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Category Archive: Japan Context

National Museum of Western Art Makes UNESCO World Heritage List

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  • March 13, 2017
On July 17, 2016, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) committee recognized buildings in seven countries for their innovation and influence in laying the foundation for modern architecture. The National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park, Tokyo, and 16 other buildings designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier have been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

National Museum of Western Art. | 663highland

The National Museum of Western Art in Japan (NMWA) is the only structure in the country designed by the renowned architect. The museum is the premier public art gallery in the country specializing in art from Western traditions. The museum also houses the core art collection of Matsukata Kojiro (a Japanese businessman who devoted his life and fortune to amassing a collection of Western art). The NMWA was completed in 1959 and dedicated as a symbol of the resumed diplomatic ties between japan and France after World War II.

Le Corbusier or more formally known as Charles-Édouard  Jeanneret (October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965), was an architect, writer, painter, designer, and urban planner, and is considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930. During his five-decade-long career, he constructed buildings in Europe, India, North and South America, and Japan.

Le Corbusier was an avid urban planner whose vision was dedicated to providing better living conditions for residents of crowded cities. He was a founding member of Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), a series of events and congresses arranged across Europe by the most prominent architects of the time. Its objective was to spread the principles of the Modern Movement focusing in all the main domains of architecture (such as landscape, urbanism, industrial design, and many others).

Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier described the city of the future as consisting of large apartment buildings isolated in a park-like setting on piers, “Cities in the Sky.” His theories were adopted by the builders of public housing in Europe and the United States. In Great Britain, Le Corbusier’s ideas were thought of as a cheaper method of providing public housing from the late 1950s.

The National Museum of Western Art will be the 20th World Heritage site in Japan and the first in central Tokyo.

Open Interior of the “Maison Blanche” (1912).| Eveline Perroud

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The Holy Trail of Kumano Kodō

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  • March 6, 2017

The sacred trails of Kumano Kodō (熊野古道) are a series of ancient trails used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site Kumano Sanzan, the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano. The Kumano Kodō and Kumano Sanzan, along with Koyasan and Yoshino and Omine, are part of UNESCO’s designated World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range of Japan.

The Kodo (“old ways”), have been used by people who go on pilgrimage for more than a thousand years. The Kumano Kodō  and the Camino de Santiago are the only pilgrimage routes to be designated world heritage sites.

Kumano Kodo Trail. |David Gallagher

The pilgrimage routes were developed as a means for people to move between the sacred areas on the Kii Peninsula. By the 12 century, the popularity of the Kumano Sanzan  made the trails more than just a path to the Three Grand Shrines; they also became a religious experience with the pathways being difficult and quite dangerous mountain terrains.

The Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trails leading to Kumano are Kiji, Kohechi and Iseji. The Kiji  route runs along the city of Tanabe, by way of the west coast of the peninsula where it divides into a fork, Nakahechi and Ohechi.

Kumano Kodō mountans. | rurinoshima

The Nakahechi route progresses into the rugged depths of the mountains leading to Kumano Hongū Taisha while Ohechi moves southwards along the coast. The Nakahechi route is the most popular for pilrimages from Kyoto, the former ancient capital of Japan. The Kohechi route links Koyasan to the Kumano Sanzan. While the Iseji” route links Ise Jingū (Ise Grand Shrine) with the Kumano Sanzan.

Kumano Kodo trail. | rurinoshima

The earliest records of the routes can be traced back to the early 10th century. Many pilgrims with many different beliefs use the trails. This has led to mixed symbolism for many when going through the stages of the pilgrimage. Anyone can enjoy the beauty and solemnity of walking the course. Who knows what you may find along the way, you may even discover yourself.

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Oishi Hambagu!

  • Posted by:
  • February 13, 2017

Hambagu (ハンバーグ), or Japanese hamburger steak, is a popular dish in Japan. It is a fusion food of Japanese and Western cooking techniques. Hambagu is similar to a Western burger, although it is most often served with rice. Ingredients are also different, making the hambagu unique with its own Asian twist.  The usual ingredients include a mixture of ground pork and beef which adds flavor, richness, and soft texture. It is a healthy, quick, easy recipe that the whole family will enjoy. Typical sauce for hambagu is tonkatsu sauce which makes it a Japanese staple.

Hambagu by KCP Fall 2015 students. | KCP Flickr

Differences between hambagu and a typical Western burger are  pretty obvious. It isn’t served on a bun. While Western burgers are commonly eaten with bread, hambagu is paired with rice. The mixture of meat is also a glaring difference. This has a big effect on taste and texture. Hambagu is still a versatile dish that can be enjoyed anyway you like, either on a bun or with rice and with an array of your favorite side dishes!

Try this easy hambagu recipe!


3/4 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 medium onion
1/2 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon milk
Tonkatsu sauce for drizzling (ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sherry, sugar, garlic powder, and ginger)

KCP Fall 2016 cooking class. | KCP Flickr


  • Chop onions and cook in a pan over medium heat with oil until translucent. Allow to cool.
  • Combine all other ingredients in a bowl. Divide into patties of desired size, or about 6 patties for this recipe.
  • Heat pan over medium high heat. Cook patties until done at the bottom, then flip. Cover the pan and cook until the other side is done.

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Using a Bicycle in Tokyo

  • Posted by:
  • January 19, 2017

Bicycling is a common mode of transportation in Japan. It’s a great way to get to school, to work, and to the train station. A bicycle is also a fine way to exercise and stay fit, and it helps reduce global warming because it emits no fossil fuels. A bike requires less energy to produce: unlike a car, it doesn’t need a lot of metal; it can use smaller roads to travel on; and it takes up less space for parking. Most of all, it is convenient and inexpensive when you need a quick ride to get around in one of the most expensive and populated cities in the world, Tokyo.

There are many things to discover in Tokyo aside from the usual tourist attractions. Some local neighborhoods hold the best treasures to be found in such a bustling yet quaint metropolis as Tokyo, and they’re right within a few kilometers of where you’re staying. There are many other unnoticed places only the locals know of, such as restaurants, shops, temples, and parks hiding in the backstreets that are just a short bicycle ride away.

Before hopping on a bike and searching for places off the beaten path, here are a few things to not to do on a bicycle in Japan:

Don’t ignore traffic signals – be aware of the traffic signs. Like anywhere around the world, red means stop and green means go. Don’t let all the beautiful sights distracts your attention to the traffic signs.

Bikes in Shinjuku. | Andrea Schaffer

Don’t ride in prohibited areas – stay off footpaths, pedestrian roads, and private property. Bicycles are considered small vehicles and by law must be ridden on the road.

Ride your bike on the correct side of the road  – always keep in mind  the flow of traffic in Japan is opposite of the U.S. where it is right-hand traffic (RHT). In Japan, the rule of the road is left-hand traffic (LHT), so when moving forward, stay to the left side of the road.

Avoid obstructing pedestrians – always remember to yield to pedestrians and give them the right of way. Remember to maintain a safe and slow speed when sharing the road with pedestrians.

Stop, Look and Listen – Before crossing through an active railroad crossing, make sure there are no lights flashing and the guard rails are up.

Joyride with pets in Japan. | m-louis

Observe intersection safety – look at both directions of traffic before crossing, and check to see who has the right of way.

Do not obstruct an intersection – a right turn is equivalent to a left turn in Japan.  Also remember to let the drivers behind know if you’re making a turn by using hand signals.

You can also check local cycling rules and regulations in Japan to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of cycling. Enjoy and have a safe ride!

Rustic Japan scene. | Iñaki Pérez de Albéniz

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Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine: The Magical Forest of Princess Mononoke

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  • January 5, 2017

Princess Mononoke, or “Spirit/Monster Princess” is an epic anime historical fantasy from 1997. It was written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki. It was produced by Toshio Suzuki and Studio Ghibli was responsible for bringing the film to life. Released in the U.S. in 1999, the film was a critical and commercial hit and was the highest-grossing film in Japan of 1997, and the highest-grossing in Japan of all time until the film Titanic was released later that same year.

The setting of “Princess Mononoke” was during the late Muromachi period (about 1336 to 1573) of Japan combined with some elements of fantasy. The story follows the adventures of the young Emishi  prince Ashitaka as he gets entangled in the struggle between the gods of a forest and humans who squander its resources.

Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine. | JoshBerglund19

The Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine (白谷雲水峡, Shiratani Unsuikyō) was the inspiration for the magical forest of “Princess Mononoke.” The  forest is in Yakushima (one of the Ōsumi Islands in Kagoshima Prefecture), a green, lush nature park with a number of islands growing with ancient cedar trees like Kugurisugi, Yayoisugi, and Nidaiosugi.

At the ravine. | JoshBerglund19

A network of hiking trails runs along the forest’s ravine. Several recommended paths vary in length, from a short one hour to a five-hour trek. You can also wander off  and explore on your own, choosing your own trail. There are different trekking trails for everyone to try, from beginners to avid trekkers. There is a historic footpath from the Edo Period; English signs are also posted all throughout the paths.

The Shiratani Unsuikyo Ravine is a wonderful place to explore, not just for Princess Mononoke fans, but for all who wish to enter a magical forest. This is just one of the many wonders to experience when in Japan!

Trail at the ravine. | JoshBerglund19

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Mount Hiei and the Tendai Sect

  • Posted by:
  • December 8, 2016

15396531976_6486e2a725_zTiantai is a Buddhist tradition in Japan, China, Korea, and Vietnam that reveres the Lotus Sutra as the highest teaching in Buddhism. It was founded by Zhiyi (Chigi in Japanese; 538–597 CE) in China. His teachings were first brought to Japan by the Chinese monk Ganjin (鑑眞) in the middle of the 8th century: these became the short-lived Ritsu school.  In 805, Saichō , also called Dengyō Daishi, returned from China with new Tiantai texts and built a temple, Enryaku-ji, on Mount Hiei.  This place became the center for the study and practice of the Japanese Tendai sect. Saichō was also the man who brought tea to Japan; Emperor Saga welcomed the growing of tea plants in the country.

Tendai monastery. | YU-JEN SHIH

15446188636_95444b4c13_zThe Tendai school did not deviate much from the original teachings and beliefs that had been created by the Tiantai school in China. The teachings of Saichō from China was, however, not exclusively Tiantai. It also included the arcane Mikkyō (concepts of the Shingon Buddhist school and related practices) and Vinaya School (regulatory framework for the monastic Buddhist community) elements. The inclusion of a range of teachings became more prominent in the doctrines of Saichō’s successors, such as Ennin (Jikaku Daishi ) and Enchin (founder of the Jimon School of Tendai Buddhism).

At the Tendai monastery. | YU-JEN SHIH

In later years the range of teachings began to form sub-schools within Tendai Buddhism. IN the 10th century during Ryōgen’s time as chief abbot of Enryaku-ji Temple, there were two distinct groups on Mount Hiei: the Sammon “Mountain Group” who followed Ennin, and the Jimon “Temple Group” who followed Enchin.

4016847105_8bbf3832b6_zMount Hiei (比叡山 Hiei-zan) is the prominent mountain northeast of Kyoto, bordering Kyoto and Shiga prefectures. Enryaku-ji temple was the first outpost of the Tendai sect of Buddhism. Hōnen (the religious reformer and founder of the first independent branch of Japanese Pure Land Buddhism called Jōdo-shū), Nichiren (known for his sole devotion to the Lotus Sutra), and Shinran (a pupil of Hōnen and the founder of what ultimately became the Jōdo Shinshū), all studied at the temple before leaving to start their own practices.

Mt. Hiei. | Douglas Sprott

The Lotus Sutra is widely regarded as one of the most important and influential sacred scriptures, of Buddhism. Its key message is that Buddhahood, the supreme state of life characterized by boundless compassion, wisdom, and courage, is inherent within every person without distinction of gender, ethnicity, social standing, or intellectual ability.

The temple complex was destroyed by Oda Nobunaga in 1571 to stop the rise of the Tendai warrior monks (sōhei). The complex was rebuilt and remains the Tendai headquarters until this day, a lasting testament to the culture and history of the Japanese people.

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Interesting Facts about Japan

  • Posted by:
  • September 1, 2016

Japan, an island nation in East Asia, is often called “Land of the Rising Sun.” Japan has a very interesting history and a rich culture. Here are just a few of the things to know about the country and its people:

  • Japan has the third largest economy next to the United States and China, based on the world’s GDP ranking.
  • Cape Suzu is one of Japan’s three greatest spots for ultra-pure mineral water that stays fresh for as long as a hundred years, possibly longer.
  • Japan has four different writing systems: romaji, katakana, hiragana, and kanji.
  • Ukai or cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method using trained cormorants (from the family Phalacrocoracidae consisting of about 40 kinds of species of aquatic birds) to fish in rivers.


Cormorant fishing. | Kentaro Ohno

  • Jamaica exports about 85% of its total coffee production to Japan.
  • Japan has a literacy rate of almost 100% among its citizens.
  • Japan has over 200 volcanoes.
  • The most common form of Buddhism in Japan is Zen Buddhism.
  • Ōkunoshima is known as Usagi Jima (うさぎ島) or Rabbit Island because of the unbelievable number of feral rabbits that call it home.


Rabbits at Usagi Jima. | Rachel Lovinger

  • Japan’s national sport is sumo.
  • Slurping your food is a sign that it is delicious and is a compliment to the cook.
  • Tipping is considered a no-no in Japan.
  • Pochi bukuro are small paper envelopes widely available in stationery stores all around Japan.  You place tip money in these envelopes before handing them over.


Pochi bukuro.| teking

  • Japanese people live longer than Americans: four years longer, on average.
  • Tsukiji Market in Tokyo is the world’s largest fish market.
  • The Tale of Genji, written by Murasaki Shikibu in 1007, was the first novel ever written.
  • Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans with the fungus kōjikin (Aspergillus oryzae), salt, and other ingredients like barley and rice.


Miso ramen. | Hsuanya Tsai

  • The popular pastime karaoke means “empty orchestra” in Japanese.
  • Raised floors in Japanese homes are an indication that you have to take your shoes off before entering.
  • Japanese fugu (blowfish) chefs train for about 11 years to master their trade.
  • Christmas is celebrated like Valentine’s Day in Japan.
  • Japanese geishas (“performing artist”) were initially men.

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Historical Sites: Bank of Japan

  • Posted by:
  • August 15, 2016

The roots of monetary currency began before the 8th century in Japan and took the form of arrowheads, gold powder, and rice grains. Japanese coinage was inspired by the Chinese Tang coinage, Kaigentsūhō (Kai Yuan Tong Bao in Chinese). The first Japanese formal currency system was Kōchōsen (“Imperial currency”). The Wadōkaichin, or Wadō-kaihō, is the oldest official Japanese coinage minted as early as 708 CE on the orders of Empress Gemmei.


Bank of Japan.

Japan’s financial system is similar to those of other industrialized nations. The Bank of Japan is a tool that implements the monetary policy. The Bank of Japan (Nippon Ginkō), or Nichigin, is the country’s central bank with headquarters in Chūō, Tokyo. The institution was founded after the Meiji Restoration. During the previous eras, all of Japan’s feudal fiefs issued their own money (hansatsu).

Tatsuno_KingoThe New Currency Act of Meiji4 (1871) established the yen as the new decimal currency replacing all the others. The fiefs became prefectures and their mints became private chartered banks which were initially allowed to print money. For some time, both the central government and the “national” banks issued Japanese currencies. This ended when the Bank of Japan was founded in Meiji 15 (October 10, 1882), under the Bank of Japan Act 1882 (June 27, 1882), after a Belgian model.  The institution was granted  a monopoly on controlling the supply of money in 1884.

The headquarters of the Bank of Japan in Tokyo was the site of the former gold mint or the Kinza. It is close to the famous Ginza district whose name means “silver mint.” The Bank of Japan building was built in the style of Neo-baroque architecture popular in the 19th century and was designed by Tatsuno Kingo (October 13, 1854 – 25 March 1919), in 1896. Tatsuno is also known for conceptualizing the Marunouchi building of Tokyo Station (1914). The architectural style of the Bank of Japan displays aspects of the Baroque features of the 17 and 18th centuries.

Tatsuno Kingo.

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Notable Women in Japan’s History

  • Posted by:
  • August 8, 2016

Akiko_YosanoSince World War II, Japanese women have been awarded rights equal to men. Many Japanese women are remembered throughout history for their contributions in different fields such as the arts, science, politics, and social awareness. Here are some of the Japanese women who have helped shape history:

Akiko Yosano (7 December 1878 – 29 May 1942) – Akiko Yosano’s real name at birth was Shō Hō. She was a poet, author, pacifist, social reformer, and pioneering feminist active in the late Meiji, Taishō, and early Shōwa periods. She was one of the most renowned and controversial post-classical female poets of Japan. Her work set an image for herself and a stage for female voices in modern Japan.

Akiko Yosano.

Sadako_OgataSadako Ogata (Born: 16 September 1927) – an academic, author administrator, diplomat, and professor emeritus at Sophia University in Japan, Sadako Ogata is widely acclaimed for the posts she held as the  United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Chairman of the UNICEF Executive Board, and President of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). She is beloved by the Japanese people for her compassion for the less privileged and admired for her dedication to human rights.

Sadako Ogata. | World Economic Forum

Misora_HibariHibari Misora (29 May 1937 – 24 June 1989) – a singer, actress, and cultural icon, Hibari Misora was awarded the Medal of Honor for her contributions to music and improving the welfare of the Japanese people. She was also the first woman to receive the People’s Honour Award (one of the commendations bestowed by the Prime Minister of Japan) for giving the people of Japan hope and encouragement after World War II through her music.

Hibari Misora.

Chiaki_Mukai (1)Chiaki Mukai (Born: 6 May 1952) –  a board-certified vascular surgeon and a JAXA astronaut, Chiaki Mukai was the first Japanese woman in space and the first Japanese citizen to have two space flights. She spent a total of 23 days in space. Her first shuttle mission was aboard the “Columbia” in 1994; the second was on the “Discovery” in 1988.

Chiaki Mukai.

Masako_KatsuraMasako Katsura  (1913–1995) – known as “First Lady of Billiards,” Masako Katsura was a carom or straight rails billiard player who competed in the 1950s. She was among the best in the male-dominated world of professional billiards. Under the tutelage of Japanese champion Kinrey Matsuyama, she became Japan’s only female professional player of billiards. She won second place in Japan’s  three-cushion billiards championships, a popular form of carom billiards, three times. On exhibition games, she ran 10,000 points in a game of straight rail.

Masako Katsura.

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Delicious Japanese Summer Desserts

  • Posted by:
  • August 1, 2016

Summer in Japan is full of excitement: it is a season of fireworks and festivals all around the country.  Almost every night, firework displays color the evening skies. Around Tokyo, there are also several summer purification rites to participate in. Summer in Japan can also bring on the heat. Here are some delicious Japanese summer desserts to enjoy and cool off.

UiroUirō  – a traditional Japanese streamed cake  made from rice flour and sugar. It is similar to mocha in texture. Popular flavors include strawberry, matcha (green tea), chestnut, and yuzu (a citrus indigenous to East Asia).

Uirō. | 小太刀

kuzumochiKuzumochi –  these are mocha cakes made from kuzuko (a starch powder made from the root of the kudzu plant).  The refreshing dessert is usually served cold, topped with a sugar syrup known as kuromitsu or “black honey.”

Kuzumochi. | 663highland

Anmitsu – it’s made from small cubes of agar jelly made from red algae. The jelly is usually made with fruit juice. Anmitsu is served with sweet azuki bean paste, boiled peas, and a variety of seasonal fruits.

4865085825_e62650e196_zKakigōri  – a Japanese type of shaved ice dessert, kakigōri 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.

Kakigōri. | ma_shimaro

Chirin-chirin – this ice cream is similar to sorbet: light and refreshing, perfect for summer. Its name is an imitative word named after the sound of the brass bell ice cream vendors use to attract customers. Chirin-chirin comes in various flavors, but vanilla is the most popular. What makes it so special is its rose petal shape.


Mochi ice cream – this delectable dessert is about the size and shape of a golf ball. It has a mochi outer layer and an ice cream inner layer. Flavors vary from vanilla to matcha (ground green tea.)

Mochi ice cream. | wEnDy

All these desserts are a refreshing break from the summer heat and can be enjoyed not just during hot days, but all year round!


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