Monday, February 26, 2007

March 3 Girls Day

A slow week.How slow?..When the only thing you recall is how apt the name of the Director of the World Health Organisation's Aids department is........Doctor Kevin de Cock.
His name appeared in a newspaper article about circumcision and HIV prevention.Wonder if he ever gets ribbed about it?

Girls Day
March 3 is the day when Girls Day is celebrated.The festival is known as Hina Matsuri (hina doll festival) or momo no sekku(peach flower festival).On this day parents and families with girls pray for their happines and health.
During the day girls wear kimomos.
Special food is eaten on this day.Among the food eaten is hina arale, a rice cake that has been dried,roasted then sprinkled with sugar and dried again.Hishi mochi are diamond shaped rice cakes which are red,white and green in color and offered along with prayers for the girls health and good fortune.Chirashi zushi (colourful sushi) is also eaten along with sweet rice cakes known as sakura mochi.Ama-sake, a kind of non-alcoholic rice wine is also drank by children on this day.

Special dolls are also displayed in the homes of Japanese girls.The dolls are known as hina ninngjyou.Hina means princess and ninngjyou means doll.The dolls represent a royal family and are displayed on a set of steps.On the top step are the emperor and empress dolls.Below them are dolls representing the royal family's courtiers,On other steps are three dolls holding rice cakes as offerings and below them are five musician dolls holding traditional Japanese instruments.Below the musicians are a further four male dolls and finally on the last step, pieces of furniture.
The custom of displaying dolls,some very elaborate and expensive,dates back to the Edo period.The custom can apparently be traced back to an even earlier one (hina nagashi) where participants put dolls into a boat and floated it down a river to the sea.The theory being,the boat would take all troubles and bad spirits with it.

Cherry KitKats

More eye-catching seasonal confectionery attracted my attention earlier in the week.As well as peach kitkats appearing in my local Lawson convenience store I also spotted these cherry flavoured kitkats.Loosely translated the packet states the kitkats bear the faint scent of cherry and cherry blossoms bringing with it the expectation of Spring.And indeed the wafer like biscuits are encased in a sweet pink cherry chocolate.The cherry kitkats, much like the ephemeral blossoms themselves, only have a short shelf life....

Friday, February 23, 2007

Friday Flash..Cherry Blossom Forecast

Once again cherry blossom season draws near.The Meterological Agency is due to issue its forecast for the blossoms on March 7th.Experts are predicting a later blooming period than usual due to the warmer weather over winter.Cherry blossoms require a period of cold weather to develop and then they bloom in the following warmer temperatures of February and March.It seems from various reports that experts are divided over whether the season will be earlier or later than usual.
Accurate forecasts are essential for tour companies and other sight seeing ventures as well as those cities and towns which hold cherry blossom festivals.
The photo shows some seasonal cherry blossom goods already available such as postage stamps,drinks,cups and cherry candles.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Book Review..Blind Willow,Sleeping Woman

Blind Willow,Sleeping Woman by Haruki Murakami.Published by Harvill Secker.334 pages.Translated by Phillip Gabriel and Jay Rubin.

This is a collection of twenty five short stories which cover the authors career.In the introduction,he explains among other things why he likes writing short stories and the history of the stories included in this book.Some of them later became part of later novels and its interesting to see how for example Man-Eating Cats is incorporated into his novel Sputnik Sweetheart.

The stories again centre on many of his frequent themes and symbols..cats,jazz,strange friendships,chance, a sense of loss and an ability to find the extraordinary in even the most mundane situations and circumstances.
Some stories deal with seeming ordinary events then go "twilight zone".Others are based in such locations as Honolulu,Italy and Greece.Some deal with people,some with animals.One of my favorites dealt with a kidney shaped stone.
I think the best way to enjoy the book is not to plunge straight into it and read it in one or two sittings but rather dip and sample a few stories at a time otherwise the effect of each story and the writing is dissipated and lost.Recommended.

Valentines Day..the aftermath

I had a quiet Valentines Day at work.I received a couple of gifts of giri-chocolate but was disappointed that no students turned up for the two class Valentines Day special I'd planned that night.Not one soul.Probably all working.

To end the week on a sour note, work again made the news headlines.Again for the wrong reasons.From all the reports it appears that the Economy,Trade and Industry Ministry did on-site inspections because Nova allegedly required high cancellation costs from students and provided them with false information about its cancellation policy.Action against the company could include ordering it to suspend activities to solicit new students.
Nova has responded to the government probe by stating it was engaged in no wrongdoing.It will be interesting to see the outcome of the investigation and its effect on the company coming as it does hard on the heels of the arrest of instructors on drug charges earlier in the month.

Robot Museum

Trotted down last Friday to the Robot Museum in Sakae opposite the Mitsukoshi Department Store.Its located in a showroom building formerly occupied by a foreign car firm.
After paying admission you turn left into a display area highlighting new robotic innovations.Currently one can test ride a two wheeled Segway scooter.Provided you first sign a form at the entrance waiving the Museum from any liability should you crash through one of the floor to ceiling windows and bleed to death outside on the footpath trapped under the scooter.

Up the stairs on the second floor you walk through a time-line tracing the development of robots from past to present.Although all the signs and labels are in Japanese you are given a folder which is in English and is very helpful.
As well as a colorful display of old metal wind-up Japanese robot toys there are drawers full of old comics and life size replicas of robots such as Atom Boy and Iron Man 28.Early model Apple Macs and Commodore computers also feature.

The last section on the second floor is a hands on section where various robots and machines are on display.Theres a Hello Kitty toy which speaks in a girlish Japanese accent while you can pick up and hold a robotic seal which makes coo-ing and soothing noises when you pat it.

Leaving this section via the elevator or stairs you exit the museum through the shop on the ground floor which seems to occupy the same total area as the rest of the museum.The shop is filled with robot related goods and toys.Apart from the merchandise of the Museums resident robots Nico and Laugh Rough there is nothing really outstanding or unavailable at other shops.There are tables for children to make their own robots from various Lego and construction kits and a group of them and Mums were busily and noisily engaged in building their creations while I was there.
Admission is a fairly steep 1,300 yen an adult and given whats on display I wonder how the Museum will attract repeat customers.Hopefully the Segways and later features will entice customers.
The Museum website is its in Japanese click on the English download section for more information and interior shots of the Museums displays.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Friday Flash..Robot Museum

The Robot Museum in Central Sakae,Nagoya City opened late last year.The photos show two of the Museum's resident robots.Merchandise is on sale which features both Nico(the blue robot) and the oddly named Laugh Rough,the orange robot.They sit on each side of one of the entrances to the Museum.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Valentines Day...Japanese Style

Valentines Day in Japan has a fairly short history going back to the post war recovery years of the 1950s.Apparently one of the first events was a sale held in 1958 by Isetan Department Store.Customers could by a set of Valentines Day chocolates and a card.Since then celebrating has expanded to the point that it now accounts for about 25 percent of Japans annual chocolate sales.

As with many things though,Valentines Day is given a distinctly Japanese twist.On February 14th Valentines Day has been transformed into a day when women in Japan give chocolates or other kinds of confectionery to men they like.
There are two types of Valentines gifts women can give.
Firstly there is giri-choco a neologism from the Japanese word giri meaning obligation and choco meaning chocolate.Giri-choco is given to bosses and male co-workers.
Secondly there is honmei-choco which is given to boyfriends,husbands and close male colleagues.
But its not all one way traffic.On February 14th women give gifts to men.One month later on White Day,March 14th,men who received chocolate on Valentines Day return the favor and give gifts to women.
White Day is a uniquely "Made in Japan" commerical manufactured day started by a Fukuoka marshmellow maker and the Iwataya Department Store in 1977.Although the day is named for the white marshmellows other gifts such as cookies and chocolates are also becoming popular.
(Reference...N.I.C Calendar February 2007,Wikipedia ).

Friday, February 09, 2007

Friday Flash..Valentines Day Chocolates

Three chocolate animals from The Pink Jungle Edition collection currently on sale for Valentines Day.Most department and convenience stores have shelves heaving with chocolates this year.Judging from what appears to be a wider range to choose from this year the event seems to be growing in popularity with consumers and retailers alike.

Monday, February 05, 2007


The Spring Setsubun or Risshun,the day before the start of Spring is celebrated annually on February 3.
Traditionally many households take part in the custom of mamemaki.The head of the household throws soy beans (mame) inside and outside the home while chanting "Oni wa soto!Fuku wa uchi!".Literally translated as "Demons out,Good Luck enter" the ritual is meant to drive out bad luck and bring good fortune to the household.
Supermarkets and convenience stores sell packs of beans as in the photo above.Devil masks are also offered for sale and are worn by family members who are chased and pelted with beans.
In some shrines and temples bean throwing celebrations also take place on this day.
Another tradition associated with Setsubun is the eating of the same number of beans as your age plus an additional one to ensure good health for the upcoming year.
In some parts of Japan it is also customary to place a grilled sardine fish head and a holly branch near the entrance to your home.The stench of the sardine and the sharpness of the holly leaves is thought to protect ones home from evil spirits.

Finally, special uncut maki-sushi roll( eho-maki) is eaten on this day while one faces the yearly lucky direction.The lucky direction or eho is determined by the Chinese calendar.2007 is the Year of Fire and the Boar with an eho of North by North West.
The eho maki in the photo was some 20 centimeters long and packed with ikura (salmon roe),ama-ebi (sweet shrimp),tamago (sweetened egg) along with cucumber and maguro (tuna).At the princely sum of 1580 yen it wasnt cheap but judging by the number of customers at the local sushi shop it was certainly popular.


Seven English Nova instructors were arrested on suspicion of possessing cocaine and cannabis in November.Among those arrested were instructors from Saitama and Tokyo.The arrests were widely reported across Japan on January 31st in both Japanese and English language newspapers and on the television.Police investigations are continuing...
Obvivously in the competitive language market the financial impact of this incident can only be guessed.Its reputation must also have received a hit.It will be interesting to see the effects upon student numbers as some may not re-sign new contracts while potential students are put off...

Birthing Machines

Health,Labour and Welfare Minister Hakuo Yangisawa is currently embroiled in controversy over a speech he gave on January 28th. He referred to women as "birthing machines" while speaking about the declining birthrate.
He is quoted as saying"The number of women aged between 15 and 50 is fixed.Because the number of birth giving machines and devices is fixed,all we can ask is for them to do their best."
Yangisawa immediately apologised and was admonished by Prime Minister Abe but has said he has no intention of resigning.

In later developments the Opposition parties boycotted the Diet Commitee debate on the supplementary bugdet in an attempt to get him removed.Some female Opposition lawmakers visited the Ministry and demanded his resignation.Others took to the streets and staged public rallies to call for his removal.
To quote Social Democrat Party Leader Mizuho Fukushima "Children are not tools for the nation,nor are women giving birth to children to secure revenue sources for pensions".

Friday, February 02, 2007

Friday Flash..Maki-zushi

Maki-zushi translates as rolled sushi or cut rolls of sushi. A cylindrical piece rolled with the use of a bamboo mat is called a makisu.Maki-sushi are generally wrapped in a sheet of dried dark green seaweed or nori.
It is customary to eat uncut maki-sushi on Setsubun which is the day before the beginning of each new season.Spring Setsubun or Risshun is celebrated annually on February 3 according to the old Lunar calendar.
Apparently you eat maki-zushi facing each years lucky direction which is determined by the zodiac sign of the year,in this case the boar.Some maki-zushi packs come with direction charts and often compasses are also on sale.
The practice of eating maki-zushi began in the Kansai region and has spread through Japan largely due to promotions by supermarkets and convenience stores.
The fact that the maki-zushi is uncut and long (the piece in the photo is some 18 centimeters in length) is meant to bestow on those eating it a long life similiar to the belief eating buckwheat toshikoshi soba on New Years Eve will ensure longevity.
As for the pack of soy beans in the front of the photo thats another tradition of Setsubun that I'll explain next week.