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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]

Culture, No.1  Jun. 4, 2010


TAKAGI TŌRU The “economic superpower” banner that Japan has proudly carried for so long has started to fade. One thing I can say from my own experience is that it is definitely getting harder to research stories overseas than it used to be. When I first started traveling overseas as a journalist back in 1996 or so, all I had to do was describe NHK as the “Japanese BBC,” and people were generally more than happy to make time for an interview. They obviously felt that it was to their advantage to appear on Japanese TV. Nowadays, it’s a struggle to get people to even see me. And I don’t just mean in Europe and the United States–the same is true of countries like India and Turkey that are supposed to be friendly to Japan. People just aren’t interested in Japan anymore. IKEUCHI SATOSHI ... ... [Read more]