The new FU

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

It seems everyone who visits Japan loves Japan’s take on the convenience store, or コンビニ. Part grocery, part cafe, part post-office, part bookstore, part - well, you name it, nowadays the Conbini is as iconic as the ramen restaurant. And two of Japan’s largest chains, Family Mart and Uny, owner of the Circle K/Sunkus stores, just merged last week, turning themselves into a Japanese chain second only to 7-11, a.k.a. Seven & I Holdings, and surpassing the previous #2 chain, Lawson.


Circle K / Sunkus stores will be rebranded as FamilyMart, the current No. 3 player. This merger will lead to a total of about 18,000 FamilyMart outlets in Japan, nearly the same as 7-11, for the merged company, called FamilyMart Uny. FamilyMart and Uny struck an agreement in October last year to merge and set up the holding company, with FamilyMart as the surviving entity. The company will also continue to operate Uny grocery stores, as well. 

FamilyMart has franchise stores in the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, China (Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Suzhou), and Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City). In addition, South Korean franchisees operate two stores in North Korea for South Korean visitors and workers in the Kaesong Industrial Region and Mount Kumgang Tourist Region. The chain tried to launch in the United States, and planned hundreds of stores, but ultimately in 2015 closed the only 8 stores it opened, all in Los Angeles. The South Korean stores are called “CU” and are not owned by the Japanese firm.


The word "Sunkus" is a combination of the words "Sun" and the word “Thanks". The logo is a combination of the words "Sun", "Kids", and “Us.” If the name “Circle K” sounds familiar, its because Uny licensed the Circle K name from Alimentation Couche-Tard, a Canadian convenience store company that owns the Circle K brand - the same brand that was started in Texas in 1951. Ironically, Circle K has a strange tie to Lawson, as well, which originated in Cuyahoga Falls, near Cleveland and Akron, Ohio in 1939. Over time, Lawson’s stores gradually became “Dairy Mart” stores and in 2002, Alimentation Couche-Tard (the same company that owns Circle K!) also bought the assets and name of Dairy Mart. Most U.S. Lawson’s stores became Circle K stores, just like now, in Japan, most Circle K stores will become Family Mart stores. 


As useful as their stores are already, FamilyMart Uny is not planning to stop with simple Conbinis, though. The new giant is pursuing adding Karaoke and day care centers to their stores.

Oh, and their logo? It will be just two letters:  "F U" 

That's not a joke.



The Japan Times

Kyoto News

Japan Today


Tweets and Twits

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Every day, you can find new and interesting ways to practice Japanese. There are plenty of ways to find Japanese to read, and a few to find language partners. Twitter has always been popular in Japan, and an easy and free way to get a stream of modern Japanese, but sometimes you want more than 140 characters of text. 


That’s where “Twitcasting” provides a cool alternative. You might already have heard of Periscope, which is popular in the United States, or Meerkat, its competitor. Twitcasting is similar - allowing you to watch live video-streams uploaded by users all over Japan, famous and, well, not-so-famous. Though Periscope is growing fast in the West, in Asia, Twitcasting has been growing since 2010 and has over 10 million users already! Since 80 percent of those users are in Japan, and most of the rest in Brazil, it’s gone relatively un-noticed in the West.


TwitCasting actually has two different apps — one for broadcast and one for viewing — and allows both broadcasters and viewers alike to chat with one another. It was created by Moi Corporation, a Japanese company. Users go to Twitcasting for a variety of reasons. Some people enjoy live streaming and chatting with the Twitcasting community. Users enjoy sharing their live moments and some interact with viewers while they do daily routines, such as applying make-up, cooking, commuting, chatting, and singing karaoke. Twitcasting’s custom-made encoder makes it possible to livestream almost anywhere as long as there is the slightest of 3G reception.



When former AKB48 idol Tomomi Itano went solo, she streamed promotional videos for a new single on both YouTube and Twitcasting. While only about 4,000 people watched her 37-minute YouTube stream. 22,000 tuned in for her six-minute Twitcasting broadcast. Maco, a popular Japanese singer who covers western artists, asked her Twitcasting followers to support her new album after it was released. It hit number one on the Japan iTunes charts that day. Pop culture icon Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is also a user, and the service has even been featured in a film and a hit manga.


Even Japanese politicians have gotten on board. In last year’s National Diet elections, five parties used Twitcasting to reach voters. A stream by one candidate had over 170,000 viewers. A different candidate in the race for Tokyo governor attracted nearly half a million viewers. Twitcasting’s official Twitter account (@twitcasting_jp) is the third-most followed account for Japanese-language web services and apps, with 1.2 million followers. Only smash-hit mobile game Puzzle & Dragons and Twitter Japan have more followers, with 1.7 and 1.5 million respectively. 

Twitcasting is available on iOS, Android, and PC - and it’s free to watch!


Interested?  Give it a try - here’s a link to some popular Japanese feeds:


Have fun!




Tech in Asia


The Sushi Chef was a woman

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Last month’s election of Tokyo’s first female mayor highlighted just how far women in Japan have come - but also how far they still have to go. One career that has been strangely resistant to women has been the art and practice of sushi making. Although women joined the ranks of other culinary arts years ago, Sushi is still an almost-entirely male dominated art form. 


That is changing, however. At her restaurant "Nadeshico Sushi," Yuki Chizui employs an all-female staff of sushi chefs. This video from Great Big Story and this video from Mode detail the challenges the women of Nadeshico face. "We were trained by male sushi chefs," Chizui says in the video. "Most of them regarded the female staff as merely window dressing. We were expected to just stand there and shape the rice. They didn't expect us to understand how to do more difficult tasks. Our only value to them was in our physical appearance.” 


Nadeshiko Sushi was founded by a temp agency in 2010. Chizui says the company decided to open a restaurant staffed by women to provide jobs to women after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. A large number of women who were working in temp positions lost their jobs in the wake of the financial crisis that followed.


No official statistics are kept on the number of female sushi chefs in Japan, but they are a rarity among the 35,000 listed by the All Japan Sushi Association. In recent years, the Japanese government has made encouraging women in the workforce its mission, seeing that an already stagnant economy would only get worse unless women are freed from their status of homemaker and child-bearer to contribute more to production and growth. The government wants women to fill 30 percent of leadership positions by 2020, an ambitious goal given that women now make up only 8 percent of such positions in companies hiring 100 people or more.


Yumi Chiba is a sushi chef and president of Anago no Uotake Sushi in Shizuoka Prefecture. She has followed in the footsteps of her father and uncle before her, and now works behind a sushi counter in a position typically reserved for men. Chiba has also been entering sushi contests for the past six years, winning silver medals in the bamboo leaf carving and rolled sushi categories in the Chubu regional tournament last year. In November, she will take part in a national competition for the first time.



Women like Chizui are pioneers, said Sachiko Goto, principal of the Tokyo Sushi Academy, where prospective sushi chefs can learn the trade. About one-fifth of the trainees at the academy are women trying to break into the field. The very fact that the school exists is proof of changing times: Sushi skills have traditionally been handed down from father to son, and apprentices often spend years doing dishes and taking out the trash before being allowed to hold a knife. But the aging population and the difficulty of the work have led to a shortage of highly skilled sushi chefs. Goto herself started out as a student at Tokyo Sushi Academy at the age of 40 after spending a couple of decades as a washoku (traditional Japanese cuisine) chef.


Still, many of the academy’s female graduates see learning how to make sushi as a ticket to finding work overseas. “Generally speaking, kitchens abroad welcome women compared to Japan,” Goto said. “Japanese sushi chefs think their jobs will be taken by women. That’s part of the reason they don’t want to accept women into their workforce.” Oona Tempest, who works at Tanoshi Sushi in New York, is one of the few females making her mark on the U.S. sushi sphere. Tempest is lucky, then, because her master at Tanoshi — who abides by magokoro, the concept of having a strong, genuine core spirit — promised early on to train her just as he would a man. “It isn’t about gender here. Work environments like we have are extremely rare,” she explains. Yet that doesn’t stop the occasional skeptical customer from asking her if the temperature of her purportedly warmer hands will harm the fish she touches. 


Niki Nakayama, the celebrated Los Angeles chef behind n/Naka, hopes Nadeshico’s future is “a genuine and authentic endeavor and not something that is gimmicky.” Chizui explains "most people" in Japan believe women are ill-suited to be sushi chefs for ridiculous reasons such as the idea that their hands are too warm. She, however, believes women not only are just as capable as men, but they have their own advantageous qualities. “I hope that someday it’s not ‘male sushi chef’ or ‘female sushi chef,’ just ‘sushi chef,’ ”




The Washington Post

The Guardian


The Japan Times

Gotta Catch 'em All.

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

If you thought this week’s email was going to be about anything other than Pokemon, you probably should just un-subscribe right now.

Thursday saw the Japanese launch of the worldwide phenomenon, Pokemon Go, just in time for summer vacation in Japan.  Pokémon Go is currently available in over 30 countries, including the U.S., Canada and much of Europe, but Japan has so far been left off the list. That’s upset and frustrated a lot of true Pokémon addicts, but Niantic — which has watched the game become more popular than Twitter, Tinder and a host of other top apps — issued a formal apology this week.  Junichi Masuda, general manager of Game Freak, the video game development company responsible for the Pokémon series of role-playing video games, apologized to people in Japan for making them wait such a long time to play the game.

Pokemon already has some big friends in Japan – and big enemies, too. Niantic is augmenting the already significant revenue that the game is making from in-app purchases by allowing selective partners to become “sponsored locations” in the game. A sponsor can create “gyms” — where Pokémon can be battled or trained by gamers — at their retail store or locations, a move that could drive real-world traffic and potential sales to their business.  McDonald’s will be the first launch partner in a tie-in that will see its 3,000 plus fast food restaurants across Japan become gyms for would-be Pokémon collectors

Meanwhile, one of Japan's oldest Shinto shrines has banned the popular smartphone game Pokemon Go from its precinct.  Izumo Shrine in Shimane Prefecture, western Japan, said on its website on Friday that it imposed the ban to preserve the solemn atmosphere and to ensure the safety of visitors.

Certainly, people are both excited and also a little worried.  The Japanese government cybersecurity organization has launched a safety campaign warning of the dangers of Pokémon Go.  An information poster detailing the perils of Pokémon Go was published by a Japanese government agency in anticipation of the game’s release in Japan.   The National center of Incident readiness and Strategy for Cybersecurity (NISC) posted the Message for Pokémon trainers on their official Twitter and LINE accounts on the night of July 20.  The nine-point safety plan details the things to look out for once you start playing the game in Japan. 

Pokemon has also sparked another craze among investors:  Nintendo stock.   Trading in Nintendo shares roughly accounted for a quarter of the entire trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange’s main board this week.  Nintendo’s market valuation doubled since the launch of the game, to 4.5 trillion yen (about $45 billion)



The Guardian

Marks of Beauty, Marks of Shame

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

For Westerners traveling in Japan, it is sometimes hard to anticipate or conform to Japanese customs and culture.  Of course, the Japanese are very forgiving of guests and most Westerns can learn to adjust to the fundamental rules of Japanese life.  However, there is one rule that Westerners just have to accept: If you have a tattoo, you are forbidden to enter many public and private facilities. At hot springs, pools, gyms, hotels and resorts, even Universal Studios Japan, it is common to see a sign barring entry by anyone with a tattoo. More than 50% of Japanese hotels and ryokans nationwide bar entry to their bathing facilities by guests with tattoos, according to a survey by the Japan Tourism Agency (JTA).


In Japanese, Irezumi (入れ墨), horimono (彫り物), shisei (刺青), and tattoo (タトゥー) all mean “tattoo”, although Irezumi is the most common word. The Japanese taboo against tattoos has been around for hundreds of years. Even today, some people will say that they think getting their bodies inked is disrespectful to their parents who have bestowed them their bodies.  Many Japanese people feel that tattoos are “low class” or “dirty”.  In the Edo Period, the government wrote tattoos on criminals’  bodies to show what they had done to others. As population started to rise in cities during the Edo period, the government started to use tattoos to distinguish the criminals.  At the same time, sex workers would tattoo their bodies with the names of favored customers.  During the Meiji period, in 1872, until 1948, tattooing became illegal. Today, under Japanese law, tattooing is a “medical procedure” and requires a license to practice medicine. 


New bans are also appearing recently. In 2014, the Zushi city council passed an ordinance that includes a host of restrictions at its beach, which is regularly packed on weekends with young adults from the Tokyo region during summer. Zushi is a 10-minute train ride from Yokosuka Naval Base, making its beach one of the most accessible for American sailors.  Part of the ordinance that bans the display of tattoos that allegedly scare other beachgoers. 


Although this policy may appear to target Yakuza gangsters, ironically, due to a series of laws cracking down on organized crime, the yakuza themselves are ordering their members to remove tattoos or not get them in the first place. One yakuza boss and tattoo artist laments, “All of my customers now are straight people (katagi). No yakuza in his right mind gets a tattoo now. You can’t do business that way. You can’t rise up the underworld ladder.”’


Meanwhile, Japan has also perfected its own unique style of tattooing that has become renowned worldwide. Tattoo culture in Japan dates back to ancient times. A Chinese historical record written at around 300 A.D., during the Jomon period, said all Japanese men tattooed their faces and bodies.  The Okinawan Ryukyu kingdom as well as to the Ainu people had an extensive tattoo culture.  Priests also applies tattoos to ward off evil spirits.  Even during the Meiji era, Japanese technique was highly praised overseas, and it is said that Prince George and Prince Albert of England were tattooed in Japan. Today, Japanese tattoo artists practice their art without legal authority; on several occasions, the government has prosecuted tattoo artists for operating without a medical license. 


Recently, Japan is facing mounting pressure to change its ancient ways.  In May 2012, the mayor of Osaka and founder of the Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), created a huge controversy by ordering all public employees to confess to whether they had tattoos or not. When he launched his anti-tattoo campaign, Hashimoto said at the time that “citizens feel uneasy or intimidated if they see tattoos (on workers) in services and it undermines trust in the city.” However, in December of 2014, the Osaka District Court ruled that the order was illegal and constituted an invasion of privacy.  The court handed down the ruling in a damages suit filed by a 56-year-old city bus driver, Tadasu Yasuda, who was transferred to a desk job after he refused to answer questions on whether or not he had a tattoo


In Osaka, tattooist Taiki Masuda is challenging Japan’s tattoo laws, arguing that he is practicing what he considers a form of art.  After police arrested him for running his tattoo shop without a license, instead of paying his 300,000 yen (US$2,445) fine, Taiki is taking this fight into the Japanese courts.  In March, the the Japan Tourism Agency asked hot springs owners to permit tattooed-foreigners, although the association isn’t asking for similar exceptions for tattooed Japanese.


If you have tattoos and are planning on visiting Japan, you might run into problems at, for example, hot springs and public pools. You should probably cover your tattoos with bandages or band-aids (if possible!) or rent rooms at hot springs that come with a private bath. For business trips, unless your work is connected to the arts, it might be good to discretely cover your ink (if possible). Here are some links for some tattoo-covering stickers:


Oppose the tattoo ban?  Timeout Tokyo has a petition online to save Japanese Tattoo culture here:




The Japan Times


Stars & Stripes

Kyle's Good Find

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Many Westerners hope to travel to Japan, and a few dream of making a life for themselves there. But apart from teaching English, there are few jobs in Japan for Westerners who have not mastered the language. However, for the few truly brave and adventurous like Kyle Sexton, a little ingenuity and determination can make dreams come true.


Kyle is a native of York, Pennsylvania and graduated from the Rhode Island School of Photography.  He never cooked or baked and certainly never thought he would find a career in food, nor a life abroad. His dream was born the day in 1978 that he ate at a Japanese restaurant in New York. The next day he awoke hungry to learn everything he could about Japan - language, culture, everything he could find. Every day he would have lunch in a restaurant called Shogun (where he was regularly served by Spike Lee’s sister, he recalls) and every weekend he’d go to a little cafe in the Village in Manhattan where they would show Japanese TV shows with English subtitles. He surrounded himself with all things Japanese and set his sights on making his way to the country.


In 1984, with his dream in his heart but no real plan in his head, he headed for Japan with $300 in his pocket. He found a job teaching English, met his wife, fell in love, got married, and had his first two children.  Meanwhile, he began baking American baked goods from their apartment and giving them to his friends.  Never having baked before, he learned to bake from books, baking in his tiny apartment and delivering his confections all over the city.


The turning point came when three different friends gave him a handshake loan of 3 million yen to start his own business.  Of course, being Japanese, his friends refused to accept interest on their loans - they considered their loans to be a gift to their friend. With the help of another friend, he opened his bakery in 1991 in Nakano, on the outskirts of Shibuya. Coincidentally, the U.S. TV show “Twin Peaks” was a hit in Japan, at the time, and people flocked to Kyle to find a delicious cherry pie, just like Special Agent Dale Cooper.  By 1994, “Kyle’s Good Finds” was turning a profit of almost $100,000 U.S. per year.  


Today, Kyle’s bakery typically only produces a few items per day: Carrot cake, brownies, cheesecake, banana bread, applesauce spice cake and pumpkin apple bread are regular sellers.  

Kyle also runs a soul-food catering company serving beans and rice, chicken, potato and macaroni salads, muffins, corn bread, and delivers large orders of baked goods around Tokyo as well. 


With his wife, Shimizu, they are raising their 4 children, Kyle, Elena, Safia and Xavier - three of whom are at University at the same time!  He met his wife in 1985 at the Japan African-American Friendship Association. It hasn’t been an easy life, to be sure.  Kyle is African-American and has not only experienced racism himself, but watched as his children experienced prejudice as well. Shimizu’s family opposed their marriage and for years refused to see any of their children. When Shimizu’s father became ill with stomach cancer, he told her not to bring her children when she visited him; she brought them anyway.  


Today, Kyle is fluent in Japanese, conducting all his business in Japanese and navigating the sometimes-complicated world of Japanese regulations and business relationships. His children attend school in Japanese and speak Japanese with their mother and English with their father. His customers are loyal and enthusiastic - both because of the delicious food and also because of Kyle’s friendly and generous personality.  Maybe if you are in Nakano, Tokyo, one day you can visit his bakery!








Metropolis Japan

The Japan Times

Black Enterprise 

Tokyo Weekender

So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

It’s almost time to scratch off a century-old landmark that is on nearly every Tokyo “must-see” list:  Tsukiji Fish Market is winding down, as Japan moves the world’s largest fish market to a brand-new location. Since the Kanto earthquake of 1923 destroyed its predecessor, the market has withstood war and changing times. The wholesale market on the banks of the Sumida River several minutes from Ginza opened in 1935 and is best known for its predawn tuna auction. The world's biggest and most famous fish and seafood market is due to move in November to a massive complex further south in Tokyo Bay, making way for redevelopment of the prime slice of downtown real estate.  With plans to run a traffic artery directly through it and build an Olympic press venue there, the Japanese government plans to wipe out world-famous and legendary fish market before the 2020 Olympics.  


Plans have been in the works for almost 20 years to move Tsukiji, which is a visibly old-school operation.  Merchants and vendors scrawl orders and keep their books on paper, and many question the safety of the existing facility.  It sits on prime Tokyo real estate - just a mile (1.5 km) south of Tokyo Station.  Yet it is a critical part of the Japanese economy.  An estimated 17% of the world's total fish catch passes through its gates. It is also uniquely Japanese; although architects attempted to study European and American markets to find an ideal design, they had to come up with their own design to meet the vast needs of the Japanese public: A quarter circular shape, which allowed easier access and handling for freight trains and the steel structure above allowed a wide, continuous space free from columns and subdivisions.  


The new site will be high-tech, modern, expensive - and also not exactly designed for tourists.  It is across Tokyo Bay and not easily accessed by subway or train. It is a far cry from its origins; the first market in Tokyo was established by Tokugawa Ieyasu during the Edo period to provide food for Edo castle. Tokugawa Ieyasu invited fishermen from Tsukuda, Osaka to Edo to provide fish for the castle. Fish not bought by the castle was sold near the Nihonbashi bridge, at a market called uogashi (literally, "fish quay") which was one of many specialized wholesale markets that lined the canals of Edo.  The Great Kantō earthquake in 1923 devastated much of central Tokyo, including the Nihonbashi fish market. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the market was relocated to the Tsukiji district and, after the construction of a modern market facility was completed in 1935.  


Time is running out - the last famous New Year’s Tuna auction took place in January. Visitors are lining up every morning at 3 a.m. to watch the frozen tuna auction, which takes place between 5:25 a.m. and 6:15 a.m.  If you wish to attend, check out the market’s website at:  The final move has been set for November 7, 2016.  


Less certain is the fate of the neighborhood of shops next to Tsukiji, the "outer market" (jōgai-shijō) shops, a network of small, family-owned retail shops selling fish and meat, seaweed and sweets, knickknacks and kitchen supplies.  While the "inner market" (jōnai-shijō) is set to move, the outer market will ostensibly remain, although no one knows what will happen to the neighborhood after Tsukiji leaves.  There are plans to build a new retail market in Tsukiji’s place as well. 




The Economist

The New York Times

Yahoo News

The Japan Times



Toy Travel

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

The return of spring makes many of us 懐かしい for Japan and want to travel there again.  Unfortunately, it can be pretty expensive - especially as the Yen returns from its record low value. Fortunately, there is a way for part of your family to go to Japan and enjoy a vacation for a fraction of the cost - in this case, stuffed animals!  


The Japanese travel agency Unagi Travel ( offers trips such as a tour of Kamakura for a mere $55, and a tour of Tokyo for only $45. They accept offers from the U.S. and Europe, and even feature tours to hot springs.  There are also "mystery tours," which are priced at $35, and involve your stuffed friend getting on an airplane and jetting off to a mysterious location. So you can enjoy the trip along with your childhood toy, they will post pictures to Facebook as your 縫いぐるみ enjoys the best Japan has to offer. 


For the last three years, Sonoe Azuma, 38, of Unagi Travel has been organizing stuffed animal tours throughout Japan, Europe and the United States. There is a limit on size; according to Unagi rules, furry friends must be lighter than 250 grams/0.55 pounds. "So far, more than 200 stuffed animals have participated in the trips, and some of them sign up regularly. I would say 40 percent of my business is repeat customers," Azuma told The Yomiuri Shimbun. She now organizes ten trips a month and has even taken stuffed animals abroad to the U.S. and Europe.


In late 2013, Azuma told the Japan Times that she takes these tours very seriously. She noted that while "anyone could do it if it was simply about taking pictures of stuffed animals," she is more responsible, acting as if she were "taking care of other people's children."


You may wonder why people spend the money for this service, but for some people, it can be an inspiration.  According to the Japan News, one woman became reclusive after it became difficult for her to walk due to illness.  That changed after she saw the photos of her stuffed animal on one of Azuma’s tours. She worked to rehabilitate her legs and visited a neighboring prefecture for the first time in several years.  “Seeing my stuffed animal traveling encouraged me," said the woman. "I began to think that I should do what I can do, instead of lamenting over things that I can't




The Japan Times


Invisible Trains

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

For Japan, the Shinkansen (新幹線, new trunk line) has been an iconic image since its worldwide debut over 50 years ago.  But now, Japan is experimenting with a different image altogether - the Invisible Train. Japanese train-travel company Seibu Railway hopes to make a major design leap in time for their 100th anniversary; a new line of fast commuter trains that “blend into the landscape.”


The trains aren’t really “invisible” - Seibu’s new trains won’t really be “invisible” so much as “reflective,” but a simulated disappearing act is the goal of the project.  Architect Kazuyo Sejima – a Pritzker Prize laureate best known for her work with Japanese firm SANAA – was commissioned by the Seibu Group to design a train for the company's 100th anniversary.  She has never designed a train before.  


Seibu Group owns Seibu Railways, which operates around 180 kilometres of railway networks around Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture.  The exterior’s active camouflage is only vaguely described as coated with “a semi-reflective surface.”  The Japanese architect will redesign both the exterior and interior of the company's Red Arrow commuter train.  The vehicles themselves will be built by Hitachi, Ltd which contributed to the development of the original Shinkansen.  


The ‘invisible’ train celebrates Seibu Railway's 100th anniversary.



iGo for broke

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

This month, Artificial Intelligence (“AI”) achieved something once thought impossible - AlphaGo, a program developed by Google's DeepMind unit, defeated legendary Go player Lee Se-dol in Seoul, South Korea. AlphaGo made headlines in January when DeepMind – an artificial intelligence company that Google bought in 2014 – announced that its AI had defeated reigning European champion Fan Hui 5–0.  This victory marks a significant advancement in AI -  Go (in Japanese, “igo”) is something of a Holy Grail for AI developers, whose first global success in board games came in 1997 when IBM’s Deep Blue defeated then-world chess champion Gary Kasparov.


Why does it matter so much?  Well, here’s an explanation by Japanese Table founder John Berryman:


<<In 1997 we built a computer that could beat a the best chess player in the world, but even as of late last year the idea of building a Go AI that could beat a professional player was not anticipated in this decade. The difficulty with Go is that for each turn there are simply too many possible moves, so you can't use the approach used with chess of just looking at all possible moves going forward (well, all reasonable moved). Another problem with building a Go AI is that, unlike chess, it's difficult to look at the board during the middle of a game and get an idea of who has the better board position. Humans lean upon intuition to play Go and it was thought that an AI that could beat a human professional would have to exhibit a similar intuition.


Folks were rather astounded when AlphaGo beat a professional player back last fall. AlphaGo is built with the new "deep learning" neural network approaches that have been gaining a lot of academic interest recently. Basically they trained two networks. One was trained to look at a board and guess the next move that would be made. The other was trained to look at a board and determine who would win the match based upon the current board position. It turns out that this basically covers the two "difficult" things presented in the first paragraph. Once these two networks were good enough, they were used together in one program to build a Go AI. Basically, when it was the AI's turn to move, the first network was used to predict the evolution of the game for quite a large set of moves into the future (but it didn't have to try every possible move), and then for each future board position the AI would estimate the probability that it would win the game. Based upon all that simulation, the AI would then simply chose the next move that most likely lead to success.


The finally ingredient in making the AI so strong is that it started playing games with itself. When the first two networks were trained, they were trained with a database of tons and tons of matches from high level players (millions of matches). But when the full Go AI was assembled it was allowed to start playing games with itself - hundreds of millions. As it played it became better and better until in the recent match with #2 Go player, Sedol, it won 4 out of 5 matches.


It's truly a remarkable achievement in AI.>>


What makes Go such a great target of DeepMind and Google’s AI team is the nature of the game itself.  Created more than 2,500 years ago in China, Go has simple rules, but requires a mixture of complicated strategy and foresight.  The game begins with an empty board. There’s only one type of stone, unlike Chess that has six different pieces. The two players alternate turns, placing one of their stones on any vacant intersections of the lines at each turn. The stones are not moved once they’re played. However they may be “captured,” in which case they are removed from the board. You can capture stones by completely surrounding them, like this (white is one stone away from capturing the black stone in this example).  But the goal isn’t to capture as many stones as possible. The main object of the game is to use your stones to form territories and occupy the most space possible. Moreover, the sheer number of possible moves is what makes Go such a complicated game to learn. After the first two moves of a chess game, there are 400 possible next moves — in Go, there are close to 130,000.


And as Google gets better at reading and predicting human behavior, it will be able to apply its progress in AI to other areas. According to Brown University computer scientist Michael L. Littman, AlphaGo’s technology could be applied to Google’s self-driving cars, where the AI has to make decisions continuously, or in a problem-solving search capacity, like showing a gluten-free baking recipe. Smartphone assistants that are smart and contextual could be the next area of focus for DeepMind, as well as healthcare and robotics. DeepMind’s ability to sift through massive amounts of data and come up with the best possible next move could immensely help all of those industries.  






The Japan Times

The Verge

The Real Fake News

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Reading the Japanese news is a great way to learn Japanese, but let’s face it: it’s BORING.  But what if I told you that there is a Japanese news site that, just like The Onion, pokes fun at news, celebrities and culture, and still is a great way to practice your Japanese?


There is: it’s called the Kyoko Shinbun.


The Kyoko Shinbun, just like The Onion, is a website that covers the fake news - made-stories in Japanese about Japan and the world.  For example, you can read about Italy’s plans to “repair” the Leaning Tower of Pisa (, or the discovery that Pi only has 10 digits and is not a prime number (  Other headlines read  "Relay runner tosses Olympic torch into Thames” or "Twitter to be limited to 17 letters starting next month.”  They started in 2004


Just like The Onion, Kyoko Shimbun has had its share of people who are fooled by its reportage of nonexistent happenings, thinking they are actually true. Readers who do not realize that “Kyoko” means “false” are liable to fall for stories like the one that said Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto was proposing an ordinance that would require all elementary pupils and junior high school students in the city to send at least one tweet a day.


Known simply as "UK," the Kyoko Shimbun editor is a thirtysomething cram school teacher from Shiga Prefecture.


Still, sometimes the best lies can become the truth.  In a fake announcement published back in January of 2014, Kyoko Shinbun explained that due to each of Japan’s major mobile providers now carrying the iPhone, KDDI’s brand au would have to find another niche to fill. So, they decided to enter the rice cooker market.  In addition to the technical specs, there were a lot of luxury features as well like the ability to automatically post a message of “rice now” onto your Twitter feed for all your followers to see. In the ficitious article, KDDI felt that by bringing their mobile phone expertise to the rice cooker game, they could dominate the competition with the device, called the “Infojar.”  


But when KDDI announced that they actually decided to try to develop the smart-rice cooker, Kyoko news just tweeted: “AAAAAAAAAAAAA!” on their feed. And fantasy may just become a reality.

After all, is it really crazier than Audi’s announcement that their flagship luxury car, the A8, will come with a personal rice cooker in select models when it debuts in Japan?  Don’t believe me?  Here’s the link!


(But be sure to read the date of Audi’s post…)








The Asahi Shinbun

Rocket News 24

Negative Plus

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

If your New Years resolution was to stay “Positive,” look out: Japan has decided to go “Negative” in a big way.  This week, the Bank of Japan decided to institute “negative interest rates” in an effort to boost the Japanese economy.  If you’ve been scratching your head trying to understand what that means, you are not alone! 


Europe has been trying out negative interest rates for a few years now - in Denmark, that means that, if you are paying a mortgage, the bank actually pays YOU interest on your money!  Businesses pre-pay their taxes because the value of their money will drop over time and they will end up paying more if they don’t pay now.  If you buy a bond, the bank charges you and you will get less money back than you put into the bank.  


In theory, negative rates will push banks to lend more to companies, which would then spend and hire.  It could even mean that individuals with bank accounts will see their accounts charged if they do not spend their money, forcing businesses and consumers both to spend money or suffer a loss. Japan has plenty of cash to spend: More than half of the $14 trillion in Japanese households’ financial assets are either bank deposits or cash, compared with only 13.7% for the United States and 34.4% for the euro zone.


The Bank of Japan will apply an interest rate of minus 0.1 percent to some current account deposits that commercial banks hold with it starting on Feb. 16.  Banks in Japan are already cutting their interest rates.  Sony Bank has already reduced the interest rate on ordinary deposits to 0.001 percent.  Bank of Yokohama Ltd, one of Japan’s biggest regional lenders, cut its one-year rate to 0.02% from 0.025%, and Resona Bank, a unit of fourth-largest lender Resona Holdings, halved its rate to 0.025% on five-year deposits.



Not everyone is happy, however.  Former all-star baseball player and controversial figure Jose Canseco went on twitter to express his outrage, at one point saying "Bank of Japan should call them willie wonka bonds "YOU GET NOTHING. yOU LOSE!”


Either way, for now, there is a silver lining for those of us living in the United States.  By Friday evening, the yen was trading at 120.91 to the dollar, off 1.76 percent.  The move spurred the U.S. stock market - the Dow industrials climbed nearly 400 points Friday. 




The Japan Times


The New York Times

The Asahi Shinbun

Japan Today

Phoning it in

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

It’s hard to find time in a busy day to practice Japanese, and even harder when don’t have anyone with whom to practice. But there are many ways to practice that are available anytime, and when it comes to learning, repetition is key!  After all, when it comes to learning, repetition is key!  


One way to practice is right at your fingertips - in fact, it might be in your hands right now. Your smartphone! Perhaps you have an iPhone, or an Android phone, or something similar. Either way, your apps, your buttons, the phone’s voice (Siri/Cortana, etc.), the interface - it’s all in English. You probably can navigate it without even reading the buttons.  


So why not take the plunge and change your OS’s language to Japanese?  By the time you are done reading this email, you could be practicing reading Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana dozens of times a day.  For example, in iOs, when you change your language to Japanese, suddenly your apps are in Japanese too - even Google Maps!  Just be careful - your directions will now be in Japanese too!  It’s fun: try starting out by going somewhere familiar to you, and you’ll have a happy voice giving you directions in Japanese along the way.  (By the time you get to Japan and use GPS there, you’ll be an expert!).  


It’s easy - just go into your settings, find “language” and change it to Japanese.  In iOs, be sure to change Siri’s language to Japanese first - it’ll be easier than changing it later. If you don’t like it, just remember where the button is and you can change back anytime.  You can still type in English, of course - by now, you probably have installed a couple of keyboards, including English and Japanese.  

If not, here’s how to do it in iOs


and here’s how to do it in Android:



Give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.

2015 Words of the Year

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

明けましておめでとうございます! Happy New Year to everyone - it’s 2016, and the New Year brings opportunity and promise. Did you keep all of your resolutions?  If one of them was to learn more Japanese vocabulary, you better check your vocab list; 2015 brought several new words and phrases into the Japanese language.  


The biggest new phrase of the year was probably 爆買い (“Bakugai”) which means “explosive buying”, a phrase referring to tourists on a buying spree in Japan.  With the Yen at a historic low and wealthy Chinese and other foreign visitors, Japanese shop owners were stunned by foreign shoppers this year who spent record amounts on Japanese goods.  


There are also some slang or colloquial phrases that hit it big in 2015. To start with, you might hear someone say "わず (wazu)” - as in "たけしと寿司わず。おいしかった〜!!("I had sushi with Takeshi. It was delicious!”).  It’s just the English word “was”, used to replace "〜だった” or "〜でした”.  Another might be "とりま (torima)” - like, "とりま今日は眠いから帰るわ” ("Anyways…Today I'm going back home because I feel sleepy”).  If that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s just a shortened version of “とりあえずまあ”


As you can see, popular phrases usually come from shortened versions of proper Japanese.  So, “秒で”, pronounced "byou de”, is an abbreviation meaning “in a second” ("どこでも秒で行く” - I’ll go on the spot!”).  Something is very difficult or miserable if it is "つらたん”, which comes from “つらい”.


If you don’t like this list, you might say that you are “おこ”, which comes from “おこる”.  It means angry, but usually in a funny or joking way.  Just don’t “ディスる”.   ディスったらダメだよ!  Can you get was it means?  (Hint - what is the English slang root?)




Terrible Lizard

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Get Ready - July 29, 2016 marks the return of a giant of Japanese cinema.  Godzilla. Toho Cinemas is bringing back, after a 12-year absence, the iconic creature to Japanese screens.  

Check out the “Teaser” trailer here:


The movie is being directed by the famous director Hideaki Anno, creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, who also wrote the picture.  The other co-director, Shinji Higuchi, maker of this year’s “Attack on Titan”, is in charge of the film’s special effects.  Godzilla promises to be big - like, actually quite big.  Godzilla, in the new film "Godzilla Resurgence” (aka “Shin Godzilla”), will be 118.5 meters (389 feet) tall, compared to just 108 meters (354 feet) for the 2014 Hollywood “Godzilla” directed by Gareth Edwards.


The last made-in-Japan Godzilla was Ryuhei Kitamura's 2004 "Godzilla: Final Wars".  The film's Japanese title, "Shin Gojira", signifies that it is not a "revival" or a "rebirth." While it can be translated as "New Godzilla," it can also mean "True Godzilla," "God Godzilla," and other connotations, and director Anno selected the name due to the double-meanings.  Like the classic Godzilla films, this film promises to tap into deep fears over modern threats to life and society.  Co-director Higuchi promised that this will be the scariest Godzilla yet, quoting the horrors of the real world, like 9/11, the March 11 tsunami, and subsequent Fukushima nuclear crisis. The film will use a hybrid of actors moving through miniatures (a staple of the early Godzilla films), computer graphics, and special effects.


If you can’t wait, of course, you can always visit Godzilla at his home, above the Toho Cinema theatre in Shinjuku, Tokyo.  The Japanese government, in a ceremony this year, issued the monster official Japanese residency papers.  The papers note that the 61-year-old monster was born on April 9, 2015, the year the first Godzilla film from director Ishirō Honda. Since then, Toho has made 28 other Godzilla movies that sometimes saw the lizard defending humanity by fighting other monsters, and other times Godzilla had to be fought off by even more monsters and the militarized humans.  If you are a real Godzilla fan, you can even book a room at the Hotel Gracery in Shinjuku, which opened this year and offers Godzilla-themed rooms and views of the monster outside the window. 


The Japanese Godzilla films are unrelated to the American Godzilla remake that hit screens last year.  However, Gareth Edwards's followup to Godzilla will hit theaters on June 8, 2018. The first of his Godzilla movies made over $500 million worldwide. Edwards teased Godzilla 2 at San Diego Comic-Con in 2014, hinting at the appearance of Rodan and Mothra in the sequel.  As for the 1998 American version, the Japanese version killed off that creature in the 2004 “Final Wars” movie, but unfortunately also destroyed the Sydney Opera House in the process.






Anime News Network




The Lazy Spirit

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

This week, Japan lost an iconic artist of the 20th century.  Shigeru Mizuki (水木 しげる), best known for his series GeGeGe No Kitaro (ゲゲゲの鬼太郎), died on Monday at the age of 93.  Mizuki, whose real name was Shigeru Mura, barely survived World War II, during which he was sent to Rabaul — a scene of fierce fighting — in what is now Papua New Guinea. He suffered from malaria and lost his left arm in a U.S. airstrike, but went on to become one of the father’s of modern Japanese cartoons and animation.  


Mizuki was originally named Shigeru Mura (武良 茂 Mura Shigeru). While in a Japanese field hospital on Rabaul, he was befriended by the local Tolai tribespeople, who offered him land, a home, and citizenship via marriage to one of their women.  Mizuki, later shamed by a military doctor into returning home, then returned to Japan first to face his parents.  His older brother, an artillery officer, was convicted as a war criminal for having prisoners of war executed. He remarried in Japan and from his return until 1956 he worked as a movie theater operator, until his first break as a cartoonist.  In 1957, Mizuki released his debut work, Rocketman. 


But Mizuki’s most famous work soon followed.  The title of the original story was Hakaba no Kitarō (墓場の鬼太郎), literally meaning "Kitarō (of the) Graveyard". This story was based on an early 20th-century Japanese folk tale performed on kamishibai, illustrated story boards used by traveling storytellers.  The story centers around Japanese Yokai, which are supernatural beings in Japanese folklore.  The word yōkai is made up of the kanji for "bewitching; attractive; calamity" and "apparition; mystery; suspicious". They can also be called ayakashi (妖), mononoke (物の怪), or mamono (魔物). Yōkai range eclectically from the malevolent to the mischievous, and occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them. Often they possess animal features (such as the Kappa, which is similar to a turtle, or the Tengu which has wings), but other times they can appear mostly human, while others look like inanimate objects and still others have no discernible shape. Yokai are still popular today, and the anime series "Yokai Watch" is currently one of the biggest commercial successes in all of Japan.  


In Mizuki’s story, Kitarō is a yōkai boy born in a cemetery and, aside from his mostly decayed father, the last living member of the Ghost Tribe (幽霊族 yūrei zoku). He is missing his left eye, but his hair usually covers the empty socket. He fights for peace between humans and yōkai, which generally involves protecting the former from the wiles of the latter. The work Hakaba Kitarō was published as a rental manga in 1960, but it was considered too scary for children. In 1965, renamed "Hakaba no Kitarō", it appeared in Shōnen Magazine and ran through 1970. The series was renamed "GeGeGe-no-Kitarō" in 1967 and continued on Shōnen Sunday, Shōnen Action, Shukan Jitsuwa and many other magazines.


The manga became immensely popular and soon became an anime as well.  Six anime adaptations were made from the original GeGeGe no Kitarō manga series. Gegege no Kitarō was broadcast on Fuji Television and all of the adaptations were animated by Toei Animation. The opening theme to all five series is "Gegege no Kitarō". As recently as January 2008, an all new anime (also produced by Toei) premiered on Fuji TV.  


It was only recently that Mizuki has become recognized in the west.  In 2011, his semi-autobiographical war story "Onward Towards Our Noble Deaths", which he wrote in 1973, won an Eisner Award.  In the story, he tells of the day-to-day trials of soldiers as well as the horrific incompetence of their leaders: The unit survives an attack, but because their deaths have already been announced, their commander tells them to go on a suicide mission and not to return alive. The book is fictionalized but based on his own experiences; Mizuki was the only survivor of his unit and was ordered to die by his commanders. Soon after, his two volume history of the Showa period, Showa, won the 2015 Eisner award. 


Mizuki’s own life became the subject of a popular NHK drama, NHK’s morning asadora Gegege no Nyobo (ゲゲゲの女房), which is based on the autobiography of Mizuki’s wife, Nunoe Mura, and details their early life together and their struggle against poverty.  


The tiny port town where Mizuki grew up, Sakaimoto, on the coast north of Hiroshima, has even embraced Mizuki’s legacy and,in the process, and has become a major tourist attraction.  The town built 153 bronze statues of Yokai throughout the town and established a museum in his honor.  The train from Yonago to Sakaiminato Town is painted with the artwork of Mizuki and called the Nekomusume Train.  Even the taxis and the police koban box have images from GeGeGe No Kitaro.  Believe it or not, Yonago City airport is even now renamed Yonago Kitaro Airport.  In 2010, a record 3.72 million tourists visited the area.  


“I’m the type of person who doesn’t do anything he dislikes. Because I did only what I liked, I’ve been able to work until now.” The theme song he wrote for the animated version of “GeGeGe no Kitaro” goes: “GeGeGe no Ge, Yokai have to do nothing, No school and no tests.”  In his final years, Mizuki’s favorite saying was “be lazy.”  Nevertheless, Mizuki touched the lives of generations of Japanese people and his legacy will live on for many years.  



The Japan News

The Japan Times

The Asahi Shinbone



Post No Bills

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

2015 is almost over, and this year’s biggest IPO (Initial Public Stock Offering) is already breaking records - at $11.5 billion, 

What is it?  An internet company?  An entertainment producer?  An oil conglomerate?  


It’s the Post Office. 


The Japanese Post Office, to be exact. Japan Post, which is listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, was the largest offering since the $25 billion debut last year of Alibaba, the Chinese Internet giant. It is also the biggest privatization in Japan since 1987, when the government began selling off the state-owned telephone monopoly.  Like Germany and Great Britain before it, Japan has finally decided to part with its government-run Post Office bank. 


The Post Office is a a crucial institution for the citizens of Japan. It has 24,000 post offices, far outnumbering all branches of Japan’s national banks combined. Most post offices deliver mail, take bank deposits and sell life insurance in the same building. In rural areas, they often serve as the principal lifeline to the outside world of commerce. It has been an institution since 1871, when it began as a state-owned entity designed to bring basic postal and financial services to distant corners of Japan.  Prior to that several nations maintained foreign post offices. The British maintained post offices in Yokohama (opened 1859), Nagasaki (1860), and Kobe (1869).  The United States opened post offices in Yokohama and Nagasaki in 1867, in Kobe in 1868, and in Hakodate in 1871, using US stamps, and closing in 1874.  


In 1870, Baron Maeshima visited London to learn the workings of the British postal system, and founded Japan's postal system in 1871.  Maeshima brought back Britain’s model, which included not only mail service, but also banking and savings services for average citizens.  Soon, the Post Office began to make pension payments and accept payments for utilities and other services.  Today, a Post Office account is necessary to pay several important bills and to function in modern society.  


However, the Post Office is not just a bank for the citizens of Japan.  It’s also a key source of funds for the government.  Whether it was a new bullet train line, aid for struggling small businesses or money to finance the national debt, politicians could call on Japan Post to assign a portion of Japanese citizens’ nest eggs to the task, through the nationwide network of savings banks it operates through its more than 20,000 post office branches.  Japan Post’s savings bank holds the equivalent of more than $1.4 trillion of deposits, making it one of the world’s biggest financial institutions. Part of that is due to Japanese culture; Of the $1.7 trillion in financial assets held by Japanese citizens, 51% of that is deposits with banks, while in the US the figure is about 12%.  


It is also a key ally for any aspiring political candidate or party.  Rural postmasters can become politically powerful, given that they have intimate connections with their community, often know everyone in town, and own the land under their post office.  They often hand their position down to their children and can be vital to political power in Tokyo.  Junichiro Koizumi, who became Prime Minister in 2003, attempted to privatize the bank a decade ago, but instead saw his own party lose crucial support and ultimately lost control of the government to another party.  However, he managed to introduce fundamental reforms that laid the groundwork for this week’s IPO.  


A glut of buy orders for shares of Japan Post Holdings meant the stock went untraded for more than half an hour on its first day on the market. It ultimately made its debut at 1,631 yen — or $13.49 — per share, 16.5 percent higher than its I.P.O. price. Two subsidiaries that operate banking and insurance businesses, which were listed separately, also faced a surplus of buy orders. Japan Post Bank finally opened at ¥1,680, up 16 percent from its I.P.O. price, and Japan Post Insurance opened 33 percent higher.

Japan Post Holdings finished 25.7 percent above its I.P.O. price at ¥1,760. Japan Post Bank ended 15.2 percent higher at ¥1,671, and Japan Post Insurance closed up 55.9 percent at ¥3,430. The Nikkei 225-stock average closed 1.3 percent higher






The New York Times

The Wall Street Journal

The Financial Times 


This is Halloween?

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

This weekend is Halloween, an American tradition that grew out of a Gaelic, pre-Christian harvest festival in Ireland.  Of course, today Halloween is celebrated all over the world, and Japan is no exception.  After all, the Japanese aren’t going to give up the chance to dress up and have fun!  But as with other traditions, Japan has is making Halloween its own.  


Halloween in Japan is going to be big this year - it is estimated to be over a billion dollars (122 billion yen), which is huge, even compared with Valentine’s Day, which is 125 billion yen. But on Halloween, even though people dress up, “trick-or-treating” is still very rare.  In fact, one of the few organizations to cater to trick or treaters cancelled their celebration this year.  But don’t be too disappointed.  That organization is the Yamaguchi-Gumi branch of the Japanese Yakuza; they have traditionally given out candy and sweets to children on Halloween, although this year they cancelled their celebration due to an internal….dispute within the organization.  


Dressing up and having a great time is plenty popular, though.  Last last weekend, 3,000 people staged a costume parade in Tokyo’s Roppongi district that drew 98,000 spectators, while at a separate event near JR Kawasaki Station 2,500 people in costume attracted 110,000 spectators, according to organizers.  This weekend, online video-sharing service Nico Nico (originally Nico Nico Douga) is organizing a “cosplay” costume event at multiple locations in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro district that will be streamed simultaneously online.  Meanwhile, local celebrations are scheduled across the nation, including in Sapporo, Osaka, Yokohama, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Okinawa.


The Kawasaki parade, which had a Star Wars theme to celebrate the upcoming December release of the seventh film in George Lucas’s popular series. Some Star Wars nebuta floats from the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri held in August were on hand to liven up the proceedings, and around 2,500 costumed participants came to the Kawasaki streets from a galaxy far, far away to show off their cosplay skills. In Shiubya and Roppongi, the crowds were so large that the Tokyo Metropolitan Police even deployed their famous “DJ Policeman” to direct the crowds.  He became famous during the FIFA world cup qualification and is now a celebrity public servant in his own right.  Here he is directing crowds at the world famous Shibuya crossing.


The growth appears to really have started to explode about five years ago.  Today,, one of the nation’s biggest online retailers, expects an increase in sales this year through its Halloween store section. It said orders for children’s costumes had peaked earlier in recent years, prompting its decision to open the Halloween section on Aug. 28. Meanwhile, 7-11 has created Halloween sections at all of its Ito-Yokado supermarket outlets. Tokyo Disneyland, seen as a driving force behind Halloween’s surge in Japan, is expecting a spike in guests over the weekend, and visitors have been encouraged to wear Disney-themed costumes all week.


Want to learn more about Halloween in Japan?

Check out this video, designed by Nonalog, a group in Japan, to teach Japanese people all about Halloween





The Japan Times


The Daily Beast

Listening on the Go

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Japanese music is a fun way to enjoy and learn Japanese, and Japan has a rich and vibrant music culture.  Unfortunately, it can be hard to find new music - other than the big, popular acts like AKB48, Hatsune Miku, and other such artists, finding new Japanese music is harder than it is for many other countries.  That’s because Japan is very strict about music licensing and because, believe it or not, Japan is a little behind the times when it comes to music distribution.  Still, a few new services have launched that are trying to make it easier to enjoy music by Japanese artists.


This year, three new online streaming services have launched in Japan - Line Music, Awa Music, and Google Play.  Soon, Apple Music and Spotify will join them.  These services are trying to do what Sony and others have so far failed to do - bring online, streaming music to Japanese customers, and change the way that Japanese customers listen to music.  With a little work, you can enjoy these services too! 


Japan is the world's number two music market, estimated to be worth $2.6 billion in 2014, trailing only the $4.8 billion US market.  But about 78 percent of the Japanese market accounts for packaged sales, such as CDs, contrasting sharply with the US where about 70 percent of the music industry's sales now come form digital offerings.  There are significant legal barriers to streaming music, and even if music is available on YouTube, it is often not allowed to be shown outside of Japan.  Japanese consumers tend to favour physical collectibles, and some acts sell multiple covers of the same album to encourage die-hard fans to buy them all.


Now, Line, Awa Music, Apple, Spotify, and Google are getting into the streaming business. First, Information technology firm CyberAgent and music giant Avex Group rolled out their AWA streaming service.  The app offers a three-month free trial, after which consumers will have to pay a monthly fee.  It boasts over 1 million songs and access to numerous Japanese and foreign artists.  The app allows you to download songs to listen offline, as well, as part of the service without an additional fee. 


Line, which is already a huge provider of instant messaging and internet calling to Japanese customers, started a streaming service this year that offers unlimited access to a collection of more than 1.5 million songs for 1,000 yen (US$8) a month.  The service is free for the first two months, but will cost ¥1,000 (about $8) for unlimited access, or ¥500 ($4) for 20 hours of streaming. Line plans to expand the catalog to 30 million tracks by next year.  The company, which makes most of its money by selling stickers and other such items for its messaging app, has been making ventures into the digital-delivery world.  Line recently launched an Uber competitor called Line Taxi, a payment service called Line Pay, a food delivery app called Line Wow, and countless other services designed to make people use Line for as much of their smartphone's functionality as possible.


Google’s service launched in September.  Japanese consumers will pay ¥980 ($8.25) including tax, and after a 30-day free trial. The service is reported to have about 35 million titles, or 5 million more than Google Play has previously boasted, and is available for Google's Android operating system and Apple's iOS mobile operating system.


Apple is still planning to join the market, but has not announced a date. Spotify, too, is struggling to catch up.  Spotify's long-planned launch in Japan is thought to be delayed by slow negotiations with record labels. And it's worth noting Japan was a rare market where Spotify was not integrated with Sony Playstation after Sony decided to retire its Sony Music Unlimited subscription service. Unlimited free streaming is certainly controversial within the music industry but appears to be outright unwanted in Japan.


Interested in giving one of these services a try? You can’t access these services from the US.  However, you can if you are in Japan - OR if the internet “thinks” that you are in Japan. If you use a VPN (see previous posts about using a VPN) you can download the Awa app, for example, and give the 3-month free trial a try.  I tried it and it has many, many songs.  Even if you decide you don’t like it, maybe you’ll find an artist or two that you have never heard before.  Have fun!  

Japan's Edgar Allen Poe

by Kensatsukan Gaijin

Hello Everyone!


Tomorrow, Japanese Table will meet at Qdoba at 6:30.  Hope everyone can make it!
明日、6時半にQdobaで、Japanese Tableがありますので、よろしくお願いします。


Japanese Counter of the Week:

In Japanese, counter words or counters (josūshi 助数詞) are used along with numbers to count things, actions, and events.

ぶ bu    部    Copies of a magazine or newspaper, or other packets of papers


Japanese Fact of the Week


When it comes to Japanese fiction, Edogawa Rampo (pseudonym of Hirai Tarō, 1894–1965) is the acknowledged grand master of Japan’s golden age of crime and mystery fiction. In the early part of his career, he created the Japanese gothic mystery, developing the work of Edgar Allan Poe and related nineteenth century writers in a distinctly Japanese form.  Before Rampo died, in 1965, he had written and edited over twenty books. But this month, an unpublished manuscript of an essay by Edogawa Rampo, dating back to 1936 and recently found in Rikkyo University’s archives, shows that the mystery novelist suffered anxiety despite the high popularity of his works.


Edogawa Rampo — whose name is meant to be read as a punning reference to ‘Edgar Allan Poe’ — remains popular and influential in Japan. His work remains in print, in various different editions, and his stories provide the background for a steady stream of film, television, and theatrical adaptations. Japan’s annual prize for the best book by a mystery author is awarded in his name, and he is one of several writers and artists who made the area of Tokyo west of Ikekuburo Station famous as the “Montparnasse of Tokyo.”  His stories continue to be adapted into Japanese horror movies, and his work has influenced a generation of anime and manga artists and writers.  


The newly uncovered document comprises 38 manuscript paper sheets. A team of researchers led by Seikei University Prof. Yusuke Hamada found it among papers that Rampo’s family members entrusted to Rikkyo University after his death.  The manuscript is dated from June 18 to July 5 of 1936. The title was rewritten several times from, for example, “Dare nimo Atenai Tegami” (A letter not to be sent to anyone), to finally “Dokugo” (Monology).  In the margin of the paper sheets, he wrote “Not to be published” in red ink.


Edogawa Ranpo was very much inspired by the novels and stories of Tanizaki Junichiro, who did write many of such erotically tinted, macabre stories in the first decades of the 20th century, starting with the famous The Tattooer from 1910.  In the manuscript, he confessed, “For me now, writing novels is grotesque reality.” The manuscript indicates that he was worried about his work as a novelist even though his stories, such as those in the “Kaijin Niju Manso” (The Fiend with Twenty Faces) series, were highly popular.

However, although some of his works are known for their erotic, grotesque, or bizarre themes, he also wrote a number of novels for young readers that involved a young boy named Kogoro and the adolescent Kobayashi as the leaders of a group of young sleuths called the "Boy Detectives Club" (少年探偵団 Shōnen tantei dan). These works were wildly popular and are still read by many young Japanese readers, much like the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew mysteries are popular mysteries for adolescents in the English-speaking world. In fact, the popular Manga and Anime character Detective Conan takes his first name (Conan) from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his last name (Edogawa) from Edogawa Rampo.  



His influence is widespread. In May, at Studio Ghibli (Hayao Miyazaki’s studio), the Mitaka no Mori Ghibli Museum opened a new exhibit featuring artwork by Miyazaki inspired by Ghost Tower, a 1939 mystery novel by Edogawa Ranpo.  The exhibit, which is be called “Welcome to the Ghost Tower” (or in Japanese Yurei-to he yokoso), features artwork by Miyazaki and introduce Edogawa Ranpo’s novel through manga. Though Edogawa Ranpo was a prolific and original writer, Ghost Tower was actually based on Ruikō Kuroiwa’s adaption of A Woman in Grey, published in 1898 and written by British author Alice Muriel Williamson. Miyazaki, who first encountered Edogawa Ranpo’s Ghost Tower in middle school, took inspiration from the novel for his 1979 film The Castle of Cagliostro.


He’s even inspired musicians - at Ozzfest this year, Americans were introduced to Ningen Isu, whose name literally means “Human Chair,” a Japanese heavy metal band in the vein of old-school traditional heavy metal heroes.  Ningen Isu is the name of one of Ranpo's more popular works; in fact, that story was not only made into a film of its own, it also inspired Michel Gondry’s short film “Interior Design”, which was featured in the compilation film “Tokyo!”


Interested in more stories by Rampo?  Check out


Or, you can check out Rampo Kitan: Game of Laplace, an upcoming TV anime inspired by the works of Japanese mystery author Edogawa Rampo.  2015 marks the 50th anniversary of Rampo's passing, and this new anime looks appropriately mysterious and spooky to bear the name of the influential writer.

Here’s a trailer:


The Japan News