Former KCP student Alex Tada recently paid a visit to KCP and brought us up to date on his happenings. Thanks for dropping by, Alex!
It has already been two years since I graduated from KCP. Time passed fast. Thanks to KCP, I passed level N1 of the JLPT.
I found work after returning to America. I have made Japanese friends and my company does business with Japanese companies, so my Japanese skills have been useful.
I am glad I was able to go to KCP. I am travelling to various places in Japan, but I wanted to stop in to KCP on my way.
Alex with Japanese language instructor Mr. Nikaido. | KCP Flickr
Alex, in front of the KCP Annex building. | KCP Flickr
This year, Japanese architect Toyo Ito was awarded the Pritzker Prize, one of the most prestigious awards for any living architect. The Pritzker Prize honors the talent, vision, and commitment of an architect who has produced consistent, significant contributions to humanity through his/her art and designs.
Background on Japanese Architecture
Much of Japanese traditional architecture was derived from China and other Asian cultures through the centuries. Early architectural designs were also influenced by natural elements. The general structure was similar to the Chinese, such as the use of lintels and posts to support curved roofs. Wood in its various forms was a common material, and walls were usually paper thin.
Authentic Japanese architecture.| Henry Stradford
By the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, Western influence could be seen in Japanese architectural designs. Many buildings in the military and trade industry showed heavy Western influences. During the Meiji Restoration era, Japan took on a fast growing Westernization phase that yielded hotels, schools, and bank structures of colonial architecture. The Ginza area in Tokyo was designated as the model of modernization after the Tsukiji area burned down in 1872.
Japan has suffered some major architectural damage due to the natural disasters. Toyo Ito is well known for creating conceptual architecture, which strives to highlight the physical and virtual worlds through architectural designs. Considered as one of the world’s most innovative and influential architects, he has spearheaded a project called Minna-no-ie (Homes-for-all) in the disaster-stricken Tōhoku region of Japan, where many people lost their homes in the 2011 tsunami and earthquake. The project has brought many of Japan’s architects together to develop shared housing to nurture a sense of community. Toyo Ito will be honored with the award on the 29th of May in Boston at the John F. Kennedy Library.
Toyo Ito and associates. | Japanese_craft _construction
KCP is located in Shinjuku, the business, entertainment, and shopping center of Tokyo. There’s always something that catches the eye, whether it’s the bright store lights by the streets or the spectacular foliage in Shinjuku Park. Fall 2012 student Emily Cole leads us around the KCP neighborhood through her photos.
Uniqlo stores can be found all over Tokyo. This one is about a 5-minute walk from school.
A common sight in Tokyo: Mopeds and a slew of parked bicycles.
Going out for coffee can sometimes be a little pricey in Tokyo (avoid Starbucks to escape sticker shock), but ChocoCro has pretty reasonable prices.
Roaming the streets of Shinjuku.
Shot from a path outside of the Shinjuku Park gates.
I visited the park three times during my stay in Tokyo: once each month that I was there. Behind me stands one of the maple trees for which the park is so famous.
For more of Emily’s photos of Shinjuku, visit our Flickr set. You can also read our other blog posts about Emily. If you have a question for Emily about her photographs, please ask her.
The month of May ushers in a number of festivals in Japan, starting with the much anticipated Golden Week (Gōruden Wīku). This week-long holiday starts on the 29th of April with the Emperor’s birthday and Showa day, followed by Constitution Memorial Day on the 3rd of May, Greenery Day on the 4th, and culminating with Children’s Day on the 5th. Golden Week is the longest vacation for the Japanese and many take the opportunity to travel this time of year.
Showa Day. | Jose Fernando
Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) Hollyhock Festival, on the 15th of May, is another festival to look forward to. This annual Tokyo festival celebrates the two Kamo shrines, Shimogamo Shrine and Kamigamo Shrine, located in the northern part of the city. According to the ancient historical records Nihon Shoki, Aoi Matsuri Festival began during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (C.E.539–571). Natural disasters plagued Japan, destroying many crops, and an epidemic spread among the people. This was considered divine punishment caused by the Kamo deities. The Emperor then sent a messenger to the shrine to perform various rituals to appease the deities, including the galloping horse performance that developed into an equestrian archery performance. This has became an annual ritual.
Aoi Matsuri. | yeowatzup
Sanja Matsuri (三社祭) Three Shrine Festival, is held every third weekend in May at Tokyo’s Asakusa Shrine. It is one of the biggest Shinto festivals that honors the three men—Hinokuma Hamanari, Hinokuma Takenari and Hajino Nakatomo—who founded the Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo.
Sanja Matsuri. | Ari Helminen
Sanja Matsuri is a weekend-long religious celebration dedicated to the spirits of the three founders. Two of these, the Hinokuma brothers, were believed to be fishermen. They found a statuette of the Bodhisattya Kannon that was caught in a fishing net in the Sumida River on May 17, C.E.628. The third founder, a wealthy landlord named Hajino Nakatomo, was responsible for converting the brothers to Buddhism. The three men together devoted their lives to the Buddhist faith and consecrated the statue found in Sensō-ji Temple. During the festival, millions of people come to witness the spectacular parades, traditional dancing, and music.
Cleanliness is important in Japanese culture. The traditional custom of removing shoes when entering a home and even a doctor’s clinic in Japan is still observed today. Toilets were always kept separate from bathing areas until only recently. But many of us may squirm at the idea of using a squat toilet when having to do the deed, not to mention that it would be practically unimaginable to not have a book, newspaper, iPad, or iPhone to keep us company while we sit on our thrones. Squatting while we do the deed seems simply ridiculous. You may have to just hold that thought . . .
Washiki. | Matt Perreault
A squat toilet is a type of toilet used in a squat position rather than sitting. It is commonly made of porcelain and can even be just a hole in the ground. It is essentially positioned much lower on the ground to make it easier for the user to squat. The “pedestal” squat toilet is probably the only exception: it is the same height as a sitting toilet.
A common complaint among washiki users is that most of their weight is placed on the thighs and calves. In fact, this position is healthier according to some medical experts who say “the anoretical angle is much better when in a squatting position and the rectum is “straighter”, allowing the browns to slip by unobstructed.” The late Dr. Denis Burkitt, of the U.K., believed that defecating in a squatting position can even help prevent colorectal cancer. Here are some other health benefits of squat toilets:
Instructions on how to use a washiki. | Yuya Tamai
- Prevents fecal stagnation, a factor in colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, and appendicitis.
- Squatting prevents pressure on the uterus for pregnant women and the practice helps them prepare for a more natural way of giving birth.
- It is an effective, non-invasive treatment for hemorrhoids.
- The position helps the thighs support the colon to prevent straining which can cause hernias, pelvic organ prolapse, and diverticulosis.
- It relaxes the puborectalis muscle that normally constricts the rectum.
- It protects the nerves responsible for controlling the bladder, prostrate, and uterus from strain and damage.
- It effectively seals the ileocecal valve that is found between the colon and small intestine. Usually in the conventional sitting position this valve remains unsupported and wastes can contaminate the small intestine.
The next time you encounter a squat toilet, keep all its health benefits in mind.
Nakamura Jirokichi (仲村次郎吉, 1797 – 1831) was a Japanese thief who became a folk hero by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, much like the infamous Robin Hood. He was also nicknamed Nezumi Kozō (鼠小僧). Nezumi means “rat” and Kozō is a term used for errand-boys in the Edo period. Kozō is a nickname usually given to pickpockets, often young girls and boys with nimble fingers.
During the Edo period, Nakamura Jirokichi supposedly robbed more than 100 samurai homes, amassing a huge fortune that he gave away to the poor. In 1822, he was eventually caught and subsequently banished from Edo (now known as Tokyo). He was caught yet again on the 8th of August 1883, when he confessed to burglarizing over 100 samurai estates and 30,000 ryō in a span of 15 years. When Nakamura Jirokichi was arrested, very little money was found on him. The daimyo also felt publicly humiliated by his stealing from them. This gave birth to the popular legend that he gave the money he stole back to the poor, turning Nezumi Kozō into a legendary folk hero.
At the time, the punishment for theft was very cruel. Prior to being caught, Nezumi Kozō served his wives divorce papers to save them from perishing from the same kind of persecution and punishment, as devreed by the law of the time. He was tied to a horse, a true spectacle as he was paraded around the town, and was eventually beheaded at the Suzugamori execution grounds. Nakamura Jirokichi’s head was placed on a stake for public display and his body was buried at Ekō-in, in the Ryōgoku area of Tokyo. So many pilgrims gathered at his grave site and chipped away pieces of stone for keepsakes that it had to be reconstructed.
Nezumi Kozō has become a legend throughout history. He is popularly depicted in folk songs, kabuki theatre, video games, and today’s pop culture.
When asked about Japan’s traditional theater, noh, kabuki, and bunraku immediately come to mind. But there is one other form of theater that has captivated the Japanese audience – Takarazuka. It is considered Japan’s youngest form of traditional theater, and it turns 100 this year.
The Takarazuka Revue (宝塚歌劇団 Takarazuka Kagekidan) is an all-female musical theater troupe and is based in Takarazuka in Hyōgo Prefecture. Women play all the roles in performances as lavish as any Western Broadway-style musical production. At times, some acts are adapted from Japanese folk tales and shōjo manga but none lack the pomp and grandeur expected from any Takarazuka Revue act.
Ichizo Kobayashi, president of Hankyu Railways and a prominent industrialist-turned-politician, founded Takarazuka Revue in 1913. Takarazuka was already a popular tourist destination because of its hot springs. Adding another attraction would only boost ticket sales to the area. Western song and dance shows had become increasingly popular compared to kabuki, they were also considered fresh and something new. Kobayashi thought an all-female theater group would be welcomed by the Japanese people.
Takarazuka Revue had its first performance in 1914 and a decade later, the troupe was so popular it merited its own theater in Takarazuka. The theater was named Dai Gekijō, or Grand Theater. Women who play male roles are referred to as otokoyaku (“male role”) and women who play female roles are referred to as musumeyaku (“daughter’s role”).
Cover of the Takarazuka Girls’ Revue Plot Summary, vol. 181.
Members of the troupe have to train for two years in the Takarazuka Music School, considered one of the most competitive performing arts schools in the world. Each year, thousands of aspiring young women come from all over Japan to try out for a place in the school. The chosen few undergo rigorous training in dance, music, and acting. Gifted and deserving students are given seven year contracts.
Dance lesson at Takarazuka Music School in 1919.
The company is composed of five main troupes: Hana, Tsuki, Yuki, Hoshi, and Sora (Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, and the Cosmos). Another troupe named Senka (Superior Members) is comprised of senior members who no longer want to be a part of the regular troupe. The performances of Takarazuka Revue are a spectacle to behold with its lavish costumes, lighting, and set designs. Today, the troupe performs for about 2.5 million people every year.
In Japan, April is always an exciting month with spring flowers all in full bloom. The highly anticipated blossoming of sakura (cherry trees) makes our lives more colorful and never fails to bring a smile to our faces. April ushers in many festivals to cap off the first quarter of the year.
Here are some of the festivals happening in Tokyo for April:
Sakura Festival and Peony Festival – Sakura, cherry blossoms, are in full bloom in April, usually. The blooms last for only one week, and then they start to fall from the trees. The flowers are considered the most beautiful when they are at their final stages. For many Japanese, cherry blossoms symbolize transience, nobility, and life. Some of the best locations to view the gorgeous trees are in Sumida River and Ueno Park. The peony flowers start to bloom usually around mid-April.
Sakura trees all lit up. | Marufish
Bussho-e (the birthday of Buddha) – Buddhists celebrate the birthday of Buddha (Sakyamuni ) every 8th of April. Bussho-e is also known as the Flower Festival. Sensō-ji Temple is one of the best places to pay homage to Buddha and join in the celebration.
Shirasagi no Mai – This event is celebrated on the 14th of April. Shirasagi no Mai is best represented by a ceremonial dance depicted in a historic picture scroll found at Sensō-ji Temple. Participants dress in traditional Heian period costume representing white herons.
Yabusame – celebrated every 20th of April, Yabusame is a much anticipated spectacle in Sumida Park. It is horseback archery in its finest. During the Edo period, it was celebrated to usher in the New Year.
Yabusame. | Yuki Shimazu
Naki Sumo (Zumou) – this Baby Crying Festival is celebrated on 20th or 21st of April. It is a 400-year-old tradition where babies are encouraged to cry for good health and to ward off evil spirits. Amateur sumo wrestlers hold the babies high up in the air as they cry while sumo referees determine the winner: the baby who cries the loudest and the longest.
Other festivals to look forward to around Japan are:
- Kamakura Festival, second Sunday to the third Sunday, in Kanagawa.
- Takayama Festival, 14th and 15th of April, in Gifu.
- Yayoi Festival 16th and 17th of April, in Tochigi.
Summer in Japan is extra special with traditional Japanese desserts such as kakigōri to stay cool.
Kakigōri (かき氷) is a Japanese type of shaved ice dessert. It differs from a snow cone because it is flavored with syrup and condensed milk. The ice in Kakigōri is fluffier and smoother, much like newly-fallen snow, and is best enjoyed eaten with a spoon rather than directly from the paper cone.
Pink Kakigōri. | nSeika
Kakigōri is traditionally hand-cranked in machine with sharp blades that turns a block of ice into a finely shaven consistency. Though electric ice shavers can also be used, many kakigōri street vendors are still using hand-cranked machines during hot summers. Kakigōri is one of Japan’s best loved desserts. It’s sold at festivals, most restaurants, and convenience stores all year round.
Hand-cranked Kakigōri machine. | carpediem37
Some popular kakigōri flavors are green tea, strawberry, grape, melon, Blue Hawaii, cherry, lemon, and sweet plum. If you can’t decide on just one flavor, you can choose to try two or even more flavors in one serving. You can also add sweet red beans, tapioca pearls, and ice cream to spruce up your kakigōri. One traditional type of kakigōri is called Uji-kintoki, made with green tea syrup and sweet azuki beans (anko). It’s a delicious and easy treat anyone can make and enjoy on a hot day.
Uji-kintoki. | GinkgoTelegraph
Here is a simple recipe you can try. All you need are:
- 1 tsp green tea powder
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp hot water
- 2 tbsp sweetened condensed milk
- 2 tbsp anko
- ice cubes
Mix the green tea powder and sugar in the hot water. Allow the mixture to cool in a serving bowl. Shave the ice cubes finely using an ice shaving machine. Place the shaved ice on top of the green tea and sugar mixture. Top it with azuki beans and condensed milk. Enjoy!
Ancient Japanese folklore is full of fascinating stories rich with fated love, spiritual artifacts, and the supernatural. Due to their popularity, many museums dedicated to Japanese folklore are scattered around the country.
Murotsu Museum of Folklore. | 663highland
A prime example of a classic folk story is the Golden Hairpin, a tale of supernatural love.
Once upon a time, there was a samurai named Hasunuma from the northern city of Sedai. He was honorable and much loved. He and his wife were soon blessed with a daughter whom they named Hasu-ko (Little Lily), or Ko. On the same day Hasunuma’s daughter was born, his close friend Saito, also a samurai, had a son named Kônojô. Being such old friends, the two fathers decided to have their children wed each other when they came of age. Both of the wives were also thrilled with the decision. To bind the promise, Saito gave Hasunuma a golden hairpin that had been in his family for many years. After a few months, Saito caused his feudal lord displeasure. This in turn caused him to be dismissed from service. Saito , his wife, and Kônojô left Sendai without telling anyone.
Many years passed, and O Ko San grew to be the fairest woman in all of Sendai. She also had a younger sister named O Kei who was just as beautiful. Many men sought the love of O Ko but she remained faithful to her promised Kônojô. She waited in vain for him; soon she grew ill and died.
On the day O Ko was to be buried, her mother lovingly prepared her remains and placed the golden hairpin on her hair to bind O Ko’s spirit with Kônojô even in death because he was thought to also be dead. But Kônojô was far from dead. He came calling on Hasunuma to claim his betrothed. Kônojô explained that his family had gone to Yezo island where his father had lost all his money and had died in poverty. His mother soon followed. Kônojô wanted to be worthy of O Ko’s hand in marriage and earn enough money–that’s was why it took time for him to come.
Kônojô found a golden hairpin on the floor one day and kept it without knowing it was O Kei’s. One night, O Kei professed her love to Kônojô who learned to love her as well. Fearing Hasunuma’s disapproval, they decided to leave Sendai. A year later they returned and Kônojô was prepared to beg for forgiveness from Hasunuma. But Kônojô found out that O Ko’s spirit had taken the form of O Kei and that the only way for her to rest in peace is if Kônojô would marry O Kei.
O Kei and Kônojô were married with Hasunuma’s blessing. The golden hairpin was given to a shrine at Shiogama for crowds to worship.