How to become an organ donor in Japan


In my July 19 column in The Japan Times, I wrote about the low rate of organ donation in Japan, and explained how to become an organ donor. The easiest way is to download the English-language version of the organ donation decision card which looks like this:


You can also download a brochure in English that is helpful in making a decision and filling out the card. Basically, if you circle “1”, you are consenting to nōshigo zōki teikyō 脳死後臓器提供 (organ donation following brain death) as well as shinteigo zōki teikyō 心止後臓器提供 (donating after cardiac death). Circling “2” indicates you consent only to donation after cardiac death, and if you circle “3,” it means you do not wish to donate
at all.

The Japanese version of the card, which is called a zōki teikyō ishi hyōji kādo 臓器提供意思表示カード looks like this:


It’s possible to register one’s intentions online but only in Japanese. The process is a bit onerous but it’s the best option for people who don’t want to donate because potential donations are always checked against this national register. As of June 2014, 124,731 people have registered; of those, about 7,500 people, or about 6 percent, do not wish to donate organs.

Japan has adopted the “green ribbon” as a symbol for organ donation. Some 30,000 taxis in Tokyo are supporting the drive for organ donation by carrying the “green ribbon” decals for free. Normally, it costs 1,000 yen/per month/per car to advertise on a Tokyo taxi. (How about that for an interesting statistic?)


For more information on organ donation in Japan, visit the Japan Organ Transplant Network’s English webpage.

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Is the banner better? You vote!


Those of you with eagle eyes may have already noticed I’ve got a new photo at the top of my blog. (If you hadn’t before, you have now.) Let’s call this #1. To refresh your memory, this is the original photo:


To be honest, the photo wasn’t anything I put any thought into. I needed a “featured photo,” in WordPress-speak, and used what I happened to have, which was a video grab from a program I made for NHK World back in 2009. It had potential — nice color, pretty Japanese setting, taken with a good camera — but because I don’t know diddly about photos, it got posted as a pixelated mess.

Over the years, a few readers complained about it. One, upon meeting me in person for the first time, commented: “Don’t take this the wrong way but you’re better looking than the photo on your blog would suggest.” Not long after, another long-time reader,
Jeffrey Friedl, who contributed some very snazzy photos for an article about Japanese candles for my column in The Japan Times, said he found the pixelated photo so grating that he’d happily take a new one for me, if only I’d get myself down to where he lives. (Kyoto? Twist my arm.)

I did, and we had a lot of fun doing a shoot together. To hear Jeffrey’s side of the story, and see more of the photos he so kindly and skillfully produced, check out his account of the photo shoot. We’ve selected a few of those photos to present here, in the ridiculously long and skinny shape WordPress demands:

Photo Shoot with Alice Gordenker in Kyoto

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Public-bath art for the private bathroom


In my May 20 column in the Japan Times, I wrote about public baths in Japan, and more specifically about a specialty bath called the “denki-buro” 電気風呂, or “electricity bath.” For the shocking details, I suggest you read the article. And/or check out another first-hand report by a very funny blogger.

Here, I’m going to plug another attraction of the sentō 銭湯 (public bath) — the charmingly cheesy hand-painted murals that adorn the wall over the tubs in many public baths. Mt. Fuji figures prominently in a high percentage of these works of art.


As does water, for perhaps obvious reasons.


It is perhaps a sad sign of the times that these special scenes, which formerly could only be seen by visiting one of the fewer than 5,000 public bathhouses still remaining in Japan, can now be ordered online for any home bathroom.


To install one, you just wet the wall and roll your poster out.


I couldn’t find any English-language sites offering bath posters, but Little Oasis, which just opened in April, bills itself as the “only company in Japan specializing in posters for the bath.” You can have any photo turned into a bath poster. Prices start at 5,000 yen for the B2 size and 6,000 yen for the B1 size.

Today, there are only two artists left specializing in public-bath art: Nakajima Morio 中島盛夫, pictured below…


…and Maruyama Kiyoto 丸山清人.


For more on bath art, check out this article in English about Hayakawa Toshimitsu, 早川 利光, a bathhouse mural painter who passed away in 2009.

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Hiroh Kikai: India photos, at Canon Gallery S


I’ve been a fan of Japanese photographer Hiroh Kikai 鬼海宏雄 ever since I was lucky enough to interview him in 2011 for an NHK show. His book Asakusa Portraits is one of my all time favorite photo books. (The Japanese version is 東京ポートレイト). For these reasons and more, it is my pleasure to help spread the word about his current exhibition of photographs of India, running through June 16 at Canon Gallery S in Shinagawa, Tokyo. Admission is free.


This is a relatively large exhibition, with 110 large-format black-and-white photographs of India and her people taken between 1982 and 2011. Kikai has made more than 20 trips to India. He will talk (in Japanese) in detail about the photographs on Saturday May 17 from 1:30 to 3 pm (register here by May 15, Japanese only), and give a gallery talk on Sat. May 31 from 2 pm (free, no advance registration necessary).


Here’s the address for Canon Gallery S, followed by directions:

〒108-8011 東京都港区港南2-16-6
Canon Gallery S (website is in Japanese only), Canon S Tower, 1st floor
Konan 2-16-6, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo 108-8011
Phone: (03) 6719-9021
10:00-5:30 pm, closed Sundays and national holidays.

The gallery is an 8-min. walk from JR Shinagawa Station. Go out the Konan exit and turn right onto the elevated Shinagawa Commons “Sky Way” pedestrian walkway. Stay on the station side of the walkway; don’t cross over towards the buildings on the other side. Go straight along the walkway about 300 meters. Canon’s building is the second to the last building from the end. The entrance is on your right.

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Enjoy art, with no crowds…and for FREE!


Foreign residents of Tokyo and environs, take note: the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum In Ueno Park is offering their second special preview for foreigners only. Enjoy art with no lines, and it’s FREE! Monday May 26 4 to 5:30 pm. I went to the first such program, for the Nihonga show, and it was a pleasure to wander the galleries with almost no people in them. You’ve seen the (rather provocative) poster on the subway, now see the paintings. You need to apply in advance. Details at

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The Making of Tetrapods

main photo

In my April 15 column in the Japan Times, I wrote about “tetrapods,” the four-legged wave-breaking concrete structures you see all up and down the coast of Japan. In the column, I explained that these huge structures are made on-site by pouring concrete into leased molds, like the ones in the photo below.


For a nice series of photos showing the making of tetrapods in more detail, take a look at this blog.

Meanwhile, a company called Maniapparel offers a humorous series of tetrapod clothing….


…and grey felt stuffed tetrapods for the home.


Unfortunately, the company doesn’t sell through online vendors that are relatively easy to navigate with limited Japanese. If you can manage in Japanese, drop an email to Maniapparel at You can also order the stuffed toys from Village Vanguard.

Finally, a well-deserved toast to the clever blogger who used the same mold concept to make tetrapod ice cubes. I want this person on my team.


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Shipping up and down the coast of Japan


A regular reader of my blog gave me a gentle nudge today, observing that I haven’t been posting much. What’s worse, she said, I haven’t provided links for my last two columns in The Japan Times. So posthaste, here is the link to my Feb. 17 column about coastal shipping — moving goods within Japan by sea.

The print above shows a ship on one of the old Edo-era sea routes (kairo 海路) for trading goods up and down the coast of Japan. The print is “At Sea off Kazusa” “Kazusa no kairo” 上総ノ海路), from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount (Fuji Fugaku sanjūrokkei 富嶽三十六景) by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) 葛飾北斎. Kazusa was a province in the area of modern-day Chiba Prefecture. Yes, Mount Fuji is in the picture — look again closely!

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