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Japanese Superstition and Pets in Japan

  • Posted by:
  • April 24, 2017

Dogs and cats are wonderful, faithful, and loyal companions. As the saying goes, “pets and dogs repay the love you give them ten-fold.” The unconditional love we receive from our canine or feline companions is irreplaceable. Pets are considered valued members of the family all around the world, including Japan.

Japanese superstitions are deeply rooted in the history and culture of Japan. Its roots can be traced all the way back to Japan’s ancient pagan beliefs, the regard for certain natural things as  kami (spirits or phenomena that are worshiped in the religion of Shinto), and the animist culture. An offshoot of this is that many Japanese superstitions involve belief about animals and depictions of animals bringing about good or bad fortune. This concept makes cats and dogs even more important in the Japanese culture.

Hachikō. | KCP Flickr

Take, for example, the timeless tale of friendship and loyalty of the dog Hachikō. In 1924, Hachikō became the pet of a man named Hidesaburo Oeno, a professor of agriculture at the Tokyo University. Hachikō was an Akita with golden brown fur and cream markings on his face. He would regularly greet Hidesaburo at the Shibuya Station. When the professor suddenly passed away, Hachikō was given away, but he escaped and each day he would be at the station at 4 pm waiting for his old friend for the remainder of his life.

Animals used to be predominantly thought of as indispensable help in working farm lands but over the years many Japanese have considered them as part of the family. Dogs and cats are capable of giving so much unconditional love, and will always be faithful companions in the best and worst of times.

Japanese kami. | thaths

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Scholarships and Grants for Your Study in Japan Experience!

  • Posted by:
  • April 20, 2017

Dreaming of studying abroad but don’t have the means to support your wish? Check out some of the government scholarships and grants that may be available to you. Scholarships for study abroad may be awarded on the basis of personal attributes (ethnic or religious background, parents’ field of employment, children of veterans, descendants of immigrants from specific countries), or on academic focus, major, or career path.

KCP Flickr

You may find further scholarship and financial aid information at your school’s study abroad office. Here are some government funded scholarships and grants to check out to get you started:

Gilman Scholarship Program

The Gilman Scholarship Program is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State, which fosters mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries to promote friendly, sympathetic, and peaceful relations. The Gilman Scholarship Program is an undergraduate grant program for U.S. citizens of limited financial means to enable them to study abroad, thereby internationalizing their outlook and better preparing them to thrive in the global economy. It is open to all U.S. undergraduate student citizens who are receiving Federal Pell Grant funding at a two-year or four-year college or university to participate in study and intern abroad programs worldwide.

KCP International Scholarship

Offered by KCP International Japanese Language School, these merit-based scholarships are awarded to three eligible students each term who attend KCP, on a first come, first served basis.

The KCP scholarship is a housing discount: award amount varies with length of study and other factors.

KCP Flickr

Boren Undergraduate Scholarships

Boren Scholarships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide unique funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduate students to study less commonly taught languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests, and underrepresented in study abroad, including Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Boren Scholars represent a vital pool of highly motivated individuals who wish to work in the federal national security arena. In exchange for funding, Boren Scholars commit to working in the federal government for at least one year after graduation.

Bridging Scholarships for Study Abroad in Japan

The Bridging Project offers scholarships to American undergraduate students participating in study-abroad programs in Japan. Funding from private foundations and major U.S. corporations, through donations to the nonprofit U.S.–Japan Bridging Foundation, makes it possible to award about 100 scholarships each year to assist students with the travel and living expenses they will incur while studying abroad in Japan for a semester or an academic year. Applications are accepted twice a year for Bridging Scholarships.

And KCP alumni Steven Trapani has some tips on applying for a study abroad scholarship at our blog site.

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Sessue Hayakawa: The First Japanese Hollywood Heartthrob

  • Posted by:
  • April 17, 2017

When you think of silent films, Charlie Chaplin, Rudolph Valentino, and Gloria Swanson might come to mind. But did you know that there was also a debonair Japanese silent film actor who made women swoon at the mere sight of him?

Sessue Hayakawa (1889–1973), also known as Hayakawa Sesshū, was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood during the silent film era of the 1910s and 1920s. He is considered the first actor of Asian descent to find stardom as one of Hollywood’s leading men. Sessue Hayakawa not only conquered the hearts of women in the United States but in Europe as well. His broodingly handsome good looks were perfect to play the role of the sexually dominant villain, a role in which he was typecasted.

Sessue (pronounced Sesshū) Hayakawa was born Kintarō Hayakawa to a family of means in the village of Nanaura, now part of Chikura Town in the city of Minamibosō in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.  He was the second eldest son of the prominent provincial governor.

Sessue Hayakawa

From an early age, Sessue was expected to become an officer in the navy, but while a student at the Naval Academy in Etajima, he swam to the bottom of a lagoon on a dare and ruptured his eardrum. The injury caused him to fail the navy physical. This brought his father shame and embarrassment and caused a wedge in their relationship. Young Hayakawa attempted seppuku by stabbing himself more than 30 times in his abdomen in a shed in their property. The family dog’s barking alerted Hayakawa’s parents to the scene and his father used an axe to break down the shed’s door, saving his life. After he recovered, he was sent to study political economics at the University of Chicago to become a banker.

Hayakawa decided to quit his studies at the university and return to Japan after his second year. He first traveled to Los Angeles and waited for a transpacific steamship. During his stay in L.A., he discovered the Japanese Theatre in Little Tokyo and fell in love with acting and performing in plays.  Here Hayakawa met the influential film producer Thomas H. Ince and the Japanese actress, Tsuru Aoki. Ince cast both Aoki and Hayakawa in his Japan-themed films, and in 1914 the two young actors married and became one of Hollywood’s golden couples.

Cecil B. DeMille’s blockbuster film, The Cheat, made Hayakawa an international star. The 1915 film was a huge success most likely because it touched on interracial intimacy. During those years, Hayakawa was as well-known and popular as Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks, although today his name is largely unknown to the public.

Though many of his films are lost, most of his later works such as The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Geisha Boy, The Swiss Family Robinson, Tokyo Joe and Three Came Home are available on DVD. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Sessue Hayakawa was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The Cheat 1915 movie poster

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Sengakuji: The Final Resting Place of the 47 Rōnin

  • Posted by:
  • April 13, 2017

The story of the 47 Rōnin is a perfect example of honoring the bushidō, the way of the warrior code. It is a code of conduct that exemplifies a warrior’s moral values in mastery of martial arts, frugality, loyalty, and honor unto death. The tale of the 47 Rōnin, also historically known as “The Ako Vendetta,” and in fiction as the Chushingura, is an example of the Bushido honor code associated not just with samurai, but also with the Japanese national identity.

Gravestones of the 47 Rōnin. | David Marcos Moreno

A rōnin was a samurai with no lord or master.  A samurai could lose his master in death or even from falling out of his master’s favor. As the story goes, a feudal lord from the 18th century, Asano Naganori was forced to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) after he attacked a high-ranking master of ceremonies, Kira Yoshinaka.  Naganori’s death left the samurai under his patronage without a master, and left them honour-bound to take revenge.

Sengakuji Temple. | sophietica

The 47 Rōnin warriors disappeared for over a year and according to legend, they became drunkards as part of a plan. In December of 1703, the 47 Rōnin banded together to launch a surprise attack on Yoshinaka’s castle. They successfully killed Yoshinaka, finally avenging their master. True to their code, they turned themselves in to the authorities, who sentenced them to commit seppuku. One of the 47  Rōnin, Terasaka Kichiemon, was deemed too young to commit seppuku. He was pardoned by the Shogun and lived to be 87 years old.

All 47 Rōnin are now interred in front of the tomb of their master in the grounds of Sengaku-ji Temple, Tokyo. Sengakuji  (泉岳寺) is a small temple located in Shinagawa Station. Each year on the 14th of December, a festival is held to honor the 47 Rōnin’s revenge. Thousands of visitors flock to the tiny graveyard to pay tribute to the exemplary faithfulness and courage of the 47 brave souls.

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Magical Kochia Hill in Hitachinaka

  • Posted by:
  • April 10, 2017

Hitachinaka (ひたちなか市 Hitachinaka-shi) city is located in Ibaraki Prefecture, in the northern Kantō region of Japan. It is a hiragana city, a place whose name is written with hiragana syllabary as opposed to other cities that are written in the traditional kanji.

Kochia. | Border. garaku

The towns of Minato and Hiraiso and the village of Katsuta are within the Naka District. The  municipalities system was established on April 1, 1889. Minato was renamed Nakaminato in 1938 while Katsuta was made into a town in 1940. During World War II, the area experienced heavy air raids and shelling by Allied warships because of the many factories nearby that produced war-related materials. On March 31, 1954, the towns of Hiraiso and nakaminato merged to form the city of Nakaminato and Katsuta became a city that same year. On November 1, 1994, Nakaminato and Katsuta yet again merged to form the city of Hitachinaka.

One of the unique places to visit in Hitachinaka is Hitachi Seaside Park. The park is right next to Ajigaura Beach, a popular tourist destination for nature lovers. The park spans an area of eight acres with flowers that bloom with bursts of color all year round.

Green kochia. | kobaken++

During autumn each year, the park becomes extra special when the thousands of Kochia bushes turn crimson red on Miharashi no oka (Lookout Hill). Kochia are a type of large herb that grow in bushes about 90 centimeters tall. The rest of the year the bushes are green; in late September they begin to change color to deep red.

The beautiful display of color is such a spectacle that many visitors flock to see Kochia Hill in September and October. The Kochia Carnival highlights the colors of fall.  People can frolic amongst the 36,000 red Kochia bushes and millions of cosmos flowers that also bloom around the same time the Kochia turns red.

Kochia in Hatachi Seaside Park. | Border. garaku

The cosmos flowers come in several colors ,which makes the sight even more breathtaking. For visitors coming from the Tokyo area, there are also direct buses from Asakusa and Ueno Stations that go to the entrance at Kaihin Kouen Iriguchi (海浜公園入口) bus stop.

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The Folklore of Japanese Mermaids

  • Posted by:
  • April 6, 2017

Mermaids are usually depicted as beautiful women who bewitch sailors into the watery depths. In Japan, mermaids are often translated as “human fish” or ningyo. They are fish-like creatures from Japanese folklore. Supposedly, a ningyo has shiny golden scales, a monkey’s mouth with small teeth similar to a fish’s, and a voice that resembles a skylark or a flute. Its flesh when eaten is delicious, and anyone who eats it will live longer than usual. The Japanese believe that if a ningyo is caught, it will bring misfortune and storms. Because of this, many fishermen who find these creatures caught in their nets throw them back into the ocean. It is also believed that if a ningyo washes ashore, it is an omen of war or calamity.


Japanese folktales tell us the mermaid first appeared to Prince Shotoku at Lake Biwa. When the prince was on the brink of death, it was able to tell him its sad story. The creature had once been a fisherman who entered prohibited waters. As punishment, he turned into a hideous animal. The ningyo, wanting to atone for his transgression, asked the prince to build a temple to display his remains as an example on the sacredness of life.

Mermaid mummy. |Mary-chan

The temple is now known as Tenshou-Kyousha Shrine and houses the mummified remains of the mermaid. The mermaid mummy is cared for by the Shinto order at Fujinomiya, near Mount Fuji.

Another story tells us about a ningyo named Yao Bikuni, an 800-year-old Buddhist priestess.  A fisherman from Wakasa Province caught an unusual fish, so he invited his friends to partake of his catch. One of his guests snuck a peek into the kitchen and was astounded to see that the fish had a head of a human. He warned the other visitors about what he saw and to avoid eating the fish. When the host finished cooking and offered his guests the fish, they secretly wrapped it in paper ready to be thrown away when they got home.

However, one guest had too much sake and forgot to throw away his piece of the strange fish. This man had a young daughter who demanded a present when her father arrived home. The man, without thinking, gave her the fish. When he realized what he had done, he tried to stop his daughter from eating it but he was too late. Nothing out of the ordinary happened to his daughter at first and he forgot about it after awhile.

Ryuguji  mermaid temple. |  NelC

Years passed and the young girl grew up and got married. The daughter after marriage never seemed to age while her husband grew old and died. After many years of not growing a day older and being widowed yet again, the woman became a nun and wandered around the world. Finally, she came back home to Wakasa where she finally passed away at 800 years old.

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The Over 100 Year Old Kamihinokinai’s Paper Balloon Festival

  • Posted by:
  • April 3, 2017

The Paper Balloon Festival of Kamihinokinai in Akita Prefecture is a spectacular annual event that’s been celebrated for over a hundred years. About 100 gigantic paper balloons lit with candles are released and shine magically like stars in the winter evening sky. The balloons are painted with Ukiyo-e styled women and samurai warriors. It truly is something to behold!

Paper balloon. | Chris Lewis

Kamihinokinai Paper Balloon Festival is held each year on February 10. It is a traditional event whose origins can be traced back to the Edo Period scientist Hiraga Gennai (1728–1780). He was a Japanese pharmacologist, student of Rangaku, physician, author, painter, and inventor who supposedly taught the Japanese the principles behind hot air balloons.

The paper balloons are about eight meters tall and are able to float up in the sky from the air inside, heated by candles. The designs painted on the paper balloons are usually from traditional Japanese wood-block prints, and some of the balloons have people’s wishes people written on them. The purpose of the event is to make a wish, and it used to be for a good harvest and good health. Nowadays people have come to wish for more varied things such as success in life, passing exams, and safe travels.

Hiraga Gennai

To witness the event from Tokyo, get off the Shinkansen at Kakunodate Station (about 3 hours from Tokyo), change trains to Akita Nairiku Jukan Railway, and you will arrive at Kamihinokinai Station. Travel time is about 40 minutes.  You can also join a scheduled tour around the area northwest of Kamihinokinai where Lake Tazawa is located. It is the deepest lake in Japan, and is close to several hot spring resorts. Another reason to visit the many wonders of Japan!

Winter paper balloon festival. | Syuzo Tsushima

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KCP Fall 2016 Completion Ceremony

  • Posted by:
  • March 30, 2017

KCP International gives serious students who want their Japanese language ability to grow by leaps and bounds, and are ready to work hard for it, KCP will help you achieve your goal. Your success is our success.

Class is very intense. In 11 weeks, you can earn more Japanese credit than you would earn in an entire year at your home school.

The culture-and-civilization course, combined with the dorm or homestay context and with the extracurricular clubs, all make for a varied blend of experiences that have you living the Japanese life every moment of every day.

Last December, KCP Fall 2016 batch proudly completed their course. Here are some highlights of their completion ceremony:

KCP Flickr

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The Unique Nakagin Capsule Tower

  • Posted by:
  • March 27, 2017

Traditional Japanese architecture predominantly made use  of wood because of the abundance of timber in the country. Timber is particularly resistant to natural disasters such as earthquakes. Wood is also an ideal type of material for Japan’s humid climate. Modern Japanese architecture is a far cry from the traditional style: the mid-20th century was a time of great experimentation in Japanese architecture. Many architects sought to break boundaries and create original designs. One such example is the Nakagin Tower.

Nakagin Tower. | d’s2nd

The Nakagin Capsule Tower is a product of the Metabolism (shinchintaisha) architectural style, a post-war Japanese architectural movement that fused ideas about architectural megastructures with those of organic biological growth, spearheaded by Kisho Kurokawa. A capsule hotel, kapuseru hoteru, is a popular type of affordable accommodation in Japan for the weary traveler who may have had a bit too much to drink, missed the last train home, or needs a place to sleep for the night that has basic amenities without the services offered by other regular hotels.

A typical capsule is made of fiberglass a little over 6 ft. long and 4 ft. wide. It has enough room for you to sleep comfortably in (provided you’re not over 6 ft. tall), and some capsules are big enough for you to sit upright. Most pods are equipped with a small television, wireless internet connection, small console, dimmable lighting, and wall-mounted alarm clock. To ensure your privacy, the capsules have curtains and a door at one end.

Nacagin Capsule Tower. |d’n’c

The Nakagin Capsule Tower consists of two separate towers that serve as support for the 140 prefabricated capsules. Each capsule is a tiny apartment that has many amenities such as a refrigerator, a television set, even a reel-to-reel tape deck. The original idea of the concept of the tower is that each capsule can be eventually replaced by newer models. This ensures that the living standards in the building will be constantly up to date.

Inside the Nakagin Capsule. | 準建築人手札網站 Forgemind ArchiMedia

As elegant and one of a kind the building may seem, the tiny apartments were considered to be cramped, with a gigantic concrete shell considered as ugly and dehumanizing. The maintenance cost started to pile up and the real-estate value in the center of the Ginza district began to collapse. The building was slated to be demolished in 2007, but an uproar arose among the architectural community, who consider the building a masterpiece. Kurokawa led the campaign for its preservation until the end of his life. As of April 2014, the Save Nakagin Capsule Tower Project has begun crowd-sourcing funds to buy the tower’s capsules and secure voting rights against the Tower’s demolition.

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Ōwakudani Black Eggs

  • Posted by:
  • March 23, 2017

Ōwakudani, or Great Boiling Valley, is located in the mountain town of Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan. It is a popular go to place for many visitors to witness its scenic views, volcanic activity, and most especially for the unique Kuro-tamago (black egg).

Ōwakudani is an active volcano valley with sulfur vents and hot springs. Visitors flock to the valley to see breathtaking views of Mt. Fuji and the volcanic gases that rise from the ground.  It can be reached via an aerial tram up to the hot springs, or walk up the 1 km path. There are a few hiking trails around the Ōwakudani station, but there is one specific trail that you simply cannot miss out on. It is an upward trek to the boiling site of the famous Ōwakudani black eggs. The 15-minute uphill climb is worth every step. Once you get to the top, you will have the chance to taste the kuro-tamago.

Ōwakudani black eggs. | エン バルドマン

Ōwakudani Black Eggs are regular chicken eggs. It is the manner in which the eggs are boiled that makes them special. The eggs are boiled at exactly 80 degrees Celsius (176 deg. F) for about an hour in natural spring water, then steamed at 100 degrees (212 deg. F) for 15 minutes in steel baskets.

Ōwakudani valley boiling site. | Aapo Haapanen

The spring water used to boil the egg contains sulfur and iron, which makes the eggshells turn black. It is rumored that eating these black eggs will add seven years to your life.

The Ōwakudani valley is also sometimes referred to as the Death Valley by locals. About 3,000 years ago, Mount Hakone erupted, leaving a hot spring-filled crater. The path leading to the black eggs are full of sulfuric geysers which can be dangerous. The area is prone to landslides caused by the constant volcanic activity. Conditions are potentially unsafe, and the walkway leading to the egg boiling springs is closed at times.

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