Mizuhiki twine art

Mizuhiki is a Japanese craft that uses twine made from washi (Japanese-style paper) to create fancy bows and other designs. You could call it a rough analogue of American pipe-cleaner art. Anyone familiar with Japanese culture has probably seen it decorating gift packages or envelopes used for cash gifts given at weddings:


Foreigners who rave about Japanese gift-wrapping techniques often have this stuff in mind.

More than 70% of Japan’s mizuhiki output comes from Iida, a city in Nagano prefecture. The city is home to a mizuhiki museum, where you can find some more creative renditions of the art form:


A turtle and a crane, made as a gift to Crown Princess Masako Owada.


A twine wedding dress.


A dragon (If I am not mistaken, even the smoke is made of twine).

Blogger party tomorrow – Adamu will be there

Sorry for the short notice, but I just wanted to let people know I’ll be at The Pink Cow in Shibuya tomorrow night attending a Japan politics blogger party. Observing Japan‘s Tobias Harris, Japan Economy News‘s Ken Worsley, and other luminaries will be “dropping knowledge” and “busting freestyles” – should be a good time!

Here is the info:

Following our successful nomikai in January of this year, some of us politics bloggers have decided to hold another party to give our readers an opportunity to ply us with drinks to put faces to blogs.

Once again we will be gathering at The Pink Cow in Shibuya, at 7pm on Saturday July 25th.

If you are interested in attending, please send an email — the sooner the better — to me (observingjapan@gmail.com) and Ken Worsley (japaneconomynews@gmail.com) so that we can get a rough sense of how many people to expect.

An ex-diplomat’s three-step English boot camp for university students


Shunji Yanai, former Japanese ambassador to the United States and current judge at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, offers some radical measures to help university students bring their English communication skills up to speed.

Writing in the July 21 evening edition of the Nikkei Shimbun, he explains that when he first started teaching at a university after retiring as a diplomat, he was asked to help lead extracurricular study sessions for students.

Though his students could read English fairly well, he soon became painfully aware of their poor conversational English. Typically, he blamed Japan’s education system for emphasizing test preparation over actual communication skills.

Out of a concern for their futures as global citizens, Yanai came up with the following crash course to whip the students into shape:

  1. Memorize and recite US presidents’ political speeches: He made all his students memorize a speech word for word and recite it in front of the group. The variety of sentence structures in each speech helped with conversational skills and composition, while speaking at length trained their mouth muscles to speak in English.
  2. Memorize jazz standards and listen and sing along to the songs at live performances: He took some of his students to jazz bars and pays for their drinks… on the condition that they memorize the lyrics ahead of time. Singing along to the songs with some drinks in them, he claims, helped students start speaking more fluently.
  3. Place a digestive pill in your mouth to help learn how to pronounce R’s differently from L’s: Japanese people grow up without using the English L and R sounds in their everyday lives – the sounds in standard Japanese that are written with a letter “R” in English are actually pronounced with a sound that’s somewhere between the L in “la” and the “D” in “dog.” To fix that problem, Yanai had students practice saying R words with a pill of biofermin digestive medicine in their mouths. The weight of the pill kept their tongues from hitting the roofs of their mouths, which would result in a mistaken L sound.

Now, I seriously doubt Yanai ever used these methods on himself. As a former diplomat he has presumably gone through the foreign ministry’s rigorous language training. As far as I can tell from the diplomats I have met over the years, this training is highly effective – every Japanese diplomat I’ve met has spoken very good, fluent English. If this is because of days spent with pills in their mouths, I would be very surprised.

I am far from an expert in English teaching methods, but I can’t help but question this plan’s effectiveness. Can a strict regimen of memorizing speeches and jazz songs, recitation, and jury-rigged palate correction do what commitment, good guidance, and more traditional practice cannot?

Awesome eclipse pics and video

(Updated with video below)

The solar eclipse this morning was absolutely gorgeous. Watched on NHK’s live streaming coverage, you could see the sunlight flicker as it peeked out from behind the moon.  Here is what it looked like from Iwo Jima:



Asahi has a nice photo gallery of views from around the country. The full eclipse was only visible on outlying islands in southern Japan, but much of the rest of the country could enjoy a partial eclipse if the weather was right.

NHK will have user-submitted videos on its site momentarily.

Update: Here is some sweet aerial video footage from Asahi Shimbun:

And here is NHK with video and running commentary from Iwo Jima. I love how the scientific terminology like “corona” and “prominence” is in katakana English:

“Economic Downturn Forced Japan Election, Says Analyst”

My last post was complaining about crappy headlines. And on that very subject, I’m reading this list of headlines and see one that I think is absolute nonsense: Economic Downturn Forced Japan Election, Says Analyst, written by Victor Beattie.

My first thought: who is this turkey of an analyst? Anyone with any knowledge of the Japanese political framework knows that an election must have been called by September, coming as it does four years after the last election in September 26, 2005, and the poor economy over the past year hasn’t forced an election, despite critics and pundits calling for an election. But reading through the article we see that Charles Morrison, president of the East-West Center in Hawaii, said nothing of the sort.

“The LDP under former Prime Minister [Junichiro] Koizumi was quite popular until 2005, but it’s had lackluster leadership and, of course, the economic crisis has not helped.”

Morrison said Japan has been hard hit by the global economic crisis because its export sales have been badly hurt by the downturn, although he expects a modest improvement next year.

Morrison said he does not expect a clear cut winner in next month’s election, given, in his view, the relative unpopularity of both the LDP and the opposition Democratic Party. And, he said, while the LDP has been the dominant party in Japan for more than 50 years, any change would not be significant.

“The opposition party is a split off from the LDP. There could be some realignment of parties, but it’s the same basic (political) elite that has governed Japan for some time,” he said.

There we go, a very vanilla analysis of the upcoming election. If I was Mr. Morrison, I’d be mighty pissed that Victor Beattie is warping my quote for his bogus headline.

Adam Richardses: A competitive angler and a fictional homeless man

Today’s installment of Adam Richardses of the World is a mixed bag:

  • First, let’s all congratulate Adam Richards of Billingham, England for catching 17.54 kg of unnamed fishat Fish O Mania XVI, a competition held at the scenic Cudmore Fishery in Whitmore. You didn’t win, but you get an “A” for Adam Richards.
  • At this painfully unfunny news parody site, a fictional Adam Richards is described as “a homeless man” who witnessed Pamela Anderson yelling at her own breasts as she was jogging. I guess that’s supposed to be a joke.

Malibu, California – As the Southern California sun slowly rises and there is still a faint mist visible in the air, the shapely silhouette of Pamela Anderson can be seen jogging along the shoreline of Malibu beach.

“I haven’t seen her train like that since the 1990s,” said an old local fisherman as he cast his line into the crashing ocean waves of the Pacific in the early morning hours. “It’s not like she ever had to mind you. I mean she always kept fit and that body of hers tight.”

Only it is not her glorious body that Pamela Anderson is training on her early morning jaunts. Rather it is her breasts.

“She talks to them too,” said the old fisherman, removing a corncob pipe from his white bearded face. “And you know what? They answer her back.”

“Here in L.A., you see that kind of stuff all the time,” said Adam Richards, a homeless man (a comedy writer in Hollywood). “So I really didn’t think much of it until she started falling down and yelling at her breasts. But she could have been talking on a cell phone. She was too far away to tell for sure.”

Suddenly, the homeless man made the sound of a cell phone ringing out from the side of his mouth.

“Hold on a minute,” said the homeless man as he bends down, taking off his shoe and holds it up to his ear. “I got to take this call; it’s from my agent.”

LDP releases YouTube-only attack ad against DPJ

Leading up to Japan’s Lower House election on August 30, the ruling LDP has come out with an interesting animated attack ad against main rival DPJ:

The scene: a fancy restaurant overlooking the Diet building. A young Yukio Hatoyama lookalike is proposing to the girl of his dreams. He asks, “won’t you switch to me?” (僕に交代してみませんか?) and promises that if she chooses him, she can have everything she ever wanted – free childcare, free education, no more expressway tolls, the works.

Unimpressed, the woman asks, “Do you have the money for that?”

His reply: “I’ll consider the details once we’re married!”

The scene goes black, and we see the slogan:

“Can you entrust your life to confidence without any basis in reality?”
“The Liberal Democratic Party – We have a basis.”

Trust me, it sounds better in Japanese.

Frankly, this is a well-made and impressive ad, much like the American attack ads from the 2008 presidential elections. It casts the DPJ as irresponsible, frames the choice using a clear and apt analogy, and presents the LDP as the viable alternative.

I can easily see it becoming a viral hit as it’s already making the rounds of 2ch and at least one “alpha” blogger. As of this writing the video has merely 70,000 views, though that already makes it the most viewed LDP video ever in just three days since it was posted.

I am a little conflicted here – I want to say there’s not much potential for Youtube to be a decisive factor in the upcoming Lower House election given that the majority of the voters are elderly and thus not Youtube viewers. But these ads might not be so much about getting out the youth vote for the LDP as much as dampening any good feelings people might have about the DPJ. That way more of the youth vote might stay home, thus mitigating LDP losses.

The DPJ does not appear to have any similar attack ads. Their focus seems to be more on defining the DPJ as the party of responsibility that can solve Japan’s various problems.

Their attempts at “animation” could use some improvement if they want the otaku vote:

(videos via Hiroshi Yamaguchi)

When aliens attacked Kawasaki

Continuing the alien theme started by Curzon:

Close to midnight on August 5, 1952, four American air traffic controllers walking across the tarmac at Haneda Airport (then a US military base) spotted a round, bright object in the sky over Tokyo Bay. They went up to the tower and took a look through their binoculars, and noticed a larger dark ellipse surrounding the light.

Over the next few minutes, the controllers tried to get visual confirmation from an airborne observer plane, which couldn’t see anything. They were able to get a radar fix on the UFO, though, and so they had a scrambled fighter jet intercept it. The pilots didn’t spot the UFO, though, and shortly after the radar intercept the UFO disappeared.

The original US Air Force report is available in scanned format here. Nobody was ever able to explain what happened; my personal theory is that the aliens were coming for Kenzo Tange so they would have someone to do their design bidding on Earth.

Best. Headline. Ever.

Cop rapped for letting off aliens

Unfortunately, the story is about a Tokyo cop who was suspended, and who then resigned, for issuing tickets to two foreigners for traffic offenses other than their main violation, driving without licenses.

Why the Japan Times has to use the more bizarre headline above is beyond me, but I hope that all readers know by now that you can’t expect anything worth reading to ever come from the Japan Times.

Campaigning season is a go in Kyoto : Happy science party posters

I was biking home earlier and passed by two guys from the Happiness Realization Party (幸福実現党), the political front for the new-agey religion (cult?) goofily known as Happy Science (幸福の科学), and snapped a few photos of them putting up posters.

Unfortunately I didn’t notice until after or I would have gotten him to pose, but the man you see here putting up the poster is actually the candidate pictured at top, Karube Yoshiteru, the party’s assistant director for Kyoto Prefecture. I will say, whatever their politics are they were at least very open to being photographed, although when you’re a brand new and obscure party you probably are willing to take any scraps of publicity you can get.