Posts Tagged ‘IDjapan’

A Floor Made of Pottery (Literally)


During my last trip to southern Japan I tripped across a really unique place: a pottery shop called Maruhiro. I’m not usually all that into pottery, but what jumped out at me was the design of the place.

After you walk in, the majority of the shop floor is elevated–on a base of imperfect ceramics! Located in Nagasaki prefecture, Hasami has been a pottery town since the middle of the last millennium (well over 400 years). Several centuries of pottery production means millions of pieces sold–and thousands of rejects. So rather than trash them, Tokyo-based designer Yusuke Seki came up with the idea to turn them into an elevated floor–about 25,000 pieces in total, set in concrete.

Have a look…and make sure to drop by to see for yourself when you have a chance!

Maruharo 1

Maruharo 2

Screen Shot 2015-08-21 at 4.44.23 PM

Hasami’s location in southern Japan


A Place Where You Can Pay with KitKats!


How’s this for creative marketing?

Train travelers using the Sanriku Railway network in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture can now use KitKats as train passes.

The concept is part of a scheme by Nestlé to rejuvenate tourism in the northern province, following the devastating effects of the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake.

Customers can buy special packs of KitKat for less than the cost of a standard ticket as part of the initiative, which is the first time a Japanese rail company has allowed confectionery packaging to be used as a method of payment.

The move isn’t the first time Nestlé has helped the Sanriku railway get back on track following the natural disaster.

In 2011 the brand discovered that members of the reconstruction team were gifting one another KitKat treats as messages of encouragement, due to the similarity between the its name and the Japanese phrase “Kitto-Katsu,” meaning “you will surely win.”

Consequently, the brand began donating 20 yen (around $0.20) to the rebuilding project for each bar exchanged.

KitKat has also decorated two of the trains and two of the rebuilt stations with cherry blossom motifs, which symbolize hope in Japan.

KitKat train in Japan's Iwate Prefecture.

KitKat train in Japan’s Iwate Prefecture.

The move comes as the Japanese government recently announced plans to offer free Wi-Fi to tourists who register their passport details upon arriving in the country, in a bid to boost visits from foreign travelers.

KitKat train tickets will be available this month and will be valid on Sanriku Railway trains through May 2015.

Throwing Beans at Evil Spirits




Once upon a time, in the lovely Japanese village of Kyoto, an ogre dressed up in disguise and approached the home of an old widow. He had with him a magic mallet, and with it, he made a beautiful kimono—the most beautiful kimono she had ever seen. While she knew it was wrong, the beauty of the kimono got the best of her, and the widow decided she would steal the kimono. So she got the ogre drunk, making him lose his wits, and made her move on the kimono. Except that she didn’t stop with the kimono. Since that was so easy, she figured, why not go for the magic mallet also?

Surprised by the woman’s overzealous greed, the ogre got himself together, and then decided to shed his disguise to reveal what he really was. The old widow initially froze with fear, and then was overcome with hysteria. She grabbed the first thing she could find to start throwing at the ogre, a bunch of beans she had handy in the kitchen, and he fled. She didn’t get her kimono or magic mallet, but she learned learned an important lesson about greed, becoming healthier and wiser as a result of the ogre’s lesson.

And so a tradition began. The Bean Throwing Ceremony, or Setsubun, occurs every year in Japan on the day before Spring (Risshun). Throughout the country, people throw dried soybeans out their front door while chanting “Demons out! Luck in!” It is believed that these tossed beans purify the home by eliminating evil spirits. To bring the luck in, they then pick up and eat the exact number of beans to correspond with the person’s present age.

Bean throwing is the main event of Setsubun, but there are others as well. First, everyone will eat a special nori maki, or sushi roll, while facing a particular “lucky” direction, which varies year by year (last year was Southwest, this year is South-Southeast). To add to the fun, the person cannot say a word while eating the entire nori maki, which isn’t as easy as it may seem. In most cases, the roll is about 20 centimeters long, and think as well! But it is believed that those who complete this task are promised good luck with their business and health.

Getting ready for Setsubun in Tokyo...

Getting ready for Setsubun in Tokyo…

IDjapan: Contradiction #1: “Professionalism”


If I had to choose one word to sum up my fascination with Japan, it would be contradiction.  It’s a culture in which the more quickly you can become comfortable with extremes, the more quickly you can assimilate.  This range of seeming opposites is prevalent in many aspects of Japanese society, and evident with just a quick stroll around business-cultural hubs like Tokyo’s Shinjuku, Ginza or Roppongi neighborhoods at different times of day or night.

Growing up in America, I had often heard of Japan’s extremely serious “business” mentality—from the pressure put on children to perform on academic tests at a young age to the dark, homogenous suits and long business hours in the workplace.  In other words, when I saw this group of identically-dressed businessmen on the 6:10am JR Keihin-Tohoku line train from Yokohama to Tokyo Station, or this cluster of early risers walking from the station trying to be first to the office, again dressed alike, I wasn’t surprised.

Japan Businessmen 1

Keihin-Tōhoku Line between Tokyo & Yokohama

Japan Businessmen 2

Outside Tokyo Station

However, over the course of rushing to catch the last train home each night (usually around midnight, depending on the line and station) whenever I’m in Tokyo, which is a common nightly exercise for many, I was initially shocked each time I saw one of these traditional Japanese salarymen, bland dark suit and all, sprawled out completely unconscious on a train platform floor.

Japan Businessmen 3

Hibiya Station; Chiyoda Line

Japan Businessmen 4

Roppongi Station; Oedo Line

Japan Businessmen 5

Shimbashi Station; Ginza Line

Japan Businessmen 6

Aoyama Itchome Station; Hanzomon Line

As if working 12 hour days is not enough, you’ll quickly discover drinking to be a major part of Japanese business culture.  While intended to ‘relieve’ stress, it is more of an expectation and obligation than voluntary pursuit, yet another contradiction to mirror the simple idea of an intimidating, business-savvy, demanding boss to many by day knocked out on a public floor like a flunking college freshman by night.

Ah, the beauty of Japan…