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Japan’s Elegant Imari Porcelain

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  • December 15, 2014

We have evolved a great distance from our cavemen ancestors, who roasted and ate food on twigs over a fire and, from the burnt wood, began drawing on cave walls. The discovery of kaolin (clay used for pottery) in the village Kao-Ling, China, began our love affair with fine porcelain.  Today, we have become much more refined in how we prepare our food as well as the way we eat, some using porcelain plates with intricate designs. The quiet town of Arita, surrounded by mountains in Nishimatsuura District, Saga Prefecture, Japan is known for manufacturing some of the finest porcelains of the world.

Yi Sam-Pyeongimari1 (1579–1655), also known as “Kanage Sambei”, is considered the father of Imari porcelain, the type of porcelain made in Arita. He was a potter from Korea who discovered a fine-quality white porcelain mineral in Mt. Arita-Izumi-yama.  Because he was offered a privileged position in his adopted country, Kanage Sambe travelled to Japan with along with 180 of his extended family. When he discovered kaolin, he began producing “Shoki-Imari,” Korean-style blue and white porcelain known as Ai-Kutani ware in Japan.  In the mid 17th century, many Chinese sought refuge in Northern Kyushu when they fled from China, then experiencing unrest. One of the Chinese refugees introduced the coloring technique to Arita. Shoki-Imari then developed into Ko-Kutani Imari ware. Kanage Sambei is still honored, in Sueyama Shrine of Arita.



Imari porcelain is world-famous because it was widely coveted and exported in the Western countries during the 17th century. There are three types of Imari porcelain:

Ko-Imari ware  – decorated in either three colors known as sansei,  or five colors (green, yellow, red, blue and purple), known as gosai.

Sake ewer.

Kakiemon ware – with elegant brushwork using persimmon on milky white background with touches of greens, light blue, grayish purple, brown and yellow. Common designs were birds and flowers and clouds and dragons.

Iro-Nabeshima – smooth body with a slightly greenish glaze.

Want to know how Imari ware is made? Check out this YouTube video by NHK – Begin Japanology:


Click image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0NfMi7mu-w

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Looking Back on the Boshin War

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  • December 11, 2014

The Boshin War is a notable conflict in Japan’s history. It finally ended the military rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate and returned political power to the imperial court.

The Boshin War (), “War of the Year of the Yang Earth Dragon,” was a civil war in Japan from 1868 to 1869 between the Tokugawa Shogunate forces and those opposed to their rule. The war stemmed from the dissatisfaction felt by many samurai and Japanese noblemen on how the shogunate handled trade issues when they opened Japan’s trade to other countries, and the increase in Western influence on the local economy.


Powerful domains of Satsuma, Tosa, and Chōshū  influenced the young Emperor Meiji to ally with their beliefs. The reigning shogun, Tokugawa Yoshinobu, saw the danger of his impending predicament and agreed to relinquish his political power to the young emperor. Tokugawa Yoshinobu initially believed that doing this would preserve the Tokugawa house as part of any future government. Consequent imperial decrees by Satsuma and Chōshū that abolished the house of Tokugawa, military advancements by imperial forces, and partisan violence in Edo prompted Tokugawa Yoshinobu to make a desperate military attack to seize control of the the emperor’s court in Kyoto. The imperial faction had less troops but more modern capabilities, and after a series of battles, forced Yoshinobu to surrender. Others who were still loyal to the Tokugawa fled to northern Honshū and later to Hokkaidō where they formed their own Ezo republic. The Battle of Hakodate put an end to the last few stragglers, made imperial rule supreme all throughout Japan, and finally completed the military aspects of the Meiji Restoration.

Satsuma samurai during the Boshin War.


The imperial reign adopted a policy of continued modernization, and Tokugawa loyalists were shown clemency. Many of the shogunate leaders were given positions under the new government. Japan adopted a level of development similar to industrialized Western nations but vehemently rejected Western enforced free trade, since it undermined the local economy. The Boshin War is often romanticized and some view the Meiji Restoration to be a “bloodless revolution” even though thousands perished in the battle.

Bafuku troops near Mt. Fuji. | Jules Brunet

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The Humble and Rustic Himono

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  • December 8, 2014

Japan is an island nation, so fish has been an abundant staple in the Japanese diet for hundreds of years. According to early documents, nobility from the Heian period had fish and vegetables as their typical meal. Banquet settings during that time consisted of common fare food such as rice, soup, and condiments such as salt, vinegar, hishio (fermented soybeans), and a dried fish called himono.

14968705320_79484a305b_zThe Japanese custom of drying fish under the sun can be traced back to the Nara period (710–784). The Shosoin storehouse documents mention that early people dried small whole fish (an early form of himono) and offered them to the gods. The Honcho Shokkan, an illustrated anthology of food published in 1697, recorded the catching and drying of horse mackerel during the Edo period.

Himono. | halfrain

Before the invention of the ice box, electricity, and the refrigerator, drying and salting fish was a common method of preservation. The innards of the fish were removed, and the flesh was then salted and dried under the sun. This way, the fish would keep longer without spoiling. The fish was grilled over a hot flame before being served. This made a simple, cheap,  yet delicious meal. Nowadays, himono is still very much a Japanese staple and is often served at breakfast with steamed rice and fermented soybeans called natto.


There are two types of himono: maru-boshi are dried fish in their whole and original shape, and hiraki  are cut open (butterfly style) before drying. There are several advantages in salting fish before drying it—proteins in the fish are not as easily broken down by enzymes, there are more taste compounds such as inosinic acid and amino acids present in the preserved fish, and fish can keep longer. Himono can be easily prepared at home without any special equipment. It is a frugal and healthy way to enjoy fish for a healthier lifestyle.

Hiraki. | tokyofoodcast.com

How to prepare himono:


  • Butterfly the underside of a fresh fish.
  • Remove the innards and wash the fish well.
  • Pat the fish dry with a paper napkin.
  • Sprinkle salt all over the fish or, if you prefer, make an evenly distributed salt brine with 1 part salt to 5 parts water.
  • If you used salt and water to salt the fish, drain it first before drying under the sun.
  • Dry the fish under the sun until the surface of the fish is dry.

Himono lunch. | Hajime NAKANO

You can keep the dried fish in an airtight container until ready to eat.  Grill the dried fish until the skin is scorched. Enjoy!

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The Tokugawa Bafuku

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  • December 4, 2014

Japan’s feudal era brought about a great warrior class we know as the samurai. Japan was in so much chaos that strong leaders and strict reforms were needed to bring the whole country together.

Nobunaga_by_YoshitoshiThe Tokugawa bakufu (徳川幕府) also known as the Tokugawa shogunate or the Edo bafuku, was preceded by the Sengoku period (warring states.) It was the last feudal Japanese military government that ruled over Japan from 1603 through 1868. It was during this period that Japan adopted a policy, Sakoku,” that isolated the whole country from the outside world.

Oda Nobunaga was largely responsible for establishing Japan’s central government during the final phase of the Sengoku period. This led to political unification and the foundation of the Tokugawa shogunate. Oda Nobunaga and his successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi sanctioned strict order over the chaos that still pervaded the country.

Depiction of Oda Nobunaga by Yoshitoshi.

Life for many Japanese during the Tokugawa bafuku was based on a strict class hierarchy established by the strong hand of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.  The caste system is as follows from the highest ranking:

Daimyo or lord
Warrior-caste of samurai
Farmers, artisans, and traders

Toyotomi_HideyoshiIn some parts of Japan, the daimyo and samurai were at the same level if the daimyo was also trained as a samurai. The daimyo would be considered the local ruler. Taxes imposed on the peasant class were a fixed amount over the years and did not take into consideration changes in monetary value such as inflation. This resulted in taxes becoming worth less and less over time. The daimyo class became poorer while the peasant class grew more prosperous. This inflexible nature of imposing taxes led to numerous disputes between noble landowners and peasant classes.

The end of the 19th century saw an alliance between several powerful daimyos and the titular Emperor. They succeeded in overthrowing the shogunate after the Boshin War. This brought about the culmination of the Meiji Restoration. The Tokugawa shogunate officially ended in 1868 when Tukugawa Yoshinobu, the 15th Tokugawa Shogun resigned. Despite the flaws of the Tokugawa bafuku as time progressed, Japan still saw the longest period in its history, of peace and stability—well over two hundred years.

A portrait of Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

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“Explore to Realize” with Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)

  • Posted by:
  • December 1, 2014

Japan’s version of NASA is the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (独立行政法人宇宙航空研究開発機構, Dokuritsu-gyōsei-hōjin Uchū Kōkū Kenkyū Kaihatsu Kikō), or JAXA.  JAXA, is primarily responsible for research, technology development, and the launching of satellites into orbit, asteroid and moon explorations, and other advanced missions Its corporate slogan is “Explore to Realize.”


JAXA was formed on the 1st of October 2003 with the merger of three Japanese organizations: the Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (ISAS), the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NAL), and the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). Each agency had their own specific responsibility: ISAS concentrated on space and planetary research, NAL was responsible for  aviation research, and NASDA focused on  developing satellites and rockets and on building the Japanese Experiment Module.

JAXA Experiment Module. | Polimerek

Some of Japan’s notable successes in their space program are the field of X-ray astronomy and the Very Long Baseline Interferometry (VLBI), used in radio astronomy where a signal from an astronomical radio source is collected from multiple radio telescopes. Japan launched its first satellite, Ōsumi, in 1970 and further developed liquid-fueled launches in rocket technology.

Akiyama ToyohiroChiaki_Mukai was the first Japanese in space. He is a journalist and television reporter and also the first fare-paying civilian passenger to participate in a spaceflight: in 1989, he flew on a commercial flight to the Soviet Mir space station. Other notable Japanese astronauts are Takao Doi who flew on NASA missions, and JAXA astronauts Satoshi Furukawa, Akihiko Hoshide, and Norishige Kanai. Chiaki Mukai, a doctor, was the first Japanese woman JAXA astronaut in space and the first Japanese citizen to be in two spaceflights.

Chiaki Mukai. | NASA

jaxa1Japan’s lunar and interplanetary missions include the observation of the 1985 Halley comet with satellites Sakigake and Suisei, the Mars Orbiter Nozomi in 1998, and the Hayabusa, an unmanned spacecraft, in 2003. The Hayabusa’s main mission was to collect samples from a small asteroid named 25143. The Hayabusa returned to Earth in June of 2010 with tiny grains of asteroidal material. The Hayabusa 2, a Small Carry-on Impactor (SCI) is set to launch on November 30 this year. The Hayabusa 2 is tasked to dig a small crater on the asteroid 1999JU3. The mission will provide valuable data on the surface and interior of an asteroid. JAXA was awarded the Space Foundation’s (a nonprofit organization that supports the global space industry) John L. Swigert, Jr. Award for Space Exploration in 2008.

Jaxa’s M-V No.7 launch. | masamic

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The Beautiful Haha-jima

  • Posted by:
  • November 28, 2014

Haha-jima, or “Mother Island,” is located in Ogasawara Village, Tokyo. It’s about two hours from Futami Port in Chichijima Island via a liner. Haha-jima is a long, thin island that runs north to south, and is the largest island of Ogasawara. Its main port is Oki Village on the southern portion of the island. Haha-jima, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a haven of natural beauty.


Haha- jima (母島) was the first European discovery of the Bonin Islands in 1543 by the Spanish explorer Bernardo de la Torre. Haha-jima was initially called Hillsborough Island or Coffin Island and was initially inhabited by Europeans before it officially became part of Japan.  In the early 1900s, Haha-jima had almost 2,000 residents and a road that connected the village of Kita-mura from the northern end of the island to Oki-mura in the south.  Since then, Kita-mura has been abandoned, and Haha-jima has less than 500 inhabitants, mostly fishermen and workers of a state-run rum distillery.

The view from Haha-jima Island. | Si-take

Bonin_White-EyeThere is no public transportation in Haha-jima. Visitors and residents with cars walk, use a bicycle or motorcycle, or rent a car.  Haha-jima’s highest points are Mt. Chibusa (462 m high) and Mt. Skaigatake (443 m). Other islands of the Haha-jima Rettō group of islands are Chichi-jima (Father Island), and elder and sister islands Ane-jima, Imōto-jima, and  Mukō-jima. Haha-jima is known for its endemic land snail fauna, and the Bonin White-eye (Apalopteron familiare) is found only on this island. The Columba janthina nitens, the Ogasawara subspecies of the Japanese Wood-pigeon, a bird known to be extinct since the 1980s, is said to have come from Haha-jima. The pristine beaches and natural vegetation is unique to the area and is a wonderful place to visit to enjoy the wonders of Japan.

 Bonin White-Eye.

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KCP and Beyond by Hector Santiago

  • Posted by:
  • November 26, 2014

hector9KCP alumnus Hector Santiago describes how his desire to learn more about the culture and language of Japan led him to join the KCP program and later, achieve his goal of working in Japan.

By the end of my second year in college, after having been involved in my school’s Asian culture club on campus and learning about different Asian cultures, I had decided that I wanted to study abroad. Of all the countries I had learned about, I was most enamored of Japan. I knew this was where I wanted to go. I felt a connection to the culture that I couldn’t explain. I started studying the language and even began practicing karate. My hunger for knowledge and experience pertaining to Japan led me to KCP, which had a great reputation as a school using the direct method of language learning while offering total immersion into the culture as well.

In cooking class. | KCP Flickr

hector1When I arrived at KCP on the first day of class, I’m happy to say I was well prepared, as I had taken 2 semesters of Japanese in anticipation of going to Japan. The classes are intense, but I learned a lot, so long as I applied myself and kept trying. During my time at KCP, I was given the opportunities to hone my language skills by attending English support sessions, class trips, and joint events with Hosei University students, like cooking classes and parties. Also, I decided to live with a host family during my stay, which gave me opportunities to practice and learn Japanese daily. That experience has not only enabled me to become more confident in learning and speaking Japanese, but I also developed a lifelong relationship with my host family.

Since my time at KCP, I have gone on to graduate from my university in the U.S. and have started a new life living and working in Japan with the JET Program. The possibilities are endless for you if you pursue your goals and dreams with passion.

KCP is not just any language school. It is a first home for many who want to explore the world outside of their homes. It is a place where people from all over the world can come together and grow with respect for each other’s cultures. KCP is the epitome of an international education.

Hector with a taiko drum. | KCP Flickr


Read other posts by Hector here.

You can also visit Hector’s online travel journal to read about his other study abroad experiences. If you have a question for Hector about his language learning tips, please ask him.

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Shinkansen: The Japanese Bullet Trains

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  • November 24, 2014

Ever since I saw the 1974 classic movie “Murder on the Orient Express,” trains have held a certain mystic fascination for me. Riding the opulent Orient Express symbolized travelling in luxury, no doubt something like being on board the Titanic, only by land.  Aside from the morbid plot of the movie (not to mention the fate of the Titanic), the way the Orient Express and trains in general entered my life still makes trains the ideal way to take me places and at the same time allow my imagination to run wild.

A flashback in history

train1Wagonways were common in the mining industry in Europe since the 1500s. The first mechanized rail transport system came to life in England in the 1820s. Trains were a critical aspect of the industrial revolution and of the economic development of countries all around the world. In many parts of the world, trains remain the primary source of transportation today.  One of the best ways to travel around Europe is by train. Trains are a convenient, reliable, and comfortable way to get you from one country to the next, allowing you to enjoy scenic landscapes (and dream) along the way.  Steam engine trains have long evolved into bullet trains that travel maximum speeds of 320 kilometers per hour (close to 200 mph).

Shinkansen 500 series. | Kubotake

train2The Shinkansen (新幹線), or new trunk line, is a network of high-speed railway lines: an essential mode of transportation in Japan.  Japan was the first country to build high-speed railway lines. Hideo Shima, the first president of Japan National Railways (JNR), persuaded the Japanese government to back the plan. Other key people responsible for the technical development of the first Shinkansen were Tadanao Miki, Tadashi Matsudaira, and Hajime Kawanabe, based at the Railway Technology Research Institute (RTRI). The term “bullet train” is a literal translation of the Japanese term dangan ressha, a nickname for the initial 1930s project and because the first O Series Shinkansen moved extremely fast and looked like a bullet.

Shinkansen with Mt. Fuji in the background. | swollib

The Shinkansen is operated by four Japan Railways Group companies that began in 1964 with the Tōkaidō Shinkansen. Initially, it ran 515.4 kilometers.  Its routes now currently encompass 2,388 kilometers of  lines with trains that run a maximum of 240 to 320 kilometers per hour. The Shinkansen network presently links most of Japan’s major cities on the islands of Honshu and Kyushu with the Hokkaido links, well on their way to being completed in March 2016. The Tōkaidō Shinkansen is still the world’s busiest rail line, carrying around 151 million passengers a year between Tokyo and Osaka. Thirteen trains consisting of 16 cars each, with a seating capacity of 1,323 people, run at 3-minute intervals between trains.  And check out Japan’s latest, super fast, cutting-edge train between Tokyo and Aomori, the E5 series Hayabusa, the Peregrine Falcon. What an amazing way to get around!


Shinkansen N700 interior. | Masakazu Matsumoto

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The Nikkei of Brazil

  • Posted by:
  • November 20, 2014

During the Meiji Era, more Japanese sought a better way of life in other countries. The earliest Japanese nikkei (Japanese emigrants) were recorded as early as the 12th century when Japanese migrated to the Philippines.


Nipo-brazilian family in the Bastos city colony, São Paulo State, Brazil, c. 1930’s.

nikkei2Nisei, Sansei, and Issei may sound like a rhyming game, but the story behind the words has a resounding social impact in the annals of human history. Issei  (一世 or “ first generation” in Japanese)  is a term used in North America, South America, and Australia to identify first-generation Japanese migrants. Nisei (二世 or “second generation”) is the term for children born to the Issei, while Sansei (三世) are the third generation descendants of the Issei. The terms were derived from the Japanese numerals one (ichi), two (ni), and three (san).

Japanese Immigrants disembarking in Port of Santos, Brazil, year 1937 or 1938.

Brazil is home to the largest Japanese population outside of Japan, with 1.6  to 2.5 million Japanese Brazilian or  Nikkei Burajiru-jin (people of Japanese descent) registered in Brazil.

nikkei3People dream of having a better life, and this usually entailed travelling to distant, unknown lands. It took courage and determination to uproot oneself and one’s family to reach that dream. In the late 1800s to the early 1900s, coffee was Brazil’s main export. The abolishment of slave trafficking in Brazil saw the end of African slave labor in the country. With the end of feudalism in Japan and the abolition of the han system in favor of the system of prefectures in 1871, Japanese from rural areas struggled with poverty, and many sought to emigrate in search of a better life. In 1907, the Japanese and Brazilian governments signed a treaty allowing Japanese migration to Brazil. The first Japanese immigrants on board the Kasato Maru, a total of 790 people mostly farmers, arrived in Brazil in 1908. They travelled from the Japanese port Kobe, across the Cape of Good Hope, in South Africa. In the next seven years 3,500 more Japanese families, about 15,000 people, arrived in Brazil. St the beginning of World War I in 1914, more Japanese people immigrated to Brazil, and between 1917 and 1940, over 164,000 Japanese came, mostly in São Paulo where most of the coffee plantations were located.

Japanese immigrants working in coffee plantation, c. 1930.

In the 1970s, when Japan rose to become one of the richest countries in the world through industrialization and modernity, Japanese Brazilians also gained great cultural and economic success as well as social prestige. The Issei’s dream of success and a better way of life is now seen by the Nisei, the Sansei, and other generations to come.

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Jamming with J-pop Music and Artists

  • Posted by:
  • November 17, 2014

Western music was introduced to Japan during the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912). The Japanese initially experienced Westernized pop music, kayōkyoku, in a dramatization of the Tolstoy classic Resurrection.  Shinpei Nakayama’s 1914 song Sumako Matsui was a best-selling record in Japan. The pre-war period saw the ryūkōka genre as a popular form of music from the 1920s through the 1960s; it developed from Western classical music.  The progression of music genres in Japan mostly follows Western influences from rock ’n’ roll in the 60s (which contributed to the Rokabirī and Wasei pop genre), folk music in the 70s, and city pop in the 80s. It was only in the 1990s that the term J-pop came to refer to all Japanese popular songs except for traditional Japanese music (enka).

J-pop (ジェイポップ jeipoppu), Japanese pop or pops, was coined by the Japanese media to differentiate foreign music from Japanese music.  The J-pop musical genre has gained such immense popularity among other neighboring regions that other countries are borrowing the style. Some popular J-pop artists include:

B’zBz_hollywoodrockwalk (ビーズ Bīzu) – one of the best-selling music artists in Japan (and the world) with  75 million or more in record sales. B’z is a rock duo with members Koshi Inaba as lyricist and vocalist and Takahiro “Tak” Matsumoto as guitarist, producer, and composer. They were the first Japanese band to have their handprints and signatures in Hollywood’s RockWalk.

B’z RockWalk. | Jmaeshawn

GlayMTV_VMAJ_2014_Glay – composed of members Teru, Takuro, Hisashi, and Jiro. The band formed in 1988, and their songs are arranged with a wide variety of genres such as punk, R&B, electronica, and ska. As of 2010, the band has sold around 37.5 million copies in Japan alone.

Glay at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards Japan. | Norio NAKAYAMA

Sekai no Owari (世界の終わり, aka “End of the World”) – band members include Satoshi Fukase, Saori Fujisaki, Shinichi “Nakajin” Nakajima, and DJ Love.  They initially performed a live concert at a club with only 15 people in the audience.  Their styles are mostly indie pop, pop rock, and alternative rock.  Their song “Dragon Night” is number 2 in the Japan Hot 100 Billboard Chart as of November 2014.

 Ayumi Hamasaki 2958995972_5aa5f439b8_o(浜崎あゆみ) – known as the “Empress of J-pop,” Ayumi Hamasaki  is popular across Asia. Her musical styles are varied and include progressive rock, classical, pop, metal, dance, and R&B. She uses her own lyrics and uses different types of instruments such as Japanese traditional string music boxes, piano, and guitar. She also incorporates techniques such as clapping and scratching into some of her songs.

Ayumi Hamasaki Asia Tour 2008. | Uma machi


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