Kumiko is a traditional Japanese woodcraft technique in which no nails are employed, creating complex patterns using just thin pieces of wood. The technique has been used to decorate buildings for centuries, and is still much loved for its warm feeling and eco-friendliness. Okawa City in Fukuoka, historically known for its woodworking industries, is also famous for its kumiko tradition. Here, we meet two kumiko artisans: one, the seventh generation of a craft family who is breaking ground with her new designs, and another who uses kumiko techniques to create products like lamps and screens more suited to modern interiors. This craft with a long history is constantly evolving.
Summaries of topics from Japan Video Topics, a series of short video clips on topics on Japan such as food, technology, culture, travel, lifestyle, and sports.
Heavy Machinery to the Rescue
Heavy machinery – the equipment used in construction and civil engineering – is also indispensable after natural disasters, to clear earth and debris to allow rescue and reconstruction work to begin. Recently, a volunteer group that provides machine operators for disaster relief realized it would be helpful to train local residents to operate these machines in case of emergencies. We meet some women whose first-hand experience of disaster in their hometown inspired them to take this training. They formed their own team, and have already provided essential support to nearby areas that have suffered disaster.
The Deer of Nara Park
Nara was the capital of Japan 1,300 years ago, before Kyoto. Today, it's most famous for Nara Park and its cultural assets, some of them World Heritages. The park is also home to about 1,200 deer, which although completely wild, mingle fearlessly with the tourist crowds. This rare example of coexistence seems to be due to a combination of a unique natural environment and the supportive behavior of people over the centuries, a legacy Nara is committed to preserving.
World's First Pro Dance League
Worldwide, dance has never been more popular, and Japan is no exception. Offering the advantages of both a sport and a means of self-expression, dance has been a required subject in junior high schools here since 2012. The athletic dance form known as Breaking will debut at the 2024 Paris Olympics, and Japan is a serious contender for the Gold. So it's not surprising that the world's first professional dance league was created in Japan, a competition that has been honing the skills of local dancers since 2021.
Tensile Membranes for Architecture
The roof of Tokyo Dome, Japan's largest indoor stadium, is a thin membrane supported by air pressure. This design, which allows large pillar-free interiors, debuted at the U.S. Pavilion of the 1970 Osaka Expo. Advances in technology now allow permanent membrane roofs, and architects are utilizing them in adventurous designs like the umbrella canopies of a plaza in Saudi Arabia and the spectacular dome of Expo 2020 Dubai. Membrane technology is also proving highly effective in medicine and disaster mitigation.
The Japanese Way of Baseball
Baseball came to Japan in 1872, introduced by Horace Wilson, an American professor at the forerunner to the University of Tokyo. In the 150 years since, professional leagues were developed and the game became one of Japan's most popular sports, played by and popular among all ages and genders. The annual High School Baseball Championship is a summer highlight, followed avidly by fans all over the country. The high level of Japanese baseball lead US Major League teams to recruit its best players, and Japanese-style baseball is spreading to countries in Asia and Africa that appreciate its unique culture of respect and manners on the field.
Okinawa Looks to the Future
Okinawa, in southwest Japan, is an area with their own unique culture. Historically, these islands were the birthplace of traditional arts like kumiodori dance and karate, the martial art so popular worldwide. Today, the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University leads the world with projects such as environmental DNA technology for coral reef cultivation, in hopes to mitigate climate change. Shuri Castle, premier symbol of Okinawan culture, was destroyed by fire in 2019 but is rapidly being restored. We meet local high-schoolers using virtual reality technology to allow tourists to remotely visit their castle during its reconstruction.
Dagashi-ya – Japan's Old-style Snack Stores
Dagashi are the Japanese version of old-fashioned penny snacks. These snacks come in an amazing variety, some familiar but some unique to Japan. They are often sold loose from glass jars and priced cheap enough for kids to afford with their pocket money. The snack stores, known as dagashi-ya, are more than charming reminders of a bygone age – they give children a chance to learn to handle money, and a safe place to hang out with friends under the watchful eyes of neighborhood adults.
Sustainability in Action – A Dairy Farm in Tokyo
There is a dairy farm in Tokyo that made a virtue of its urban setting, raising its herd of 100 cows sustainably by utilizing resources found nearby. Coffee husks from a local coffee factory are a particularly important resource: scattered in the cow sheds every day, they eliminate the smell of manure, a major problem for livestock farmers. Sleeping on this soft floor and fed a nutritious mix of recycled food, these cows live a comfortable life that improves the quality of their milk as well. This farm is a great example of sustainable urban agriculture.
Teenage Creators – The Future of Gaming
Japan has always been a world leader in creating video game hardware and software. Once advances in technology made it easier for individuals to program their own games, Japan's teenage coders rose to the challenge. Since 2014, the game company Unity has held the Youth Creator Cup, a contest for entrants ranging in age from elementary school to technical college, to submit original games they've programmed. We talk with the two young creators who took first and second prize and look at their surprisingly polished games.
Powered by Light –New Phosphorescent Pigments
Wristwatch hands and dials have long been coated with luminous paint to make them visible in the dark. Conventional luminous paints had their issues though, so one Japanese company developed an alternative – a new type of phosphorescent pigment that's ten times brighter and lasts ten times longer. Their pigments are now used on virtually all the world's luxury watches. With a long afterglow and no need for power, they are ideal for emergency signs and guideways. Beginning with textile applications, this new technology is also inspiring designers in a host of other fields.
Blackboard Art in the Classroom
Blackboards and chalk are a familiar sight in schools everywhere, but when Japanese high-schoolers decided to use these everyday equipment to create art, it caused a sensation on social media that swept the nation. Inspired by the old custom of putting pictures and messages on blackboards to congratulate graduating students, the students began making ever more ambitious and intricate works of art in chalk. Its popularity led a school equipment maker to host a blackboard art contest, and it has even proved inspiring for professional artists as well.
Amami-Oshima – Living in Biodiversity
Amami-Oshima is an island in the far south of Japan famed for its natural environment, home to many rare species only found here and on islands nearby. The island's biodiversity, having over 700 native species, led to it being listed as a part of UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage site in 2021. On this small island, rare animals and people live so close that accidents harming the wildlife has been happening frequently. However, thanks to the efforts of the islanders and their local veterinarian, measures to protect this biodiversity are succeeding.
Chiyogami – Japan’s Gorgeously Patterned Paper
Chiyogami is a style of paper originating in traditional handmade washi, that's decorated with colorful designs taken from nature. It's still made by traditional methods in workshops, some dating back to the 19th century. Over 1,000 patterns are in use, applied either by brush or by woodblock printing. Used in origami, this paper is now becoming popular overseas too. In Japan, it's also widely used as a craft paper for making stationary items and ornaments.
Japanese Space Food – “Delicious!”
Techniques for living in space continue to evolve, and astronauts have an expanding menu to choose from. In February 2021, the International Space Station enjoyed chicken-flavored space ramen and fried noodles developed by the Japanese manufacturer that had invented instant cup noodles in the past. We also visit a high school to hear about a 14-year class project to make canned mackerel space food. New types of space food – produced in a nation long known for the sophistication of both its technology and cuisine.
Traditional Gold Leaf – A Timeless Luster
Traditional method of making gold leaf as thin as 1/10,000th of a millimeter, is one of 17 Japanese architectural craftsmanship listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity. This gold leaf is mostly made in Kanazawa, where the humid climate prevents static electricity and makes gold leaf easy to work with. For over 400 years, this gold leaf has been used to restore famous historical buildings like Kinkakuji Temple and Nikko Toshogu Shrine. It's so soft it's even used to add a touch of luxury to sweets as well.
Beat the heat – New cooling technologies
Global warming brings hotter summers each year, and with heatstroke becoming a growing danger, Japanese technology is developing new ways to keep us cool. We will look at an adhesive sheet, a better replacement for ice that keeps the body cool for eight hours; a gentle but highly effective cooling technology that acts on specialized blood vessels that control body temperature; and a slurry drink made of extremely small ice particles which became a huge hit among workers and athletes active in hot conditions.
Seeing Asakusa by Rickshaw
Rickshaws are a common sight in Asakusa, an old part of Tokyo that's a popular tourist spot. Faster than walking, more leisurely than cars, they're the most enjoyable way to tour this ancient district's temples, shrines and fascinating back lanes. Another attraction is the rickshaw pullers, providing a lively and informative guide to the sights you pass. We also visit a rickshaw workshop where they are assembled by hand by a highly-skilled artist who also designs new types of rickshaws for weddings and special events, with gorgeous color schemes or LED illuminations.
Tsukudani – Hidden Gem of Japanese Cuisine
Tsukudani is a side dish often served with Japanese meals. Made by boiling seafood, seaweed, or vegetables in a sweet soy sauce, it was originally invented by fishermen as a way to preserve their surplus catch. The waterfront area in Tokyo where it originated still has tsukudani stores that are over 200 years old. We visit one store that achieves its unique taste by using a sauce that has been concentrated over generations, and another that has won awards overseas with its innovative cooking methods. These have produced variations on this classic dish that make it a highly suitable match for many cuisines as well as Japanese.
Solar Power for Rooftops Everywhere
Solar power is a highly promising decarbonization technology, and it has received a fresh boost from a Japanese company that designs and constructs roofs. Large area on factory roofs would be ideal for solar panels but are not strong enough to support the weight, so the company collaborated with electrical equipment makers to develop new technologies. One is a rail system that allows regular panels to be fitted on corrugated roofs, the other is a thin-film panel that can be mounted on even weaker roofs. Profits made from solar panels in Japan subsidize projects to bring electricity to rural schools in countries with poor infrastructure.
Rakugo Traditional Japanese Comedy
In rakugo, an entertainment that became popular with the common people in the 17th century, a single performer sits on a cushion on stage to tell a humorous story. This takes the form of a conversation, with the performer changing their tone and gesture for its different characters, using only a folding fan and a simple cotton cloth as props. Many of the old tales are still popular today, and rakugo is gaining fans around the world. We see one performed by a professor who studies humor and performs rakugo in English. The enthusiastic reception she has received in many countries proves that the power of laughter knows no boundaries.
Japan’s Concept Cafe Trend
Theme-based cafes are a great success in Japan, and continue to grow in popularity. The idea of "concept cafes" began in Akihabara, the center of Japanese pop culture, with their renowned “maid cafes”. They are now found everywhere, and have diversified to cater everyone’s taste; from railway enthusiasts to ninja fans. At the unique end, there's a science-themed cafe-bar run by an actual scientist, where the whole experience takes form of lab experiments. Concept cafes aren't just fun places to eat and drink, they can let you engage in exciting activities as well.
Cutting-edge Surgical Instruments
Surgeons around the world always seek better instruments for their life-saving procedures. Some of these world-class medical devices are actually made in tiny Japanese factories. One example is the world's thinnest surgical needle. Just 0.03 mm in diameter, this needle made it possible to suture the smallest nerves and blood vessels. Another factory in Tokyo produces cutting-edge surgical scissors used by brain surgeons worldwide. This factory revised their artisan-relied production system to meet its growing demand. Surgical instruments and their production continues to evolve along with the medical care itself.
Improving Life from the Ground Up
It's customary in Japan to take off shoes and change to indoor footwear when entering a home or a public facility. This custom dates back about 150 years, when the Japanese made indoor shoes for western visitors who were not accustomed to taking shoes off. Over the years, slippers became the most common type, and today, they come in a vast variety of styles. Recently, new designs focused on keeping people fit at home by improving posture were developed as well. We will see how the whole footwear culture evolved from love of cleanliness.
Ramen – The noodles everyone loves
Ramen is one of the most popular types of Japanese noodles. The first ramen shop in Japan opened about 100 years ago, serving with soy sauce flavored broth, which suited Japanese tastes. Over the years, more varieties of broth were developed for a wider selection. Now, there is even a Michelin Guide Tokyo awarded ramen restaurant, whose chef's excellent fusion of Japanese and Western ingredients is a hit around the world. Halal ramen is another innovation helping spread the appeal of ramen worldwide.
Gundam – 18m Mobile Robot
The world's largest movable humanoid robot is now on show in Yokohama. Standing 18m high, it's a full-scale reproduction of the giant robot made famous by the popular "Mobile Suit Gundam" animated TV series. Three engineers who also are Gundam fans took on the unprecedented challenge of creating a real-life robot that would move dynamically just like the original animation. The development of this giant humanoid took six years of trial and error, but now at last, the result of their project is ready to roll.
Edo Kiriko – Japanese style cut glass
Edo Kiriko is a cut glass craft dating back about 200 years, to the period when Tokyo was called Edo. These glass artworks are decorated with gorgeous patterns, of which there are over a dozen types, each having its own traditional meaning. Each piece is hand crafted in a highly skilled process. Currently, there are about 100 active Edo Kiriko artisans, ranging from youngsters to veterans, many of whom have become known for fresh and individual designs that are helping to maintain the appeal of this craft.
Touchless touch screens – A life-changing innovation
Touchless technology using AI and sensors to operate devices without physical contact, is being widely adopted in Japan for its public hygiene and security benefits. A new innovation is the "aerial display" – a technology that makes images appear in the air. It doesn't just look like an SF movie effect, but you can use it as a virtual touch panel as well. This technology opens up a new world of contactless applications, from suppressing infectious disease to enhancing all kinds of entertainment.
New Year Mochi Rice Cakesy
Mochi rice cakes are traditionally eaten at celebrations and at New Year, when mochi made with that year’s rice are also used as decorations. People start the new year with a stew called zoni, made from local ingredients with mochi as centerpiece. New Year mochi decorations take a unique form in Takayama City, in Gifu, with Hanamochi, a custom that’s been going over 450 years. Small pieces of mochi are wrapped on branches to emulate flowers in a tradition begun by local farmers as a prayer for family and good harvests. In a culture centered on rice, mochi remains a symbol of prosperity.
Aikido − Spirit of Harmony
Aikido is relatively recent, compared to other Budo traditions. However, it was also founded as a way or path, the ultimate aim being to cultivate and develop the spirit. The essence of Aikido is sometimes said to be love, achieving harmony with an opponent rather than fighting them, using techniques that counter instantly with a calm spirit. Adding your strength to your opponent’s force, you break their balance and make them fall. Controlling an attacker without attacking yourself, becoming one with your opponent while suppressing your own aggressive feelings – Aikido is the gentlest martial art.
Kyudo − The Way of the Bow
Kyudo is a martial art using the bow, but unlike other kinds of archery, the real aim is far more than merely hitting a target, and the bows have no sights. Focused on achieving correct posture and stance, with total awareness of oneself, the spirit of Kyudo is expressed by the term mushin – pure mind free from all distracting thoughts. To enter this state requires long and continuous training, and in Kyudo competitions, although points are scored by hitting the target, judges place more emphasis on good stance and calmness of spirit. Kyudo is the Japanese martial art most often compared to Zen.
Kendo − Spirit of the Samurai Sword
In the martial art of Kendo, matches are held using bamboo swords called shinai. However, winning in Kendo requires far more than mastering techniques. The most important thing is to develop a strong and fearless spirit, and this is a major factor in judging contests. With its origins in samurai sword training, Kendo strives for the mental attitude of the warrior, but because the goal today is to develop character and self-discipline rather than win in combat, the rigorous training is valued as much as the contests. An essential part of this tradition is the deep and respectful relationship between teacher and student.
Shodo Brush Calligraphy – Writing from the Heart
Shodo is the traditional art of writing with brush and ink. It uses many special techniques, the most important being harai, sweeping the brush to add thickness to the end of a stroke, and tome, pressing down for an emphatic stop. In Japan, it’s considered an accomplishment to write beautifully, and so many people take Shodo lessons. Students begin by copying sample characters to practice the basic movements of the brush before moving on to learn the five main types of calligraphy. Shodo is far deeper than simply learning to write beautifully, it can be a sincere and powerful art form.
Wadaiko Japanese Drums − Drumming with Soul
The Japanese-style drums called Wadaiko have a history going back over 1,300 years. They have always been played at festivals, and at shrine and temple rituals, and have an essential role in traditional performing arts like Gagaku and Kabuki. These drums produce a characteristically strong reverberating sound thanks to a special way of carving their interior surface. Wadaiko drumming is a very popular hobby today, and regardless of your age it’s easy to find a place to learn. The way the drummer puts their whole body and spirit into each strike makes both playing and watching Wadaiko so uniquely compelling.
Nihon Buyo Traditional Dance − Beauty in Movement
Many of Japan’s older classical dances, such as Noh with its slow and stately movements and the lively, dynamic Kabuki, remain very popular. But none are as popular as Nihon Buyo, created about 400 years ago by incorporating elements from older traditions. The art continued to grow and evolve though generations of teachers, and today there are around 120 different schools. All teach certain basic movements first, special techniques for moving the feet, hands and neck. We watch dancers as they practice, and hear from them how Nihon Buyo uniquely expresses the Japanese sense of beauty.
Judo − Soft Overcoming Hard
Judo is a martial art that develops both body and spirit to utilize strength with maximum effectiveness. Practitioners must master about 100 different techniques, all based on the fundamental philosophy of softness overcoming hardness, with a major appeal of Judo being the confidence it gives in the face of much bigger and stronger opponents. Judo was the first martial art to become an official Olympic sport, at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Based on mutual respect for opponents and partners, regardless of who wins or loses, Judo is now a popular sport and martial art in over 200 countries and regions.
Kado Flower Arrangement − Capturing Nature’s Essence
Kado captures our hearts by simply being there, conveying its message with no need for words or music. The art evolved into many different schools, but the oldest teaches three fundamental styles: Rikka, Shoka and Jiyuka. Rikka aims to express the beauty of nature in all its forms. Shoka, the simplest style, expresses the life energy of the plants. Jiyuka is the most contemporary-looking style, versatile enough to be displayed anywhere and allowing the direct expression of emotions. Still hugely popular, with classes everywhere, Kado represents the Japanese spirit of harmony and respect for nature.
The volume of plastic waste continues to grow and has become a significant global environmental problem. Japanese companies are seeking solutions, with bioplastics being one promising recent development. We visit a Tokyo-based chemicals company that took a naturally-occurring microbe and developed its ability to completely break down plastics in seawater or soil. A drawback has been that bioplastics are not easy to manufacture in complex shapes, so another Japanese company used its expertise in making metal molds to overcome this problem, significantly enhancing the versatility of this eco-material.
Lake Shikotsu Ice Festival – Sculptures of Frozen Blue
Hokkaido’s Lake Shikotsu has always been famous for its blue waters, so pure they’ve topped Japan’s water quality rankings for 11 years running. About 40 years ago, tourists flocked here in summer, but were deterred by the region’s icy winters. To attract winter visitors, the locals pooled their ideas and created this festival. These sculptures of ice that show off the unique blue of the lake water take a dedicated team of 13 two months to build, working round the clock. This year there are five towering sculptures, a splendid sight in the sun and even more spectacular when illuminated at night.
Bringing Color to Life − Kyoto Arts and Crafts
Kyoto attracts tourists from all over the world, especially in fall, with its historic shrines and temples. Tourists have also begun noticing its arts and crafts stores, many centuries old but now adapting their traditional techniques to modern times. We see a maker of "wagasa", Japanese style umbrellas crafted from "washi" paper, create lampshades that utilize the uniquely gentle colors produced by light shining through paper. A centuries-old store making pigments for "Nihonga" watercolorists diversified into nail varnishes, and is using "gofun", the chalky white powder made from crushed scallop shells, that’s the base of "Nihonga" paints, to transform the world of manicure.
Japanese Stationery − Sparking Joy
Japanese stationery has gained fans all over the world thanks to its constant inventiveness, aimed at making life more enjoyable at home and more effective at work. It’s so popular in Japan, there’s even an annual show in Tokyo devoted just to fun and new designs. Although we live in a digital age, many people still love to write and make things by hand, and stationery provides the tools to express ourselves creatively. One recent hit item is nib pens individually hand-crafted entirely from glass. Users also love the way they can mix their own inks for these pens to make their writing look even more unique.
Kamaboko − The Taste of Celebration
Fish from the surrounding seas have always been a key element in Japanese cuisine. A thousand years ago, kamaboko was developed to preserve fish that easily goes off, making a paste then curing, steaming and cooking it. It became the custom to eat it in celebratory meals. Kamaboko has many regional variations, the most popular kind being sold mounted on a thin wooden board. The famous Toyama specialty, Saiku Kamaboko, creates sculptures representing traditionally lucky motifs like sea bream, cranes and turtles, and is used as the centerpiece at celebrations of important life events like weddings.
Takao San − Tokyo’s Own Mountain
Mount Takao, less than an hour by train from central Tokyo, is a popular place for people of all ages. With about three million visitors a year, it’s the world’s most climbed mountain. Home to a vast range of vegetation, it contains over 1,600 plant species. Mount Takao is historically a site of spiritual importance, and believers still flock to its temple of Yakuō-in. This area is also home to the traditional craft of Tama-ori weaving, and we watch as weaver Sawai Shin makes his own dye from local mulberry leaves. Mount Takao’s deep connections to its local community led to it becoming Tokyo’s first officially designated “Japan Heritage.”
Simply Heartwarming − Kokeshi Dolls
"Kokeshi" are charming traditional wooden dolls, the simple, colorful design representing a young girl wearing a kimono. This craft originated in the Tohoku region, where 11 distinct "kokeshi"traditions still thrive. Naruko Onsen in Miyagi is the largest producer of these dolls, and there we meet Tanabe Kaori, who left her previous job as an engineer to train as a "kokeshi" artisan. She tells us about learning the difficult skills of painting the dolls’ gentle features under the guidance of master craftsman Okazaki Yasuo. The old traditions continue to evolve, and recent creative"kokeshi" designs are proving especially popular with female fans.
Eliminating Food Waste − New Advances in Technology
One of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is to cut global food loss and waste by half, and new Japanese technologies are helping. DayBreak, a company in Tokyo, uses a special freezing technique to preserve fruit far longer than conventional freezers, while retaining the original flavor and nutrition. While a company in Nagasaki, Isle, took a different approach with their method for drying and processing vegetables into thin sheets to allow long-term storage of various food that otherwise would be discarded. These vegetable sheets are ideal as emergency food, and their versatility appeals to creative chefs. We’ll introduce today’s Japanese food technology which tries to provide solutions to the global food issues.
Manga – Inspiring Creators Worldwide
Manga cover so many genres they appeal to every kind of reader, and now that manga have become popular around the globe, there’s a growing number of overseas manga creators too. We talk with Åsa Ekström from Sweden who created a manga about her experiences living in Japan that became a major hit with Japanese readers. At the annual Japan International Manga Awards ceremony for overseas manga creators held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, first prize this year went to Weili Joming from Taiwan for a manga on a serious topic – how we face death, seen through the eyes of a young funeral director.
The World of Yōkai − Mysterious Spirit Allies
Since ancient times, the Japanese have believed in “yōkai”, mysterious beings with supernatural powers. There are many kinds, from "tengu", who fly around deep in the mountains, to the kappa living in rivers. We explore this world in a small country town that used yōkai traditions to attract tourists. In a spontaneous response to the ongoing pandemic, a “yōkai” called Amabie became a symbol of hope in Japan, inspiring people to post illustrations on social media, make Amabie figurines and even sweets. It’s thought “yōkai” legends grew over the centuries as a projection of people’s fears and uncertainties in times of catastrophe. The Japanese today have a great affection for these mysterious creatures.
Yume Kawaii - Harajuku’s Dreamy Fashion
Harajuku is world renowned for its "kawaii" fashions. The latest evolution is "yume kawaii", pastel colored clothing and designs intended to evoke the world of young girls’ dreams. It’s become such a boom that this fashion has now expanded to candies and stationery goods, and Harajuku cafes feature "yume kawaii" characters in collaboration with the makers of Hello Kitty. We meet some of its young creators and discover how "yume kawaii" encourages Japan’s youth to have fun exploring their individuality though street fashion.
Tsunami Violin − The Sound of Remembering
In 2011, violin maker Nakazawa Muneyuki and his musician wife Kimiko were deeply moved by TV images of the wreckage and uprooted trees left by the Great East Japan Earthquake. Nakazawa decided to make a violin using wood salvaged from the place hardest hit by the tsunami, Rikuzentakata in Iwate. For his sound post, the part that determines the violin’s tone, he chose a twig from the Miracle Pine - the only tree left standing there by the tsunami. Ten years after the disaster, his violin, which he called it the “Tsunami Violin”, still plays at concerts around Japan, ensuring the experiences of that terrible day will never be forgotten.
Clean Water for All
30 percent of the world’s population – about two billion people – have no access to safe drinking water. A major reason is the high cost of water treatment plants. We meet a researcher whose low-cost method for purifying water using natural ecosystems is now in use in over 30 countries. In an alternative approach, another researcher developed an artificial crystal for use in water bottles that removes harmful heavy metals like lead. This approach is now applied in Africa. It’s contributing to one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals of safe water for all.
Learning with Candy
Visitors to Japan are often delighted by the incredible variety of candies. One that is unique to Japan helps children learn by making their own sweets. With no artificial colorings or preservatives, they are perfectly safe to eat. The first candy in this range, launched about 30 years ago, fascinated children by the way it changed colors when mixed, giving them a hands-on experience of the chemical reactions they were learning about in school. Recent research proves that playing with these products have a positive educational effect, such as boosting concentration.
Japanese Style Hospitality - Cleanliness is Key
Sitting down in a Japanese restaurant, you’ll be given an "oshibori" moistened hand towel, both to clean your hands and as an expression of "omotenashi", or hospitality. These towels are usually provided by a rental cleaning service to ensure they meet exacting standards of hygiene and cleanliness. The culture of hospitality and cleanliness also led to the development of unique Japanese rest room designs, and we see some of the latest technology, including toilets that clean themselves with water that eliminates bacteria. Japanese "oshibori" and rest rooms – they are one of the symbols of "omotenashi".
Protect our Seas! Regenerating Coral Reefs
All over the world, coral is in crisis with 75% now endangered. We meet a young Japanese man with plans to save the coral reefs off Kyushu, in southern Japan. KISHI Daigo began researching coral at university and decided to devote his life to cultivating coral while studying in Fiji. He’s currently working as a lifeguard on the coast at Nichinan City as he makes preparations for his coral cultivation project. KISHI is being helped in this project by many locals such as a diver, a university professor and the owner of a lobster restaurant who has relevant skills and experience. We’ll see their challenges in regenerating coral reefs.
Go Anywhere, Virtually Avatar Robots
A new kind of robot allows us to have a virtual presence anywhere, whether it’s for remote working or virtual tourism. We meet two avatar robots: "ugo" takes care of building security and cleaning with freely moveable arms to perform many complex actions, and an on-board AI that can learn how to execute new tasks; while newme’s main purpose is to facilitate communication, going places you can’t to let you talk with people there and see what they are seeing. The first avatar robot has now been launched into space, and soon people on earth will be able to view the planet through its eyes. These new robots promise a world of new experiences.
Edo Fūrin – The Sound of Coolness
In the days before fans and air-conditioners, the Japanese invented many ingenious ways to stay cool. One of these was the "fūrin", or wind bell, hung where any passing breeze would make it ring. Its timbre causes us to think of the wind, and feel cooler. Originally metal, "fūrin" are now made in many materials, including ceramic and glass. One type has a uniquely distinctive tone: the glass Edo Fūrin, developed 300 years ago, and still made using traditional techniques. Its ringing resembles the cries of crickets, a sound that’s typical of cool autumn nights in Japan. We’ll discover the secret of this old technique.
Protecting in Style and Comfort Japanese Masks
In response to the spread of COVID-19, health authorities around the world are now urging the public to wear masks. Japan was fortunate in that mask wearing was a very common custom here, even before the spread of this new virus. Especially from winter through spring, one in three Japanese were already accustomed to wearing masks every day. Now that the majority of people have begun using masks, even more new and sophisticated designs are being developed. These especially aim to improve fit, comfort and coolness. Masks have become a fashion item, and many people are expressing their creativity by making their own.
Endlessly Useful - Tenugui Towels
Tenugui hand towels have long been a common place feature of daily life in Japan. Originally for wiping off perspiration or drying hands, over the years these thin cotton towels turned out to be very handy for all sorts of essential tasks, from tying up the hair to wrapping shopping parcels. A recent trend is to print tenugui in fashionable designs for interior decoration and to make stylish face masks. We visit an old store in Tokyo to see how they create images with beautiful gradations using the traditional Chusen dyeing technique, with each tenugui being crafted individually by hand.
Omakase - The Art of Trust
“Omakase” is a special way of ordering things in Japan. It comes from the Japanese word meaning “to entrust”. In a sushi restaurant, for example, it means you leave it to the chef to decide what to serve – they skillfully select items they think will most appeal to your taste. A recent development is the growth of Omakase services. We look at a service that makes monthly nationwide deliveries of carefully selected vegetables from Kochi in Shikoku, and visit a bookseller who sends his customers novels he chooses specially to match their personalities and life situations. Omakase is more than simply curating services, it’s about building relationships of trust.
Mogami Beni - Color of Mystery
The color red has deep cultural significance for the Japanese. Even today, children wear red at shrine rituals to ward off evil spirits, and brides paint their lips crimson to protect against misfortune. Of all red dyes beni, made from safflower, is considered the most precious. The Mogami River area in Yamagata has grown safflowers since the 16th century and is now Japan’s largest producer. Petals are dried and pressed by hand into flat ovals called benimochi for dyeing high-quality kimonos.There’s also a traditional beni lipstick that instead of red, produces a shimmering green effect loved for centuries by fashionable Japanese ladies.
The Future of Entertainment - AI Brings Back the “God of Manga”
Artificial intelligence has now begun to find applications in the world of entertainment. “Sai Chan” is an AI-based service that creates unique illustrations of faces on demand, giving results in just 0.03 seconds that required weeks of human work. Millions of Sai Chan faces have been used in anime and game productions. At the other end of the scale is a joint human-AI project to create a new work “by” Japan’s most famous cartoonist, Tezuka Osamu, who passed away decades ago. In everything from story to style, the resulting graphic novel could easily have come straight from Tezuka’s own pen.
Kanten – A Traditional Health Food
Kanten is a food product made from seaweed. Because adding water produces a jelly at room temperature, it was historically an important ingredient in Japanese recipes, especially desserts. It’s now prized as a health food, vegetarian and rich in fiber. The traditional way of making kanten is still used in the Suwa area of Nagano. Local daily temperature variations enable repeated natural freezing and drying, taking about two weeks to produce kanten famed for its pleasing texture.
New Challenges for Projection Mapping
Projection mapping allows images to be displayed on surfaces such as walls and buildings that’s widely used for entertainment, and Japan is now leading the world in finding new uses for this technology. On construction sites and in hospitals, projection mapping is making work safer and more accurate. We visit a major highway tunnel project in the Tohoku region, where images from data on rock strengths and weaknesses are projected onto the rock face to aid with explosive placement. And in the operating room, we see how images projected onto affected organs guide the surgeon’s hand.
Sado – The Way of Tea
Sadō – the way of tea – is the art that perhaps best expresses the Japanese tradition of hospitality. Rules for each action, from whisking and serving the tea to any movement made in the tea room, are designed in accordance with the four key principles of sadō – harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Constant practice in the etiquette of making and serving tea develops the spirit of sadō. This old and subtle Japanese art is now becoming popular worldwide.
Japan’s traditional costume, the kimono, dates back to the 8th century, although it has changed considerably over the years. With a huge variety of designs, the kimono expresses the unique Japanese approach to beauty. Almost 70% of Japanese silk kimono fabric is made in the Tango region, in northern Kyoto Prefecture. Tango Chirimen silk crepe has a finely wrinkled surface that reflects light randomly, adding unique depth and richness to the colors. Today, we even see kimonos using overseas motifs, influenced by cultures and styles from around the world. Somehow always fresh, this traditional garment continues to charm an ever wider audience.
Manga – Anime –Games – Live Action "The 2.5D Musical”
These musicals bring influences from manga, anime and video games to the live stage, and are currently extremely popular with Japanese youth (2.5D refers to the mid point between the 2-dimensional world like anime and 3D real life). One of the best known is “Naruto,” based on the best-selling manga about ninja. Special effects make the actors’ ninja techniques seem ultra-real, bringing the world of the manga to life on stage. This new form of Japanese entertainment is now winning fans around the world.
Shokuiku – Food Education
The shokuiku system used in Japanese schools teaches children healthy eating habits and ensures a basic knowledge about food. During school meals, children discuss with their teacher the nutritional value of the day’s menu. They also have the chance to learn about the nation’s traditional culinary culture from Washoku professional chefs. Shokuiku starts even earlier in some kindergartens, where children practice growing and cooking food. The system is making a major contribution to promoting physical and mental health.
Landscapes on a Tray
Japan has a tradition of recreating nature in miniature, bonsai being the most famous art. In bonkei, landscapes are built on a tray using sand, rocks, moss and other materials on a base of soil. Artist arranges the scene to be seen from a certain angle, using perspective techniques to create a dynamic, realistic view. Another tray art, bonseki, uses only white sand and stones. Specialized tools shape the sand to express the subtleties of flowing water and other elements of nature. The beauty of the Japanese landscape interpreted in miniature, in a uniquely Japanese style.
Restoring a Region’s Symbol – Kumamoto Castle
Kumamoto Castle, a much loved landmark for over 400 years, was extensively damaged in 2016 by a major earthquake. When restoration work began, a serious problem was soon encountered – how to recreate its traditional tiled roofs. Tiles made of fired clay are excellent insulators, but each tile is slightly different, potentially causing gaps. Tilers fix this by chiseling away a few millimeters, but for the castle, this was a huge task involving tens of thousands of tiles. We’ll see how the mighty efforts of these artisans have brought hope and revived spirits in the region.
Hirosaki’s Cherry Tree Doctors
The city of Hirosaki, in Aomori, is one of the most famous places in Japan for cherry blossom viewing, attracting huge numbers of tourists in the spring sakura season. The city’s cherry trees are cared for year-round by tree doctors who call themselves “Team Sakuramori.” These specialists employ pruning techniques developed for the region’s apple industry to keep the trees free from disease, prevent falling branches and extend their lives.
Working Out to the Radio
Many Japanese start their day with a workout that gently exercises the whole body, following along to instructions and music broadcast over the radio. Everyone knows these exercises, called rajio taiso, which began airing over 90 years ago. Taking just three minutes to perform, they’re used in schools to warm up before PE classes and sports events. Designed to be suitable for all ages, and proven highly effective in keeping the country’s elderly population healthy and active, Japanese radio calisthenics have been gaining popularity in many parts of the world.
Revolution in Bone Regeneration
Synthetic bone grafts replace bones lost to disease or injury. In a major change, a completely new type of synthetic graft can now stimulate the body to regrow lost bone. After studying the mechanism of bone regeneration, the inventor used a special form of calcium almost identical to natural bone to develop a synthetic graft that causes the body to start growing new bone. Over the course of a year, natural bone replaces the synthetic graft. In a world first, 3D printing technology is used to form these synthetic bones with 0.1 millimeter accuracy, ensuring an exact match.
The Lucky Cat
In storefronts and homes throughout Japan, these charms bring luck – a beckoning right paw attracts wealth, the left draws customers. Believers still offer cat dolls at Gotokuji Temple in Tokyo, where the custom began. Most of these ceramic dolls are made in Seto, in Aichi, a historic pottery center that hosts an annual cat festival and a museum featuring lucky cat ornaments from all over Japan. Recently, this Japanese tradition has caught the imagination of people worldwide, and many countries now produce lucky cat dolls in their own local styles.
Sunset over Izumo
Izumo, on the Sea of Japan in Shimane, is home to some of Japan’s oldest myths and to sacred sites like the grand shrine of Izumo Taisha. The beautiful rock formations along this coastline make views of the sunset from Izumo’s beaches famously spectacular. Sunsets have always been sacred in Izumo, and people here have carefully preserved the landscape that makes them so beautiful. The quality of the sunset is forecast every day and displayed by the city. We also see a festival where local fishermen pray for safety at sea and sail out in procession to venerate the sunset.
Innovative Underground Cycle Parking
Japan’s cities are leading the world in the development and widespread introduction of automated multi-level cycle parking systems. IC tags attached to the cycles are the key to fully automated systems that ensure smooth, rapid storage and retrieval, even at the busiest times of the day. Multi-level parking spaces can efficiently store very large numbers of bicycles, either under city streets or squeezed into narrow city lots. This new technology is a great boon for urban planners, providing much needed parking that’s hidden out of sight.
Fireworks Traditional Skills in a Modern Entertainment
Fireworks are a summer custom in Japan, and Japanese fireworks are known for their perfect spherical bursts. At a 150-year old Tokyo fireworks manufacturer, we’ll see some of the traditional techniques and skill required, and learn how they are leading a trend to transform traditional fireworks displays into complete entertainments, combined with music and artistic performances. These are made possible by the skill of the artisans at coordinating and precisely timing their explosions in the sky with the actions of the performers below.
Peaches From Fukushima
Japanese peaches are famously sweet, soft and juicy. We visit the town of Koori, in northern Fukushima, an area with the ideal soil and climate for peach growing. Koori peach exports, which suffered greatly due to the great earthquake of 2011, are today even greater than before the disaster, thanks to their well proven safety. Koori peaches are such high quality that they are selected every year to supply the Imperial Palace. We interview peach farmers and visitors enjoying their orchards.
Ekiben Boxed Lunches for Train Travel
Japanese boxed lunches, or bentō, come in an immense variety. Ekiben, sold at train stations for eating on long train journeys, are a great way to sample the many regional cuisines as you travel around the country. The Sanriku Railway, running along the northeastern Tohoku coast, has ekiben featuring fish fresh from the ocean you see out of the train window. Trains to the mountain hot spring resort of Hakone, near Tokyo, offer a special ekiben only sold when the area’s famous hydrangeas are in bloom. Finally, we visit Gunma, for Japan’s most famous ekiben, Toge no Kamameshi, sold in a traditional Mashiko-ware ceramic container that keeps your meal warm during the journey, winning popularity for a long time.
Japanese Engineering for the Gold
For athletes competing in para-sports, performance greatly depends on the design and quality of their equipment.The Japanese manufacturing approach to carefully listen to athletes’ voices to be incorporated is now helping to improve these designs. We’ll see an artificial limb manufacturer collaborating with a Para-Olympic medalist to develop a prosthetic blade to help sprinters race faster than ever, and how a consortium of small artisan niche workshops combined their various unique skills to strengthen and improve wheelchairs for basketball competition. Advanced engineering adopted for athletes’ detailed demands are transforming the world of para-sports.
Sanuki Kagari Temari Embroidered Hand Balls
Temari are colorful balls made of thread, embroidered with flower and animal motifs. In old Japan, temari were popular as toys for young women and girls. Today they are prized as home decorations. Each region has its own distinctive tradition, and the style known as Sanuki Kagari Temari has been practiced for over 1,000 years in Kagawa’s Takamatsu City. Its distinctive feature is the exclusive use of natural plant dyes to color the yarn. Traditionally about 140 vibrant hues are employed, and we see how temari artist Eiko Araki is making use of subtle color gradation to create beautiful temari.
Yokohama - A City and its Sea
Yokohama became a great port city as Japan’s gateway to the world. It’s a fine place to visit, with attractions ranging from lovely parks overlooking the bay and streets of old 19th century western style mansions to one of Asia’s largest Chinatowns. The city still plays a major role on the international stage, as host to conventions from around the globe. Recently, Yokohama has become an environmental leader too. A waterfront aquarium holds programs to teach city children about marine environmental issues, and, enjoying water activities, residents started movements to clean up the port’s main river.
In 2020, karate will make its debut as an Olympic sport. This traditional Japanese martial art, focused on strikes and kicks, uses two competition formats. Kumite is a type of non-contact sparring, while kata are set sequences of techniques performed solo. Modern Japanese karate has its roots in the traditional Okinawan martial art, where the emphasis is mostly on learning kata. A traditional karate practitioner never strikes first, and since the art trains self discipline and a spirit of respect for others, it’s often taught in schools, especially in Okinawa.
Manga – Unleashing Your Inner Artist
Manga is a very famous part of Japan’s pop culture. Drawing manga is incredibly popular here, but until recently even professionals were mostly self taught. That’s changing, with schools springing up to teach manga techniques, and in another major change, social media now provides an easily accessible alternative to print. We’ll visit the largest manga posting site, and meet a young artist who gained an audience online so big she turned pro in high school. The world of manga today makes it easier than ever for anyone to express themselves artistically.
A Paper Revolution
Worldwide, new technologies are being developed to conserve global resources, and Japan’s latest contribution is innovative methods for reducing the environmental burden of papermaking. We’ll see a system already in use in offices, which - in a world first - turns used paper into new, erasing all the printing, and best of all requiring virtually no water. Another revolutionary paper technology uses limestone, a very common rock, as raw material. This gives a paper that’s highly liquid- and tear-resistant, and can also replace plastic in many products.
Osaka's Newest Art Scene
Kitakagaya is a district in the southwest of Osaka, Japan’s second largest metropolis. Once famous for ship-building, Kitakagaya has recently become known for its art. Young artists and other creators were attracted to the area to live and work in the town’s many empty buildings. A local real estate company realized that this could revitalize the area, and began supporting this influx of artists. Today, visitors flock to Kitakagaya for the pop art murals decorating its streets and the exciting events featuring giant installations in its old warehouses.
Wooden Buildings That Won’t Burn
The Japanese always liked to build in wood for its warm, human qualities, but due to fire danger it was replaced by steel and concrete. New technologies are now bringing it back. We’ll see wood fireproofed with a liquefied glass coating, and pillars made from layers of wood and gypsum board as fire-resistant as steel or concrete that allow the construction of large all-wooden structures. These new Japanese technologies could safely bring back the comfort and human touch of wood to buildings worldwide.
A Special Eye for Quality At Toyosu Fish Market
Toyosu Market is the world’s largest wholesale fish market. It sells as many as 500 species from all over the globe, handled by specialist brokers called nakagainin. These nakagainin must have the ability to pick out exactly which fish will best suit each customer’s unique needs, such as sushi chefs who demand the highest freshness, taste and quality. The ability to judge quality instantly by eye is traditionally known in Japanese as mekiki, and we’ll see it in action on the floor of Toyosu Market.
Cute Smartphone Trends
Smartphones are now an essential part of our lives, and since almost everyone has one, naturally there’s also a vast range of accessories, both functional and decorative. Japanese designers are especially inventive - smartphone cases might have flip-out make-up mirrors, or resemble furry dolls. A big focus is cuteness, and a major hit just now is a series of sweet animal shapes that protect the ends of charging cables, looking just as if they are biting your phone.
Dainichido Bugaku - A 1,300-Year Old Dance Tradition
At an old shrine in Kazuno in Akita, Dainichido Bugaku has been held continuously for 1,300 years. It consists of seven ancient dances, kept alive through the centuries by local families. This is a sacred Shinto ceremony, so the dancers purify themselves in advance with ritual observances that include abstaining from meat. This unbroken tradition taught directly by fathers to sons throughout the ages not only binds families closer together, it also gives the town an unmatched community spirit.
Ultra-Small Water Power Generator
Hydroelectric generation uses water power to drive turbines and is an important means for producing the electricity so essential for modern life. Facilities have been becoming smaller, with generators able to use diverse water power sources. We’ll look at an ultra-small generator developed in Gifu that’s highly portable and works even with shallow, slow moving water. Already tested powering street lights, it promises to allow people in the world’s remote regions to generate their own electricity for the first time.
Staying on Shodoshima Island - An Inviting Labyrinth
Shodoshima, in Kagawa, is a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, with a population of about 30,000. A mild climate and beautiful scenery make it a popular tourist destination with over 100,000 overseas visitors a year, but convenient access meant most visitors came and left the same day. To encourage overnight stays, a group of students at Kagawa University proposed making guesthouses out of unused homes in an old part of town that’s a fascinating maze of narrow alleys. Their project is now receiving enthusiastic support from the islanders.
Arimatsu Shibori Tie-Dyeing
Located on the outskirts of Nagoya, a major city in central Japan, Arimatsu is a town that’s home to a famous craft tradition with a history of more than 400 years. Arimatsu Shibori is a kind of tie-dyeing, a method where parts of the fabric are tied, folded, or wrapped to leave patterns after dyeing. Arimatsu’s tradition is unique for the large number of techniques it uses ? over 100. The craft has been mainly practiced by the town’s women, and today they are nurturing a new generation of young dyers who are taking Arimatsu Shibori in fresh directions.
Enjoying the Autumn Colors
Japan is renowned for the beauty of its autumn foliage. It’s home to more species of trees that change color than anywhere in the world, and over the centuries developed an entire culture devoted to enjoying these autumn sights. We’ll see methods ranging from polished temple floors that bring garden reflections indoors to the skillful arrangement of trees to blend with and enhance the landscape beyond. Keeping this culture of beauty alive depends on the efforts of those today who dedicate their lives to preserving and managing Japan’s forests.
Karuta ? A Japanese Card Game
In karuta, one player reads the writing on a card, and the others try to be first to spot the card with the picture that matches. This game has long been enjoyed by families and friends, but it gained a new face with the recent popularity of competitive karuta. Competition cards feature 100 famous poems from an ancient collection called Hyakunin Isshu. It’s a contest of speed as well as memory, and we’ll watch a national champion spot her card in just 0.2s. The old poems also provide an introduction to Japanese culture, another attraction for the growing number of players who are now taking up this game around the world.
A Renaissance in Silk
Japan silk industry is still renowned for quality. Seiyo, in Ehime, has manufactured silk for about 150 years, and was the birthplace of a soft, luxurious silk produced using a labor- and time-intensive technique. Despite a temporary setback from the great floods of 2018, silkworm farmers keep their efforts for high-quality silk. In Gunma, the largest silk producing area, they are using Nobel Prize winning technology to create silk fabrics that glow with their own fluorescent light, putting Japanese silk once again back on the world stage.
Hidden Flavor in Japanese Cuisine
Katsuobushi, a traditional ingredient in washoku, or Japanese cuisine, are fillets of katsuo (skipjack tuna) smoked and dried by a special process. The shaved flakes are used to make dashi stock for soup, and also eaten as a topping. Katsuobushi plays an essential role in bringing out the subtle flavors in washoku, and when this cusine was listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2013, it attracted attention worldwide. Chefs in many countries are now experimenting with katsuobushi in their local recipes. We visit Yaizu in Shizuoka, where they have been making katsuobushi the traditional way for over 300 years.
Scanning History’s Secrets
Cultural properties, even if carefully preserved, can suffer damage and deterioration requiring restoration. Sometimes even locked away out of view, they have not been scientifically analyzed or had basic data recorded. We need to make records of on their present condition to ensure the accuracy of future restorations, and so Professor Emeritus Ide of Kyoto University developed a ultra-high resolution scanner. Its resolution, 900 times greater than high-end digital cameras, records extremely accurate images. With weight reduced from 500 to 100kg, and modular construction for easy carrying, the new scanner quickly found other applications ? for example, disaster planners are now using it to scan data from old maps in order to mitigate future damage. The technology of the world’s first ultra-high resolution scanner is introduced.
High-Tech Textiles Fight Fatigue
Japanese advances in technology have brought many new textiles with special functions - some are highly breathable to allow moisture to escape, others have advanced heat-retaining properties. One textile that’s in the news actively helps fatigued muscles recover. It was found that platinum emits a weak electromagnetic field that helps dissolve muscular tension. Incorporating platinum into fibers was very difficult, and it took many years to develop a successful method, but today, athletes around the world are using sportswear made from this material and the concept of fatigue relieving garments is spreading into everyday life.
“Washi” Masking Tape
Masking tape was originally developed for industrial use. Japanese masking tape made with traditional washi craft paper has become a hit, especially with young people, for its unique textures and thousands of pop designs. People use it to add original decorative touches to stationery items and home interiors, and recently, it’s even being used to make art. Nasa Funahara is an artist who makes use of washi masking tape’s special characteristics to create unique works of art. Now far more than a simple utility item, washi masking tape is bringing color and enjoyment into people’s lives worldwide.
The Goldfish Lanterns of Yanai
Yanai is an old sea trading port in Yamaguchi, in western Japan. It’s famous for the unique goldfish-shaped lanterns that were used to light the town from about 150 years ago until the advent of electric lighting. Hard to make, the lanterns died out until the late Nobuo Kawamura made it his mission to revive them. He created a new design, simple enough to be constructed easily by young and old alike. The goldfish lanterns are now so popular they have become the symbol of the town, ensuring a safe future for this revived Yanai tradition.
Life With Virtual Companions
Hatsune Miku was the best known of the first wave of virtual characters. At first simply for viewing, newer virtual characters are becoming more deeply embedded in our everyday lives. You can have realistic conversations with Azuma Hikari, who lives inside a 50cm glass tube and acts as a home assistant. Computer generated Saya is easily mistaken for a real human girl thanks to her incredibly detailed construction ? her head has 100,000 individual hand-drawn hairs, for example. Artificial intelligence with facial recognition functions equips Saya for possible roles in fields from tourist information to nursing homes.
Japanese Ultra-Precision Spring Technology
From clothes pegs to automobile components, springs are all around us, used in a multitude of applications, and Japanese-made springs are renowned world-wide for their high quality. We’ll see some of the smallest springs ever made, just micrometers across, used to control ink flow in the tips of ballpoint pens, and springs as thin as a human hair, used by surgeons to keep brain blood vessels open. We’ll also see some truly gigantic springs, the 1.2m long seismic dampers installed at the top of Tokyo Sky Tree, which at 634m high is the world’s tallest independent communications tower. Such groundbreaking springs are only possible due to Japan’s ultra-precise manufacturing technology.
Iizuka City and Wheelchair Tennis From Rehab to World Sport
As the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games approach, para-sports are in the news, one of the most popular being wheelchair tennis. Iizuka City in Fukuoka, long the site of an annual international wheelchair tennis championship, has been chosen as a host town for the Paralympics. The Iizuka championship, staffed by over 2,000 volunteers, and attracting top players from all over the world, has its roots at the Iizuka Spinal Injuries Center, where the still relatively unknown sport was used for rehabilitation. Patients wanted to continue playing after their discharge, local events grew into an international contest and Iizuka became a focus of the sport. We’ll follow one of the Center’s ex-patients as he fights his way through to the finals.
Japan’s Most Faithful Dogs - The Akita Inu
A breed native to Japan, the Akita Inu is a dog categorized as a large-size with a round face, triangular ears and a curly tail. Although these are big, tough animals, they have a gentle, affectionate nature and are known for their devoted loyalty. Treasured in the past as hunting dogs, they fell out of popularity in recent years, so in response, the birthplace of the Akita Inu, Odate City in Akita, began a program to breed and promote them, conducting a range of PR activities that include a petting space in the tourist office where visitors interact with the dogs. Recently, thanks to publicity from celebrity owners like figure skating champion Alina Zagitova, the Akita Inu has surged in popularity overseas too..
Japan Points the Way to Better Safety
Railways in Japan use a safety system called “pointing and calling.” This method of physically pointing toward an item to be checked while vocalizing its name was invented in Japan about 100 years ago. The combination of looking, acting, speaking and hearing reduces errors by as much as about 85%. After recent scientific testing proved the efficacy of the technique, its use spread to fields other than the railways. It’s used to increase safety in areas as diverse such as hospitals and construction sites. And now, following its successful adoption by the New York subway system, this unique Japanese safety method is starting to spread around the world.
Runners on Patrol - Keeping Suburban Streets Safe
Runners are a common early-morning sight in big city centers, but it’s not easy or safe to run at night on deserted suburban streets. That’s changing, thanks to a volunteer group who decided to combine their hobby with a running patrol to keep local streets safe. It was the idea of one young man after a female friend was attacked walking home at night. The group run through their community at night, especially checking areas where no one is around. Local residents are enthusiastic and greet them as they pass. They coordinate with police and local authorities, and have inspired the formation of numerous similar running groups around Japan.
Kamaishi’s New Alloy Cobarion - Transforming the Biomedical World
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.
Never Too Old - Seniors Master Digital Technology
Creator of a smartphone app at over 80 years old, Masako Wakamiya spoke to the United Nations about how seniors like herself now use digital technology. We visit the town of Kamikatsu, where more than half the residents are over 65. It’s famous for tsumamono - flowers and leaves to decorate traditional Japanese cuisine ? which are cultivated and gathered by Kamikatsu’s old ladies, now with extensive use of digital technology. 81-year old Sachiyo Nishikage first used a computer 10 years ago - today, she’s taking orders over the Internet every morning, and making friends worldwide through social media. Like Nishikage, who aims to work until age 100, Japan’s seniors are enthusiastically embracing digital technology.
Wagashi as Performance From Artisan to Artist
Wagashi are traditional Japanese sweets, mostly made from rice or bean dough and sweetened with natural ingredients. There are many varieties, but the kind of wagashi called nerikiri is an especially artistic reflection of seasonal themes. Jun-ichi Mitsubori is a wagashi artisan who has elevated nerikiri into an art, with unique performances in which, instead of working behind the scenes, he creates extraordinarily beautiful sweets right in front of his audience. Everything in his performance, from costume to lighting and choreography, is designed to draw audiences into Mitsubori’s world of wagashi, and convey the spirit of Japanese hospitality.
A Feast for the Eyes Sushi Rolls for Celebrating
Farming families in the major rice-growing prefecture of Chiba continue to this day a 200-year old tradition of making special sushi rolls for ceremonial events. Cross sections cut through these rolls reveal celebratory words or pictures, often flowers and animals. In recent years, people from outside Chiba have started coming to the area to attend workshops and learn these home-made techniques. We follow a farmer’s wife as she gathers ingredients from her family’s fields and lovingly crafts a colorful sushi roll to be the centerpiece for her grand daughter’s coming of age party.
The Way of the Ninja An Art for Living
Now famed worldwide, the ninja had their heyday in Japan’s 16th-century warring states period, when they functioned as spies rather than warriors. Jinichi Kawakami, known as “the last ninja,” is the inheritor of this art and its unique techniques. He lectures on it around the world, as well as conducting scientific research into what makes these old methods so effective. Corporate groups and people from all walks of life learn from Kawakami how ninja’s long kept secrets can help us at work and in daily life, using techniques for controlling and enhancing our physical and mental abilities.
Clean Energy in Snowy Niseko
Niseko, in Hokkaido, has some of Japan’s heaviest snowfall, with great powder snow that attracts over 1.7 million visitors a year. Niseko protects its environment through clean energy initiatives like snow for refrigeration, hot springs for heating, and systems utilizing underground heat. Although it falls to -10°C in winter here, deep underground it stays 15°C year round. Heating systems based on this principle have greatly reduced the town’s CO2 emissions. In another initiative, local high school students are experimenting with using underground heat to grow winter vegetables.
Kumamoto’s Blue Bags A Symbol of Resilience
After a devastating earthquake in 2016, life in Kumamoto Prefecture is returning to normal. The blue plastic sheets that covered shattered homes everywhere are now no longer needed and a disposal problem due to their enormous quantities. A local designer’s project is recycling the sheets as shopping bags, still scarred from their service, to remind people to stay alert to the danger of earthquakes. Profits help disaster-struck communities. We follow a young woman who lost her family home in the quake as she gathers volunteers to collect and clean sheets for the bag project.
New Life for an Old Wisteria
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.
Welcome to the World of Cosplay
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.
Ichida Kaki The Sweet Taste of Dried Persimmons
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.
Your Face is Your ID
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.
Yuru Sports ? A Laid-back Approach
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.
Learning about Life with Robots
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.
Jikabuki ? 300 Years of Amateur Theater
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.
Eco-friendly Firefighting Foam
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.
Sumo Wrestling, with Bulls
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.
Survival Food, Gourmet Style
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.
Dancing for the Departed
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 Technology
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.
Sanriku Railway ? Symbol of Hope
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.
Nail Art ? Japanese Design with Universal Appeal
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.
Niijima Glass ? Bright Future for a Small Island
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 : Trust-Based Medicine Marketing
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.
New Planetaria Bring the Stars to Life
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.
Japanese High-Tech Films Revolutionize Food
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.
Women Horseback Archers Compete in Yabusame
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.
Clap! Clap! “Tejime”
“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: An Ever-Evolving Small World
“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.
Shimi Culture: Preserving Food and Tradition
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.
Taxi: Wheeling for the World’s Best Hospitality
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 Porcelain: Firing the Furnace in the 400th Year
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: A Virtual and Real Future
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: Walking Advertisements
“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.
Illuminations: The Sparkling Jewels of Nighttime
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.
The Vending Machine: High-Tech on the Sidewalk
“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.
Aso: 1,000 Years with the Grassland
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.
The Capsule Hotel: More Than Just a Bed
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.
Tokyo Makeup: Beautification-in-Station
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: Cloths Conveying Tradition Across Time
“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.
Contemporary Art Inspires Islands: Setouchi Triennale
“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.
The “Tachigui” Restaurant: Japanese Food Stands Up
“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.
Handwashing to Save the World: Globalizing a Childhood Habit
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.
Seeding the Future with Robots: Agriculture Goes High-Tech
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.
Obakeyashiki: Ghost Houses of Frightful Fun
“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.
Ukai on the Nagara River: People Living with Nature
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.
Tokyo’s First World Cultural Heritage: The National Museum of Western Art
“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.
Flood Control from Underground
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.
UMAMI: A Taste from Japan
“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: A Gift from the Heart
“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.
Jakuchu: Brilliance Beyond 300 Years
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.
Para-Ekiden - A new kind of Relay
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.
Tiny Bubbles with Huge Potential
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 - Fish as Art
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.
Smiles Again in Tohoku
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.
Kiri-e - The Art of Cutting Paper
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.
The Mamachari - Japan’s City Bicycle
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 - Not Just for Children
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.
Japan’s Red-crowned Crane - The Kushiro Wetlands
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.
A New Era for Japan’s Forests
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 - A Technology Still at the Cutting Edge
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 - The Fruit that Saved a Village
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 - Beyond the Traditional Usage
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.
Behind the Scenes in a Noh Theater
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.
Welcome to a World of Robots
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.
Origami Goes High-tech
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.
Uji - Birthplace of Matcha Green Tea
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.
Safer Japanese Methods for Deterring Insects
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 - The Secret behind Japanese Productivity
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.
Harie - A Community Centered on Water
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.
Stamps and Seals - For Business and Fun
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.
Haiku - The World’s Shortest Poem
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.
Kiriko - Lantern Festivals of Noto
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.
By Shinkansen to Hokuriku
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.
Kendama's Global Appeal
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.
Reviving a Town's Old Machiya
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.
Eco Ships for Cleaner Seas
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.
SATCHELS FILLED WITH MEMORIES
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.
CHANGING CORPORATE CAFETERIAS
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.
What is a Yurukyara ?
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 - An Old Hot Spring Revived
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.
Silken Thread from Spiders
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.
A Japanese Approach to Bread
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.
PREPARED FOR DISASTER
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 LOVE OF SOUND
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.
KISOJI ? THE OLD MOUNTAIN ROAD
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.
THE SPIRIT OF MOTTAINAI
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.
Festival Art in Tohoku
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.
A Spirit of Service
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.
Exploring a Tokyo Yokocho
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.
Washi ? The Versatile Paper
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.
THE ISLANDS OF NAGASAKI
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.
MAKING TOKYO LIFE EASIER
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.
A CLEAN AND TIDY LIFE
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.
Tokyo's Latest Landmark
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.
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.
Mt. Fuji, Japan's Sacred Mountain
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.
Pioneering Disaster Technology
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.
Leading-Edge Desalination Technology
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.
Meiji Jingu - A Tokyo Oasis
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.
Amezaiku Candy Sculpture
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.
Saving Energy with Sensors
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.
Gokayama's Thatched Farmhouses
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.
Niihama Taiko Festival
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.
Japanese Rice Snacks
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.
Shaping Our World with Plastics
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.
Stationery Moves with the Times
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.
The Ukiyoe Tradition
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.
Hiraizumi - Once Again a Beacon of Hope
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 Magnificent Wooden Chests of Sendai
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.
Walking on Wood
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.
The Colorful World of Bentobako
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.
Leave it All to the Movers
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 system
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.
Speedy and safe — Japan's egg technology
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.
The School Day
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.
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.
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.
Tokyo ? City of Sports
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.
The Spirit of Budo
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.
Budo Techniques and Power
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.
Traditional Budo Equipment
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.
Kamakura – Home of Samurai Culture
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.
Jomon Archeological Sites in Tohoku
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).
Okinawa World Heritage
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.
Tohoku's Eco-friendly Reconstruction
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 Energy in Japan
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.
New National Park for Sanriku
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.
The Camellias of Hagi
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.
Kyo Yuzen Kimono Dyeing
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.
Another Taste of Japan
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.
Stronger and Lighter than Steel
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.
Maki-e ? Gold on Lacquer
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 Puppet Art of Bunraku
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 in Japan
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.
Ise-Shima ? Ancient Shrines and Pearls
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.
A Festival of Festivals Tohoku Rokkon Sai
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).
800 Years of Tradition Aizu Tajima Gion Festival
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.
Showcasing Tohoku Dance Kitakami Michinoku Geino Festival
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.
Festival on Matsushima Bay Shiogama Minato Festival
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.
Fukushima's World-leading Aluminum Technology
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.
Keeping the Auto Industry on the Road
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 - Land of Legends
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.
Flea Markets for Fun
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.
Technology Inspired by Tradition
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.
Experimenting with Fashion
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.
Miyajima - Island Shrine to Nature
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.
Izu ? Paradise of Flowers
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.
Snow and Hemp in Ojiya
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.
Matsue — the water city
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.
Cooking Toys Promote Communication
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 Cover Art
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.
Japanese Fast Food: Stand & Eat Soba
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.
Eyeglass Capital Sabae Leads Innovation
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.
A Seven-Minute Miracle! The Shinkansen Cleaning Theater
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.
Becoming More Useful: Innovative Food Containers
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.
High School Students’ Challenge! Revitalizing the Town with the B-1 Grand Prix
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.
LED Fishing Lights: Revolutionizing the Fishing Industry
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.
What is Spochan? An extremely safe sword sport from Japan
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.
Chopstick Culture in Japan
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.
Powered Suit Helping Farmers
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.
Ise Jingu Shikinen Sengu Reconstructing Tradition
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.
Getting Together ! The Latest Cafes and Bars
Japanese towns feature many unique cafes and bars that are distinctly Japanese. A cat cafe on a busy downtown street. People come here who cannot keep cats. At a sewing machine cafe, people come who want to make various clothing using a sewing machine. People gather at train bars who like trains. Japan’s cafes and bars are sure to continue evolving as people’s interests diversify.
The Japanese Crested Ibis Starting Over from Zero
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 and the Japanese Lifestyle
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.
Koban (Japanese Police Box)
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.
Tsunami Simulation Helping Limit Damage
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!
Hakone A Relaxing Retreat
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.