to live in.” She came back to Japan upon graduating and started life in Tokyo. Even though she had learned enough Japanese in her mother country and had studied twice in Japan, she studied at the Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute for the first six months. “I hardly used any Japanese in my last year in college because I had been concentrating on my graduation thesis. I had forgotten my kanji.”
    She says she finds grammar particularly difficult. When she doesn’t understand something, even after consulting a grammar book, she asks her Japanese friends. “It’s easier to understand because they teach me with example sentences that apply to particular situations.” She has a friend who’s knowledgeable about Italian matters. “She knows what Italians have difficulty understanding, so she fine-tunes her explanations for us.” Her Japanese has improved with help from such friends.
    That said she’s worried she won’t improve her Japanese further. “Starting from zero you make speedy progress. This slows down, however, once you’ve reached a certain level. That’s the stage I’m at right now.” She says she hopes other people studying Japanese in a similar fashion won’t give up.
    Eleonora is interested in food. She likes sashimi and ramen, and often makes yakisoba the way her friend taught her. She of course looks forward to eating delicious food when she travels around Japan. But she has another goal for these trips. “I want to discover differences between Tokyo and the rest of Japan,” she says. This is because she’s under the impression that people’s temperament differs between Tokyo and other regions.
    “I’ve recently been to Osaka. I was taken aback when someone said to me, ‘Where are you from?’ Tokyoites seldom come up to talk to me. Osaka’s citizens are like talkative Italians.” She and her Italian friends compare the lively character of Osaka people to those from Naples and the cool atmosphere in Tokyo to Milan.
    Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute
    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo[2014年10月号掲載記事]


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  • 競技かるたの魅力を広めたまんが

    [From October Issue 2014]

    “Chihayafuru” is the story of a high school girl who becomes passionate about “competitive karuta.” This competition utilizes traditional Hyakunin Isshu playing cards. Selected in the Kamakura era by the court aristocrat FUJIWARA no Teika, a set of Hyakunin Isshu playing cards is a collection of the 100 best waka (Japanese poems) written between the Asuka era (sixth to eighth centuries) and the Kamakura era (twelfth to fourteenth centuries). The set is called Hyakunin (one hundred people) Isshu (one poem) because one poem was chosen from each poet.
    There are two kinds of karuta sets: yomifuda (reading cards) and torifuda (playing cards). Torifuda only have the shimonoku (the second half of the poem) written on them. In competitive karuta, players compete for torifuda. If they can touch a playing card in their opponent’s territory, they can pass a playing card in from their territory to the opponent’s territory. Players compete to eliminate the playing cards in their home territory as fast as possible. It’s a taxing “sport” that requires quick thinking and reactions, since players need to immediately touch the torifuda when the first half of the poem – which is not written on the torifuda – is read out. It is generally played one-on-one but there are also individual and team competitions.
    The story begins when Chihaya, the main character, is in sixth grade. She is proud of her beautiful older sister, for whom she has hopes of one day winning a Japanese beauty pageant. However, Arata, a new student at her school, tells her that this is not a true ambition as she isn’t aspiring for something herself. Arata’s own ambition is to become a top “meijin” (master) of competitive karuta.
    In fact, having won the title of meijin seven times in a row, Arata’s grandfather was an “eisei meijin” (grand master in perpetuity).” Arata has also demonstrated that he’s an able player by winning the national championships each year for his age group from first grade to fifth grade. Inspired by Arata, Chihaya begins to nurse ambitions of becoming queen (top) in the women’s division. She gets her bosom buddy Taichi involved and the three begin to improve on entering the local competitive karuta club. However, after they graduate from elementary school the threesome is broken up when Arata returns to Fukui Prefecture and Taichi enters a private junior high school.
    The story jumps forward four years. Chihaya and Taichi are reunited on entering the same high school. Though the two of them have distanced themselves from karuta during their junior high school years, they start up a karuta club at their high school. Chihaya’s interest in the meaning of these Japanese poems grows. In addition, by strategizing together as a unit, she begins to reflect on what it means to take a card as a team.
    Meanwhile, Chihaya tries to persuade Arata, who had given up competitive karuta, to come back to the karuta world. Because Taichi has taken care of Chihaya since their elementary school days and because Arata becomes aware that Chihaya is a worthy rival, the relationship between the three develops a passionate side.
    Since Hyakunin Isshu is often dealt with in classrooms, most Japanese are familiar with it, but competitive karuta was not so well known. Thanks to this comic, the popularity of competitive karuta has dramatically increased and the numbers of competitors has also increased.
    Text: ICHIMURA Masayo











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