Each season has its own distinctive flowers, and in Japan early May sees the wisteria blossom. Many people travel at that time to see fine examples of wisteria, a spreading vine that can be arranged over a trellis to create magnificent cascades. We visit Japan’s most famous wisteria, a giant old tree transplanted 20 years ago from its previous site to allow continued growth. It was thought too big and old to transplant until one tree surgeon discovered how to safely move the huge trunk. Following her as she works to rescue trees, we’ll get a glimpse of Japanese traditions of respect for the natural world.
Japanese anime and manga are popular worldwide. Cosplay, where anime and manga fans dress up in the costumes and hairstyles of their favorite characters, is enjoyed by many young Japanese, especially those in their 20s. Ikebukuro, one of Tokyo’s major urban centers, is home to many specialist cosplay stores. Cosplayers used to make all their own costumes and accessories by hand, but ready-made products now make it easier for anyone to join the fun. A big attraction of cosplay is that it helps even shy people to make friends, bringing together fans of the same stories and characters.
Since ancient times the Japanese have loved persimmons, a fruit started enjoying in many countries for its excellent flavor and nutritional value. In Japan, persimmons are eaten dried as well as raw. For over 500 years, Ichida kaki dried persimmons, a prized specialty of southern Nagano, have been valued for their unique texture and for a sweetness that even exceeds that of raw persimmons. This is the result of the local climate and traditional growing and drying techniques developed and passed down through generations. We’ll explore the secrets behind the sweet taste of these time-honored dried fruits.
Biometric authentication is now widely accepted for security, and Japan is a world leader in these technologies, especially in facial recognition. Individuals can be identified from the relative position and shape of features such as eyes, noses and mouths. The technology is now so advanced it can identify people wearing glasses or hats, and even using a photo taken many years before. Video systems using the latest Japanese facial recognition technology can pick out a known criminal in a moving crowd with 99.2% accuracy, and are helping make life easier and more secure for people worldwide.
In Yuru Sports, a recent Japanese creation, skilled players and beginners, or children and adults, can enjoy competing equally by means of various handicaps. Among the over 50 games created in its first year, there’s a table tennis game where better players are given rackets with ever larger holes, and a hand ball game where hands and ball are made slippery with liquid soap. Many are also intended to improve the health of people unable or unwilling to engage in normal sports, such as a game for the elderly where players use voice strength to move tiny wrestlers across a stage.
In Japan, robots are a common sight in daily life, and they are beginning to play a role in education too. We’ll visit an elementary school class where 11- and 12-year olds learn how to program wheeled robots and then compete in teams to create the code needed to guide their robots safely through an obstacle course. Such classes nurture children’s creativity and problem-solving abilities as they learn through trial and error to make robots complete tasks. Many children are inspired by these classes to make their own robots, and there’s a national convention featuring a range of highly imaginative entries from young inventors.
About 300 years ago, when Kabuki drama was at its peak of popularity in cities across Japan, people in country towns and villages throughout the nation developed an amateur style of drama based on Kabuki that became known as Jikabuki. It’s still widely practiced today, and we look at a thriving example in Mino, Gifu Prefecture. Local amateur actors and stage hands from all ages and occupations, including three generations of one family, put on a performance at their old community playhouse achieving dramatic quality of a level that rivals professional Kabuki productions.
To control the extent of damage caused by forest fires, which are a worldwide menace, firefighters use powerful fire-extinguishing foams. However, these contain chemical agents that have adverse effects on the environment. The Fire Department of Kitakyushu City developed a new soap-based foam to solve this issue, working in collaboration with a local soap manufacturer. Its all-natural ingredients are absorbed into the soil and cause no harm to the environment. The foam has already been successfully tried in SE Asia, where forest and peat fires are a major problem. The world’s first eco-friendly firefighting foam, developed in Japan.
Unlike most bullfighting, where man fights animal, Japan’s gentler version is more like sumo wrestling, and each side comprises a bull and his human trainer. A popular entertainment since the 12th century, bull sumo culture is still active in many parts of Japan. The best known venue is the Okinawa city of Uruma, which holds around 200 matches a year, including a championship event to decide the strongest bulls. As a reigning champ defends his title, you’ll see just how deep the bonds are between trainers and their bulls. The clash of these powerful beasts, each weighing up to a ton, makes a fascinating spectacle.
Most Japanese homes and companies keep stocks of emergency food to ensure survival if a disaster strikes. These range from bread, canned to preserve its freshly baked softness, to retort pouch meals that can also be eaten cold. Freeze-dried foods are also popular, since all you need to do to prepare a meal is add water. Today, the availability of delicious emergency foods helps people avoid waste by rotating emergency stocks to form part of their daily meals. These new technologies mean that even in a disaster, you can have meals that are safe to eat and taste great.
Bon-odori dances are performed to comfort the spirits of the dead, who are believed to revisit their families each midsummer. There are many regional variations, but Himeshima Island in Oita has an unusually large number – around 40. In the fox dance, performed since the 17th century, boys under 12 years of age are dressed as foxes with whitened faces and red painted beards. Their instructor, an islander who himself danced the fox dance as a child, teaches the movements to his son and the others. Passed down through generations, the living tradition of bon-odori binds communities closer together.
Japan’s currency, four banknotes and six coins, features very sophisticated technology. Banknotes have lines inscribed so finely that 10 or more fit in a millimeter, with writing that’s visible only under a magnifying glass. Coins are milled by a unique method to create angled grooves on their edges. All these technologies are very hard to counterfeit. Currency that can be trusted is the basis of a stable society, and the Japan Mint supplies coins to many other countries too. We examine some of the advanced technologies hidden in Japan’s currency.
The small, local Sanriku Railway is the main transportation between the communities that line the jagged Sanriku Coast of Iwate. When the great earthquake of 2011 devastated the region, the damage to this essential and much loved railway seemed at first too great to repair. But undaunted they immediately began the attempt, and the sight of their heroic work inspired volunteers to come from all over the country to help. In just three years, the railway was operational again. We look at this charming country railway through the eyes of a young woman who became a train driver after the disaster.
Japan has traditionally produced artisans highly skilled at working with their hands on miniature designs, so it’s only natural that Japanese manicurists would evolve what we now call nail art. You rarely have to look far in this country to find a nail salon, and creative nail fashion has become a part of daily life for women of all ages here. Its international fame was boosted when Lady Gaga took one look at the bold designs of Japanese nail artist Aya Fukuda and made them a regular part of her costume. With an endless stream of innovative designs, Japanese nail art now charms women the world over.
A 40-minute flight from Tokyo brings you to another world – the unspoiled nature of Nijima Island. As the island’s noted product Niijima Glass is made from local Koga stone. In the entire world, this rare volcanic rock occurs only on Niijima and on the Italian island of Lipari. Its beautiful green is caused by a chemical reaction when the iron in the stone melts. Niijima Glass was invented by Osamu Noda, an internationally known glass artist and a native of the island. For 30 years, he has made glass art objects on the theme of the island’s nature. Thanks to his efforts, this small island now attracts artists from around the world.
Okigusuri is an old Japanese medicine marketing system based on the idea of “use first, pay later”. Traveling salespeople leave a selection of drugs which they replenish each visit, charging only for items that have been used. These over-the-counter medications cover everything from stomachaches to colds, essential in areas with no nearby doctor or pharmacy. The system began over 300 years ago, and is still proving highly useful in today’s aging society as salespeople use their regular visits to keep a constant check on customers’ health. This proven, trust-based system is now spreading from Japan to parts of SE Asia where access to medicine is limited.
In Tokyo, where the city lights mean few stars are visible in the night sky, planetaria are hugely popular. In a world first, advanced star projectors cast 140 million simulated stars onto their domes, creating heavenly scenes to be enjoyed laying back in comfort on seating that ranges from sofas to fake turf lawns. Takayuki Ohira, creative presence behind much new planetarium technology, continues to develop innovative star projectors. To bring the stars closer to us, he has invented both omni-directional devices for an immersive, walk-through experience, as well as the world’s first realistic planetarium compact enough for home use.
A new method for growing crops does away with soil, instead using a special transparent polymer film for roots to grip. Originally developed as a permeable membrane for artificial kidneys, this film allows crops to be grown in deserts or other places without suitable soil. And because it’s so simple to manage the nutrient and water supply, now anyone can start farming with no special training. Polymer film technology is also being used for food and beverage containers, dramatically extending storage life for their contents. Invented in Japan, these groundbreaking films could change the way people worldwide grow and store food.
Yabusame is a traditional Japanese martial art where archers shoot at targets from galloping horses. Performances were always held at shrines and considered to be sacred rituals reserved for men, but in recent years women have begun taking part. This is a result of yabusame’s evolution from ritual to sport, which opened the door to female enthusiasts. Towada City in Aomori now holds an annual, women-only yabusame contest which draws large crowds to enjoy the excitement, skill and colorful traditional costumes of the archers. We follow a 15-year old girl competing against her veteran instructor for the top prize.
“Tejime”, or hand clapping, is rooted in the lives of the Japanese people. This time-honored Japanese custom is meant to celebrate the successful conclusion of events, and simultaneously, the beginning of new endeavors. It is carried out not just in business when deals are inked but also in the fields of traditional Japanese arts and sports. We introduce the culture and history of “tejime”.
“Plastic models” are miniatures made by assembling various parts. In Japan, models of vehicles such as ships and planes are sold, in addition to those themed around Japanese culture such as castles and traditional armor. Plastic model-making is enjoyed as a hobby by a wide range of people from young to old. Among them is a plastic model of “Gundam”, a robot that appears in a television anime. Intricately crafted with even movable finger joints, it realizes an easy-to-assemble design. The ever-evolving models have remained popular for more than 30 years. We venture into the small world of inspiration and fun brought to life by Japan’s plastic models and the sophisticated manufacturing technologies behind them.
In areas of Japan such as the northeastern region where winters are bitterly cold, what’s called a Shimi Culture of freezing farm produce to make preserved foods has been passed down through the generations. “Shimi” literally means to become frozen. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, the production of “shimi daikon (frozen radish)” was on the verge of disappearing. So, a group of high school students stepped in. We learn how young people are helping to carry this traditional Japanese food into the future.
The taxis of Japan are highly regarded for their safe and reliable technologies and courteous services. In recent years, taxis have been evolving to better meet the needs of customers, such as guiding foreign tourists in various languages and providing features to allow people with physical difficulties to ride comfortably. Through the experiences of a new female employee who dived into a field of mostly men, we introduce the taxis of Japan in their drive to provide the best service in the world through their spirit of hospitality.
Arita ware is a type of Japanese porcelain with a history dating back 400 years. The delicate and colorful patterns are a key characteristic, and at one time, it was widely recognized around the world. But, production volumes have largely declined since then and the survival of kilns has emerged as a serious issue. To break out of this situation, young artisans are joining hands with overseas designers to create new products, while also carrying on traditional techniques. We look at the challenge they’ve taken on to launch a new project aimed at establishing a new Arita ware brand and promoting it internationally.
VR stands for virtual reality. By wearing specialized equipment, users can experience different worlds almost as if they’re reality. VR technology is seen to have potential applications in various fields beyond just games and entertainment attractions. One VR technology developed by a Japanese entrepreneurial venture makes it possible for people with physical difficulties to experience the feeling of being in another location. We introduce VR technologies from Japan that are giving birth to new inspirations and enjoyments.
“Chindonya” refer to people who wear colorful, traditional Japanese costumes and play cheerful tunes while walking down streets. They are an original form of advertising in Japan and allow advertisers to deliver messages directly to customers. At the peak, more than 2,000 people nationwide worked in this profession. But, with the changing times, they are seen less frequently. Still, with the rise of digital media such as the internet in recent years, the person-to-person communication effect generated by such Chindonya is receiving renewed attention. Through the activities of a couple who works as Chindonya and apprentices, we depict the attractions of these “original advertisers” who put a smile on the faces of everyone they pass.
Across Japan, illuminations blanketing nighttime in brilliant colors are drawing crowds of people. And, in recent years, multicolored artistic expressions have become possible thanks to the blue LED developed by a Japanese person. There are fantastical urban illuminations of solid blue and world-class illuminations portraying magnificent waterfalls and rainbow rivers. A handmade illumination of flowers has even been set up in a botanical garden to give enjoyment to visitors in the winter when flowers typically don’t bloom. We introduce the numerous jewels that light up the nighttime.
“Vending machines” are seen throughout cities and towns in Japan. They offer an extensive selection of products from beverages to sandwiches, fruits and snacks. Electronic money and smartphones can be used to make purchases, and some models can also be hand-cranked to dispense items in the event of emergencies such as natural disasters. New functions continue to be added, and attracting attention now is a “next-generation vending machine” that communicates with people. It can determine the age group and sex of the customer and recommend products, provide weather forecasts and introduce tourist spots. We report on the latest trends of Japan’s surprising vending machines.
The Aso region of Kumamoto Prefecture is home to the biggest grassland by area in Japan. By letting cows out to graze and the burning of old grass, local people have maintained the grassland for 1,000 years. But, because of factors such as the declining number of farmers, the size of the grassland has shrunk by half. Through the activities of a local restaurant chef who has resolved to protect the agriculture of Aso, we discover the passion of people who continue to safeguard Aso’s traditional farming methods, food culture and grassland.
More than 30 years have passed since the first capsule hotel was opened in Japan. In the past, men were the primary customers, but in recent years, women-only capsule hotels have sprouted up, offering a safe, comfortable, and convenient place to sleep. There are various features such as a wide range of amenities, large communal baths and dining bars no different from those found at conventional hotels. Entertainment-type capsule hotels, where guests can have fun and that are designed around themes including ninja and anime, are also popular among overseas tourists. We introduce the capsule hotels of Japan as they evolve to provide greater convenience, comfort and entertainment.
Shops offering convenience to busy, working women have opened inside Tokyo Station, the biggest station in Japan. They’re located beyond the turnstiles and inside the actual station, with products from various major cosmetic brands of Japan lining the shelves. There are gold-leaf skincare products made from traditional Japanese ingredients and those containing natural ingredients used from long ago, such as sake lees and kelp. A service in which a concierge helps select products best suited to the customer is also popular. As it’s possible to casually stop by on the way to and back from work, shops inside the station have become indispensable for women who want stay beautiful amid their busy lives. We introduce some of the growing number of establishments beautifying Japan from within the station.
“Noren” are pieces of cloth hung over the entrances of shops. It is a traditional culture unique to Japan. In the 18th century, various types of noren could be seen on the streets of Edo, coloring the city. In recent years, noren is being used in new ways by combining the techniques of artisans with refined modern designs and have earned acclaim from overseas. Through the work of a young noren producer who wants to carry on this tradition into the future and promote it around the world, we introduce the noren culture of Japan.
“The Setouchi Triennale” is held every three years on islands dotting the Setonaikai Sea. The numerous works of art displayed in nature blend into the scenery of the islands and attract tourists and art fans from within Japan and overseas. The event originated as a way to re-energize island communities through contemporary art and has become a ray of hope for islanders, who are gradually shrinking in number. We learn about the exchanges between artists who have rediscovered the lure of the islands through the power of art and local people, and one young family passionate about rejuvenating local communities.
“Tachigui”, or standing and eating, restaurants have become increasingly popular in Japan. But, in fact, the tachigui culture has been around from long ago. In the 18th century, the city of Edo* was lined with tachigui stalls, and during the rapid economic growth period after the World WarⅡ, tachigui soba noodle stands were also popular among the populace. Fast forward to modern times and a growing number of tachigui restaurants have popped up serving dishes comparable to those at high-end establishments, but at reasonable prices. What’s more, they’re bustling with not just men, but women as well. We get a taste of the ever-evolving Japanese food culture of “tachigui”.
*Edo is the name of Tokyo in the 17th-19th centuries.
“Obakeyashiki” are a type of entertainment facility that most Japanese are familiar with. In around the 19th century, ghost stories became popular in entertainment enjoyed by commoners and since then, they’ve developed into a summer tradition in various regions. Walking in the pitch dark, various setups designed to trigger screams of fright await. So, why do people want to experience “fear”? We unravel the secrets behind Japanese entertainment embodied by obakeyashiki.
Agriculture is essential to our lives. In Japan, a growing number of people are leaving the farm, due in part to the shrinking and greying population. One potential solution is cutting-edge robotics technology, which is being adopted in various initiatives now. There are trucks driven autonomously with a high degree of precision aided by satellites, and fully-automatic strawberry harvesting robots. Many people working in the agricultural field overseas are also coming to Japan to learn about these technologies. We introduce the various innovations supporting Japanese agriculture.
Washing one’s hands is a practice carried out from childhood in Japan. One reason is because “handwashing” is considered an effective measure to prevent communicable diseases. People from different fields are now working to make “handwashing” more widespread in countries struggling against infectious diseases, applying various ideas and methods, such as songs and dance. Through the Japanese practice of “handwashing”, ideas about hygiene are gradually changing around the world.
The Nagara River is renowned in Japan for its exceptionally clear waters. Carried out there is what’s referred to as “Nagara River Ukai”, or cormorant fishing. It is a traditional method of fishing dating back more than a millennium. Fishermen and cormorants live together, building up a relationship of trust. Through this tradition, we discover how people have continued to live with the blessings of nature through the passage of time.
“The National Museum of Western Art” was designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage in 2016, becoming the first in Tokyo to receive that honor. The structure was designed by Le Corbusier, a renowned architect of the 20th century. With his “Museum of Unlimited Growth” as the fundamental concept, it was ultimately realized through the work of three Japanese architects. The museum became the basis of modern architecture in Japan and embodied the hope for the country’s post-war revival.
In the suburbs of the Japanese capital, Tokyo, a massive facility spreads out deep underground. Inside is a vast area with shafts big enough to fit the Space Shuttle and tunnels 10 meters in diameter. Called the “Metropolitan Area Outer Underground Discharge Channel”, it is designed to protect Tokyo from flooding caused by heavy rains and typhoons. The sophisticated drilling techniques of Japan to build this huge structure have also been adopted overseas and are playing a role in protecting the lives and livelihoods of people in flood-prone countries.
“Washoku” has been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and is becoming widely recognized by people around the world. One of the most important aspects of washoku is the main element of dashi (soup stock) – “umami”. Umami was first discovered by a Japanese person and since then, is becoming accepted as a universal term in the culinary world. Umami is said to enhance the flavor of any dish. Through the efforts of people promoting umami overseas, and actually incorporating it in Western cooking, such as French cuisine, we introduce the delights of this now international taste.
“Wrapping” is an expression of consideration and hospitality towards others that the Japanese people have carried out from long ago. The “wrapping” techniques rooted in this culture of hospitality are evolving in various fields now. At shops, products are swiftly and beautifully wrapped, and wholeheartedly presented to customers. There are also environment-friendly cardboard boxes specially designed to transport items rapidly, safely and securely. Through such products, we explore the technologies as well as the Japanese sensibilities behind this tradition.
Last year marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Early Modern Japanese Painter, Ito Jakuchu, whose works continue to fascinate people to this day. His colorful expressions and elaborate depictions have received acclaim not just in Japan, but overseas as well, and have had a strong influence on the digital art of present-day Japan. We discover the timeless and fantastic world of Ito Jakuchu.
The world’s first ever Para-Ekiden race was held recently in Tokyo. This is a new kind of relay race, in which the teams consist of a mix of people with and without disabilities. The rules are based on the ekiden, a type of long-distance relay race created in Japan, which is hugely popular here. Instead of a baton, ekiden runners wear a kind of sash called a tasuki, which is passed between team members. In the Para-Ekiden, all competitors, regardless of whether they have disabilities or not, must complete the same distance and hand on their tasuki sash to the next runner. The appeal of this new sport is that it allows everyone equal opportunity to enjoy competing as part of a team.
Bubbles are in the news. But these are not ordinary bubbles – they are nano-sized: just one nanometer or a billionth of a meter across. When newly-landed fish are soaked at the market for just 10 minutes in water filled with these bubbles, they stay fresh enough to eat as sashimi for days longer than normal. The bubbles contain nitrogen, which prevent microorganisms from multiplying and slows the rate of decay. Water filled with nano-bubbles of oxygen has been found to stimulate plant growth and increase crops. And doctors have discovered that water containing ozone micro-bubbles destroys viruses and bacteria. These invisible, nano-sized bubbles are about to change our lives.
Nishikigoi are a type of Japanese ornamental carp, known for the brilliantly colored markings on their skin. Their name comes from nishiki, a word describing the gorgeous multicolored brocade patterns on silk fabrics. It’s said that Nishikigoi began from one fish, a colored variety that appeared among the black carp bred for food. The Japanese quickly became fans of this beautiful new fish, and over the years breeders developed techniques to produce better colors and patterns. Their success led to varieties of Nishikigoi that have become famous worldwide. We’ll meet one of the breeders who is continuing his family’s tradition of creating fish that are living works of art.
The Tohoku region’s Miyagi Prefecture was one of the hardest hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Michinoku Sendai Orihime-tai is a popular Miyagi group who have been using song and dance to promote reconstruction efforts. These teenage girls formed their group immediately after the disaster out of a desire to do something to help the survivors. As they put on performances to cheer up evacuees living in temporary housing, they came to realize the importance of preparing for future disasters. This led to them taking part in a UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, and to their recent focus on raising disaster awareness among the region’s children.
The word kiri-e describes a set of techniques for cutting shapes in paper. Deeply rooted in traditional Japanese crafts, kiri-e is now seizing imaginations in the world of fine art. One major historical use for kiri-e was in Ise-katagami, the craft of making paper stencils for applying color and patterns to kimono fabric. These old traditional methods are still widely practiced by artisans and hobbyists, and young Japanese artists are also exploring the use of kiri-e techniques in groundbreaking ways to produce complex works of amazing beauty that have won acclaim worldwide.
Mamachari is the name of the sturdy mommy cycles you see everywhere in Japan. First designed to meet the needs of busy urban mothers, they make it so much easier to transport a couple of kids or a big load of family shopping. These city cycles have their roots in the 1950s, when there was a great demand from Japanese women for bicycles that could be ridden easily in any clothes, and that were safe and stable enough to carry children. This developed into today’s ultra-practical mamachari, now winning fans among both men and women cyclists around the world.
Capsule toys from vending machines are hugely popular in Japan. Just centimeters tall, they’re made in a vast range of designs, from anime characters to lifelike animal models, with a charm and quirky humor that appeal to adult collectors as well as children. A current hit (over 10 million sold) is a tiny figurine called Koppu no Fuchiko – a serious looking young woman in office uniform who hangs from the rims of glasses or cups in a variety of poses. We see the toys being created, starting with artists crafting highly detailed molds to express these concepts in miniature form.
The Kushiro wetlands in Hokkaido is one of the world’s great wildlife-watching spots, and one of its most famous attractions is the red-crowned crane. These rare and beautiful birds, classed worldwide as an endangered species, live here all year round but need human assistance to survive Kushiro’s harsh winters. Just fifty years ago, they were rescued from the brink of extinction by the efforts of one local man. Today, park rangers continue his conservation work, protecting this fragile environment to preserve its red-crowned cranes.
Almost seventy percent of Japan is covered in forest. Over-cutting in the post war period stripped much of the nation’s mountains of their trees. This was followed by a widespread program of reforestation, and 60 years later, those trees are now mature and ready for harvesting. However, much of the forest workforce is approaching retirement. Kochi, a heavily forested prefecture, has set up a school to train a new generation of young foresters, and has also successfully modernized its forestry with a focus on recyclability and reducing costs.
Plating refers to a number of processes for applying a metallic coating, usually gold or nickel, to the surface of objects for decoration and rust protection. It’s very durable – the 8th century Great Buddha in Nara, a World Heritage Site, still bears traces of its gold plating from over 1,000 years ago. Japan has been a technological innovator in this field, recently developing the first practical way to plate plastic surfaces, and now exploring new applications in nano-technology.
Yuzu, a citrus fruit with a unique aroma and acidity, has been used for centuries in Japanese cuisine as seasoning and condiment. This fruit revived the fortunes of Umaji, a small village in Kochi whose population of 1,000 was dwindling due to an aging population and decline in forestry jobs. Umaji turned to its traditional crop to save itself, developing a range of ingenious yuzu-based products that eventually became so successful that now when you say “yuzu” people think of Umaji.
“Japan Blue” is a special shade of the color unique to Japan, produced from a local variety of indigo plant called tadeai using a number of traditional natural dyeing methods. For centuries, this blue was a distinctive feature of Japanese daily life, with most people wearing clothing in a range of indigo hues. This indigo fabric is now a hot item in the fashion world, eagerly sought by apparel makers worldwide for its practical applications as well as its beauty.
Koji, a fermentation starter cultured on rice, grains or beans from the koji mold (Aspergillus oryzae), is an essential part of Japanese cuisine. Long used to make miso, soy sauce, sake, and other fermented foods, koji is now in the spotlight for its potential in areas other than food. One new hit product is a facial cosmetic for women that utilizes koji’s unique composition – highly absorbent by the skin and full of enzymes – to moisturize and protect. We’ll learn how its inventor got her idea, and see the techniques she developed.
The classical Japanese art of Noh has a history of over 700 years. Over the centuries, the Noh theater’s stage was refined and developed to support and enhance the art of the performers as they depict Noh’s universal themes of life and death. For example, the hashigakari bridge that leads to the main stage is designed and constructed to strengthen the illusion that it connects us to the distant world of the dead. We go behind the scenes to explore audio and visual techniques that even Japanese Noh audiences are unfamiliar with.
There’s a hotel in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, mostly run by robots. Entering the Henna Hotel, you’re greeted at the front desk by an amazingly lifelike humanoid robot. Porter robots carry your bags, and robots perform all the usual hotel services. We’ll also meet a new kind of robot, able to recognize human feelings. The popular Pepper, which went on sale just this year, converses so skillfully it’s like talking to a friend. Humanoid companions, able to respond to our emotions – this is the direction in which Japanese robots are evolving.
The old Japanese pastime of origami, these days known and loved the world over, has been finding new and practical applications in a number of high-tech fields. Using an origami technique known as namako-ori, medical technologists have created a device to help blood vessel surgery. The miura-ori method allows maps to be more conveniently folded, and adds strength to metal cans. And origami is now headed into outer space: these ancient techniques for folding materials have inspired some of the most cutting-edge of all technologies, those used by spacecraft designers.
The Japanese have loved green tea since ancient times. The importance of this beverage in Japanese hospitality and culture is highlighted by the tea ceremony, or chanoyu, which uses a special powdered green tea called matcha. This style of tea became popular in the 16th century after tea growers in Uji, near Kyoto, developed a special cultivation method. The skill of Uji’s tea blenders, known as chashi, increased the reputation of Uji matcha over the years, and today, matcha is so popular it’s eaten in foods and desserts as well as drunk as tea.
People in every country have sought ways to stay safe from the biting insects that spread deadly infectious diseases. Japan has a long history of developing natural insect deterrents, and today’s advanced technological solutions still often follow the old Japanese principle of preferring to deter and protect rather than to kill the offending insect. We will see examples of this approach, such as clothing impregnated with just enough chemical to stun or drive away insects, and a factory door that recycles air to blow invading creatures away.
Kaizen means to improve the way something is done. It acquired its modern meaning during Japan’s economic growth in the 1960s, from techniques used in factories to improve productivity, quality and work safety, and has been adopted by industry worldwide. We’ll show how the Kaizen approach can produce significant results through minor changes, using two examples – how the female workforce at a sandwich factory boosted their productivity, and in another plant how improvements made for the benefit of workers with disabilities simplified everyone’s work.
The old village of Harie sits on the west bank of Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest lake. Water runs throughout this village from springs fed from the surrounding mountains, and has always been the focus of life in Harie. Each house has its own spring, which supplies what the locals call a kabata. Centuries of thought have gone into the layout of these kabata, which provide water for everything from kitchen chores to drinking. The village water is kept pure by various ingenious natural means, such as breeding fish in the kabata to eat dirt and scraps.
In Japan, instead of signing your name, stamping an impression of it from your personal engraved seal has long been the traditional method for authorizing contracts, signing for parcel deliveries, or certifying bank documents. A recent twist on this custom, so deeply embedded in daily life for the Japanese, is the stamp rally. In this pastime that’s become popular with young and old alike, people visit specified sites or monuments around the country to fill a book with impressions from their unique and attractively designed rubber stamps.
The haiku is a form of Japanese poem consisting of 17 syllables arranged in lines of 5, 7 and 5. These tiny, subtle poetic gems provide extremely condensed insights into the beauty to be found in nature. Even today, 400 years after its invention, there are over five million Japanese enthusiasts creating poems in this form. And now the haiku has begun capturing imaginations overseas too, as shown by a recent international event where haiku poets recited their work in over 30 languages. We explore the global appeal of the world’s shortest poem.
The Noto Peninsula, famed for its World Heritage farming traditions, holds numerous autumn festivals featuring giant paper lanterns called kiriko. These go back over 300 years, and each town has its own distinctive style. There’s a very local feel to this living tradition, which draws many people back to their hometowns for an annual visit to family and friends. The huge lanterns are carried in procession, surrounding the neighborhood mikoshi portable shrine on its parade through town to pray for a good harvest and a safe and prosperous year.
In March 2015, a new Shinkansen rail line opened to directly link Tokyo with the Hokuriku region, greatly reducing the travel time from the capital. As well as speed and comfort, the Hokuriku Shinkansen has been designed, both inside and out, to reflect the cultural and artistic traditions of the Japan Sea coast. Riding in luxury through the magnificent landscape of the region, passengers will enjoy a foretaste of the gracious hospitality for which Hokuriku has long been renowned.
A Kendama consists of a handheld cross-shaped piece attached by a string to a ball with a hole in one side. Although it was originally a children’s toy, the complex techniques possible with the Kendama have made it popular with all ages. Even though the potential for advanced play is almost limitless, the basic game is simple enough for anyone to enjoy and has a huge following worldwide. This global appeal is what led Hatsukaichi City, the birthplace of Kendama, to hold the first Kendama World Cup.
Machiya are a traditional Japanese style of wooden town house. Designed in the 17th century for prosperous merchants, they are a combination of private residence and street-facing store. With the aging of Japan’s population and the flight from countryside to city, increasing numbers of machiya fell vacant, so Omihachiman, a city in Shiga Prefecture with many of these historic buildings, is promoting new uses for old machiya. From cafes to art exhibition spaces, the old philosophy of town living is inspiring new creativity.
The 2015 tightening of international regulations on CO2 emissions generated increased interest in eco ship designs. As one of the world’s leading shipbuilding nations, Japan is pioneering the development of eco-friendly, fuel saving ships based on advanced technologies and innovative concepts. Examples of pioneering Japanese eco-designs range from a car-carrier that generates much of its own electrical power from banks of solar panels to a world-first technology for cutting friction between ship hulls and the water.
A 1970 Life magazine cover brought world fame to a tribe of Japanese monkeys that spend winter soaking in a hot spring. Today, over 140,000 visitors a year, many from overseas, come to see these monkeys at their Jigokudani Yaen-Koen hot spring, in a remote mountain region of Nagano. Why did they begin bathing? We take you to this unique spot, the only place in the world where wild monkeys allow humans to come so close.
Randoseru is the name of the satchel Japanese children carry throughout their six years in primary school. It’s a unique design, going back almost 130 years. Recently, these bags, familiar to all Japanese from childhood, are taking on new roles as adult fashion items and popular tourist souvenirs. We look at how randoseru are being used today, and the craftsmanship that makes them so distinctive and robust.
Companies have always provided convenient, inexpensive canteens for their employees. Today’s corporate cafeterias provide a far wider range of functions, many becoming the main hub of in-house communications. We look at some of the changes happening in modern Japanese corporate cafeterias, from versatile designs that are transforming their usefulness, to the healthy, delicious menus that make them more attractive choices for lunch.
Aomori Airport serves a part of the northern Tohoku region where annual snowfall exceeds 10 meters. These local conditions have produced a runway snow removal team that’s acknowledged as Japan’s best. The White Impulse team can clear a 550,000 ㎡ area of runway in just 40 minutes, operating their fleet of specialized vehicles with unique skills and techniques. We watch White Impulse in their daily winter struggle to keep Tohoku’s air access open.
Yurukyara are cute mascots designed by local governments to promote their communities, an idea that really caught on in recent years. There are currently over 1,500 of them active throughout Japan. We meet Hiko-nyan, the yurukyara that really began this boom, see how these lovable mascots are helping to regenerate their regional communities, and explore why they have proven so able to appeal to the hearts of the Japanese.
Kurokawa Onsen, a small hot spring in the mountains of Kumamoto, had become unpopular and was in danger of closing, but today it’s one of Japan’s busiest spas, with over a million guests a year. The man who turned the town’s fortunes around, Tetsuya Goto, was a non-conformist who persuaded the town’s business people to transform Kurokawa into an ideal, old-world spa. It’s now seen as a perfect example of the classic onsen.
Spider silk has the unique property of being simultaneously very soft and very strong, the ideal qualities we want in a fiber. It holds enormous promise for the textile industry, but although methods were found to make it into a practical thread, it was proving impossible to mass produce. A solution is now close – researchers utilizing cutting-edge gene technology are producing spider silk from silkworms to create this ideal textile material.
Visitors to Japan often comment on the huge variety of delicious bread and other baked products, with bakeries offering a tempting selection of breads and pastries unique to Japan. Recently, new forms of bread based on rice are becoming popular. Rice bread is not only a better match for traditional Japanese food, it is welcomed by gluten allergy sufferers. We see how Japan’s approach to bread making continues to evolve.
During its long history of earthquakes, typhoons and tsunamis, Japan developed many techniques for surviving and recovering from natural disasters. We see examples from a high-rise building incorporating state-of-the-art seismic-resistant technologies to a folding bridge that deploys in just 10 minutes to restore vital lifelines. Japan plays an active role in international initiatives to minimize disaster damage – it contributed to the development of the international framework for disaster risk reduction, and hosts UN conferences on the issue.
The Japanese have always had a special sensitivity to the sounds of nature, something evident in many old customs that are still common. Insect song and other sounds from nature are used to evoke feelings of the season, while gardens still feature often traditional devices like the shishiodoshi and suikinkutsu to recreate natural sounds. It may be the history and culture of the tea ceremony, with its emphasis on the awareness of natural sounds, that made this part of the Japanese character.
The Nakasendo is a very old trade route through the central mountains of Japan, connecting Kyoto in the west to Tokyo in the east. The section that best retains the flavor of the past is called the Kisoji – a mountainous stretch containing 11 old post stations. A popular tourist destination, these small towns look much as they did in their heyday, their streets lined with historic wooden buildings. We see the unique scenery of this treacherous landscape, and the way the post stations prospered, blessed by their mountain environment.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and environmentalist Wangari Maathai was so impressed by the philosophy of mottainai that she made it her mission to popularize the word worldwide. This is a traditional expression that indicates both regret at wasting or misusing anything that still has value, and shows respect and gratitude for material things. We see how, from the continuing popularity of traditional rag-weaving techniques to recycling efforts based on the latest technology, the spirit of mottainai still permeates Japanese society today.
We visit two art festivals in the prefectures of Yamagata and Akita, in Japan’s northern Tohoku region. The Yamagata Biennale Art Festival featured work on mountain themes by artists connected to the prefecture, while the Odate-Kitaakita Arts Festival, centered on a city shopping district, presented a variety of works on local themes by local artists. These festivals illustrate the power of art to bring people together, and show how art is playing a role in building a better future for the Tohoku region.
The level of service and hospitality visitors enjoy in Japanese hotels and ryokan is extraordinarily detailed, with care and attention lavished on things no guest will even notice. And all done without expectation of reward, since there’s no tipping in Japan. This ideal of service, based purely on pleasing the guest, is thought to originate in the philosophy and traditions of the tea ceremony, and it’s a legacy that remains deeply embedded in the character of the people of Japan.
Yokocho are the back street shopping and entertainment districts found in towns all over Japan – Tokyo alone has hundreds. We explore Harmonica Yokocho in Tokyo’s Kichijoji. This is a maze of 100 or so tiny shops and restaurants, each with its own distinctive character, one being almost 70 years old. Some offer unique specialty items that draw long lines of customers every day. Another attraction of yokocho is their sense of community – we see the families of Harmonica Yokocho in their early morning market and at the Kichijoji fall festival.
The craft paper known as washi has endless applications in Japanese daily life. So durable that documents from over 1,000 years ago look fresh and new, washi is invaluable for preserving and repairing art works. When a photograph is required to last hundreds of years, it’s printed on washi. This paper is used inside capacitors for electronic devices, to make tough tatami mats, and even in architecture – sandwiching washi between glass layers allows the design of walls that exploit washi’s unique range of textures.
Nagasaki contains more islands than any other Japanese prefecture. Popular excursions include pleasure cruises through the densely clustered Kujukushima Islands; exploring the historic sites of Hirado, where Japan first began trade with Europe; visiting Fukue in the nature paradise of the Goto Islands, where you can also have a hands-on experience on a working fishing vessel; and an ancient traditional festival on Tsushima Island.
To cope with its rapidly aging society, Japan is developing many unique and innovative technologies to help care-givers. In this video we see a new type of wheelchair able to climb steps and easily cross rough surfaces like gravel, radar sensor technology being used to more accurately and gently monitor the bed-confined, and how the latest IT systems can enhance the provision of medical treatment at home.
Life can be stressful in Tokyo, the economic heart of Japan. But the people of this giant metropolis have many ways for making each day easier. Among them are a sophisticated IC card system that smooths the daily commute, special cafes with beds for taking a midday nap and others with foot spa cafes to refresh aching legs, and even just the warm human touch you find when shopping in the slower paced, old downtown part of the city.
At the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the international media showed Japanese football supporters cleaning rubbish after each match. This Japanese devotion to keeping life clean and tidy may be due to the influence of Zen Buddhism as well as habits instilled from childhood by the schools. Many volunteer to sweep the streets of their community and clean their holiday beaches, and the whole nation follows the custom of house cleaning every December called O-soji. The Japanese firmly believe that clean surroundings lead to a pure heart.
Cooking toys are attracting attention as a new communication tool. These toys make it fun to cook foods and make desserts. They range from simple toys that can make treats like cotton candy to ones that make authentic breads and sushi. Many cooking toys do not use heat to prevent burns and other injuries. These toys allow children to have fun while learning about the work that goes into making food.
Manhole covers found on streets throughout Japan portray the famous landmarks, animals, flowers, and other symbols of the local area. With many featuring unique designs and bright colors, the manhole covers are finding popularity as so-called manhole cover art not only in Japan but around the world. When you visit Japan, please take a look at the ground and enjoy the manhole cover art.
Soba is a traditional Japanese dish. Soba restaurants with counters where you stand up and eat can be found on train station platforms. These are stand and eat soba restaurants. The popular and convenient stand and eat soba takes about 30 seconds to prepare, making it truly a Japanese fast food. Even on a trip, you can eat a traditional Japanese dish that is quick and convenient.
The eyeglass capital of Japan, Sabae City in Fukui Prefecture produces about 90 percent of the eyeglass frames made in Japan. Eyeglass frame production began about 100 years ago in Sabae, which has continually led new industry innovations, including making the world’s first titanium eyeglass frames. In recent years, more companies in Sabae are attempting to make eyeglass frames using unique designs and materials that are even better than titanium. Companies have also set up stores to jointly sell their products and are continuing to explore global markets.
More than 300 high-speed Shinkansen trains are in service in a single day. The inside of the Shinkansen cars are meticulously clean. It is the cleaning team that makes this possible. A Shinkansen’s average stop time is 12 minutes. It takes five minutes for passengers to get on and off. Once all the passengers have gotten off, there is only seven minutes to completely finish cleaning the cars and taking out the garbage. Here we show how the Shinkansen cars are cleaned, which is attracting attention from overseas as the seven-minute miracle.
We use condiments and dressings every day during meals. A lot of thought is put into the containers that hold them. There is a cap that can be easily opened using little force, even by the elderly. A food package has also been developed that retains the freshness of soy sauce, and is easy to use. Japanese food containers continue to be innovated to make them easier to open, easier to use, and make what they hold more delicious.
The B-1 Grand Prix event gathers together groups from around Japan that conduct community PR activities to revitalize their towns through cooking and serving local specialties. The group Towada Barayaki Seminar from the town of Towada in Aomori Prefecture won second place in the 2013 B-1 Grand Prix. High school students work together with the adult members of this group in activities to build excitement for their town. We take a closer look at what they are doing.
Pacific saury have long been known to be attracted to light at night. Now the fishing methods used to catch Pacific saury are undergoing dramatic change. Fishermen are switching to blue-green LED lights from the conventional fishing method of using incandescent lights. The blue-green LED lights reduce energy consumption and improve the efficiency of the fishermen’s work. In addition, LED lights allow the Pacific saury to be caught without damaging their scales. The fishing industry revolution led by LED lights has only just begun.
This sport is called Sports Chanbara, or spochan for short. Created about 40 years ago in Japan, Spochan is a safe sport where competitors use equipment filled with air. Matches are held with participants wearing padded helmets and using swords of various lengths. Competitors face off against others with swords of the same length. A win is scored when a sword touches any part of the opponent’s body. The Sports Chanbara Association is seeking to increase its popularity internationally with the aim of ultimately making it an official Olympic sport.
Each day the people of Japan use a pair of stick-shaped implements known as hashi, or chopsticks to eat. Chopsticks are also used in other countries of Asia, but it is thought that Japan is one of the only places where only chopsticks are used when eating. Accompanying the growing global interest in Japanese cuisine, more and more people around the world are taking an interest in chopsticks from Japan. This is all the more reason why it is important for the people of Japan to learn about chopsticks and how to use them correctly.
Japanese farmers do most work by hand. Many farmers are of advanced age, however, and this work can be grueling. To solve this problem, devices have been designed to make the work of farmers easier. This is a powered suit designed for agricultural work. These suits are capable of holding a farmer's arm in a fixed position or lifting heavy items with half the amount of power normally required. These powered suits have been developed with cutting-edge technology to ease the lives of farmers in Japan. If they find traction and spread around the world they can surely do the same for farmers everywhere.
This is Ise Jingu, located in Ise City, Mie Prefecture. This shrine, with its distinguished history, has long been visited by many people over the centuries. Every 20 years, the shrine pavilion is rebuilt, the contents moved to or recreated in the new structure. This practice is called Shikinen Sengu and has taken place for the past 1300 years. One objective behind this is to pass on traditional shrine carpentry knowhow to future generations. The kigumi construction technique does not use nails. This process helps to transmit traditional Japanese construction techniques to future generations to ensure that this wisdom accrued over 1300 years will be carried on into the future.
Japanese gardens express nature using seasonal colors from planted trees, rocks, and ponds. They are a leading symbol of Japanese culture. Eleventh-generation gardener Jihei Ogawa from Kyoto is one of the Japanese Landscape Gardeners who performs the planning, maintenance, and carries on the ancient tradition of landscape gardening, as well as teaching the techniques he has learned to the next generation. It is the daily maintenance that produces a feeling of comfort similar to being in nature, and gives Japanese Landscape Gardens their universally appealing beauty.
Japanese towns feature many unique cafés and bars that are distinctly Japanese. A cat café on a busy downtown street. People come here who cannot keep cats. At a sewing machine café, people come who want to make various clothing using a sewing machine. People gather at train bars who like trains. Japan’s cafés and bars are sure to continue evolving as people’s interests diversify.
The Japanese Crested Ibis. Its scientific name is Nipponia nippon. This bird holds a special place in the hearts of Japanese people. However, this bird went extinct in Japan. Efforts are underway to bring the Japanese Crested Ibis back. The Japanese Crested Ibis is being brought back in Sado City, located on an island in the Sea of Japan. This Japanese Crested Ibis Conservation Center breeds and protects the birds. Furthermore it trains them to live in the wild, and then releases them. Currently, as of 2013 there are about 80 Japanese Crested Ibises living in the wild.
In Japan, the land of the robot, development of robots that focus on communication is advancing in a number of ways. There are robots that take part in experiments in conversation with an astronaut on a spacecraft, robots that connect hospitals and homes, and robots that communicate with the elderly at facility homes. With their potential to increase communication among others, expectations are rising for the benefits of communication robots.
In Japan you can find a new type of transport in between the motorcycle and the compact car, the Ultra-Lightweight Vehicle. Ultra-Lightweight Vehicles are powered by electricity, and as such are environmentally friendly. What’s more they are easy to drive, and it’s hoped that more people will use them for local transport. Various companies now use them to make door-to-door deliveries, and even public housing corporations can use them while they perform their everyday duties, and it is hoped that this environmentally friendly car will be in use more in the near future.
Tatami mats have been used in Japanese houses since the days of old. The surface of the tatami mat is made by carefully weaving together rush grass much of which is grown in Yatsushiro city in Kyushu. Rush grass gives off a pleasant aroma, which freshens the air, and covers the smell of sweat and unpleasant odors. Japanese people eat, relax and even sleep on tatami mats. Life lived on tatami mats was born from the knowledge of how to live in the hot and humid country of Japan.
Out of the four main islands that comprise the Japanese archipelago, the farthest south is Kyushu, where sightseeing trains are gaining popularity. The countryside can be enjoyed by peering out of the large glass windows in the car up front, and there is even a play area for children that’s been built. There’s also another kind of train where Jazz is played, and a bar counter has been set up. The attraction of traveling via these new sightseeing trains is the fun time spent riding on the trains itself.
Sushi. A traditional Japanese food. Because no oil is used during its preparation, it is a low calorie, healthy food that has become known worldwide. It used to take many years to become a sushi chef, but now there is a private academy where the technique of sushi can be learned in a short period of time. Many young students who wish to work overseas at sushi restaurants come to the school. Through sushi, this traditional Japanese cuisine, Japan’s culture is spreading throughout the world, and helping to promote mutual understanding worldwide.
Japan’s capital city of Tokyo. It has one of the best records for safety in the world. Supporting this is the Koban, or Japanese Police Box, an installation where the police officers not only work from to protect their cities and towns but where they also sometimes live. The Koban has a history of over 130 years, and they can be found anywhere in the country. The trusted police officers of Japan work to keep the peace as well as provide other essential services and ensure that life in Japan is safe and harmonious.
Japan, a country with many earthquakes. To help limit the damage, researchers in Japan are taking action. By placing a large-scale monitoring system on the ocean floor, and using a supercomputer to create simulations with the data that is gathered, researchers can find the safest ways to evacuate in an emergency. Japan is on the forefront of developing technology to limit damage, and save lives when disasters strike.
Dome-shaped hydroponic farms have appeared in farmland areas that were damaged during the tsunami of 2011. With a computer controlling the climate conditions, just a small amount of land and minimal water, hydroponic farms allow farmers to grow fresh vegetables all year round. These farms also provide needed work for those who lost their homes and farms to the devastation. Hydroponic farms are drawing attention from around the world!
Mt. Fuji. This World Cultural Heritage site is a symbol of Japan. One getaway spot where you can view this breathtaking mountain is Hakone. Just an hour and a half from Tokyo by car or train, this historical city is a popular destination for tourists. Hakone is located in a volcanic region, as such you’ll find plenty of hot springs here. Hotels featuring their own private hot springs where travelers can relax line the streets. Hakone a relaxing getaway, just a stone’s throw from Tokyo, where you can enjoy the many faces of beautiful Mt. Fuji.
The traditional start of spring is marked by the mame-maki custom of throwing beans to drive away evil spirits. There are special events to pray for good health in children, and of course the custom of partying under the cherry blossoms – symbols of spring. We also see farmers start the rice planting, and the traditional ceremonies that accompany it.
The star festival of Tanabata is widely celebrated in early July. Now the rains have passed and sunny skies are here, the Japanese head for the beach. There are fireworks displays and many summer festivals such as the lively bon odori. We also see some traditional methods for bringing a little coolness into the hottest part of their summer.
As cool weather returns, the famously beautiful autumn harvest moon brings with it its own traditions and ceremonies. Then the forested mountains begin to turn red and gold. It’s the season for chrysanthemum festivals, the traditional children’s festival of Shichigosan, and of course every region has its own unique harvest thanksgiving events.
In winter, you can enjoy events like the November markets selling kumade traditional lucky charms, spectacular street illuminations in the major cities, and skiing and snowboarding on the snow-covered mountains. New Year customs include eating special food, ringing temple bells, and decorating the house with traditional symbols.
Japanese children must attend elementary school from age six to age 12. We see a typical school day, with pupils learning core subjects like Japanese language, math, science and social studies in their homeroom classroom, and then moving to dedicated rooms to study music, crafts or home economics. The distinctive Japanese approaches to school meals, cleaning and school club activities are also shown.
Japan's elementary schools provide school lunches, and everyone eats from the same menu. Children from each class are assigned the task of bringing food from the kitchen and serving it. This unique system is not only valued for providing correct nutrition – it is designed to teach children the importance of a balanced, healthy diet, and to introduce them to different culinary traditions from other Japanese regions and from all over the world.
Events held throughout the elementary school year to deepen and round out pupils' educations include day visits to interesting local places and longer trips to further regions. The annual sports day is a major occasion, as are traditional cultural events like brush calligraphy contests. And all schools hold regular drills to prepare their pupils to react safely in case of emergencies like earthquakes or fires.
The Japanese school year starts from April, and there is a long mid-year vacation in the heat of the summer from late July to the end of August. We see how pupils are encouraged to take the opportunity of this long summer break not only for leisure, but also for special studies, sports and other training that is better done independently out of class times.
Idol group AKB48, now extending their fame to the world stage through performances in Paris, New York, Singapore and elsewhere, began - and still perform every day - in Akihabara, an area of Tokyo that's home to many dynamic youth subcultures like anime and manga. On the other side of the metropolis, Harajuku is the center for Tokyo's thriving street fashion scene and many small design houses whose Japanese brands regularly become international hits. Tokyo has a very long history of setting trends domestically, and its influence on world trends continues to grow.
Opened on May 22, 2012, the 634 meters tall Tokyo Sky Tree is the world's highest free-standing communications tower. The tower's observation decks are hugely popular with people who come to enjoy the combination of this ultra-modern structure and the old-world atmosphere of the surrounding commercial downtown area with its many traditional shops. This new landmark promises to spur a revival of the old downtown, attracting visitors to this area and its unique, historically vibrant culture.
The image of Tokyo is of a giant metropolis dominated by towering skyscrapers, but this huge city also takes pride in its world-class sports facilities, ranging from enormous athletics stadiums to football grounds, gymnasiums, swimming pools and martial arts dojos. Tokyo hosts many annual international events in a wide variety of sports, and even the great earthquake and tsunami of March 2011 did not interrupt the regular flow of world athletes eager to show off their skills here. It's not just the quality of the facilities that draws athletes and sports fans from around the world - packed with tourist attractions, Tokyo is a great place to experience Japanese culture.
Fresh foodstuffs from all over Japan are readily available in Tokyo, and this is also a wonderful place to discover the nation's huge variety of regional cuisines. You don't need to travel to the farthest parts of these islands to try rare local delicacies or cooking styles - there's sure to be a specialist restaurant serving them somewhere in Tokyo. International cuisine is also readily available - part of Tokyo's charm is the ease with which you can dine on dishes from any part of the globe. All of Asia's famous cuisines are well represented, of course, but food from places as far off as Latin America and Africa is easy to find.
World famous as sports, judo, kendo and karate are some of the Japanese martial-based arts known as budo. Developed from the mental and spiritual training systems used by the samurai, budo aims to perfect the character through constant training in technique, and to focus and unify the mind, practitioners will often sit in meditation before training sessions. The spirit of budo is developed by simultaneously training one's mind, technique and physical strength.
Japan's national sport of sumo originated from ancient Shinto religious rites to ensure good harvests. Sumo wrestlers attempt to unbalance their opponent for a power technique, even in the sudden opening clash of bodies. Judo, where the opponent's own force is used to throw him, allows small people to defeat larger ones – the soft overcoming the hard. Aikido, based on defensive techniques, interprets an opponent's strength, movements and intentions to lead and reverse an attack back. In karate one learns to fight by practicing set patterns of attack and defense called kata.
The budo arts that maintain the samurai warrior spirit and martial techniques also preserve many unique weapons, implements and equipment. For example, there's the bamboo sword called shinai used in kendo, and the traditional bamboo bows and 3-feathered arrows of kyudo. These traditional implements and equipment are essential in the various forms of budo to help focus the practitioner's concentration and strengthen the power of the will.
Budo continues to have a profound influence on Japanese life. Considered an excellent form of character training for children, classes in a budo art such as sumo, kendo or judo are compulsory in Japanese schools. Budo techniques originally developed to revive and treat injuries in combat are now valued and widely used in regular clinics. At festivals throughout Japan, budo displays often play a central role. Offering far more than just sophisticated fighting techniques, the spirit and heart of budo is alive and well today.
About one hour by train from Tokyo, Kamakura came to prominence 800 years ago as the capital of the first samurai government. Today it's a popular tourist destination, welcoming over 19 million visitors every year. Set in a unique geographical location, Kamakura forms a showcase of samurai culture with its numerous and magnificent temples, shrines and historical remains. Two of Kamakura's most famous attractions are Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine and the Daibutsu Great Buddha statue.
During the 10,000 years of the Jomon Period, starting about 12,000 years ago, the people of the Japanese islands gave up their nomadic lifestyle to live in fixed settlements. Instead of farming or breeding livestock, the Jomon people lived by hunting, fishing and gathering nuts and fruits. They made pottery and ornaments and ceremonially buried their dead. Of the many Jomon sites in the Tohoku region the most famous are Goshono (Iwate), the Oyu Stone Circles (Akita) and Sannai-Maruyama (Aomori).
The subtropical islands of Okinawa Prefecture attract over five million tourists a year with their sparkling seas, vibrant local culture, and many historical remains, now a World Heritage. There's the magnificent 15th century Shuri Castle, the royal palace of the Ryukyu Kingdom. Unique Okinawan castles with beautifully curved stone walls. And mysterious sacred groves, naturally formed in the forests and rocks. The World Heritage Sites of Okinawa are a living legacy of this region's rich history and cultural traditions.
With its distinctive symmetrical outline, Japan's highest peak is surrounded by magnificently varied scenery. In the summer season, around 300,000 climbers scale Mount Fuji. The mountain was venerated as a holy place since ancient times, and the summit is considered especially sacred. Mount Fuji has profoundly influenced much Japanese art and culture, used as the theme of many prints and paintings, for example. The timeless beauty of this towering peak never fails to stir the hearts of all who see it.
Japan is making rapid progress with environmentally-friendly urban development, notably by expanding use of renewable energy. In the Tohoku region, hard struck by the 2011 disaster, such initiatives include the construction of large scale solar power generation facilities, plans for local energy independence and urban developments designed to minimize energy consumption. Eco-friendly urban development is slated to play a major role in the reconstruction of the Tohoku region.
Geothermal is a long utilized source of renewable energy in Japan, a land of volcanoes and therefore abundant geothermal resources. Japan leads the world in geothermal technology, producing about 80% of all geothermal generating equipment. In this video, we see both advanced geothermal power plants and private enterprise initiatives to exploit this resource at the local level. Renewed focus on the importance of this energy resource is driving Japan's current enhanced development of geothermal power.
Learning from its long experience in coping with natural disasters, Japan is implementing a wide range of initiatives aimed at disaster prevention and reduction. These include the early earthquake warning system of the Japan Meteorological Agency and the seismic detection systems of the Shinkansen and other railway networks. Technology such as base-isolated construction and airlift systems are making buildings more resistant to earth tremors, and we also see high tech robots for rescue work at disaster sites.
Stretching for 600 kilometers along the Pacific coastline of the Tohoku region, Sanriku is one of Japan's most scenic areas. An enormous range of plant and animal life flourishes in this beautiful natural ecosystem, but Sanriku was hard hit by the great disaster of 2011. As part of the post-disaster reconstruction, there are now plans to designate the entire Sanriku area as one huge national park in order to revive a region where humankind and nature have long lived in harmony. The unique nature of this area is helping the regional reconstruction effort.
Hagi, in Yamaguchi Prefecture, is an historic city set among beautiful scenery, containing many fascinating relics and reminders of the key role it played in Japan's 19th century modernization. Hagi's major attraction for visitors, though, is its camellias. Over 25,000 camellia trees grow in a natural hillside forest, and the simple beauty of these blossom-covered trees is an irresistible magnet for the flower-loving Japanese.
Arita, in Saga Prefecture, was where Japanese ceramics began, about 400 years ago. Arita ware is made in many variations, from simple blue and white pieces hand colored using the sometsuke process, to gorgeously colored, richly ornamented items. Arita also produces the world-famous style known as Kakiemon. From a shrine gateway tiled in porcelain to walls of old kiln bricks, a visitor will see reminders of Arita's proud past everywhere.
In Japan's modern water-purification facilities, leading-edge technology converts seawater into drinking water. The secret is ultra-thin membranes wound in many layers. These Japanese developed membranes are finer than any other, able to block 99.8 percent of all viruses, chemicals, organisms and even ions. Supplying 70% of membranes used in water treatment plants worldwide, Japanese technology is helping to solve the global water shortage.
Producing a powerful sound that resonates throughout the whole body, wadaiko drums have been an important part of Japanese culture since ancient times. A mainstay of traditional Japanese music, wadaiko are also sacred instruments in Shinto and Buddhism. Today, the wadaiko is known worldwide thanks to a number of famous professional groups who are interpreting this traditional instrument in fresh and unique ways.
An oasis of green deep in the heart of the Tokyo megalopolis. The Meiji Jingu Shrine, located near the fashion districts of Omotesando and Harajuku, has over 170,000 trees in its 700,000 square meter grounds. These woods, originally planted by hand, have grown into a natural forest environment. A wonderful spot to relax among greenery, it's popular with tourists as well as Tokyo locals, and with five nearby stations couldn't be easier to get to.
In this traditional street stall skill, the artist works swiftly, squeezing, stretching, twisting and cutting the candy with bare hands before it cools and hardens. In just three minutes, a tiny, lifelike – and edible – sculpture is born. It takes many years of practice to become a good amezaiku artist, able to craft any shape a customer orders – even recognizable portraits. Young and old love to watch them at work, before enjoying the resulting candy.
Japan is home to some of the most advanced infrared and ultrasonic sensor technology, producing 70% of the world's sensors. Sensors play a vital role in energy-saving, preventing waste in everything from escalators to microwaves. Used in automatic taps, they reduce wasted water too. Now often combined with other technologies, sensors continue to evolve and change our world, and Japanese technology leads the way.
Kyo Yuzen is a famous traditional kimono dyeing technique from Kyoto. It is notable for the beauty of the elaborate and colorful scenes from nature, often of flowers and birds, that are used to decorate the kimono fabric. This method requires a great many processes to complete a single piece, each being done by a separate specialist artisan. With a history of over 300 years, Kyo Yuzen is as popular as ever today.
The mountain village of Gokayama lies in a region of heavy snows. To counter this, a special kind of thatched roof design developed here. Gokayama was made a World Heritage Site because of the beauty of this gassho-zukuri architecture, and its perfect preserved view of old Japan. The village is also famous for traditional folk arts, including dance, handicrafts, unique musical instruments and some of Japan's oldest folk music.
A whole style of cooking, very popular in Japan, uses a base of batter cooked on an iron griddle. The best known of these dishes is okonomiyaki, in which a batter mix made from flour and dashi stock is cooked together with vegetables, meat or fish and then given a coating of thick sauce. 500 years ago it was a simple recipe – today many different ingredients are used. Other delicious dishes in this style are monjayaki and takoyaki.
Japan leads the world in cutting-edge carbon fiber technology, and has developed reinforced fibers so strong that they can now be used to construct every part of an aircraft, tail, wings and fuselage. Because these materials are lighter as well as stronger than metal, flight distances can be 1.3 times greater. High-quality Japanese carbon fiber now accounts for 70% of world production, and demand continues to increase.
Since ancient times, the Japanese have been fond of lacquer, especially for furniture and eating utensils. Many of these items are gorgeously decorated using a unique Japanese technique for applying gold dust called maki-e. By using dust rather than foil, the designs can be painted on the lacquer in much finer detail. The beauty of maki-e is widely admired, although it takes many years for an artisan to master this skill.
The city of Niihama in Ehime Prefecture developed along with the Besshi Copper Mine, which played a significant role in 19th-century Japan's industrialization, and which today is an industrial city with many chemicals and machinery factories.
Every year in October, the city holds the Niihama Taiko Festival, a magnificently spectacular event with a long tradition and history behind it.
The Japanese enjoy an enormous variety of food products that use rice as their raw material. There are mochi rice cakes and dango dumplings, and recently even rice bread. But perhaps the oldest and best loved of rice snacks are the crackers known as senbei. These crisp, crunchy crackers are traditionally round and flavored with soy sauce, but they are also made in many other shapes and flavors.
Japan has many unique technologies for mixing and processing synthetic resins. Ears, arms, fingers and other prosthetic body parts are made ultra-lifelike using multiple types of resin, while innovative methods for resin mixing and coloring produce the realistic model dishes displayed outside restaurants. There is a worldwide demand for the high quality products made using these unique technologies, which can even create resins harder than steel. They can also combine durability with crystal clear transparency, and most large aquarium tanks worldwide are Japanese-made.
The history of Bunraku began when a traditional performing art called Joruri, where the story was told through chanting and shamisen music, was enhanced by the addition of puppets. Bunraku is unique among the puppet theaters of the world in that each puppet is controlled by a team of three puppeteers, a method that produces an amazingly lifelike effect. Bunraku remains popular with modern audiences, and is listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage, along with Japan's other theatrical traditions of Kabuki and Noh.
Solar power is widely and increasingly used in Japan in power stations and public facilities, and its advanced technology has given Japan an almost 25% world share in solar generating equipment. High energy conversion solar panel systems are installed on many private homes, and new household-use, high-capacity lithium storage batteries now allow energy generated in daytime to power homes at night. Semi-transparent solar panels provide illumination as well as generating power, eliminating a common problem of overhead panels blocking sunlight. New panels use lenses to multiply solar power conversion efficiency three to four times. Japanese research continues to improve solar technology, lowering costs and increasing generating capacity.
Sited at the heart of Japan, the beautiful coast of the Ise-Shima peninsula is a famous tourist destination, attracting 10 million visitors every year. Over 80% of them come to visit the 1,800-year old Ise Jingu, Japan's most important Shinto Shrine. Through all those centuries, believers never ceased to travel from all over the nation to Ise to give thanks to the kami, or deities, enshrined here. The Ise-Shima coast is also famous for its abundant marine life, and this area was the birthplace of the world's cultured pearl industry. You can still see the traditional women divers, who gather shellfish from the sea bed using no breathing equipment.
Japanese stationery products are known the world over for their ingenious design and for their practicality. For example, scissors fitted with a special cap to make them safer to handle, and an environmentally-friendly stapler that doesn't actually use staples. Very popular among collectors is the vast range of erasers that are perfect replicas – just 3 cm in size – of animals, foods and almost any object you could imagine. Such ideas could only be born in Japan, with its long tradition of meticulous miniature craftsmanship. At the other end of the scale, we also see cutting-edge high-tech stationery such as a ball point pen using ink that can be erased using only friction.
Ukiyoe is a genre of Japanese popular art dating back to the late 17th century that mostly depicts scenes from daily life or seasonal motifs. Whether hand painted or woodblock printed, ukiyoe is distinguished by bold, dramatic designs and vibrant colors. These prints are known and loved worldwide, and right from the start had a deep influence on artists in many countries. Ukiyoe prints are made by a sophisticated work-sharing process in which each print passes through the hands of three highly skilled artisans: an artist, a woodcarver and a printer.
Held in Sendai, the biggest city of the Tohoku region, the Tohoku Rokkon Sai is an event showcasing the region's six most famous festivals. This region was the area worst hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake of March, 2011, and the new event was planned to revive the spirits of the people, help them overcome the effects of the disaster, and show the rest of Japan and the world that Tohoku is as exciting and dynamic as ever. The featured festivals are Nebuta (Aomori), Kanto (Akita), Sansa (Morioka), Hanagasa (Yamagata), Waraji (Fukushima), and Tanabata (Sendai).
With a history going back over 800 years, this is one of the great summer events in Tohoku's Fukushima Prefecture, and one of the most famous of Japan's Gion festivals. The daytime part includes a parade of about 30 women dressed in gorgeous bridal kimonos carrying traditional offerings to the local shrine. At night, there is a parade of huge floats that stop at various points to act as stages for kabuki performances. The kabuki actors are children, and each time the floats move on, children from the audience ride along, chanting encouragement to the teams of haulers.
Each year in early August, a festival of Tohoku regional performing arts is held in Kitakami, Iwate Prefecture. The whole town becomes a stage for a wide variety of traditional dances from all over the region, performed in Kitakami's shrines, department stores, plazas and parks. About 120 groups took part in the festival this year, held in the aftermath of the disaster that devastated this region. Lively performances were provided by dancers from Tohoku and beyond, including groups from towns and villages destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami.
This festival was started after the second world war to pray for divine protection and inspiration as the people of the region struggled through the post-war reconstruction period. Deities from the two hilltop Shiogama and Shiwahiko Shrines are carried in procession in two mikoshi portable shrines to the harbor. Each mikoshi is then placed on its own special ship which sails around scenic Matsushima Bay, accompanied by dozens of fishing boats. The festival takes on a special significance this year, as the region once again faces the difficult task of reconstruction.
Located in a fertile plain by the Kitakamigawa River, Hiraizumi became the political and cultural center of the Tohoku region in the 11th and 12th centuries, after the end of a period of civil war. The unique culture of its golden age was fostered by the ruling Oshu Fujiwara clan, who ordered the construction of many temples and gardens embodying the Buddhist concept of the Pure Land paradise. Many of these 12 century masterpieces have survived to this day, most notably Chuson-ji Temple with its Golden Hall and Motsu-ji Temple with its famous Pure Land garden. Magnificent representations of this Buddhist Pure Land concept, the gardens and temples of Hiraizumi are now a World Heritage site.
The small city of Shirakawa, in Fukushima, is home to some of the world's most advanced aluminum processing plants. One of these produces the world's most precise aluminum tubing using its own specialist drawing technology. The plant makes its own dies to draw the raw stock aluminum tube and achieve an incredible, almost distortion free precision of 1/100 mm. These finished tubes are used to manufacture precision parts such as camera lens rings and high-speed train doors. The tubes are the key to an Antarctic scientific drilling project now bringing up 800,000-year old ice samples from depths of over 3000 m in order to study climate change. These Fukushima plants have bounced back from the recent disaster and continue to keep global industry supplied with irreplaceable specialist parts.
Sendai City in Miyagi, one of the areas of Tohoku hard hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake, is home to a famous craft tradition with a history going back over one hundred years. This is the craft of making Sendai Tansu chests. Made from especially beautiful and durable wood, these chests are treated with a complex lacquering process that allows the grain to shine through, and decorated with fine ironwork fittings. Some of these artisans lost their tools and workshops in the tsunami but, typical of the resilient people of this region, they have overcome the disaster and work on, powered by a determination to keep their family craft traditions alive for future generations.
The huge earthquake that devastated the Tohoku Region in March seriously affected the auto industry, which relies on many specialist component manufacturing plants located in this part of Japan. Most recovered rapidly and are now back in production, including a small manufacturer of extremely precise metal dies. This technology, with a product reject rate of less than 1%, is used to manufacture the high accuracy components required by automakers around the world. The expressway system, depended on by manufacturers for distribution, also recovered quickly - Japan's road engineers had 90% of the stricken highways open for traffic again just 13 days after the earthquake. The speedy response depended on knowhow and techniques employed and polished every day by the specialists who keep society's systems and lifelines running.
Takachiho, a small town in the mountains of northern Miyazaki, is the legendary home of some of Japan's most ancient myths. The landscape around Takachiho is filled with sacred spots, the best known being Gokase-gawa Gorge, a mysteriously beautiful ravine of sheer volcanic cliffs cutting through deep forest. Performed in Takachiho for over 800 years, the Kagura dance portrays the stories of the old gods, backed by the music of traditional drums and flutes.
Zori and geta are two traditional kinds of Japanese footwear that are still popular and widely worn today. Since they don't enclose or restrict the feet, these sandals keep feet healthy and free from perspiration and various ailments like corns. Both styles are made in a wide variety of materials and designs, and geta in particular are often crafted by artisans and beautifully decorated using traditional methods such as lacquer and gold ornamentation.
In a recent new fashion style, young Japanese are remaking and redesigning store-bought clothing to reflect their own personal tastes and to project an image that's unique to each wearer. They use both purpose-made decorations and accessories and any everyday objects that happen to seize their fancy, sewing or sticking them to store-bought garments. Limited only by your imagination, it's an inexpensive and easy way to transform your appearance with clothes that are absolutely one of a kind.
Many of the electronic components at the heart of modern appliances are developed in Japan, and one of the most essential uses technology inspired by a traditional handicraft. Japanese companies have the world top share in ceramic capacitors thanks to a technique from Kiyomizu-yaki, a centuries-old Kyoto ceramic tradition. We also see how traditional methods for making ultra-thin decorative gold foil have made printed circuit board manufacture more efficient.
bentobako, the special containers for carrying these meals, also play a significant role in Japanese culture. Historically, they were made of wood, often lacquered. Today, bentobako are mad Bento (meals cooked and packed for convenient carrying) are an old tradition in Japan. And e in a variety of materials and in a huge range of designs aimed at offering greater functionality. A blend of traditional wisdom and ingenious technology, bentobako ensure that meals stay fresh and delicious, even after being carried for long periods.
Leading edge micro-technology is now widely used in the medical field, and many innovative developments are coming from small Japanese factories. These include the world's thinnest hypodermic needle (0.2mm) and ultra-compact medical light bulbs just 5mm across. Thanks to the vastly increased power of recently developed Japanese microscopes, surgeons are now able to operate on blood vessels as thin as 0.5mm. And robots just one millionth of a mm long allow researchers to study even single cells.
In a recent new fashion style, young Japanese are remaking and redesigning store-bought clothing to reflect their own personal tastes and to project an image that's unique to each wearer. They use both purpose-made decorations and accessories and any everyday objects that happen to seize their fancy, sewing or sticking them to store-bought garments. Limited only by your imagination, it's an inexpensive and easy way to transform your appearance with clothes that are absolutely one of a kind.
The island of Miyajima lies in the Seto Inland Sea, near Hiroshima. The entire wooded island, 30 kilometers around, stands as a shrine symbolizing reverence for nature. The 1,400-year old shrine is built over the water and seems to float against a backdrop of green mountain. Each April over 400 Noh performers gather here from all over Japan for a special sacred event. The sense that they are performing in the midst of nature is especially intense at high tide, when the sea rises almost to the level of the shrine's Noh stage.
The entrance to the Izu Peninsula is an easy one hour train ride from Tokyo. Tourists flock here for Izu's year-round mild climate, magnificent coastline and famous hot springs. The most popular destinations are the spots where many flowers bloom simultaneously in February – you can see plum, camellia, cherry, daffodil and rape blossoms. Plum and cherry blossoms flower earlier here than anywhere else in Japan, and early spring on the Izu coast is a picturesque sight.
Ojiya chijimi is a woven fabric that has been produced in Ojima, in Niigata Prefecture, for about 350 years. In this snowy area, weavers discovered that they could bleach their fabric to a distinctive hue by laying it out on the winter snow. They use a local variety of hemp called choma which is very absorbent and dries quickly. In combination with a special crimping technique to produce linen crepe, this makes a comfortable fabric that's ideal for summer kimonos. Hand woven on unique looms, these fabrics also feature very beautiful patterns.
Japan's home moving companies provide a service that's unrivaled for reliability and comprehensiveness. You don't need to make any preparations at all – from packing to unpacking, the movers will handle it all. Special packing materials protect fragile items like crockery, and prevent creases in clothing. Everything is unpacked at your new home and placed precisely where you're used to having it – you simply resume life with no interruption. This service is so complete that they even clean your home before they leave.
Hina-Ningyo are dolls are dressed in the gorgeous costumes of Japan's 11th century court nobility. It's an ancient belief in Japan that dolls can absorb evil and misfortune, and in the Hina Matsuri (March 3rd) dolls are displayed to pray for young girls' health. Hina-Ningyo dolls come in many varieties, all with individual, distinctive faces. At the top of the stepped display sit emperor and empress dolls, backed by a gold or richly decorated screen. The number of steps varies, but a fine seven-step display has 15 dolls, including three court ladies and five musicians.
Japan's high-speed rail network began in 1964 with the launch of the Shinkansen Bullet Train, at the time the world's fastest. The network now has over 2,000 km of track and links all the nation's regions. The trains too have continued to evolve, becoming faster, more comfortable and quieter. The latest in this evolution is the Hayabusa, a new design that debuted on the Tohoku Shinkansen route in March, 2011, with a maximum operating speed of 320 km/h.
Matsue City in Shimane Prefecture grew up around the castle built in 1611, and it still retains much of the look of that old period. Rivers and waterways crisscross the city, giving it much of its beauty, and a riverboat tour is by far the best way to enjoy the sights of old Matsue. Boats operate all year round, with old-style charcoal heaters to ward off the winter chill. Another popular boat tour is on Lake Shinji, to the west of the city, to watch the spectacular sunsets.
In Japan, highly advanced, computerized technology carries eggs from hen to shop. At the processing plant, eggs are first cleaned and externally sterilized with boiling ozonated water. Then come a series of computer controlled inspections for surface dirt, shell cracks and internal defects. Computerized conveyor belt systems clean, check and package about 120,000 eggs per hour with such high levels of hygiene that it's always safe to eat Japanese eggs uncooked.