Nihonshū Overpour: How to drink when your cup runneth over


If you’ve enjoyed Japanese sake in Japan, chances are you’ve been served at least once in the way shown above: poured until it overflows glass and spills into something strategically placed below. As I explained in my July 26 column in The Japan Times, this is called sosogi-koboshi 注ぎ溢し and presents various challenges. How do you pick up such a full glass? Are you supposed to drink the overflow? And if so, first or last?

Often the overflow goes into a wooden cup called a

The wooden cup is a “masu.”

Very often, the receptacle below is a wooden square called a masu 升, which makes things even harder. (It’s  not easy to wrap your lips around straight edges and pointy corners.) Actually, a masu the traditional measure for rice and other grains and is not meant to be drunk from.

Except, of course — and there are always exceptions — at certain types of celebrations when a barrel of sake is broken open . At these occasions, everyone is passed a new masu, usually branded with a mark for the company, organization or individuals being feted. You accept a portion of the sake in your masu, and then take the empty cup home as a souvenir.

The right time to drink from a

Really, the only “right time” to drink from these wooden cups  is when a new barrel of sake is broken open at a celebration.

Check out the column for a sake expert’s advice on what do do if you’re served this way, and an explanation about why not everyone likes such a generous pour.

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Dinosaurs take over Japan!

Spotted on the street in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture.

Spotted on the street in Katsuyama, Fukui Prefecture.

Is it just me, or does it seem like dinosaurs are everywhere this summer? True, I got sensitized by touring in May with a friend who runs the volunteer-powered fossil cleaning lab at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History; in her two weeks here we had an intensive dose of dinosaur, including a sneak preview of the totally redone dinosaur exhibit at the National Museum of Nature and Science (NMNS) in Tokyo, as well as an extensive tour of the very impressive Fukui Prefecture Dinosaur Museum. Still, there do seem to be a lot of dino-doings going on.

A new view of T. rex at the National Museum of Science and Nature in Ueno.

A new view of T. rex at the National Museum of Science and Nature in Ueno.

As I reported in my summer dinosaur round-up in The Japan Times on July 17, the NMNS has just reopened its main dinosaur exhibit after an extensive renovation. And just in time for summer vacation. A top attractions is the all-new Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton — in a novel and easier-to-see “sit” position. If you’ve got small kids, or grandkids, check out the new “Compass” space on the third floor of the Global Gallery. (The main dinosaur exhibit is in the B1 level of the same building.)

Playroom? Or museum exhibit? Both, at the National Museum of Nature and Science.

Playroom? Or museum exhibit? Both, at the National Museum of Nature and Science.

Summer is a good time to visit the Fukui Prefectural Dinosaur Museum in Katsuyama, if you can deal with the crowds. In August, visitors can observe new digs in progress at the nearby excavation sites.

Excavation sites are right by the museum; you take a quick bus ride to get there.

Excavation sites are right by the museum; you take a quick bus ride to get there.

Don’t miss the “dinosaur crossing” road signs along the way. If I remember correctly, there are six different signs.

“Watch out for dinosaurs, who may appear suddenly in the road.”

You can also try your own hand at fossil hunting, under the direct guidance of the museum’s paleontologists.  That’s not an opportunity you get every day.


Recently, the subways have been full of posters advertising the Mega Dinosaur 2015 exhibit at Makuhari in Chiba.

Through Aug. 30, the privately-sponsored Mega Dinosaur Exhibition at Makuhari Messe.

Through Aug. 30, the privately-sponsored Mega Dinosaur Exhibition at Makuhari Messe.

In Yokohama, there’s DinoWorld 2015. And the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum in Fuefuki, Yamanashi is doing a special exhibition on fossils and dinosaurs.

Through Aug. 31, at the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum.

Through Aug. 31 at the Yamanashi Prefectural Museum. The English tag line reads, “Did dinosaurs exist in Yamanashi?”

Even hotels are not safe from the invasion, as I learned in this report in The Japan Times. The very pricey Righa Royal Hotel has themed itself up with a “Dinosaur Festa” through Sept. 30.

Kids' dinosaur plate, for 1,600 yen. And a dino-rama of tiny figures in the lobby.

Kids’ dinosaur plate for 1,600 yen. And a dino-rama of tiny figures in the lobby.

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La Dolce Vita at Nikko: a beautiful blend of Western and Japanese architecture


Once upon a time, Lake Chuzenji in Tochigi Prefecture was a fashionable summer resort for foreign diplomats in Japan. In 1928, the Italian ambassador to Japan commissioned this lovely villa, which is now open to the public. I visited last month and have just published an article about it for Artscape Japan. Please check it out for history, loving detail and an explanation for how to get there — no easy feat.


The most striking feature is the ceiling done in ajiro-ori, a traditional wickerwork often seen in chashitsu (teahouses). Here it is in a kikkō (tortoise shell) pattern.


While there, I happened to stumble upon THE flower event of the season, the wild Japanese primrose (Primula japonica) in full, glorious bloom.


In Japanese, this flower is called kurinsō because it resembles a “kurin” 九輪, which is the top portion of a pagoda. This is a good reason to visit Nikko and Lake Chuzenji in mid-June. The other is that June is off season, fall being the peak tourist season. Avoid weekends, if at all possible, and take the train.



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Ticket Giveaway: Mask Exhibit at the Teien Museum

Masks of the world in a beautiful Art Deco residence, and a guided tour in English by yours truly: what’s not to like? To help publicize my gallery talk on Friday June 5 at 3 pm, I’m giving away a pair of tickets to Masks – Beauty of the Spirits at one of my favorite museums, the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.


Enter by sending me your name, email address and mailing address via the contact form on this blog. And tell me whether you want one ticket or two.

The masks are exhibited in the former Prince Asaka Residence, a beauty of Art Deco architecture and design built in 1933, located in a lush park-like setting near Shirokanedai and Meguro stations. If you’ve never been there, now’s your chance.


Let’s limit to this to residents of Japan, and to be fair to others, please enter only if you’ve got a reasonable chance of using the tickets. Since my guided tour is on Friday June 5, and the exhibit closes on June 30, I’m going to make this one snappy: I’ll select the winner on Monday June 1 and mail them out the same day.

I do giveaways periodically so check back often, or register to be notified by email of updates (which don’t happen so often that you’ll be inundated with mail).

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Change trays | The Japan Times

Ever wonder why it is that in Japan your change always comes on a tray?

Change trays | The Japan Times.

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Famous lines from history — in Japanese

Marie-Antoinette Japanese

Don’t ask why but the other day I found myself trying to discuss the French revolution with a Japanese friend and colleague. In Japanese. This topic falls way outside my usual vocabulary set, and not knowing how to say “absolutist monarchy,” I brought up that famous line attributed to King Louis XIV: “I am the state.” (In French, L’État, c’est moi.”)

I had no idea how that could possibly be expressed in Japanese, but fortunately my friend did: 「朕は国家なり」 (chin wa kokka nari). Whoa — never would have guessed that. My friend explained that “chin,” is an archaic male pronoun once used only by emperors and high-ranking nobility. When emperor Hirohito made his famous radio address to the Japanese people on Aug. 15, 1945 to announce Japan’s unconditional surrender, for example, he used the pronoun “chin.” (As an aside, that speech is called the 玉音放送 (gyokuon-hōsō), which literally means”Jewel Voice Broadcast.”)

Anyway, this got me wondering how other famous lines from history are expressed in Japanese. While we’re on the French Revolution, how about that infamous quote supposedly uttered by Marie Antoinette when she heard her people were starving for lack of bread: “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” (“Let them eat cake.”) I looked it up, and in Japanese that gets rendered as 「ケーキを食べればいいじゃない」 (Kēki o tabereba ii jyanai).

Next, let’s try that oft quoted line from Karl Marx: “Religion is the opiate of the masses.” (In the original German, “Die Religion ist das Opium des Volkes.“). Seems that one got translated as 「宗教は民衆のアヘンである」(shūkyō wa minshū no ahen de aru.)

I’ve always liked “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” which comes from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s first inaugural address. In Japanese, that’s 「恐れるべき唯一のものは、“恐怖” そのものである。」(osoreru beki yuiitsu no mono wa kyōfu sono mono de aru.)

And of course there’s that famous line (lie) by former U.S. president Bill Clinton: “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” That got translated as 「あの女とは、性的な関係を持たなかった。」(Ano onna to wa, seiteki na kankei o motanakatta.) In Japan, Monica Lewinsky (モニカ・ルインスキー, monika ruinsukii) will go down in history as ano onna (“that woman”).

Feel free to add your own contributions in the comments sections below. I’m sure other readers will appreciate them. And for the record, “absolutist monarchy” is 絶対君主制 (zettai kunshusei).

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Japanese police: don’t they have something better to do?


You’ve seen them in front of police stations.


And outside neighborhood police boxes.


Maybe you’ve seen them in busy train stations up on a box looking fierce. Don’t you wonder why Japanese police always seem to be standing around?

That was the question posed to me by one of my readers in The Japan Times.  There is, of course, a reason. Read about it in my March 21 column.

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