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The Burakumin people, at the bottom of the Japanese food chain

Burakumin (部落民, “hamlet people”/”village people”) is an outcaste group at the bottom of the Japanese social order that has historically been the victim of severe discrimination and ostracism. They were originally members of outcaste communities in the Japanese feudal era, composed of those with occupations considered impure or tainted by death (such as executioners, undertakers, workers in slaughterhouses, butchers or tanners), which have severe social stigmas of kegare (穢れ or “defilement”) attached to them or people who had been taken prisoner in one of the many wars waged throughout Japan. Traditionally, the Burakumin lived in their own hamlets or ghettos. This minority group accounts for less than 2% of the population.

The reason other people looked down on others who worked as butchers or tanners is because of buddhism. According to the buddhist faith you should not be involved in the taking of an animals life, which accounts for the strong prejudice agains people working in these trades, especially in a feudal society dominated by the military elite.

The social status and typical occupations of outcaste communities have varied considerably according to region and over time. A burakumin neighborhood within metropolitan Tokyo was the last to be served by streetcar and is the site of butcher and leather shops to this day.

Burakumin villages near Tokyo or Edo as it was formally known

During the Edo period

At the start of the Edo period (1603–1867), the social class system was officially established as a means of designating hierarchy, and eta were placed at the lowest level, outside of the four main divisions of society. Like the rest of the population, they were bound by sumptuary laws based on the inheritance of their social class. The eta lived in segregated settlements, and were generally avoided by the rest of Japanese society.

When dealing with members of other castes, they were expected to display signs of subservience, such as the removal of headwear. In an 1859 court case described by author Shimazaki Toson, a magistrate declared that “An eta is worth 1/7 of an ordinary person.”

Historically, eta were not liable for taxation in feudal times, including the Tokugawa period, because the taxation system was based on rice yields, which they were not permitted to possess. Some outcasts were also called kawaramono (河原者, “dried-up riverbed people”) because they lived along river banks that could not be turned into rice fields.

Since the taboo status of the work they performed afforded them an effective monopoly in their trades, some succeeded economically and even occasionally obtained samurai status through marrying or the outright purchase of troubled houses. Some historians point out that such exclusive rights originated in ancient times, granted by shrines, temples, kuge, or the imperial court, which held authority before the Shogunate system was established.

The end of the feudal era

The feudal caste system in Japan ended in 1869 with the Meiji restoration. In 1871, the newly formed Meiji government issued a decree called Kaihōrei (解放令 Emancipation Edict) giving outcasts equal legal status. (This terminology is not the original, but a later revision. Originally, it was labeled Senmin Haishirei (賤民廃止令 Edict Abolishing Ignoble Classes.) However, the elimination of their economic monopolies over certain occupations actually led to a decline in their general living standards, while social discrimination simply continued. For example, the ban on consumption of meat from livestock was lifted in 1871 in order to “westernise” the country, and many former eta moved on to work in abattoirs and as butchers.

However, slow-changing social attitudes, especially in the countryside, meant that abattoirs and workers were met with hostility from local residents. Continued ostracism as well as the decline in living standards led to former eta communities turning into slum areas.

There were many terms used to indicate former outcastes, their communities or settlements at the time. Official documents at the time referred to them askyu-eta (旧穢多 “former eta”), while the newly liberated outcasts called themselves shin-heimin (新平民”new citizens”), among other things.

The term tokushu buraku (特殊部落 “special hamlets”, now considered inappropriate) started being used by officials in 1900s, leading to the meaning of the word buraku (“hamlet”) coming to imply former eta villages in certain parts of Japan.

Movements to resolve the problem in the early 20th century were divided into two camps: the “assimilation” (同和 dōwa) movement which encouraged improvements in living standards of buraku communities and integration with the mainstream Japanese society, and the “levellers” (水平社 suiheisha) movement which concentrated on confronting and criticising alleged perpetrators of discrimination.

Social discrimination

Cases of social discrimination against residents of buraku areas is still an issue in certain regions. Outside of the Kansai region, people in general are often not even aware of the issue, and if they are, usually only as part of feudal history. Due to the taboo nature of the topic it is rarely covered by the media, and people from eastern Japan, for example, are often shocked when they learn that it is a continuing issue.

The prejudice most often manifests itself in the form of marriage discrimination, and less often, in employment. Traditionalist families have been known to check on the backgrounds of potential in-laws to identify people of buraku background. These checks are now illegal, and marriage discrimination is diminishing; Nadamoto Masahisa of the Buraku History Institute estimates that between 60 and 80% of burakumin marry a non-burakumin, whereas for people in their sixties, the rate was 10%.

Cases of continuing social discrimination are known to occur mainly in western Japan, particularly in the OsakaKyotoHyogo, and Hiroshima regions, where many people, especially the older generation, stereotype buraku residents (whatever their ancestry) and associate them with squalor, unemployment and criminality.

Members of the Yakuza (Japanese maffia)

According to David E. Kaplan and Alec Dubro in Yakuza: The Explosive Account of Japan’s Criminal Underworld (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1986), burakumin account for about 70 percent of the members of Yamaguchi-gumi, the biggest yakuza syndicate in Japan.

Mitsuhiro Suganuma, the ex-member of Public Security Intelligence Agency, testified that burakumin account for about 60 percent of the members of the entire yakuza.

“Black book” citing information of Burakumin published world wide

In November 1975, the Osaka branch of the Buraku Liberation League was tipped off about the existence of a book called “A Comprehensive List of Buraku Area Names” (特殊部落地名総鑑Tokushu Buraku Chimei Sōkan). Investigations revealed that copies of the hand-written 330-page book were being secretly sold by an Osaka-based firm to numerous firms and individuals throughout Japan by a mail order service called Cablenet, at between ¥5,000 and ¥50,000 per copy. The book contained a nationwide list of all the names and locations of buraku settlements (as well as the primary means of employment of their inhabitants), which could be compared against people’s addresses to determine if they were buraku residents. The preface contained the following message: “At this time, we have decided to go against public opinion and create this book [for] personnel managers grappling with employment issues, and families pained by problems with their children’s marriages.”

More than 200 large Japanese firms, including (according to the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Centre of Osaka) ToyotaNissanHonda and Daihatsu, along with thousands of individuals purchased copies of the book. In 1985, partially in response to the popularity of this book, and an increase in mimoto chōsa (身元調査, private investigation into one’s background) the Osaka prefectural government introduced “An Ordinance to Regulate Personal Background Investigation Conducive to Buraku Discrimination”.

Although the production and sale of the book has been banned, numerous copies of it are still in existence, and in 1997, an Osaka private investigation firm was the first to be charged with violation of the 1985 statute for using the text.

Famous Burakumin

Some Burakumin did manage to fight their way to the top and were actually quite successful in doing so, regardless of their back ground. Here is a list of some of the people that made it to the top.

  • Tōru Hashimoto, politician, lawyer, the 52nd Governor of Osaka Prefecture, and current Mayor of Osaka city 
  • Ai Kago, singer, actress
  • Jiichirō Matsumoto, politician and businessman who was called the “buraku liberation father”
  • Ryu Matsumoto, politician of the Democratic Party of Japan, a member of the House of Representatives in the Diet (national legislature)
  • Toru Matsuoka, politician of the Democratic Party of Japan, a member of the House of Councillors in the Diet (national legislature)
  • Nahomi Matsushima, comedian
  • Manabu Miyazaki, writer, social critic and public figure known for his underworld ties
  • Kenji Nakagami, writer, critic, and poet
  • Mineko Nishikawa, actress and Enka singer
  • Hiromu Nonaka, chief cabinet secretary (1998–1999) 
  • Takashi Tanihata, politician serving in the House of Representatives in the Diet (national legislature) as a member of the Liberal Democratic Party
  • Tadao Yoshida, founder of the YKK Group

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The Japanese obsession with blood types

It is a good idea to know your blood type. While most Japanese know their blood type, many foreigners do not (and Japanese are frequently surprised to hear this).

Many Japanese people believe that each blood type has a certain personality and affinity, so it is common for them to ask someone their blood type or try to guess someone’s blood type by their personality. Furthermore, it is not uncommon for women in their 20s and 30s to even select a prospective husband based on his blood type.

Not only in Japan but also in other East Asian countries a person’s ABO blood type or ketsueki-gata (血液型) is predictive of his or her personality, temperament, and compatibility with others, similar to how astrological signs are used in other countries throughout the world, although blood type plays a much more prominent role in Japanese and the societies of other East Asian countries than astrology does in other countries’ societies.

Ultimately deriving from ideas of historical scientific racism, the popular belief originates with publications by Masahiko Nomi in the 1970s. The scientific community dismisses such beliefs as superstition or pseudoscience due to their lack of basis on demonstrable evidence or reference to testable cryteria. Although research into the causational link between blood type and personality is limited, current research conclusively demonstrates no statistically significant association.

There are many books about the various blood type personalities. For example, “A, B, O, AB gata jibun no setsumeisho” (A Guide to A, B, O, AB blood types), written by an unknown author who uses the pen name Jamais Jamais, have become best sellers in Japan.

bath salts for each blood type

The history

The ABO blood group system is widely credited to have been founded by the Austrian scientist Karl Landsteiner, who discovered three different blood types in 1900.[7]

In 1926, Rin Hirano and Tomita Yashima published the article “Blood Type Biological Related” in the Army Medical Journal. It was seen to be a non-statistical and unscientific report, motivated by racism.

In 1927, Takeji Furukawa, a professor at Tokyo Women’s Teacher’s School, published his paper “The Study of Temperament Through Blood Type” in the scholarly journal Psychological Research. The idea quickly took off with the Japanese public despite Furukawa’s lack of credentials, and the militarist government of the time commissioned a study aimed at breeding ideal soldiers. The study used ten to twenty people for the investigation, therefore failing to meet the statistical assumptions required to demonstrate that the tests were either reliable or generalisable to the wider population.

In another study, Furukawa compared the distribution of blood types among two different ethnic groups, the Formosans in Taiwan and the Ainu of Hokkaidō. His motivation for the study appears to have come from a political incident: After the Japanese occupation of Taiwan following Japan’s invasion of China in 1895, the inhabitants tenaciously resisted their occupiers. Insurgencies in 1930 and in 1931 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Japanese settlers.

The purpose of Furukawa’s studies was to “penetrate the essence of the racial traits of the Taiwanese, who recently revolted and behaved so cruelly”. Based on a finding that 41.2% of a Taiwanese sample had type O blood, Furukawa assumed that the Taiwanese rebelliousness was genetically determined. The reasoning was supported by the fact that among the Ainu, whose temperament was characterized as submissive, only 23.8% had type O. In conclusion, Furukawa suggested that the Japanese should increase intermarriage with the Taiwanese to reduce the number of Taiwanese with type O blood.

Interest in the theory faded in the 1930s as its unscientific basis became evident. It was revived in the 1970s with a book by Masahiko Nomi, a lawyer and broadcaster with no medical background. Nomi’s work was largely uncontrolled and anecdotal, and the methodology of his conclusions was unclear. Because of this, he was heavily criticised by the Japanese psychological community, although his books remain popular. His son continued to promote the theory with a series of books, and by running the Institute of Blood Type Humanics.

Bloodtyping today

Discussion of blood types is widely popular in women’s magazines as a way of gauging relationship compatibility with a potential or current partner. Morning television shows feature blood typehoroscopes, and similar horoscopes are published daily in newspapers. The blood types of celebrities are listed in their infoboxes on Japanese Wikipedia. A series of four books that describe people’s character by blood type ranked third, fourth, fifth and ninth on a list of best selling books in Japan in 2008 compiled by Tohan Corporation.

Although there is no proven correlation between blood type and personality, it remains popular with the many matchmaking services that cater to blood type. In this way, it is similar to the use of astrological signs, which is also popular in Japan. Asking one’s blood type is common in Japan, and people are often surprised when a non-Japanese does not know his or her own blood type.

It is common among anime and manga authors to mention their character’s blood types, and to give their characters corresponding blood types to match their personalities. Some video game characters also have known blood types. In addition, it is common for video game series to allow for blood type as an option in their creation modes.

Blood type harassment, called “bura-hara” (wasei-eigo-a portmanteau of “blood” and “harassment”), has been blamed for bullying of children in playgrounds, loss of job opportunities, and ending of happy relationships.

Many people have been discriminated against because of their blood type. Employers have been asking blood types during interviews despite the warnings they have been given. Children at schools have been split up according to their blood type. The national softball team has customized training to fit each player’s blood type. Companies have given work assignments according to their employee’s blood type.

Facebook in many Asian countries allows users to include their blood type in their profile.

After then-Reconstruction Minister Ryu Matsumoto‘s abrasive comments towards the governors of Iwate and Miyagi forced him to step down from his post, he partially blamed his behavior on his blood type, saying “My blood is type B, which means I can be irritable and impetuous, and my intentions don’t always come across.”

Blood types are treated as important in South Korea as well. An example can be seen in the film My Boyfriend Is Type B where a girl is advised not to date a man because his blood type is B.

Here is a look at what it’s all about.

Japanese blood type personality chart
Type A
Best traits Earnest, creative, sensible, reserved, patient, responsible
Worst traits Fastidious, overearnest, stubborn, tense
Type B
Best traits Wild, active, doer, creative, passionate, strong
Worst traits Selfish, irresponsible, unforgiving, erratic
Type AB
Best traits Cool, controlled, rational, sociable, adaptable
Worst traits Critical, indecisive, forgetful, irresponsible, “split personality”
Type O
Best traits Confident, self-determined, optimistic, strong-willed, intuitive
Worst traits Self-centered, cold, doubtful, unpredictable, “workaholic”

General personality of people who have type A blood

—Consider things carefully
—Can understand other people’s feelings easily
—Good at hospitality
—Don’t express themselves in order to avoid possible quarrel
—Do things carefully and steadily, and don’t take the next step if they are not satisfied
—Honor student types who don’t go off the rail
—Big on cleanliness
—Can be calm even when accidents happen
—Strong on taking responsibility
—Hard workers
—Safe drivers

Type A blood people’s affinity with each blood type

Partner who is type A – They have many common points; however, both of them are highly strung, so they may be irritated by each other.

Partner who is type B – Type A person envies type B’s happy-go-lucky personality. However, type A person worries about type B person’s personality.

Partner who is type AB – Type AB person is reliable for type A, someone they can turn to for good advice and help. They can have a stable love relationship.

Partner who is type O – Type O person is protective of type A. However, if type A talks about every small thing, the relationship won’t be good.

General personality of people who have type B blood

—Like to go their own way
—Do what they want without considering other people’s feelings, rules and customs
—Happy-go-lucky and masters of breaking rules
—Friendly and open their heart to anybody
—Not pretentious
—Afraid of being alone
—Get lonely easily
—Quick to adapt
—Flexible thinkers
—Don’t chase a dream much
—Like to play
—Love festivals and parties
—Have been in love many times
—Don’t get heart-broken over lost love

Type B blood people’s affinity with each blood type person

Partner who is type A – Type A person is always willing to help type B person; however, they get tired of each other easily. Type A often complains to type B.

Partner who is type B – Both of them are not careful, so they may do things that are off the rail.

Partner who is type AB – They attract each other and they may quickly start a relationship. They love each other very much.

Partner who is type O – They can understand each other easily. Type O person covers for type B person’s bad points. They are a great match for friendship.

General personality of people who have type AB blood

—Chase ideals and dreams
—Don’t have secular needs such as greed and a desire to succeed
—Have strong spirituality
—Calm and rational
—Sensitive and easily hurt
—Have a complicated personality
—Private life is important
—Don’t like interference from other people
—Have various hobbies
—Vigorous in pursuit of knowledge in wide range of fields
—Are bookworms
—Have unique ideas and are creative
—Have fairy tale-like hobbies
—Calm and frank about love relationship

Type AB blood people’s affinity with each blood type person

Partner who is type A – Type AB person respects type A person, and they have a passionate love for each other. However, they may quarrel frequently.

Partner who is type B – They are a good match and connect with each other easily.

Partner who is type AB – Their relationship is always proceeding along parallel lines. They cannot open their minds to each other. It is best not to be too close to each other, nor be too far apart.

Partner who is type O – They can succeed in business and at various activities together. They can produce new things together easily.

General personality of people who have type O blood

—Good at developing economic concepts
—Vigorous at earning a living
—Strong in face of adversity
—Dream of getting rich quick, but actually take a steady approach
—Go straight toward their goal
—Have leadership ability and often take care of younger people and people below them
—Very cautious
—Don’t care about small things, taking a wider perspective instead
—Devoted, but with a strong desire to monopolize

Type O blood people’s affinity with each blood type person

Partner who is type A – Type O person always wants to take the lead for type A person. They are a good combination.

Partner who is type B – They can talk freely and openly and have a comfortable relationship. However, type O person gets confused by type B person’s moody personality sometimes.

Partner who is type AB – Their thoughts are a match. However, if they are in the same “arena,” they compete with each other strongly.

Partner who is type O – They cannot understand each other basically, and they feel alienation easily. It is best not to get too close together.

Source: Ketsuekigatabetsuseikaku (Each blood type’s personality)

Dieting methods by blood type

Erica Angyal, a Miss Universe Japan official nutritionist and health consultant, has published books on health and beauty by blood type, such as “Bijo no Ketsuekigata BOOK” (beautiful women’s blood type) and “Bijo no Ketsuekigata-bestu Obento BOOK” (beautiful women’s lunch box by each blood type).

Also, the fitness and health magazine FYTTE’s February edition introduces a dieting method by blood type directed by Angyal.

Here is brief introduction to the dieting method.

Recommended diet for type A

Recommended foods for type A people are carbohydrates such as rice and grain, vegetables, and fruits because type As originated from agricultural tribes who mainly ate foods from plants. However, type As usually don’t digest dairy products easily, so it is better to have yogurt. Also, meat is difficult to digest and turns into fat easily for type A people, so it is better to eat beans and fish for protein. Japanese traditional foods such as miso soup, natto, tofu, and so on are a good match for type A people.

Recommended exercise for type A

Stress is the main enemy for type A people, so slow exercise such as yoga is the best way to relax.

Recommended diet for type B

Type B people have the ability to digest various foods such as vegetables, fruit, fish, meats, grain and dairy products because type Bs originated from nomad tribes who ate various foods to survive in their extreme environment. It is best to have various foods, especially protein, otherwise type B people get irritated and tired easily. Lean meat with low fat, especially beef and lamb, are good because they are easy to digest and make metabolism faster for type B people. However, chicken, sesame, corn, soba noodles and wheat make type B people fat.

Recommended exercise for type B

Type B blood people have high stress, so it is best to play active sports such as tennis and golf, and also try slow exercise such as yoga to relax.

Recommended diet for type AB

Type AB people have features of both type A and type B. For example, type AB people don’t have enough stomach acids to easily digest some kinds of meat like type As. Protein from soy beans is good for type AB people, as are some dairy products. Therefore, it is best to take protein from fish and soy beans, and other various foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts, yogurt, and so on, with a good balance. Wheat, chicken, corn, sesame and soba noodles are not good for dieting.

Recommended exercise for type AB

Type AB people have negative feelings such as anger and hostility and it is bad for their body when they get excited too much. So the best exercises for type AB people are yoga to relax their body and aerobics to let stress out.

Recommended diet for type O

Type O people can digest meat easier than other blood types. However, lack of protein tires them easily too because type O people originated from tribes that hunted animals and gathered nuts, fruit and plants. The tribes ate low fat meat, so low fat beef and lamb are good for type O people. Especially fish with omega-3 fatty acid are the best protein source for them. Eating fresh vegetables and fruit is recommended. The early tribes did not eat grains and dairy products, so those foods are difficult to digest for type O people. Wheat and dairy products make type O people get fat easily.

Recommended exercise for type O

Exercises which improve the heart rate function and muscles, such as running and boxing are good for type O people. Active exercises keep their hormone balance right.

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Breaking news: Japanese couple marries under water

Original story by Tokyo desu



A Wakayama Prefecture couple tied the knot 13 meters underwater June 29.

36 year-old diving instructor Yasuko Emoto proposed the unusual ceremony for the couple, which was attended by 30 diving certified friends and approximately 8000 mackerel.

The happy couple sealed their vows in front of some guy in a suit – they couldn’t find a diving certified priest – with an enthusiastic “glub glub glub glub!” and the internationally recognized diving signal for “OK.”

ScreenHunter_171 Jul. 02 19.24

Wrong signal.

While an underwater ceremony presents numerous logistical difficulties, there are certainly perks: rain can’t really ruin a wedding that’s already submerged in 13 meters of saltwater, and there’s no need for the bride to fuss with her hair.

We can only imagine what beach sunbathers thought when the procession emerged from the sea post-wedding looking like the cast of The Little Mermaid.


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Why are there North Korean schools in Japan?

Original story by ‘The Economist”.

ALONG with America and South Korea, Japan is one of a handful of states that has no diplomatic relations with North Korea (though 165 countries do). On the rare occasions when they meet, the Japanese and North Korean leaders mostly discuss the thorny issue ofabductees, seized from Japan’s beaches more than three decades ago. Japanese views of North Korea are the most damning in the world: in a survey conducted last month by GlobeScan, a pollster, not one respondent viewed the North’s influence as positive. Yet around 10,000 pupils in Japan study in schools that teach allegiance to the North’s Dear Leader and his father, Kim Il-sung. Why?

Between 1905 and 1945, when Japan occupied Korea, ethnic Koreans were considered Japanese nationals. After Japan lost control of the peninsula in the second world war, Koreans wishing to stay in Japan (known as Zainichi Koreans) were provisionally registered as nationals of Joseon, the name of undivided Korea between the 14th and 19th centuries. But when the North and South declared independence in 1948, the term Joseon no longer corresponded to a specific country. From 1965 Zainichi Koreans could register as South Koreans. Those who retained their Joseon nationality (rather than register as either South Korean or Japanese) became de facto North Korean citizens.

So part of the reason for the existence of the North Korean schools is an accident of history. About a quarter of the 600,000 Zainichi Koreans are members of Chongryon, a pro-North Korean organisation based in Japan which runs a network of banks, secondary schools and a university in Tokyo (though its big business is in pachinko, or gaming parlours). Its schools (known as joseon hakkyo, or Joseon schools) are vestiges of Korea’s colonial history rather than true indoctrination camps. But Chongryon serves as North Korea’s de facto embassy in Japan. For decades North Korean coffers funded its schools. Their curriculums are outside Japanese control; school excursions are usually to Pyongyang, the North’s capital. The organisation frowns upon marriage to Japanese citizens, and discourages Japanese naturalisation.

That said, many of Chongryon’s members hold South Korean passports—including North Korea’s most famous footballer, Jong Tae-se, who studied at a joseon hakkyo and who may hold passports for both Koreas. That is fine with South Korea, which considers all North Koreans to be citizens of the South anyway.

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Hiroshima, full of charm in so many ways!

Hiroshima is only a four hour shinkansen (bullet train) ride away from Tokyo so a perfect place to go to on a long weekend. (I do seriously advise you to take a bit of time to enjoy not only the war monument this place is famous for, but also some of the other treasures this area has to offer. Hiroshima ken (prefecture) is the place of two World Heritage sites and the senic Setouchi Region located on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea is full of charm in so many ways.


Located on the western part of the Honshu mainland, Hiroshima Prefecture has its southern part facing the seto Inland Sea and its northern part surrounded by the Chugoku mountain ranges. The prefectural capital is Hiroshima City, which was left in the ashes in the blink of an eye and left many scarred for life, by the first atomic bombing in homan history during WWII, but achieved a remarkable recovery after the war. Now, this beautiful international cultural city attracts many people from all over the world. serving as a hub of developing cultural and international friendships. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which aims to remind future generations of the horrors of war and appeal for lasting peave, are located in the city itself.

Another peculiar aspect of the city is as many as six rivers flow through the city center. Enjoy going through the city on a pleasure cruiser. From the Motoyasu sambashi (pier), you can take a cruiser to the other World Heritae site in Hiroshima, Itsukushima Shrine. You can also take a nice walk on the walking paths along the Motoyasu River, and relax and have a cup of coffee at one of the stylish open cafes near Hiroshima Station.

Founded by a member of the council of five elders, the five most powerful daimyo (territorial lords) chosen by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to serve his son, Mori Terutomo (1553-1625), Hiroshima-jo Castle is also known as Rijo (litterally meaning “Carp Castle”). Ahukkei-en garden is a beautiful circuit-style garden created around a pond, where you can enjoy shopping at department stores, electronics retail stores to stock up on your favourite Japanese gadgets, and shopping malls in Kamayacho and Hacchobori, the city’s central business district, and Hiroshima nightlife at izakaya and bars lining the streets of the Nagarekawa and Yagembori district.

Streetcars help you get around the city. Check out the Hiroshima Omotenashi Pass, a streetcar daypass and special offer coupons for tourist facilities and restaurants.

Itsukushima Shrine 

Miyajima where the World Heritage Site; Itsukushima Shrine, is located, can be reached from Hiroshima Station by train and ferry in about one hour. The hige red torii gate stands in the ocean, and the magnificent shrine building look as if they are floating on the water. Take a ropeway ride to the top of Mount Misen, or if you have the time and energy, hike up the winding path to the top of this majestic mountain, and you can enjoy the great view of islands in the Seto Inland Sea.


The most famous Hiroshima food item is oyster. You can enjoy not only various dishes with fresh oysters, but also the freshest seafood from the Seto Inland Sea. Okonomiyaki (a sort of pancake) is also one of the best known Horishima foods along with oysters. Unlike the famous Osaka okonomiyaki, Hiroshima Okonomiyaki has layers of a crepe like base, a hige amount of shredded cabbage, meat, noodles and lots of sauce. Anago meshi (conger eel fillets cooked in sweet and salty soy-sauce-based sauce on rice) is another popular dish, which is also popular souvenir, momiji manju, a small maple leaf shaped cake filled with sweet red bean paste, will satisfy your sweet tooth. Also, check out Hiroshima’s other newly emerging original dishes, such as gekikara tsukemen (noodles served with an extremely spicy dipping sauce) and shirunashi tantanmen (litterally means tantan noodles with no soup: Chinese noodles topped with a spicy sauce with ground meat and vegetables).

Karuga and Sake

Located in the northern part of Hiroshima Prefecture, Sandankyo Ravine is a famous spot for spectacular autumn leaves. There is a beautiful waterfall surrounded by a deep virgin forest. The northern part of the prefecture is also famous for Karuga. Karuga, which means “God’s entertainment,”is a type of Shinto theatrical music and dance, and the style in this region is charachterized by dynamic yet elegant dancing, colourful costumes, and boisterous music rhythms. You can see it at Kagura Monzen Toji Mura, where you can also enjoy hot springs.

About a 30-minute train ride from Hiroshima City to the east will take you to Saijo in Higashi-Hiroshima City. Saijo is nationally famous for sake brewing, along with Fushimi in Kyoto. There are eight sake brewers around JR Saijo Station. You can sample each brewer’s original sake, as well as look for souvenirs. After walking around the area, you can rest and relax and cafes and restaurants in buildings that used to be sake storehouses. There is an annual festival, called Sake, Matsuri, held on a Saturday and Sunday in mid-October, where about 900 brands of sake from all over Japan are offered for tasting.

Towns in Setouchi

Kure is a port town that was developed as one of the world’s biggest military ports. Mitarai used to prosper as one of the port towns in Setouchi in the Edo period (1603-1867), where sailboats stayed waiting for good winds and tides for sailing to their destinations. You can see the buildings and historical sites which retains the atmosphere of the towns’old days.

Takehara, known to anime fans as a “sacret place” of the anime series “Tamayura”, is called “Little Kyoto of the Aki area”, where houses of former wealthy merchants still stand behind white walls lining the street in a quant atmosphere.

Attracting people with its calm and magnificent natural landscape, Tomonoura is one of the main scenic sites in Setonaikai National Park. The traditional fishing method, tai-ami, net fishing for red sea bream, is still actively performed in this srea. A special tai-ami event is held throughout May every year, where the dynamic, spectacular fishing thrills the audience.


Nationally known as a town of slopes, a town of temples, a town of literature, and a town of movies, Onomichi has mountains standing very close to the edge of the ocean and slopes with many stone steps, making it a perfect place to stroll around in a relaxed and leisurely way. Walk along the shopping arcade Chuo Shotengai (Onomichi E-no-machi street) from JR Onomichi Station, and you will arrive at Ropeway Sanroku Sation in Senkoji Park. From the park, you can have a good view of Onomichi Suido Channel and Mukaishima island.

Connecting Imabari (Ehime Prefecture) in Shikoku and Onomichi (Hiroshima Prefecture) over a total lenght of about 60km, Setouchi Shimanami Kaido Expressway also includes Setonaikai-crossing Bicycle Route, Japan’s first bicycle path crossing the strait. Going through the islands in the Seto Inland Sea connected with ten bridges, you can enjoy cycling while enjoying the views from the bridges. You can rent a bicycle at one of 14 rental stations and drop it off at any of the stations. Enjoy cycling without worrying about getting back to your starting point!

There will be a Destination campaign by the JR Group from July to September, 2013, which is a national tourism campaign. Go on a trip to discover new aspects of Hiroshima! If you want to go to other places around Hiroshima, get “the Next 10 Spots”brochure when arriving at Hiroshima.

Access to Hiroshima

Tokyo->Hiroshima: fastest 3 hours and 48 minutes by JR Shinkansen (Nozomi)

Haneda Airport (Tokyo)->Hiroshima Airport: 1 hour and 20 minutes by plane

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Japanese swords; Artistic Industrial craft made by fire, steel and dedication

The Japanese sword, otherwise known as nihonto, is a traditional craft that has been produced in Japan for 1000 years. While it was originally made as a weapon, now the role of weapons has ended an many people appreciate the Japanese sword as a beautiful art object. Its shape is refined with a gentle, but not simple curvature. Pale white patterns on the edge are called hamon, which are different on every blade. Forged by hand, there are no completely identical Japanese swords in the world, even though the same swordsmith may have made the blades.

Easy to bend

the sword is made of high-quality tamahagane, or Japanese steel that is manufactured from smelting sand-iron and charcoal together in a clay furnace using a traditional method called tatara. The Japanese sword is characterized by the qualities of “not break and not bend”. In fact, it is very difficult for these two properties to co-exist. High-carbon-concentrated steel is hard, but relatively weak and easy to break. On the other hand, steel with a lower carbon concentration is ‘sticky’and difficult to break, but easy to bend.

The tempering process

The Japanese sword uses soft steel (singane) layered with hard and pure steel (kawagane) to prevent bending. Each steel element is heated to a red-hot heat, hammered, and folded to harden repeatedly (tanren). In this way, the carbon concentration is sophistically adjusted through many layers. Finally, the sword body is heated and rapidly quenched in water in the tempering stage (yakiire). Through this process, the steel of the blade becomes harder and the edge keener. Then, the sword is sent to be polished by a polisher.

There are several schools of Japanese sword-making and each school’s way is different and individual swordsmiths also have their own methods. Thus, if you carefully inspect a sword, you can find out when (historical era), where (region) and by whom it was made.

Hints to appreciate the Japanese sword

Here are some basic appreciating points, among many

1. Shape

Curvature (sori), length, and total balance are key elements when inspecting a blade. The era when the sword was made can be assumed from sori.

2. Ji

Steel surface markings created by tanren and yakiire, though they are a little bit difficult to clearly see in glass showcases in museums.

3. Hamon

In tempering, the blade, which has been coated with a clay slurry, is heated and rapidly quenched in water. Temper patterns (hamon) are mainly created around the border between thickly coated and thinly coated parts. The temper pattern is an important point to analyze in ascertaining who made the sword, because the temper pattern is handed down in each school.


Originally made to protect the swords body, “mountings”- the various housings and fittings that hold the blade of a sword when being worn by the person wielding the sword or while stored,-developed in various ways in successive ares. Each part was created by a special artisan with a variety of materials, such as lacquer, wood, leather and gold and other metals. Sword mounting was an outstanding craftwork in itself, and was also a kind of fashion. Fashionable samurai in olden days took pride in the “total coordination”that decorative sheaths and so on added to their total attire and look, not onlike a common day Lolita might match her hair ribbons, make-up, purse and stockings to go along with her general appearance.

Places to appreciate Japanese swords


The Japanese Sword museum

Tokyo national museum


Kyoto national museum


Bizen Osafune Japanese sword museum

Bizen Osafune token village

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Things to do:Tokyo’s best mountain hikes

Get back to nature, just for the day

Tokyo's best mountain hikes

It may only be 599 metres high, but with 2.6 million visitors recorded in 2009, Mt Takao gets more attention than any other mountain in the world. Both autumn and spring have their own appeal – the November foliage is a real sight to behold, while the April cherry blossoms provide the perfect canopy for high-altitude boozing parties. Located only 50 minutes from central Shinjuku, it’s an obvious destination for anyone looking to escape the skyscrapers and get back to nature, but it’s certainly not the region’s only mountain. So dust down your walking boots, waterproofs and woolies, grab your smartphone and follow our guide to some of the area’s best hiking trails – no strenuous effort required.

Mt Jinba

Mt Jinba, located along the border of Kanagawa and Tokyo, stands at 857 metres, and is separated from the peak of Mt Takao by a westward trail that traverses two mountains and four passes. In a theme that you’ll see developing throughout this article, the mountain is one of the ‘100 Mt Fuji Viewing Spots in Kanto’, its summit offering not only a view of the country’s tallest peak, but also of Mt Tanzawa, Mt Dai Bosatsu, the Okuchichibu range, the Akaishi range (better known in Japan as the Minami Alps), the Nikko range, and even the skyscrapers in Shinjuku. In addition to the impressive view, the mountain’s peak is also home to a dubious, somewhat phallic statue of a white horse.

Each to their own.

To reach Mt Jinba, take the Nishi Tokyo Bus headed for Jinba Kogen Shita from the bus terminal one at the North exit of Takao Station (Keio and JR lines), and get off at the terminus. Begin your ascent at the entrance to the hiking course and follow the trail for approximately 90 minutes to reach the peak. If you want our advice, once you’ve climbed the mountain, take a second Nishitokyo Bus heading to Takao Station Kitaguchi, get off at Yuuyake Koyake and head towards Yuuyake Koyake Fureai no Sato for a relaxing bath (500 yen for adults, 300 yen for children until 4.30pm; towels are available for 200 yen each).

Mt Mitake

Tokyo's best mountain hikes: Mt Mitake

Revered as a sacred mountain, Mt Mitake stands at 929 metres, and is known for an annual explosion of around 50,000 purple rengeshoma flowers. At its peak is Musashi Mitake Shrine, home to a very cool suit of scarlet samurai armor (regarded, you’ll be delighted to read, as one of the ‘top three suits of armour in Japan’ – if it can’t be listed, it’s just not worth it). You’ll also find a ‘designated natural monument’ in the form of Jindai Keyaki – an ancient zelkova tree that measures 23m in height and 8.2m in circumference – as well as a large Japanese cedar known as Tengu no Koshikake Sugi, named because it looks like the perfect spot for Tengu, a long-nosed goblin who crops up regularly in Japanese folklore, to sit.

To reach Mt Mitake, take the JR Ome line to Mitake Station. From there, it’s about an hour’s walk to the peak, although there’s also a cablecar that can be accessed by taking a Nishitokyo Bus to Cable Shita, next to Takimoto Station. It takes just six minutes to be hoisted up to Mitakesan Station at an elevation of 831 metres. From there, there’s the additional automated option of a single seat lift to the observation deck. Mitake Tozan Railway, open daily, 7.30am-6.30pm; adults, 570 yen (round-trip, 1,090 yen), kids, 290 yen (round-trip, 550 yen).

Mt Oyama

Not strictly in Tokyo, but not too far off, Mt Oyama is located in Isehara, Kanagawa. Standing at a lofty 1,252 metres, on a clear day its peak affords impressive views across the Sagami Plain, the Boso Peninsula, the skyscrapers of central Tokyo, Mt Fuji, the Tanzawa Ridge, the Hakone Mountains, and Chichibu Tama Kai National Park. Surely, we hear you cry, such riches ought to be rewarded with a place on a list – and indeed they are: Mt Oyama is rightly considered to be one of ‘Kanagawa’s 50 Most Scenic Sites’.

At the peak stands Oyama Afuri Jinja, a shrine constructed by the tenth emperor of Japan, Emperor Sujin. There’s also a second lesser-known shrine at an elevation of 700m, Afuri Jinja Shimosha, that boasts holy water said to bring good fortune and longevity to those who drink it. The sakura blossoms are well worth the climb around the beginning of April, and the mountain plays host to the Oyamadera Momiji Festival in November.

To reach Mt Oyama, take the Odakyu Line to Isehara Station. From there, head to bus terminal four at the north exit of the station and board the Kanagawa Chuo Kotsu I-10 bus to Oyama Cable, the route’s terminus. It’s about a three-hour walk to the peak, though there is also a cable car that runs to Afuri Jinja Shimosha Shrine. Open daily, Mondays-Saturdays, 9am-4:30pm; Sundays, 9am-5pm; adults, 450 yen (roundtrip, 850 yen), kids, 230 yen (roundtrip, 430 yen)

Mt Nabewari


Mt Nabewari doesn’t get its name on to any best-of lists, but it’s a beautiful hike nonetheless. 1,273 metres in height, at its peak you’ll find (what else?) Nabewari Sanso, a mountain hut that offers climbers a tasty and particularly popular nabeyaki udon. The mountain itself is heavily wooded, making for a pleasant walking environment throughout the year, whether you’re a fan of nabeyaki udon or not.

To reach Mt Nabewari, take the Odakyu Line to Shibusawa Station. From there, board the Kanagawa Chuo Kotsu Bus Shibusawa 02 and get off at Okura. It’s about a three hour walk from there to the peak: just follow the signs that lead from Okura to the Nishiyama woodland path and then to Futamata – the entrance to the Mt Nabewari climbing trail. From Futamata, you’ll come out along a ridge – head for Ushirozawa Nokkoshi and on to the summit.

Mt Kumotori

One of the ‘100 Famous Japanese Mountains’ (and you thought we’d run out of lists) boasts the highest point in Tokyo, a staggering 2,017 metres, top to bottom. Located along the borders of Saitama, Yamanashi and Tokyo, Mt Kumotori is notable for its view of Mt Fuji and the Minami Alps. If you’re an inexperienced hiker, rather than trying to climb the mountain in a single day, you might find it easier to spread the trip over two days by staying a night in one of the mountain huts along the way. If you’re feeling fairly supple, however, the easiest option for a day trip is to approach it from the Yamanashi side.

To reach Mt Kumotori, take a Nishi Tokyo Bus from JR Okutama Station headed for Kamosawa Nishi, and alight at Kamosawa, in Tabayama Village. The entrance to the climbing trail begins here, though you should expect to walk for about four and a half hours to reach the peak. Leading through a Japanese cedar forest, the trail starts out relatively flat, though that doesn’t last long. You’ll put in some serious muscle work before the Nanatsu Ishiyama routes and Bunazaka routes diverge. Whichever path you choose – and both have their visual merits – take it slow and steady and watch out for wild animals along the way. Monkeys and deer are not uncommon.

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What to buy: Essential Tokyo souvenirs

25 only-in-Japan gifts, from chopsticks to Be@rbricks

Essential Tokyo souvenirs

No trip to Tokyo would be complete without some souvenir shopping, but scoring the ultimate omiyage can be a real pain sometimes. We’ve made life easier by picking 25 great Tokyo souvenirs, ranging from the traditional (incense, combs, lucky charms) to the downright quirky (tooth-shaped jewellery, anyone?), and most of them are sold close to the city’s main sightseeing spots. Happy shopping, and remember: there’s more to souvenirs than Tokyo Banana.

Fake food keyring
Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya, Asakusa
A fixture on the Kappabashi ‘Kitchen Town’ circuit since 1932, Ganso Shokuhin Sample-ya produces fake food for display in restaurant windows, but in recent years it’s branched out into keyrings, mobile phone straps and DIY ‘Sample’n Cooking’ kits. Address and map

Maneki-neko figurine
Imado Shrine, Asakusa
The maneki-neko ‘beckoning cat’ figurines beloved of Japanese shops and pachinko parlours are believed to have started life at this shrine to all things romantic. Imado’s distinctive conjoined cat statuettes would make a perfect gift for a lovestruck couple.Address and map

Boxwood comb
Yonoya Kushiho, Asakusa
Handmade combs may be a dying art, but the boxwood beauties on sale at this Asakusa shop (established all the way back in 1717) should last for a generation or two if taken care of properly. Prepare to be tempted by the elegant hairpins and keyrings on offer. Address and map

Made-to-order notebook
Kakimori, Asakusa
You might find yourself falling in love with the art of writing all over again after a visit to stationery shop Kakimori, where staff can craft you a custom-made notebook using a range of locally produced paper, covers and bindings. Address and map

‘Akari kokeshi’ doll
Tokyo Kitsch, Yanaka
Traditional Japanese motifs are given a modern twist at Tokyo Kitsch. Their ‘akari kokeshi’ wooden doll conceals an LED light that switches on automatically when it’s picked up or knocked over – a neat trick that might prove invaluable if (or when) the Big One hits. Address and map

Bamboo birdcage
Midoriya, Yanaka
Operating for over a century now, the family-run Midoriya offers bamboo products ranging from the everyday to the exquisite. Its traditionalmushikago cages come in a range of shapes and sizes, and you can even buy bamboo birds and insects to put inside. Address and map

Japanese-style Be@rbricks
Medicom Toy Solamachi, Oshiage
Housed in Tokyo Skytree’s onsite mall, the flagship shop for Medicom Toy shows an admirable respect for its ‘hood, with traditional-style Be@rbrick figures decorated to resemble kabuki actors, daruma dolls and more. Address and map

Lacquered chopsticks
Ginza Natsuno, Ginza
Small and portable, chopsticks make for ideal souvenirs. Mind you, some of the offerings at Natsuno – including lacquered pieces from various regions of Japan – look so gorgeous you might be reluctant to actually use them. Address and map

Japanese stickers
Ito-ya, Ginza
Huge and almost invariably busy, Ginza’s Ito-ya shop is the go-to place for Japanese stationery. Head down to the basement and you’ll find a selection of suitably Japan-style stickers, including images of Mt Fuji, sushi, maneki-neko cats and kabuki.Address and map

Incense pouche
Kyukyodo, Ginza
Established nearly 350 years ago, Kyukyodo supplied incense to the Imperial family during the Edo period, while also specialising in Japanese paper. We’re particularly fond of their palm-sized incense pouches, including the sandlewood-scentedkinran kinchakuAddress and map

Lacquered pencil
Gojuon, Ginza
Ballpoint pens and pencils must be some of the most humdrum stationery around – at least, that is, until you’ve seen the items sold at Gojuon. The gorgeous lacquered pencils here are crafted using traditional techniques, to produce a range of different finishes. Address and map

Edo-style broom
Shirokiya Denbe, Kyobashi
Floors, tabletops, clothes: if there’s something that needs sweeping, you’ll probably be able to find a broom for the task here. Shirokiya Denbe’s Edo-style brooms are also available in compact sizes that are ideal for getting dust off suits and jackets. Address and map

Fortune toothpicks
Saruya, Ningyocho
There are toothpicks, and then there are the hand-crafted little marvels sold at this three-century-old shop in Ningyocho. The kumadori box set comes adorned with a kabuki motif, and its toothpicks are wrapped in fortune slips carrying traditional love songs. Address and map

‘Chigibako’ charm
Shiba Daijingu Shrine, Shiba-Daimon
People have been buying these distinctive, three-tier lucky charms since the Edo era, when women bought them in the hope of finding a good husband. Decorated with wisteria flowers, the three boxes contain beans that rattle when shaken. Address and map

Origami paper
Souvenir From Tokyo, Nogizaka
With a name like that, it’d be rudenot to include Souvenir From Tokyo in this list. The NACT’s shop lives up to its billing with a well chosen array of Tokyo- and Japan-themed design products, including this nifty printed origami paper – also sold in postcard format. Address and map

Bonsai kit
Oriental Bazaar, Harajuku
Tokyo’s most famous souvenir shop is a no-brainer if you’re on the hunt for Japanese gifts. This DIY bonsai set comes complete with seeds, soil and a pot to put them in, meaning that all you’ll need is water – oh, and the patience of a Zen monk. Address and map

‘Tenugui’ towel
Kamawanu, Daikanyama
Tenugui – traditional hand towels made from dyed cloth – have been coming back in vogue recently, and there are few better places to get one than at Kamawanu. Don’t be fooled by the name, either: these ‘towels’ can be used for a lot more than just drying stuff. Address and map

Honeyx bathtime box
Claska Gallery & Shop ‘Do’, Shibuya
Keeping people’s skin fresh and perky since 1927, Hoken’s honey- and royal jelly-dervied cosmetics are an ideal gift for the lady in your life. This gift set includes soaps, shampoo and conditioner, all housed in an attractive paulownia box.Address and map

Mt Fuji tissue case
Katakana, Jiyugaoka
There’s an entire section devoted to Mt Fuji at Katakana, Jiyugaoka’s ever-reliable ‘shop presenting Japanese cool’. Their tissue cases are particularly nifty – notice how the protruding tip of the hankie matches the shape of the mountain’s peak.Address and map

Rilakkuma phone straps
Kiddy Land, Harajuku
Harajuku toy shop par excellence, Kiddy Land devotes a hefty chunk of its fourth floor to ubiquitous bear character Rilakkuma, including these only-in-Tokyo phone straps featuring landmarks like Kaminarimon and Mt Takao. Address and map

Retro kit models
Tokyu Hands, Shibuya
One of the nerdiest corners of the Tokyu Hands shop in Shibuya is floor 7B, home to a panoply of plastic model kits. The nostalgia-inducingFubutsushi sets recreate scenes of Showa Japan, from the local sweet shop to the late-night soba cart.Address and map

Tooth jewellery
Aquvii Tokyo, Shibuya
As unusual Tokyo souvenirs go, you could do a lot worse than Aquvii’s line of tooth earrings and necklaces. And don’t worry: they’re fashioned from medical-grade resin rather than real human gnashers, so you shouldn’t have any trouble getting them past customs. Address and map

Cheap snacks
Don Quijote, Shinjuku
Sure, you could splurge on some highfalutin Japanese sweets at a department store. But your recipient would get a far better sense of contemporary Japan from a selection of cheap ‘n’ nasty children’s snacks, courtesy of our friends at Don Quijote. Address and map

‘Washi’ paper goods
Bingoya, Wakamatsucho
A six-floor bazaar devoted to traditional Japanese crafts, Bingoya should satisfy even the most jaded souvenir shopper. Their handmadewashi (Japanese paper) products are oh-so-practical, with business card holders, book covers and more.Address and map

Manga… in English
Manadarake, Nakano
Manga, dojinshi fanzines, out-of-print books, fan merchandise: whatever your otaku obsession, you’ll be able to sate it here. Perhaps more importantly, Mandarake also has a selection of English titles, if you want something that people back home can actually read. Address and map

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What to read: A brief history of kawaii

A new book explores Japan’s obsession with all things cute

A brief history of kawaii

Anyone with even the slightest interest in modern Japanese culture will probably have stumbled across the term ‘kawaii’ by now. Though it roughly translates as ‘cute’ in English, it’s a concept that seems to encapsulate so much more than that: from the fashionable streets of Harajuku to the big-eyed mascots that watch over Tokyo’s wards, it’s practically inescapable. As Manami Okazaki writes in a new book on the subject: ‘You are just as likely to hear a table, car, building, doughnut or plane referred to as kawaii – and in Japan, quite often, the most banal things are cute.’ In Kawaii! Japan’s Culture of Cute (Prestel), Okazaki and photographer Geoff Johnson explore the phenomenon from its simple origins right up to its modern day manifestations of sweet sweets, cutesy cosplay and kimono-wearing cats, stopping along the way for interviews with the likes ofFRUiTS editor Shoichi Aoki, Gloomy creator Mori Chack and Goth-loli model Rin Rin. In this exclusive extract, Keiko Nakahara, curator of Tokyo’s Yayoi-Yumeji Museum, delves back to when the trend first started a century ago…

Kurumi-chan illustration by manga artist Katsuji Matsumoto. Photo: Geoff Johnson

Keiko Nakamura, curator, Yayoi-Yumeji Museum

In Japan, there are kawaii items everywhere you look. Any product you can think of has a kawaii equivalent waiting coquettishly in its box for a cute-obsessed customer to come along and take it home. Where does this culture come from? The Yayoi-Yumeji Museum, which is made up of two spaces, the Yayoi Museum and Takehisa Yumeji Museum, is dedicated to girls’ magazine illustrators. It hosts many exhibitions each year, with the goal of promoting knowledge about kawaii’s rich history.

What does kawaii mean exactly?
It is the appeal of adolescence, when one is not yet an adult. Kawaii things are usually soft, bright, round and small. They aren’t aggressive or belligerent, they give you peace of mind and a sense of security. Originally, the word was used to describe people who were beneath you. It was acceptable to use it when referring to objects, but you wouldn’t use it for your superiors or schoolmates. But since the mid-’80s girls have generally preferred to be called kawaii rather than pretty.

What are the historical roots of kawaii culture?
I consider 1914 the birth year of kawaii in Japan. That’s when illustrator Yumeji Takehisa opened a shop in Nihonbashi that sold numerous goods aimed at schoolgirls – what we now refer to as ‘fancy goods’. Items that were desirable at the time included woodblock prints, embroidery, cards, illustrated books, umbrellas, dolls and kimono collars. Up until then, there hadn’t really been any shops that were aimed at a particular clientele based on age or gender, but the customers of this store were mostly young women. At the time, of course, they weren’t using the term ‘fancy goods’, but komamono.

Takehisa was influenced by foreign cultures, and his goods showed an aesthetic meeting of East and West. For example, he designed coloured paper that he decorated with drawings of poisonous mushrooms. At the time, in Japan, that wasn’t done, but in the West in the early 1900s poisonous mushrooms appeared on cards or in illustrated books. He also designed chiyogamipaper with motifs such as umbrellas and matchsticks (pictured). At the time, chiyogamiwas usually printed with traditional yuzenpatterns, so his thinking was very innovative and a lot of people came to copy him. Takehisa placed importance on the cuteness of his designs and referred to them as kawaii. However, this is a rare example of the word being used at the time, as it wasn’t a commonly used word, as it is now.

Takehisa was seen as an innovator: he had a real talent for doing things no one was doing and making them popular. For example, he would embroider strawberries or flowers into kimono collars. The kimono itself was really drab at the time, so haneri collars were really important. Nowadays, these collars are white, but back then they were the focal point of the kimono, and they were made to be as conspicuous as possible. The orthodox motifs were chrysanthemums or sakura – things such as strawberries were totally unheard of and people were astounded.

How have Japanese notions of beauty changed over time?
If you compare the work of Takehisa and the painter Ryushi Kawabata, their notions of what constitutes beauty are very different. Takehisa’s illustrations look cute in comparison to Kawabata’s work because there is a roundness to them – especially the eyes. Kawabata paints eyes in the shape that is common in Japanese classical painting; having small eyes and a slender physique was considered to be the ideal. Round eyes were traditionally seen as vulgar, although the ideal changed with foreign contact. Artists began to follow Takehisa’s style, and one of these was Junichi Nakahara, who drew eyes very large. He introduced the idea that girls on paper didn’t have to replicate reality.

The Great Kanto earthquake happened in 1923, and Tokyo was obliterated. From that time, Takehisa’s popularity declined and various designers became prominent, although at the time they weren’t called designers – they were called zuanka, and were all influenced by Takehisa. Kaichi Kobayashi, from Kyoto, who draws quite mature looking images, was one of these designers. He made envelopes and letter paper for schoolgirls.

What were these letter sets used for?
They were becoming increasingly important items for schoolgirls. Before the Taisho era [1912-26], girls went to elementary school and then got married or went to work, but during this period more girls continued their education. They were generally from upper middle-class families and had a lot of spare time, which they spent writing letters. Meeting up with boys was strictly forbidden at girls’ schools, so they would play games where they would write love letters to their classmates instead, or to girls they looked up to or thought were cute – almost every day! At the time, of course, there was no internet, so letter sets became very important and were the hit item of the era.

Playing cards by manga artist Katsuji Matsumoto. Photo: Geoff Johnson

People who followed directly from Takehisa’s trend included artists such as Nakahara, who opened a goods shop called Himawariya [sunflower], and Katsuji Matsumoto, who was active from the beginning of the Showa era [1926-89]. Matsumoto is thought to be the originator of shojo manga in Japan, and Kurukuru Kurumi-chan the first example of it. The protagonist, Kurumi-chan, is considered the first character icon. There were Kurumi-chan kisekai dolls [dress-up paper dolls] and stickers, as well as postcards that were meant to encourage troops during the war. The story itself is really quite simple: Kurumi is a five-year-old who is always merry, and hence loveable. It is uncomplicated, and audiences today might wonder why it was so popular.

In the ’50s and ’60s a lot of fancy goods came on the market as Japan’s economy grew. There were improvements in raw materials and technological advances. Directly after the war there was a baby boom, and, as these babies grew up to be teenagers, the market for goods aimed at this age group increased.

Rune Naito’s name comes up a lot in reference to kawaii culture. How influential is his work?
He popularised the word ‘kawaii’. When you look at his drawings, the ratio of body length to the size of the head suggests the proportions of a very little girl. The facial features are those of a newborn baby, with a large, round head. The distance from the hairline to the eyebrows is really long, giving the face a large forehead, and the nose and mouth are really small. His work was initially seen as a bit weird, but became very popular.

Prior to this era, Japanese women had to mature and become adults quickly because poverty was rampant, and people were encouraged to have a lot of children to provide a labour force and recruits for the army. In fact, it was common for families to have between seven and ten kids. When the men went to war, the women had to work. In the mid-1950s the guys went back to work and the girls didn’t have to grow up so fast.

Handkerchiefs designed by Rune Naito. Photo: Geoff Johnson

When did seminal shojo manga artists come into the picture?
Artists such as Masako Watanabe and Macoto Takahashi, who drew gorgeous, opulent images, became the most influential people in terms of manufacturing goods. Ado Mizumori was also hugely influential, separating her work from its predecessors by adding a touch of eroticism to the cuteness. For example, her characters had large, round bottoms and appeared in kissing scenes. You could say this was the beginning of ero-kawaii [erotic cute]. From there, the notion of kawaii branched off in different directions, including kimo-kawaiishibu-kawaii, and otona-kawaii. Perhaps it’s because of these sub genres that Japan didn’t grow bored of the notion of kawaii and it continues today.

How did Sanrio goods become explosively popular?
From the mid-’60s to the ’70s, manga such as Candy Candy and Sailor Moon were very important, as were dolls such as Licca-chan. In the ’80s, Tokyo Disneyland opened and sold many goods, making it common for everyone to have at least one Disney item in their house. The birth of Hello Kitty in 1974 was a landmark event too. Though Sanrio had been around previously, selling strawberry-themed goods or Ado Mizumori products, nothing came close to the Hello Kitty boom.

Why were so many goods produced during this time?
This was connected to the oil and dollar crisis [due to the 1973 Arab oil embargo]. Up until then, the general goods industry had been aimed at exports to America, but because of the economic climate of the time they had to focus on the domestic market instead. The success of Hello Kitty led to the realisation that if you made something cute, it would sell. As a result, various companies jumped on the goods-manufacturing bandwagon.

When the economic bubble burst, Japanese people had less disposable income and wanted to buy inexpensive things, so 100-yen shops started up. A lot of fancy goods came to be manufactured just for this market, and, because of this, they came to be seen as kitsch and cheap. Before this generation, it was upper-class girls who had bought kawaii, but now everyone could have inexpensive fancy goods. At one point the industry even wanted to rebrand them ‘variety goods’, but, unsurprisingly, that idea didn’t take off. Since then, there has been a stream of hit characters, such as Tarepanda from San-X, and similar companies continue to make more and more kawaii items.

This is an excerpt from Kawaii: Japan’s Culture of Cute by Manami Okazaki and Geoff Johnson, available now via Amazon Japan and at major bookstores. Republished with permission.

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Masako Watanabe’s classic kawaii girls in ‘Venus’, 1955-65. Photo: Geoff Johnson

Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Must read, Stories about Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japan summer music festivals 2013

 From Fuji Rock to Freedommune: a music fan’s guide to summer in Japan

Japan summer music festivals 2013

Music festivals in Japan: they’re a summer tradition, a rite of passage, and a brilliant way of spending the price of an overseas vacation in the space of a single weekend. As we ease into tinnitus season, things are already heating up: Fuji Rock has managed to pull together its strongest lineup in years, including a trio of A-list headliners, while arch-rival Summer Sonichas demonstrated unequivocally that you don’t actually need a good lineup if you want your event to sell out. The Big Four – which also includes the domestic-only Rock in Japan and Rising Sun – find themselves in an increasingly crowded (if not necessarily varied) market, as events like Hokkaido’s Join Alive, Aomori Rock Festival and Baycamp grow more ambitious in their scope. Meanwhile, jazz, techno, classical and world music fans will also find something of interest if they look in the right places – and some of it won’t even cost a penny. So slip on your wellies, stick in your earplugs and join us on a romp through the Japanese music festival scene…

The Big Four

Fuji Rock Festival ’13

Who’s playing: Bjork, Nine Inch Nails, The Cure, Skrillex, Mumford & Sons, Vampire Weekend, The XX, Flying Lotus, My Bloody Valentine, Jurassic 5

July 26-28 | Naeba Ski Resort, Yuzawa, Niigata
3 day ticket ¥42,800 adv, 1 day ticket ¥17,800 adv

The daddy of Japanese outdoor music fests is perhaps also the most demanding – whether it’s the expense, the ever-present rain, the exhausting scale of the site, or the fact that the two acts you most want to see almost always clash with each other. If you can forgive all this (and the fact that it’s nowhere near the eponymous mountain), Fuji Rock has an atmosphere that few festivals manage to replicate, and this year’s lineup is one of the strongest in recent memory. And if not… well, there’s always Summer Sonic. Event details

Summer Sonic 2013

Who’s playing: Metallica, Muse, Linkin Park, Mr Children, The Smashing Pumpkins, Beady Eye, Pet Shop Boys, Cheap Trick, Earth, Wind & Fire, Fall Out Boy

August 10-11 | Makuhari Messe & QVC Marine Field, Mihama-ku, Chiba
2 day ticket ¥28,000 adv, 1 day ticket ¥15,500 adv

The appeal of Fuji Rock’s main rival can be summed up in a single word: convenience. Tickets are (slightly) cheaper, you won’t have to take any time off work, and the Makuhari Messe location is just a half-hour train ride from Tokyo Station. Once a straightforwardly rockist affair, Summer Sonic these days seems more concerned with ensuring that tickets sell out as quickly as possible, resulting in a Frankenstein’s monster of a lineup that feels like it was compiled by accountants rather than music fans. Event details

Rock in Japan 2013

Who’s playing: Asian Kung-Fu Generation, Sakanaction, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, Miyavi, Perfume, Quruli, Special Others, Shugo Tokumaru, The Hiatus, 9mm Parabellum Bullet

August 2-4 | Hitachi Seaside Park, Ibaraki
3 day ticket ¥30,000 adv, 2 day ticket ¥22,000 adv, 1 day ticket ¥11,500 adv

Few music magazines have a better grasp of what the public wants thanRockin’ On, the influential periodical behind this most repetitive of music festivals. Held at an attractive seaside park on the Ibaraki coast that seems to have been entirely purged of drunk people, Rock in Japan consistently sells out in advance each year, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that the lineup has more repeat performers than any other summer music fest. Event details

Rising Sun Rock Festival 2013 in Ezo

Who’s playing: Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Quruli, The Hiatus, 10-Feet, Sambomaster, Maximum the Hormone, Haruomi Hosono, Char, Misia, The Birthday

August 16-17 | Tarukawa Wharf, Ishikari Bay New Port, Otaku, Hokkaido
2 day ticket ¥18,000 adv, 1 day ticket ¥9,000 adv (Aug 16)/¥12,500 adv (Aug 17)

You’d be surprised how many Tokyoites make the pilgrimage to Hokkaido for this two-day affair, where the main stage keeps going until dawn on the second night. Like Rock in Japan, the lineup at Rising Sun consists purely of domestic acts, although they spread their net wider, and with less regard for commercial considerations. It’s also a gastronomic delight: look out for stalls selling locally farmed produce, seafood and craft beer. Event details

Weekend festivals and longer

Earth Celebration 2013

Who’s playing: Kodo, Hiromitsu Agatsuma
August 23-25 | Shiroyama Park + other venues, Sado Island, Niigata
1 day ticket ¥4,700/¥5,200 adv, 2 day ticket ¥8,400/¥8,900 adv, 3 day ticket ¥13,000

Though they spend much of the year touring Japan and overseas, tireless taiko troupe Kodo return each summer to their base in Sado Island, off the coast of Niigata, to host this annual festival. Over two decades after it started, it’s easy to take Earth Celebration for granted, but those who bother to make the trip are seldom disappointed. Event details

Saito Kinen Festival Matsumoto 2013

Who’s playing: Saito Kinen Orchestra, Junko Onishi
August 17-September 7 | Kissei Bunka Hall + other venues, Matsumoto
Individual concerts ¥1,000-¥30,000

Septuagenarian conductor Seiji Ozawa has managed to lure jazz pianist Junko Onishi out of retirement for this year’s Saito Kinen Festival, but that’s just one of the attractions in a nearly monthly-long series of orchestra and chamber concerts, opera productions, workshops, and even programs for the kids. Event details

Join Alive 2013

Who’s playing: Sakanaction, Sekai no Owari, Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra, Gary Clark Jr, The Hiatus, Flumpool, Rocket from the Crypt, Clammbon, Kemuri, Miyavi
July 20-21 & 27-28 | Iwamizawa, Hokkaido
1 day ticket ¥8,000-¥8,800, 2 day ticket ¥15,500

A Hokkaido amusement park provides the setting for this relatively young fest, which is spreading the action across two consecutive weekends for the first time this year. It’s a gambit that could go either way – as could the decision to introduce more overseas acts (including Gary Clark Jr and Yo La Tengo) to a lineup hitherto dominated by chart-friendly Japanese artists. Bit of an unknown quantity, this one. Event details

Tokyo Jazz Festival 2013

Who’s playing: Tony Bennett, Chick Corea, Lee Konitz, Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club, Bob James & David Sanborn, Bobby McFerrin, Ai Kuwabara, Matt Dusk, Larry Carlton
September 6-8 | Tokyo International Forum, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Individual concerts ¥6,000-¥9,500, 1 day ticket ¥18,000; some events free

Japan’s biggest jazz event is also its least catholic. The three-day Tokyo Jazz Festival doesn’t balk at booking crooners (Burt Bacharach last year, Tony Bennett this year), and each indisputably great musician on the lineup (Chick Corea, Lee Konitz) seems to be counterbalanced by a soporifically smooth operator (we’re looking at you, Bob James and David Sanborn). The main concerts are supplemented by more intimate gigs at the nearby Cotton Club, plus free outdoor shows for people who are too cheap to buy a ticket. Event details

The Labyrinth 2013

Who’s playing: To be announced
September 14-16 | Naeba Greenland, Niigata
3 day ticket ¥16,000 adv

Once you’ve tried Labyrinth, there’s no turning back. Revered by techno nerds worldwide, it must be one of the most fastidiously crafted dance parties on earth: attendance is capped at a few thousand people, the high-end Funktion One sound system is EQed to shimmering, pin-drop perfection – and they only bother to book acts who know how to make the most of it. Event details

Sukiyaki Meets the World

Who’s playing: Oliver Mtukudzi & The Black Spirits, Ukandanz, Mariana Baraj meets Dos Orientales, Antonio Loureiro, Puntigam, Matchume Zango & Sakaki Mango
August 23-25 | Nanto Helios + other venues, Nanto, Toyama
Single stages ¥2,500-¥3,500 adv; some events free

Japan’s biggest world music festival takes place in Nanto, Toyama during the final weekend of August, where performances by acts from Zimbabwe, Brazil, Argentina and beyond (plus some of their local disciples) are supplemented by workshops and Caribbean-style street parades. You can catch many of the headliners at WWW in Tokyo the following week, but the atmosphere won’t be the same. Event details

Tokyo Idol Festival 2013

Who’s playing: Bis, Negicco, Idoling!!!, Vanilla Beans, Weather Girls, Mariko Goto, Tokyo Girls’ Style, Dorothy Little Happy, Sakura Gakuin, Up Up Girls (Kari)
July 27-28 | Zepp Tokyo + other venues, Taito-ku, Tokyo
1 day ticket ¥4,800 adv, 2 day ticket ¥8,500 adv

In a bit of scheduling that we imagine is going to bother absolutely no-one, this all-out idol-pop assault is taking place on the same weekend as Fuji Rock. Expect to see over a hundred acts take to the stage over the course of the two-day Tokyo Idol Festival, though you’d need to be an über-nerd to know who most of them are. Event details

Ringo Fes. 2013

Who’s playing: UA, Towa Tei, Hitomi Toi, Tofubeats, Nabowa, Oorutaichi
September 14-15 | Alps Park, Matsumoto, Nagano
1 day ticket ¥6,500, 2 day ticket ¥12,000

The dominance of Japanese-only lineups on the music festival circuit wouldn’t be such a drag if rival events actually bothered to book different acts from each other. Kudos to this Matsumoto-based fest for keeping things avowedly left-of-centre – and for having such a gorgeously verdant setting, too. Event details

One-day fests and all-nighters

Aomori Rock Festival ’13

Who’s playing: Envy, N’Shukugawa Boys, Group_inou, Goma & The Jungle Rhythm Section, Hijokaidan, Kan Mikami,, Ningen Isu, Zazen Boys, Totalfat
September 14 | Yogoshiyama Ski Area, Hiranai-machi, Aomori
¥7,000 adv

If you’re still looking for excitement in the dying days of the summer, head up north. The one-day Aomori Rock Festival likes to do things differently, from the ludicrously early start time (7am!) to the free slice of toast with each ticket order, to the lineup that finds space for workaday indie guitar bands, idol pop, avant-garde noise acts and legendary folk singer Kan Mikami. Event details

World Happiness 2013

Who’s playing: Hikashu, Towa Tei, Shugo Tokumaru, Akiko Yano, Tamio Okuda, Rekishi, Scha Dara Parr, Ko Shibasaki, Ohashi Trio, Yukihiro Takahashi
August 11 | Yumenoshima Park, Koto-ku, Tokyo
Adults ¥8,500, elementary schoolers ¥1,050

It’s the only major summer music festival that actually happens within Tokyo, at a park right next to Shin-Kiba Station. Co-organised by YMO’s Yukihiro Takahashi, the single-day World Happiness is a family-friendly affair, with a decent kids area, special tickets for parents accompanying elementary school age children, and a lineup that’s unlikely to ruffle anybody’s feathers. Event details

Freedommune <0> Zero One Thousand 2013

Who’s playing: Penny Rimbaud, Boredoms, Yoshihide Otomo & Amachan Special Big Band, Keiji Haino, Isao Tomita + Steve Hillage, Milton Bradley, Towa Tei
July 13 | Makuhari Messe, Mihama-ku, Chiba
Free (with minimum ¥1,000 charity donation)

It may not have been the best music festival we went to last year, but Freedommune Zero <0> was easily the most audacious: a free all-nighter held at the same venue as Summer Sonic, with high-tech visuals and a bill that ran from noise godfather Merzbow to ’90s J-pop veteran Tetsuya Komura – plus the preserved brain of Meiji-era novelist Natsume Soseki. This year’s promises to be just as memorable, with highlights including a 91-drummer version of Boredoms’ Boa Drum project and appearances by Crass co-founder Penny Rimbaud and synth pioneer Isao Tomita. Event details


Who’s playing: The Stone Roses, Pet Shop Boys, Sakanaction, Denki Groove, Perfume, Steve Aoki, Justice, Klaxons, Breakbot, Fear, and Loathing in Las Vegas
August 8 | Makuhari Messe & QVC Marine Field, Mihama-ku, Chiba
¥9,800 adv

This Friday night warm-up party for Summer Sonic actually looks like the more appealing proposition, mixing nostalgia acts (The Stone Roses, Pet Shop Boys) with some more trend-savvy selections – plus enough surefire-draw local artists to ensure that it’s actually well attended. Event details


Who’s playing: Giorgio Moroder, Josh Wink, Sven Vath, Slam, Len Faki, Ken Ishii, Hell, Matias Aguayo, 2000 and One, Westbam
September 14 | Yokohama Arena, Kohoku-ku, Yokohama
¥11,500 adv

Techno DJ and Denki Groove member Takkyu Ishino held his first Wire all-nighter back in 1999, taking inspiration from Germany’s long-running Mayday parties. Held in the humungous expanse of Yokohama Arena, it’s the largest indoor party in Japan, with visuals and décor to match. Plenty to keep thrill-seekers happy, but serious techno heads would do better to skip this and go to Labyrinth instead (see above). Event details

Baycamp 2013

Who’s playing: The Birthday, Zazen Boys, Eastern Youth, Dragon Ash, Husking Bee, [Champagne], The Telephones, Group_inou, Frontier Backyard, Kaisoku Tokyo
September 7 | Higashi Ohgishima Park, Kawasaki, Kanagawa
¥6,900 adv, under 18s ¥4,900 adv

After getting off to a promising start in 2011, this bayside all-nighter has significantly upgraded its lineup – with the unfortunate effect that it’s increasingly indistinguishable from every other summer music fest. Head to Higashi Ohgishima East Park, in the heart of Kawasaki’s industrial area, to catch sets by big-name guitar bands plus a few younger, hungrier acts. Event details

Categories: Daytrips, Must see, Things to do, Weekend trips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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