Stories about Japan

The next olympic sport? Synchronized walking, only in Japan

The video of a 47-year-old tradition at Japan’s Nippon Sports Science University went viral in November last year. ‘Shuudan koudou’, which means ‘Collective Action’, is a unique routine where a group of students put up an amazing display of synchronized walking.

On November 14, 77 students performed before a crowd of 11,000 people at the university’s festivities. Their walking routine was similar to military movement exercises or synchronized marching band movements. But they were far more intricate and precise. Watch the video, and you’ll know just how precise. Seriously, the way they move is simply mind-blowing.

synchronized walking

Prior to the program, the students practiced three days a week, for five months straight. Their training included exercises to get them in shape for the dazzling display. They ended up walking almost 1,200 kilometers during practice (roughly the distance between Paris and Rome).

23-year-old Keiko Suzuki, the captain of the team, said: “People say Japanese youngsters these days lack the ability to work collectively in a group, but we just proved that we don’t.” She also said that the training would give them an edge in their job search. “We all mastered this highly disciplined training and made it our habit to stick to strict rules. I believe this experience will be an asset as we enter into the job market.”

Synchronized movements are embedded deep into Japan’s culture. In Japanese schools, morning assemblies have students standing equidistant from each other. The NSSU group movement is a very popular tradition. It is almost like the western equivalent of cheerleading. The complicated routines have been practiced since 1966, and the very first exhibition by female students happened in 2011.

NSSU is famous for producing Olympic gold medalists, sumo wrestlers, and surprisingly, politicians. Many of its graduates go on to work as Physical Education teachers, trainers and coaches. The annual festival is meant to be a display of the students’ athletic prowess.

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Got hay fever? No fear, the new ‘Pollen Robo’ is here!

For several years, Weather forecaster Weathernews Inc. has deployed a special robot at this time of the year to help Japan’s hay fever sufferers better navigate the pollen season.

The new Pollen Robo designed for this year will be capable of collecting data on not only pollen, but also on PM2.5 particulate matter and yellow sand that blows across the sea from China.

The company is dispatching 1,000 units across the country.

Hay fever sufferers will be able to access the information online in real time, allowing them to know where the levels are highest and plan their days accordingly.

Weathernews said pollen levels started climbing in the Kanto region (the Kanto region is where Tokyo is located)  from late January, and will greatly increase from around mid-February.

The amount of airborne pollen is expected to climb by 10 percent this year from an average year.

The spherical Pollen Robo measures 15 centimeters in diameter and has human facial features such as eyes, nose and a mouth. The eye color also changes according to the amount of pollen it detects.

Weathernews Inc.’s new Pollen Robo will monitor pollen and PM2.5 levels.

Weathernews Inc.’s new Pollen Robo will monitor pollen and PM2.5 levels.

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Dog Castle – The Coolest Dog House in Japan

Japanese love their pets, but some take their love to a whole new level!

Meet Nanami,  a playful Japanese pooch can claim to be the only dog in the world to be living in a regular castle.

Built as a small replica of Japan’s famous Matsumoto Castle, Nanami’s castle stands 2.5 meters tall and features three rooms. At the front is the main hall, where Nanami can just lay on his belly and watch out for the mailman, while at the back he has a sand-floor room, for cooling down during the hot summer days, and a rear room to hide in during thunderstorms.

Located in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, Nanami’s castle took his owner six months to complete, and cost 50,000 yen ($583). While it may not be as old and famous as the real Matsumoto Castle, built in 1504, Nanami can be proud of his new dog castle.

Japanese dog house

Matsumoto castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yukata: not quite a kimono

20131019-112939.jpgThe term ‘yukata’ usually refers to the light cotton dressing gown worn after bathing at Japanese style inns; thereby an item of clothing associated with leisure. After the hot spring waters of the onsen have drawn out the stresses and strains of the day, all that remains is to eat, drink, relax and then crawl into the futon – an action most folk get around to clad in said yukata. More often than not, the yukata presented to or left for guest at ryokan are white with a simple blue print pattern and are worn by both sexes.

A more decorative version of the yukata is worn by women at traditional Summer festivals such as the ‘Bon Odori’ and at firework displays. Here the yukata become something of a fashion item and are worn more like a kimono, with a matching obi sash tied at the back. If you’re lucky enough to visit Japan in the summer, and luckier still to attend a festival, you’ll find that the dazzling array of color created by the fireworks above is almost matched by that at ground level.

Yutaka as the perfect lightweight and relatively cheap souvenir are best purchased in the streets around Asakusa, Taito Ward, in the shadow of the huge Senso-ji Temple. Don’t be afraid to hold them up to see what they look like but don’t actually try them on – bad form!

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The Japanese secret to staying young for longer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wasabi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wasabi, the Japanese condiment which offers a delicious kick to the nasal passages with every bite, has long been embraced in Japan, and more recently other parts of the world. However, aside from accentuating sushi or playing jokes on friends, the pungent plant has been found to provide anti-aging effects in recent years.

 

For those who turn up their noses at the thought of a daily dose of wasabi, you may reconsider when you realize how easy it is to benefit from the sulfinyl found in it. That’s right: it keeps you pretty for longer!

 

 Sulfinyl

 

A lot of what goes on inside of a wasabi plant is accredited to a sulfur/oxygen bond called sulfinyl. When the plant is damaged the sulfinyl is combined with other molecules to make 6-methylthiohexyl isothiocyanate (6-MSITC). Stay with us. In short, this chemical group helps to give wasabi its unique taste, which is believed to be a natural pest repellent.

 

Studies are also finding that the 6-MSITC created by wasabi can lower the reactive oxygen in the body. Reactive oxygen is said to be related to cancers and the weakening of the body due to age. Other research is suggesting that wasabi’s unique sulfinyl compounds are also good for blood circulation and reflexes.

 

 Know your wasabi

 

So we know that wasabi is great but first you have to make sure you’re actually eating real Japanese wasabi. The wasabia japonica plant is a little tricky to farm and yields don’t tend to meet the demand for it. As a result much of the wasabi sold and served is actually mixed with horseradish known as seiyo wasabi (Western Wasabi) in Japan.

 

Although the taste is good, horseradish doesn’t have the same 6-MSITC health benefits of its Japanese cousin. So read the label before buying!

Wasabi explanation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dorito's with wasabi

Obviously your best bet would be buying a fresh wasabi rootstock, but they can be rather pricy and hard to maintain. After grating, the taste of wasabi dramatically decreases in only minutes.

 

On the other hand, powdered wasabi would have had most of the 6-MSITC processed out of it. Unfortunately this means that Wasabi Doritos and Wasabi Beef chips, despite tasting awesome, will not prevent aging… they probably accelerate it.

To get the best of both worlds we recommend the wasabi sold in tubes like toothpaste. As long as you check the label, it won’t take much to begin lowering your reactive oxygen.

 Just a teaspoon a day

According to studies, one would have to consume a minimum of five milliliters (one teaspoon) of wasabi a day to begin recieving the effects of 6-MSICT. You might want to consider a spoonful of it in the place of your morning coffee for a truly potent pick-me-up. Besides, it’ll help clear those tubes during the cold season!

Also, if you happen to not love the spicy zing of wasabi, no problem! Since 6-MSITC is very durable against heat you can just cook it up with something and reduce the nose-burning taste while maintaining the health benefits.

These types of health studies can be shaky at times, so we can’t guarantee eating wasabi will keep you cancer-free. However, it takes almost no effort at all, so why not give it a try? In fact, I’m going to start putting it on my morning McGriddle to try and undo the years of damage it’s no-doubt done to me.

 

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Fun short news stories from Japan

breaking newsNEWS FROM THE LAB

STATS:
  • 76Percent sixth-graders who “enjoy or somewhat enjoy learning English,” according to the education ministry
  • ¥301,000Per capita medical costs in Japan in fiscal 2012—the first time the figure has topped ¥300,000, according to the health ministry
  • ¥764Average minimum wage in fiscal 2013, a ¥15 rise from last year, according to the labor ministry

I RISKED MY LIFE COLLECTING THESE THINGS”
—Anthropologist Yoshihiko Yamaguchi, on the closing of two museums in Yamagata that house 20,000 pieces he brought back from South America
  • Researchers at the National Institute for Environmental Studies have found that people in Sapporo need to sun themselves for 76.4 minutes a day to get adequate amounts of vitamin D, compared to just 7.5 minutes for residents of Naha.
  • Scientists at Hiroshima University say they may have found the gene responsible for late-onset blood cancer, which afflicts “people exposed to strong radiation.”
  • In what is being described as a “major discovery,” archeologists in Aomori have dug up a Jomon Era earthenware bowl “sculpted with human facial features.”
  • Officials at the Meteorological Agency say Western Japan experienced its hottest summer ever.

FOREIGN FLINGS

  • Six dance troupes from northeastern Japan performed the traditional Morioka Sansa Odori at a festival in Moscow’s Red Square.
  • Meanwhile, members of the MPD, the New York City Police Department and the People’s Police of Vietnam were among the groups taking part in the Mainichi Newspapers’ 18th World Police Band Concert, which drew 150,000 spectators in Jakarta last month.
  • Customs officials in Manila arrested three Japanese men for failing to declare “at least ¥30 million and $15,000 cash.”
  • Headline of the Week: “Android Teaches Japanese in Vietnam” (viaThe Japan News)

WILD THINGS

Boar hunting in more innocent times.

  • Officials at the environment ministry say depopulated areas of Fukushima have beenoverrun by wild boars. As many as 200 of the beasts will need to be captured or killed before residents are allowed to return.
  • Zookeepers in Kanagawa have sewn together a bunch of fleece shirts to make pouches for a baby wallaby and an infant kangaroo that were abandoned by their moms.
  • A group of seven female employees at the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa have accused the facility’s directorof “abusive and highhanded behavior.”
  • Tourism officials from a whopping 154 countries and territories attended an expo at Tokyo Big Sight hosted by the Japan Association of Travel Agents.

LEGAL BRIEFS

  • MPD officials say they investigated 763 cases of child pornography in the first half of the year—the most since record keeping began in 2000.
  • The Tokyo District Court refused to reinstate former sumo wrestler Kotomitsuki, who was given the boot as a rikishi following a gambling scandal in 2010.
  • Several municipalities in the quake-hit northeast have established guidelines requiring firefighters to “complete their own evacuation 10 to 30 minutes before a tsunami’s predicted arrival time.” Many of the197 firefighters who died in the March 11 disaster were killed while trying to help others evacuate.
  • Sentence of the Week: “The Osaka Family Court on Friday rejected a demand from a 31-year-old transsexual man for the court to confirm that a 1-year-old boy his wife had using a third person’s sperm is his legitimate child.” (Via Jiji)

AND FINALLY…

  • The government is considering whether to allow companies to trademark “sounds, moving images and colors that they use in their commercials.”
  • Scientists at the Tokyo Institute of Technology achieved a world’s first when they used a “cement-like mixture” to absorb and break down CO2 at room temperature.
  • Officials at the tourism ministry say they’ll change the writing on road signs in 49 tourists areas fromromaji to English—for example, “Dori” will become “Ave.”
  • The welfare ministry says the number of centenarians in Japan has hit a record high for the 42nd consecutive year. Of the 54,397 Japanese people aged 100 years or older, 87.5 percent are women.
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Japanese love their vending machines. Now there is even one for games!

Vending machines are quite popular in Japan, and Google recently put up a few of its own to distribute mobile games to Android users. Engadget reports that the machines offer 18 different games—some of which are free while others require payment—and transactions are made by resting an NFC-enabled phone running Android 4.0 or higher onto a tray below the large touchscreen.

googleplay

Photo credit: Engadget

If you don’t have a compatible device, the vending machine lets you take it for a test run with a Nexus 4, which, unsurprisingly, you do have to give back. Google employees will be present to ensure proper return of the phone.

The Google Play machines can be found in front of the Parco department store in Shibuya and will be there for just over a week. Or, if Japan is too far for you, you can always just tap the Play Store icon on your Android phone or tablet for a similar, albeit less novel, experience.

 

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Japanese housewives; mostly faithful, sometimes frisky

Cheating women

Frustration within the married state is as old as the institution itself. Sexless marriage? You’ve heard this story before. Condom maker Sagami Gomu, following an in-house survey, has concluded that nearly half of all marriages in Japan are sexless.

Simultaneous developments in other spheres promise, you’d think, riotous extra-marital goings-on. More and more wives work. At work they meet people. In the warm glow of fresh encounters, home and family are another world. No need to spell it out. A stale marriage need no longer be the bondage it once was.

Then there’s the Internet. Encounter sites, social networking sites. The possibilities are endless. Even the non-working housewife has the whole erotic world at her fingertips, if she wants it.

Here’s the shock: few do want it. Josei Seven (Aug 22-29) polls 500 married women in their 40s. Question 1: “Have you ever had an extra-marital affair?” Yes, say… 10.8%. No, say 89.2%.

Question 2: “Have you ever wanted to have an affair?” Another landslide victory for the no’s – 87.9% versus 12.1%.

What’s going on? Why not? Naturally, Josei Seven poses this question too, and the replies are: “My children and home are important to me” (cited by 44.4% of respondents); “It’s unthinkable from a moral point of view” (41.9%); “I love my husband” (34.3%); “I haven’t met anyone” (22.9%) – and so on. Far down the list is a reason you might expect to find much higher up: “I’m afraid my husband would find out” (10.1%).

“Shocking” seems hardly too strong a word for what this seems to reveal about the stability of marriage in the face of restlessness, dissatisfaction and easily-available remedies.

To those who have taken a plunge into infidelity, Josei Seven asks, “Where did you meet your partner?” The workplace, as expected, is the leading nest of romantic entanglement, with 31.5% of first encounters occurring there. The Internet ranks next (24.1%) while 18.5% hook up with former boyfriends.

How long was marriage enjoyed or endured before the first affair? Here too, the replies impress upon us the surprising stability of Japanese marriage, sexless or not. Eleven years, say 63%.

“Do you feel guilty?” the magazine asks. Yes, say 68.5%; no, say 18.5%; not sure, say 13%.

“Don’t call it having an affair,” says a 50-year-old housewife and mother of a daughter in senior high school. “Call it… love.”

They met on Facebook. More accurately, they met *again* on Facebook. They had known each other in high school, where they’d been members of the same after-class club. Well, this was a pleasant surprise! Her marriage had long been happy, as marriage goes. Her husband knew music and history and talked well. He was interesting. But after 20 years who doesn’t become predictable? It happens – and when it does, you face a choice. Should you put up with it in the name of responsibility and morality? Or seize an opportunity, if it happens to come along? She made her choice, and doesn’t seem to be among the 68.5% who feel guilty about it.

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The ‘king of infidelity’ has landed in Tokyo!

ashley_madison

The ‘king of infidelity’ has landed in Tokyo. After finding that enabling affairs can make money in 27 countries, Noel Biderman is bringing Ashley Madison — the world’s largest dating website for married men and women who want a little something on the side — to Japan, his first launch in Asia.

Noel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media, Inc., which operates ashleymadison.com, the world’s largest dating website for married men and women.

Noel Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media, Inc., which operates ashleymadison.com, the world’s largest dating website for married men and women.

The website of Mr. Biderman, CEO of Avid Life Media, Inc, has logged 230,000 visits and 70,000 members as of Thursday, only four days after its Japan launch, and Mr. Biderman said he got an early morning phone call from company headquarters saying that members were signing up faster than customer care could screen them. The company had targeted 100,000 members in the first month, and 1.2 million in the first year.

“This might be bigger here than in America,” he said. “We totally underestimated the desire here.”

Why Japan? Mr. Biderman said that infidelity is an inevitability (read: business chance), as well as a cultural constant. Tokyo’s innumerable massage parlors and “love hotels” — short-stay hotels that cater to couples – are encouraging signs of potential demand, he said.

But Ashley Madison doesn’t intend to compete with Japan’s sex industry, which is largely an outlet for male desire, Mr. Biderman stresses. Everything about the site – the name, the pink color scheme, the female-centered advertising – is aimed at drawing in women. The men will find their own way, he said.

In terms of competing with established domestic services, including dating or marriage-service websites, Mr. Biderman says he sidesteps the competition by directly targeting married people looking for something “extracurricular.”

Since Ashley Madison is created specifically with cheaters in mind, members are ensured secrecy and have the ability to completely erase their activity on the site if they choose. Furthermore, members can tap a global network. An Ashley Madison user in Sydney who comes to Tokyo, for instance, can line up a date even before she arrives.

Though the site has officially launched, Mr. Biderman says he’s still working out how he’ll market the service. People aren’t going to blab to their friends about using Ashley Madison, so creating clever advertising that works as a “conversation piece” is key to getting the word out, he said.

The marketing campaign “is clearly going to be around women, in a culturally sensitive way and yet in a way where it becomes viral,” he said. “We’re going to position ourselves as a marriage-saving site, a social network for married people. I think they’ll understand that concept.”

Despite an unexpectedly strong response in Japan, Ashley Madison has yet to score another badge of membership in the Japanese philanderers’ club: a tie up with the country’s infamous “infidelity phone,” an older-model cellphone from Fujitsu Ltd. with industrial-strength privacy settings.

“We’ve been trying to reach out to them and get some sort of Ashley Madison software preloaded on the phone, but we haven’t been able to crack them,” said Mr. Biderman. “They don’t want to be associated with (cheating). I’m familiar with that. People don’t want to be associated with me. Sometimes even my own wife shakes her head at me,” he said with a smile.

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All the rage: animal cafes

In a vibrant city such a Tokyo, many people live in small apartments stacked up on each other creating plenty of high-rise buildings. Because these apartments are often rented, the people are prohibited to own any pets and even if it wasn’t prohibited the places would just be too small. But Japan would not be the modern country as we know it if it had not come up with a solution; animal cafes!

The first animal café was a Neko café (neko means cat) and was neko cafesestablished in 2004. Ever since, the cafes started to gain more popularity and nowadays Japan is full of them.

Cats are not the only animals with cafes dedicated to them, Japan also features dog, goat, rabbit and snake cafes. All of these establishments are created to satisfy the need of the animal lover. People who only like to watch can settle in the café area and look through the glass while enjoying their cup of coffee. But what differs these cafes from a zoo, is that people can actually come in and play or cuddle with their animalistic little friends.

Recently I had the opportunity to check out one of the Neko cafes myself near Ōmori Station (Ota-ku). Before stepping in to the place I had to put on special slippers due to sanitary reasons. I drank some juice while talking to the owner and another guest while in the background the cats were either sleeping or running around, waiting for some attention. The cat area could not be entered without thoroughly washing the hands and putting some kind of sanitary lotion on them. The furry little animals were quite relaxed as I came up to them. It was immediately noticeable which of them were into some quality time and which were not, they turned their heads as I let them smell my hand. In total, the place consisted of approximately 15 cats of which three kittens.

nekonekoneko

While some remained sleeping (in the most uncomfortable positions) the entire time I stayed there, others played around and came to me. All cats looked healthy and happy, which was something I was a little worried about to be honest. Luckily, regulations for animal cafes have recently been changed, some cafes used to stay open until past midnight but they now have a limited amount of opening hours per day. Also, cafes where it gets really busy have created shifts for their cats so they get some rest.

For the first half hour, I spend 600¥. Had I stayed longer than I had to pay per every 10 minutes. The café itself is free of charge, excluding the drinks naturally.

While cat cafes are for non-owners who still want to enjoy their furryIMG_1383 friends, dog cafes are a complete different thing. Here, people bring their own dog to be able to eat with them or spoil them with treats on their birthday. For non-dog owners, there are special places renting dogs for an hour or part of the day, giving them the opportunity to walk the dog around town.

While it probably wouldn’t work anywhere else in the world, animal cafes are all the rage in Japan.

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