Manga Museum: Museum for Manga Readers in Kyoto, Japan

Manga are literally stacked from floor to the ceiling.

Manga coffee shops can be found throughout Japan. From their names, it would appear that they are intended for reading comics, but actually they are also used for perusing the Internet, viewing videos or napping. 

But this Manga Museum, located in Kyoto City, is a place for people who really want to read manga. Built in 2006 on the former site of a primary school, the museum is a repository of some 300,000 manga magazines, including priceless historical materials including those published during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and in the years after the Pacific War, and works by contemporary artists. They also include works from foreign countries. While an admission of 800 yen is charged, people have the option of spending 6,000 yen for a “passport” allowing for one year of usage. The central area on the 2nd floor features a large lecture hall, where many manga are available for reading — so for those who enjoy comics, the outlay for a one-year pass will pay for itself.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

What is Mito Komon? One of the Most Famous National Drama

Mito Komon, a National Drama

Mito Komon is the literary name given to Tokugawa Mitsukuni, lord of the powerful Mito domain in the early part of the Edo Period (1601-1868). In modern times, he became a character in a work of popular story, “The Travels of Mito Komon.” From 1969 a long-running weekly TV series was spun off from the novel, which ran for over 1,200 episodes until finally halting in 2011. The sponsor of that program was Panasonic. Each episode adhered to a similar formula: Traveling incognito around Japan, Lord Mitsukuni and his trusted lieutenants encountered various troubles, which they solved by exposing and apprehending the villains. The story’s popularity remains unabated, and at a pedestrian bridge in front of Mito Station, the city’s residents can see a statue of Mitsukuni and two lieutenants, named Kaku and Suke. The city also boasts Kairakuen, one of Japan’s three most famous gardens and famous for its plum trees. Visitors at the park can pose for photos with actors dressed up to resemble the cast of the popular TV show.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Fresh Fish Market in Ibaraki, Japan

The devastating tsunami that struck northeast Japan on March 11, 2011 resulted not only in local damage, but had repercussions from Hokkaido to Kyushu, and even overseas. One of these was the Nakaminato fish market. Located in Hitachinaka City, Ibaraki Prefecture, it is not quite in Tohoku, but just south of neighboring Fukushima Prefecture. On that day this area was struck by a tsunami that crested at four meters. However, due to strong support and strong will for its recovery it was back in business 50 days later. Parts of the adjacent port are still undergoing repairs, but the market receives many tourists on weekends.

Its main appeal is the availability of fresh seafood at low prices. Visitors can also enjoy purchasing walk-away foods such as raw oysters or grilled uni (sea urchin eggs) from vendors. Or, those purchasing fish can, upon request, have them filleted and served with wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and soya sauce on the side, to be eaten on the spot. As the market also has several kaiten zushi shops where sushi is served from belt conveyors, and other restaurants serving Japanese cuisine, it invariably hosts lively crowds at lunchtime. While some people have voiced concerns over the port’s relative proximity to radiation from the crippled Fukushima reactors, all foods sold here undergo safety checks. The Nakaminato port can be reached by passenger car from Tokyo in approximately two hours using the expressway, making it an ideal destination for day trips. Hearing the merchants’ lively voices hawking their wares, the tragedy that unfolded two years ago seems so remote as to be almost unreal.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Kabukiza: Japanese Opera House

A Modern New Home for Japan’s Traditional Dramatic Art

Tokyo’s Kabukiza Theater, dedicated exclusively to performances of one of Japan’s native drama, reopened April upon completion of reconstruction that took three years and cost 45 billion yen. First constructed in 1889, the new theater, the fourth to exist on this location, retained the familiar façade of its predecessor. In addition to more convenient access — through a direct underground corridor linking the building to the Higashi-Ginza subway station — the new theater boasts new retail stores, restaurants and the 29-story commercial skyscraper. The fifth floor offers a spectacular view of costumes and stage props used in the kabuki drama, and visitors can also enjoy greenery in the roof garden. Shochiku Company, the operator of the building, said it was expecting 1.1 million visitors its first year — an increase of about 20% from previous years.

Kabuki is a native Japanese drama combining music, dance and acting performances. It originated some 400 years ago during the Edo period (1601-1868) and continues today as form of popular entertainment. More recently, viewers are able to rent hand-held monitors displaying dialog or background description of the play (for an extra charge). This is currently available only in Japanese, but from around this summer devices displaying English are also planned. Audible explanations via earphone receivers are already available.

Ex-Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had remarked, “This is the real ‘Cool Japan.’ I hope people from all over the world come to see it.”

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Onsen, Mineral Hot Springs, for Residents Only in Japan

Onsen, Mineral Hot Springs, for Residents Only in Japan

Japan is an earthquake-prone country. One of the reasons is because of the many volcanoes. In return, we can enjoy the benefits of hot springs. In some parts of the country, you can bring hot springs to your house and use them. In some areas, you can bring your own hot spring water to your house and use it, or there are hot spring facilities for residents only, as shown in this picture.

Recently, we introduced Yufuin in Oita Prefecture, one of Japan’s most famous mineral hot springs, onsen. The ancient town, which is said to be third nationwide in terms of volume of onsen water produced, also has some bath houses restricted to local residents only. They feature simple places for washing and are free of charge. It’s enviable that the residents can soak in natural hot springs every day. This may be a factor in some retired couples moving to the town. Recently, facilities that harness geothermal heat to generate electricity have also been attracting attention.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

An ecological way to demolish one floor at a time without blowing up

What was once a luxury hotel in Tokyo’s Akasaka district is slowly but surely shrinking. By use of a new demolition method, the height of the former Akasaka Prince Hotel is becoming shorter by 6.4 meters every 10 days. The job is expected to be complete by April of this year. According to Taisei Construction Company, which is involved in the task, this is only the second time in Japan the new demolition method called the Taisei Ecological Reproduction System or “tekoreppu” for short, which works down from the top but leaves the building’s roof intact until the end, has been utilized. Using temporary pillars to support the existing roof, the building is lowered two floors at a time. Afterwards, the jacks attached to the pillars are lowered. By demolishing materials while leaving the roof intact, dust and noise is reduced. Using cranes to lower the scraps also generates energy, which can be used to power illumination and others. This is an extremely environmentally friendly demolition method that could be said to be the diametric opposite of utilizing explosives.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Making Your Own Ceramic Dishes in Japan

Finding Mashiko’s rustic eauty in this artisan pottery town

About two hours north of Tokyo, amongst the rolling hills of Tochigi Prefecture is the artisan town of Mashiko. Known for its own pottery style called Mashiko-yaki – it is simple and rustic, with brown and red as its primary coloring. What makes Mashiko pottery especially vibrant is that unlike many traditional Japanese styles with a long lineage and difficulty to apprentice into, pottery-making here is open to any interested newcomer, regardless of experience. Because the soil of the region is rich in clay, pottery in the Mashiko region dates back to the Japan’s earliest historical periods of Jomon and Yayoi.

Modern Mashiko-yaki dates only to 1853, when a potter “rediscovered” that local clay here was ideal for ceramics. But the Mashiko pottery brand name and local culture was established by a man called Shoji Hamada in 1924. The kiln culture Hamada developed in Mashiko would welcome anyone who wanted to try their hand at pottery and create their own style. Today, there are over 380 potters in this area, with about 300,000 visitors to Mashiko’s annual spring craft fair. Mashiko pottery today is not so much defined as any one style but from the clay used, though a simple look is common.

The wonderful thing about Mashiko pottery is that there are both exquisite and expensive museum-like pieces – usually large sized urns or intricate figurines. But the majority of the products are affordable and easy to use around the house. Decorative pieces can be whimsical and cute.

Tsukamoto Kiln is the largest producer of ceramics in the Mashiko area and boasts a four generation history of pottery making. Today, the Tsukamoto compound which is about a 15-minute walk from Mashiko’s main street, is a wonderful day trip from Tokyo any time of the year. There is a museum, a large shopping plaze, a coffee shop using exquisite tableware and restaurants offering the local specialty, kamameshi, a dish where rice with meat and vegetable is baked in a clay pot. But what makes a trip to Tsukamoto worthwhile is that visitors can spend a day here trying out the electric pottery wheel, shaping by hand or painting their original dishware.

I have heard that throwing (the term used for shaping clay using a wheel) pottery is incredibly healing and finally understood what that meant. It is astounding how relaxing silky, wet clay feels running through your fingers. The image that came to my mind was of former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa who was so stressed out from the bickering world of politics, he retreated to the pottery barn on his estate, churning out beautiful pieces of ceramics. It is easier than I expected. I am not particularly great at making crafts but surprisingly, I managed to successfully make a vase, a plate and a mug. My products were a bit “thick” but that is appropriate for the Mashiko’s rustic look. There are other studios that offer classes but Tsukamoto is an all-in-one destination. Other activities include shaping clay by hand which does not quite have the “relaxation” effect of a pottery wheel but there is more flexibility in creating unique objects. Painting on ceramics is also offered.

Using an electric pottery wheel:

1) Prepare by tying hair back, wearing comfortable clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting dirty. While it can be washed out, Mashiko clay is quite stiff and sticky.

2) Sit yourself at the wheel, adjusting the height of the wheel if necessary. An electric pottery wheel is considered harder to use than a kickwheel which you can control the speed by pumping your foot on a pedal. However, with the assistance of the instructor, even first-timers will have no problems using an electric one.

3) It is important not to spin the wheel too fast. However, it is difficult to gauge what is actually a fast speed. You might unconsciously speed up the wheel. You can take your foot off the pedal and the speed is maintained.

4) The instructor prepares the clay and shapes it into an easily to use size.

5) You wet your hands liberally before you throw (the term for shaping pottery on a wheel) the clay.

6) The instructor frequently comes over to check, gives advice and sometimes fiddle with your clay. Occasionally, the clay ends up lopsided and the instructor has to cut off the ruined portion because you cannot remold the clay to be useable again.

7)The first step of throwing the clay is to make an indent in the middle of the lump with your left thumb. Once there is a small well, push down the middle with both thumbs while the rest of your fingers are placed on the outside of the lump, holding it in shape. The general motion is to press down and make a hole from the inside and hold it in place from the outside.
8) To make a plate, you loosen the pressure on the outside and the sides will collapse into a shallow dish. To make a vase or a Japanese tea cup, much more pressure on the outside is necessary to make the clay taller.
9) After you have thrown the clay into the form you desire, you stop the wheel. With the special string attached to a holder, you cut the clay at the bottom of your object with the string and then gently placing it on the side.
10) Anything on the outside of the object can be “touched up.” The instructor says it’s fine if you cut your object a bit uneven because they can always sand it down flat before it is glazed. Scratches on outside surface can also be cleaned up. What they are not capable of is fixing the inside so that part must be molded carefully.
11) There are five different colored glazes to choose from. Within an hour, a person can usually make four to five objects. It is up to you how many to purchase.

The finishing process:
1) After the clay is shaped on the spinning wheel, it is left to harden in open air for two to three days. Then all the rough edges of the clay are smoothed out into a finished form.

2) Before the clay is fully dried, it can be bent in various shapes such as creating waves of the sides, bending it into eight octagon sides or cutting small incisions around the bottom.
3) A coat of watery “dirt” is painted onto the clay to make it stronger, less porous and less susceptible to breakage.
4) It is dried for 3 to 4 days.

5) The dish is put into a gas oven to be baked at 700 Celsius for about eight hours. For larger, more delicate ceramics, the heat may be too much and they are air dried for over a month before baking.

6) The dish is dipped in a pot of glaze. It can now be painted and color can also be sprayed on using an air compressor.
7) Finally the dish is put into the kiln to be baked for about 24 hours at 1260~1280 Celsius.

8) The dishes are taken out and inspected. Some handmade products do not last through this last kilning but at a professional kiln like Tsukamoto, they have enough experience to ensure most are delivered to the creator’s home about six weeks after the dishes are made.

Tsukamoto Kiln
4264 Mashiko machi, Haga-gun, Tochigi
TEL.0285(72)3223 FAX.0285(72)1139
Spinning wheel is 2,700 yen ($30) for one item, each additional item is 1,200 yen ($13). (1 hour)
Hand shaping is 1,400 yen ($15) for 600 grams of clay which will make a mug and a small plate. (90 minutes)
Painting on pottery ranges from 500 ($5.6) to 1,300 yen ($14) (30 minutes)
Information: Call 0285-72-5151 to book appointments for pottery throwing (walk-ins are fine for the other activities)

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

My Neighbor Totoro’s Home

My Neighbor Totoro’s home

Were My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away Inspired by This House?

In the old days when nothing blocked the view, cultivated fields could be seen across the train tracks. This recalls the train scene from Spirited Away.

The old house in Tochigi Prefecture where animated well-known film director Hayao Miyazaki (age 72) once lived as a boy has been converted into a popular gallery where ceramics and photographs by writers and artisans from both Tochigi and other locations are displayed and sold. This traditional Japanese-style house, which may have been an inspiration for My Neighbor Totoro and other films, can now be enjoyed as a space that is merged with contemporary works of art.

Scene of the 1st floor gallery

When Miyazaki was young, during the War Years, he moved from Tokyo to Tochigi, living in this house from the age of 3 to 9. It has black mortar walls, glass on which the family seal has been etched, and ranma (transom) sloped to prevent dust from settling. A Japanese garden also heightens its appeal. It remains virtually unchanged from their distinctive construction some 80 years ago.

This is said to be a model for the hidden staircase in My Neighbor Totoro.

In the DVD produced by Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, the steep stairs of this house serve as a vivid reminder of the hidden staircase introduced in My Neighbor Totoro. According to the house’s present tenant, Mrs. Asuko Thomas, some visitors say the view of the railroad tracks that can be seen from the second floor reminds them of the train scene in Spirited Away.

In the old days when nothing blocked the view, cultivated fields could be seen across the train tracks. This recalls the train scene from Spirited Away.

In an interview with a vernacular newspaper, director Miyazaki once said, “For me, this is an important place. I think that house, its garden, its lights and shadows helped make me into something. I want to go back and visit there sometimes.” 

With the warmth of the white sliding doors and frosted glass windows, the weather outside quickly affects the indoor brightness. These contrasts of light and shadow make you feel the changes of nature with the warmth of the house.

Hajime Tamura ceramic art exhibition is held between May 11 and 26 Opening hours: 11:00-17:30 For more information, call Gallery Hanna at +81 (if overseas) 28-638-6123.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

A Celestial Garden in the Heart of Metropolitan Tokyo

At the end of March next year, a public park is to be opened on the roof of a major junction of Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway. With an area of some 7,000 square meters and with a shape resembling the Colosseum in Rome, it will boast a track measuring the same 400-meter circumference as that used in general track and field athletics, varying from 16 to 24 meters in width (from 11 to 35 meters above the street level), and its vertical slope is about 6%. In the space created by the slope, some 1,000 trees of various heights have been planted, along with 30,000 plants for ground covering, enabling visitors to enjoy the changing seasons throughout the year. Beneath the junction’s roof, an “Opus Dream Plaza” measuring some 3,000 square meters in area will feature futsal courts or be available to host local events.

A major traffic artery, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway carries nearly one million vehicles every day, but at the same time is a source of air and noise pollution. An attempt to turn an unwanted nuisance into something attractive may be unique to a major city like Tokyo. The junction itself, in order to suppress auto exhaust and noise, is a massive slab composed of more than 120,000 cubic meters of concrete. Because the park is under the authority of Tokyo’s Meguro City, it has not been named “Laupta: Castle in the Sky” (as per the 1986 animated film by Hayao Miyazaki), but rather “Meguro Sky Garden.” Meguro’s popular mayor Mr. Eiji Aoki — who’s been nicknamed “Mackerel Pike of Meguro” from the famous annual fish festival of the same name hosted by Meguro — says, “By calling it the Meguro Sky Garden, we would like for it to be the kind of place where many people will be able to familiarize themselves with its appeal.

A major traffic artery, Tokyo’s Metropolitan Expressway carries nearly one million vehicles every day, but at the same time is a source of air and noise pollution. An attempt to turn an unwanted nuisance into something attractive may be unique to a major city like Tokyo. The junction itself, in order to suppress auto exhaust and noise, is a massive slab composed of more than 120,000 cubic meters of concrete. Because the park is under the authority of Tokyo’s Meguro City, it has not been named “Laupta: Castle in the Sky” (as per the 1986 animated film by Hayao Miyazaki), but rather “Meguro Sky Garden.” Meguro’s popular mayor Mr. Eiji Aoki — who’s been nicknamed “Mackerel Pike of Meguro” from the famous annual fish festival of the same name hosted by Meguro — says, “By calling it the Meguro Sky Garden, we would like for it to be the kind of place where many people will be able to familiarize themselves with its appeal.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Consumers’ Pick for the Most Standout Products or Topics of 2012

(Number in parentheses indicates 2011 ranking)

1 Smart phones (1)

2. Tokyo SkyTree (3)

3. Facebook and other SNSs where users register their real names (27)

4. Robot vacuum cleaners (21)

5. Salt yeast (127)

6. “Sugi-chan” (entertainer) (-)

7. Characters for promoting local regions (-)

8. Female idol groups such as AKB48 (5)

9. London Olympics (-)

10. Low-cost Carrier airlines (LCC) (39)

In November 2011, Dentsu Research conducted a nationwide survey of 1,000 male and female adults from age 20 to 69. The respondents selected smart phones as the most conspicuous item of 2012. Several years earlier, cell phones which folded on a hinge were the main type use, but now their share of the overall market has declined sharply — an indication of how rapidly the world of information technology is changing. The 3rd place item in the survey, facebook and other SNSs, also showed major gains in the number of users. These are now widely utilized for promotional activities by corporations as well. In forth place were robot vacuum cleaners, some 300,000 of which were sold in Japan last year. They had first made their appearance several years ago, but more recently the increase in number of companies manufacturing them has led to greater consumer recognition.

Shiokoji or salt yeast rose to 5th place from 127th the year before. Salt and yeast are mixed with water and fermented and matured to create a traditional Japanese flavoring, which has been used from ancient times to pickle or preserve vegetables or fish. More recently the item has found its way into cookbook recipes and has been introduced on TV programs.

Sugi-chan, stage name of popular entertainer Eiji Sugiyama, came from out of nowhere to be ranked 6th place. The performing girls’ troupe AKB48 declined from 5th to 8th place, but still remained in the top 10.

According to analysis by Dentsu Research, this year Japan will continue to show signs of its having overcome the inconveniences to living created by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, and it is supposed the economy will shift from one of contraction to a more optimistic one in which consumption reflects livelier and brighter mentality. The report says there will be such tendencies that people try to find better results than their expectations, they are willing to find newness in old things, or want to be alone, but at the same time, seeking out relationships with others.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時: