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Culture, No.5  Feb. 3, 2011


Hagio Moto is today a leading figure in Japan’s manga industry–indeed, in the country’s cultural sphere as a whole. Her oeuvre is broad and deep, with representative works including Pō no ichizoku (The Poe Clan), a depiction of beautiful vampires; Tōma no shinzō (The Heart of Thomas), about life in a boys’ boarding school in Germany; 11 nin iru! (trans. They Were Eleven), a science-fiction masterpiece; and the psychological thriller Zankoku na kami ga shihai suru (A Savage God Reigns) (all published by Shōgakukan). These have earned her many devoted readers, particularly women, who eagerly look forward to immersing themselves in the next weekly or monthly installment of her work and experiencing her delicate artistic touch, captivating characters, and thrilling dialogue. In 2009 Hagio celebrated the fortieth anniversary of her debut as a manga artist. Her creative spark shows no... [Read more]

Culture, No.3  Nov. 28, 2010


TAKEUCHI KAORU Appropriations for science and technology have recently been cut sharply as a result of the government’s program-review process. I believe it’s a serious problem if the work on basic science is weakened. How do you feel about that? MASKAWA TOSHIHIDE If you look at examples from the past, it takes about a hundred years for the fruits of basic science to be returned to society in practical form. For example, the use of radar in World War II was the beginning of people’s ability to make free use of radio waves. Then after the war television was developed. All this was based on the Maxwell equations summing up the laws of electromagnetic fields, which were drawn up in 1864 by James Maxwell. It was about eighty years from then to the 1940s. It’s the same story in other fields. TAKEUCHI I was ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.3  Oct. 3, 2010


“One Hundred Ten-Year-Old Woman Listed as Residing in Arakawa Ward Is Missing”–This headline sounds like any one of the many others that filled the pages of Japanese newspapers starting in late July, but in fact it dates from the Nikkei evening edition printed on September 14, 2005. Tokyo’s Arakawa Ward, where the supposedly 110-year-old woman was listed as residing, had been listing the woman as still alive in the annual report sent to the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare for at least three years prior to that date, without confirming that this was in fact true. Arakawa Ward was obliged to issue that report on the most elderly of its residents, after confirming their whereabouts, for the ministry’s National Longevity List, published annually prior to Respect for the Aged Day in September. The Longevity List includes a roster of the 100 oldest people ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.2  Sept. 28, 2010


The Ōmiya Bonsai Art Museum, Saitama, opened on March 28 in Saitama City, not far from Tokyo. It is the first publicly run institution in Japan dedicated to the art of bonsai. The museum is located in an exclusive residential area known as the Ōmiya Bonsai Village. The Bonsai Village developed in the years following the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, when a number of established professional bonsai cultivators moved here from Tokyo, drawn to Ōmiya by its clean air and the prospect of spacious premises suitable for use as bonsai nurseries. In the years that followed, Ōmiya grew into an important suburb under the influence of the “garden city” philosophy of urban planning then prevalent in the commuter belt around Tokyo, making it a place of considerable interest in terms of Japanese social history.... [Read more]

Culture, No.2  Aug. 8, 2010


The start of the new academic year this April brought the introduction of a new set of textbooks in Japanese elementary schools. Stories in the media about the new textbooks, which are considerably thicker than before, took them as symbolic of a shift away from yutori kyōiku, or “education that gives children room to grow.” A headline in the daily Asahi Shimbun on March 31 proclaimed: “25% More Pages in Elementary School Texts: Farewell to Room-to-Grow Education.” The Yomiuri Shimbun had shorter headline delivering the same message on the same day. The new textbooks have more pages, and furthermore their contents seem to be more difficult. They restore many items that were designated as advanced-study topics in the previous round of textbook screening or that had been omitted entirely as part of the “room to grow” revisions, such as the formula for calculating the ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.2  Aug. 5, 2010


Photo : Men's Soccer Japan Representative

Members of Japan’s national team (at May 30, 2010 match against England) ©J.LEAGUE PHOTOS “In terms of how we played, I have no regrets at all. The players were really wonderful, and they’ve been truly proud of being Japanese and also representing Asia as a whole. They played until the end and I’m proud of them. But I didn’t manage to get them to win. That’s my responsibility. I wasn’t determined enough.” So spoke Okada Takeshi, coach of Japan’s national football team, at a press conference following his side’s defeat in a penalty shoot-out to Paraguay in the round of 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. While Okada’s remarks may have been tinged with disappointment, the performance and results of the Japanese team at this summer’s tournament were certainly... [Read more]

Culture, No.2  Aug. 3, 2010


Michelin Guide 2008 Tokyo caused a great stir when it went on sale in 2007, but this was tempered in Japan by a haze of skepticism over the release of Michelin’s first guide to a city outside Europe or North America. The New York Times reported on such ambivalence in a story titled, “Michelin Gives Stars, but Tokyo Turns Up Nose” (February 24, 2008). The book nonetheless sold well, with 90,000 copies snapped up on the first day of sale–a new record for the venerable guide. It made its biggest impact, though, in Europe, as it gave stars to 150 restaurants in Tokyo, more than double the 64 listed in the guide for Paris the same year. Tokyo also overwhelmed other cities in the total number of stars awarded. Michelin maintains that its criteria for rating restaurants are consistent in all regions, so by ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.2  Aug. 1, 2010


The Japan-China Friendship Jūdō Hall in Nanjing, constructed with financial assistance from Japan, opened on March 1, 2010. Funding for the project was provided through the Grant Assistance for Cultural Grassroots Projects program administered by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The jūdō hall in Nanjing is the second such facility in China; the first was built in Qingdao in 2007. Having been involved in the project from the very beginning, I went there for the opening ceremony and coached some students from local sports schools at the grand opening. Japanese media people were out in full force that day, and I told an interviewer that I considered Nanjing, a place with terribly painful associations for Japanese people too, to be, for that very reason, the most suitable site for a jūdō hall. A jūdō hall celebrating friendship between Japan and China has been built ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.1  Jul. 28, 2010


“One of the first things that struck me when I began studying in Japan is how little the university students here study,” said Zhang Cheng,[1. The names of the Chinese students interviewed for this article have been changed.] answering my first question in fluent Japanese. Zhang (age 21) comes from a family of scholars; both parents are professors at an elite university. He lived the first four months of his life in Japan, where his parents were conducting research, and during high school he spent short periods in Japan, the United States, and Canada as an exchange student. In a country where travel abroad is still inaccessible to many, Zhang’s opportunities were exceptional. He was on the elite academic track, with almost all of his high school classmates going on to study at Peking University or Tsinghua University. He himself enrolled at PKU, and ... ... [Read more]

Culture, No.1  Jul. 27, 2010


Japanese culture has a much more prominent position in the world today than most people in Japan realize. The “Cool Japan” phenomenon has really started to take off around the globe. Personally, I think of the current interest in Japan as the third “Japan boom.” The first boom, which started back in the nineteenth century, focused on things like geisha, “Fujiyama,” and ukiyoe woodblock prints. In those days, people had a taste for the exotic, and the interest was driven chiefly by curiosity about the Other. The second boom came during the 1980s, when animated cartoon versions of Japanese manga like Candy Candy and Captain Tsubasa were shown around the world and Japan started to attract attention for the high quality and entertainment value of its popular culture. Even so, the image of Japan as somehow “exotic” remained strong through the late 1990s. The ... ... [Read more]