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.

Posted in Life in Japan, What the Heck is That? | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Randoseru Giveaway! Get a genuine Japanese backpack

Ever since I wrote in 2012 about randoseru recycling, I get emails from all over asking for used randoseru.  So many that I usually can’t reply. But with the Japanese school year winding down, I should be able to offer one or two used randoseru to anyone willing to pay for shipping from Japan, maybe $30 to $40 depending on your location. Please understand that these are used randoseru with scuffs and scratches, but otherwise in reasonable condition with all parts in working order.

The blue one in the photo went to Nelly in Mexico, but I have a similar one available now in red. If you’re interested, please use the contact form below. It’s helpful if you have a PayPal account to advance the shipping fee.


Posted in Adventures in Columning, Life in Japan | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Feb. 8 Event in Tokyo, in English: “Amputee Venus”

English_cover (temporary)

Translating this book was one of the projects that kept me way too busy last year. Now, please join me on Sunday Feb. 8 in Tokyo for a special “talk” event about it: “Amputee Venus,” the English version of a fascinating and moving collection of photographs of 11 Japanese women who have lost a leg and are moving forward positively.


We will meet one of the women featured in the book, and hear from Fumio Usui, who made all the legs the women use, about how high-function prosthetic legs can and do empower amputees to go out and pursue their dreams, whatever they may be — sports, leisure, art, community and so much more.


Photographer Takao Ochi will share insightful stories from the shoots and explain why he wants people all over the world to see this positive message from Japan about people with disabilities. I’m providing interpretation into English, so it’s a great opportunity for foreign residents of Japan.

Date and time: Sunday Feb. 8, 2015 from 3 pm
Place: Al’s Cafe, 3-13-1 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
(6-minutes walk from the Waseda Exit of JR Takadanobaba Station)
Tel: 03-5937-1905 www.als-cafe.com
1,000 yen including one free drink (beer, wine, tea or soft drink):
Space is limited. Reserve a seat by email to tokumiya@jungetsusha.com 

“Amputee Venus” will be available for purchase at the event, and can be ordered anytime online through the publisher’s website.

各紙メディアで好評、義足女性たちの写真集『切断ヴィーナス』に、英語ジャケット版ができました。義肢装具士臼井氏、写真家越智氏、11人のモデルたち、それぞれの興味深いエピソードやプロフィールが英訳されいます。刊行を記念して、来る2月8日、高田馬場にあるハンドメイドのチューダースタイル の素敵なカフェにてトークイベントを開催します。

日時:2015年2月8日(日) 15:00
場所 :アルズカフェ(AL’S CAFÉ)
   東京都新宿区高田馬場3-13-1 ノークビル1F
   Tel: 03-5937-1905  www.als-cafe.com
参加費 :1,000円 おつまみ・1ドリンク付

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why is coffee in Japan served with the handle on the left?


In my Jan. 17 column in The Japan Times, I addressed one of those little mysteries about life in Japan, which is why coffee is so often served with the cup handle turned to the left. This seems counter-intuitive when you consider that most coffee-drinkers are right-handed and will have to turn the cup around to pick it up.

As I explained in my column, there is a reason, which has to do with how people drink their coffee. (Follow the link to find out.) But as an aside, there seems to be the impression that serving coffee with the handle on the left is “English style” (イギリス式), as expressed in the chart below, or as I found in other Japanese-language websites, “European style” (ヨーロッパ式).


Yet the German reader who posed the original question reported that in Germany coffee is always served with the handle to the right. (And the spoon in back, whereas in Japan the spoon is usually in the front.)

Orienting the handle on the right, these same sources will tell you, is “American-style” (アメリカ式), which comes as news to this Yankee Doodle Dandy.

So what say you, readers? Do you buy any of this? Is there a particular way to serve coffee in your country?

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Coming up, Dec. 19: Art Deco Tour in Tokyo, in English!

Japan’s cultural offerings are hard to access if you don’t know Japanese. Few museums provide more than cursory signage in English, and tours and audio guides are generally only in Japanese. Foreign visitors understandably feel frustrated with the experience they get in most of Japan’s museums — it’s like paying full fare but having to hang outside the train window as everything rushes past you!


Believe me, museums are aware of the problem and would love to provide a better experience for international visitors. But few curators have the language skills to prepare captions or conduct a gallery talk in English. They do hire professional translators when budgets allow, but adding one foreign language jacks up the cost of an exhibition by at least 30%. So what’s the solution?

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (June 2014)

At the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (June 2014)

I’ve been testing out an idea. When I do a major translation job for a museum, which involves learning all about the exhibits anyway, I offer to do a gallery talk in English. My first opportunity to do this was at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, where I gave two tours of the Shimooka Renjo exhibition I worked on. Now I’m at it again — at the newly reopened Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum.

I translated a weighty booklet about the main building of the museum, a gem of Art Deco design and architecture built in 1933 for a member of the Imperial family. I also produced the English text and audio for a free self-guide app about the museum. I gave one tour for foreigners last month, right after the reopening, and have another coming up. Naturally, a curator comes along to field any questions I can’t answer. What I bring to the table is enthusiasm for the subject matter and a demonstrated ability to communicate about Japan in English. That’s been my professional specialty for the last 15 years.

Consider yourself invited on my next and final tour of 2014. On Friday Dec. 19 at 4 pm. I’ll lead a tour of about an hour focusing on the history and highlights of that grand Art Deco palace, the former Prince Asaka Residence. The tour is free with regular admission, and as a special bonus, I’m offering one pair of tickets by lottery for blog readers. If you’d like to enter, drop me a line through the contact form on this blog with your name and address and whether you’d like one ticket or two. Here’s how to get to the museum.

To enjoy more of Thomas Gittel’s photographs of the Prince Asaka Residence, please visit his blog.

Update Dec. 12: The drawing is now closed. Congratulations to L.F. and S.K. — I’ve sent you emails letting you know your tickets are on the way.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Is the mask the new veil?

mask_train station

In my Nov. 22 column in The Japan Times, I reported that wearing masks in public has become completely normal in Japan, and promised to write here about the mysterious phenomenon of perfectly healthy people wearing masks. As I explained in the article, some of the hale and hardy wear masks to dodge other people’s germs. Some like masks because they keep their face cozy warm. And still others gobble gauze to maintain a measure of anonymity in a crowded society. But the weirdest reason yet is someone who wears a mask because they think it makes them more attractive.

2014-11-03 08.59.42

Say what?

Yeah. And it’s called date masuku. Not “date” as in a romantic appointment but date, pronounced “dah-tey.” The entymology is actually interesting, and I’ll get to that in a minute.  But first, do you remember a few years back when it became fashionable to wear big, monster glasses? These specs had nothing to do with correcting vision and everything to do with style. Well, guess what they were called? Yup — date megane. Supposedly they made the wearer look more intelligent. Hmm. I wonder.


But there’s that “dah-tey” word again. In kanji, it’s written as 伊達, which the handy-dandy online J-E dictionary Denshi Jisho defines as:

1: elegance; dandyism; sophistication; having style;
2: affectation; showing off; putting on an air; appearances; just for show

History buffs will recognize those characters as the same used by Date Masamune,  伊達 政宗 ,the legendary warrior and leader who lived from 1567 until 1636 . The story goes that Masamune’s men were a bunch of dandy dressers, and that’s how “date” came to mean “showy” but that’s probably an example of kanji being added after the fact to a phrase with the same sounds).

In any case, now we’ve got  date masuku  だでマスク、伊達マスク too, and it’s a full-fledged fashion trend as witnessed by a multitude of coverage on Japanese TV.


The text on-screen reads masuku de jibun o apīru date masuku (“Showing off her charms with a just-for-show mask!”). There’s even a beauty contest for women wearing masks.

Moving right along, there was one last topic I promised to cover: does the Japanese government recommend wearing masks? You betcha! (Although thankfully only for health and hygiene.) On a national government PR webpage on flu prevention, for example, consumers are encouraged to wear masks along with other preventative measures such as frequent hand-washing, getting flu shots and avoiding crowded places. It cautions that masks that gap at the nose or chin will not be effective, and that used masks should be disposed of quickly rather than be left lying around.

I would offer more examples but I’m not feeling too hot just now. In fact, I may be coming down with something. Which means I’d better break out the masks.

(Many thanks to model Anna Nakahara 中原杏奈 for the use of her image above.)



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Master of Industrial Design: Kenji Ekuan 栄久庵 憲司

You’ve seen this soy sauce bottle. Quick: who designed it?

Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, 1961

Kikkoman soy sauce bottle, 1961

How about the train to Narita Airport?

Narita Express E259 (2009)

Narita Express E259 (2009)

Or this bad-ass motorcycle?

Yamaha VMAX 2008

Yamaha VMAX (2008)

They are all the work of Kenji Ekuan and celebrated along with his many other contributions to industrial design in a new exhibition at the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum, opening tomorrow Nov. 18 thru Dec. 23.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments