Across Japan, graduation ceremonies for students in elementary, junior high and senior high schools will take place in the second week of March. We can likely expect heavily curtailed, socially distant ceremonies—a far cry from the fanfare and celebration teachers are used to and which our students have come to expect. This has got me thinking: Is there anything we as assistant language teachers (ALTs) can do to help our students cope with this upheaval?
First, we need to look closer at the problem we are dealing with.
As an elementary school teacher, I have noticed that preparations for graduation among my sixth-grade students are noticeably more muted than usual. My students seem demoralized and more than a little bit frustrated at being deprived of their moment in the spotlight. It seems especially unfair when we know that none of this current predicament is in any way their fault.
There has been much debate about the necessity to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus and the potentially fatal consequences of contracting COVID-19.
The elderly, frail and individuals with preexisting conditions make up the vast majority of fatalities worldwide. However, the coronavirus has the potential to kill anyone, even children. Social distancing, wearing masks, the cancellation of school events and reduced contact time are all unfortunate but necessary steps we must take.
However, to some extent, one aspect that has been overlooked is the psychological impact of the pandemic, especially on children.
When their English teachers ask them what their hobbies are, many Japanese students and workers will respond by saying “sleeping” or “nothing”. Given how much students study and how hard it can be to find work-life balance in Japan, this isn’t surprising. You might be thinking that Japanese people don’t really have hobbies, and you won’t be able to have any either.
However, foreign employees tend to have a better time negotiating reasonable working hours with employers. Moreover, not every worker in Japan is a stereotypical overworked salaryman. There are plenty of freelancers, business owners, mothers and retirees who work part time, and other people who have time to enjoy themselves. Once you land a job with a good work-life balance, it’s a good idea to find some hobbies. Doing enjoyable activities during your spare time is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health. Why not develop a new pastime while living in Japan? You’ll be able to relax, socialize, and learn more about Japanese culture.
Creating traditional Japanese art is a popular hobby among older people in Japan. While most practitioners of 習字 ‘shuji’ (calligraphy) and 生け花 ‘ikebana’ (traditional Japanese flower arrangement) are senior citizens, young people are welcome to join in too. If you’re interested in learning more about and creating your own Japanese artwork, look for crafting groups or classes at your local community center. Origami classes are a popular offering, and many hobbyist groups gather to make textiles, dolls, or pottery. Children are often present at these community center groups, so attending one can be a great way to get to know families in your local community.
After one too many lazy Saturdays, we find ourselves standing at the foot of an ice cold waterfall.
Our Japanese language reporter Masanuki Sunakoma has been in a rut: Sleeping until noon, only dragging himself out of his futon far enough to tuck his legs under his heated kotatsu table, and then lazing there all day until he rolling the few feet back into bed and going to sleep.
Sure, it’s a comfortable rut, but a rut is a rut, and recently he decided he needed to jolt himself out of it, so he decided to go and do takigyo.
By themselves, the kanji characters mean “waterfall” and “go,” so you might think takigyo refers to going to a waterfall to clear your mind and refresh your spirit through the tranquil atmosphere of nature. That’s…half-right.
What takigyo actually is is a form of ascetic meditation practiced in Japan, done while standing underneath a waterfall and letting the water pound on you, driving out mental impurities, evils, and other negative distractions from your mind.
While it’s a part of traditional Japanese culture, for safety reasons we don’t recommend just running off into the mountains and parking yourself under the first cascade you find. Luckily for Masanuki, Ryusenji Temple in the town of Kita Kyushu, not far from where he lives in Fukuoka Prefecture, offers a takigyo program on the second Saturday of every month. Participants of any and all religious beliefs are welcome, and Masanuki showed up for the mid-February session.
▼ A temple with a cute illustrated sign saying “Please Google our traditional waterfall meditation program” encompasses a lot of what …continue reading
While there are scores of different traditional handicrafts found across Japan, one with the longest history of all is urushi, or lacquerware.
What is urushi?
Urushi, or lacquer, comes from the varnish made from the sap of the urushinoki, better known in English as the Japanese lacquer tree or Japanese sumac. The items made from and with this lacquer are known in Japan as either urushinuri or shikki.
The history of lacquerware
Lacquer has been used in Japan since the Jomon period, anywhere from 15,000 to 2,300 years ago. During that time, it was mainly used as an antiseptic or adhesive, but over time it became a staple used in both functional and decorative items.
Everything from wooden pencils to everyday use soup bowls, hair combs, and even armor and coffins have been made from lacquerware. It is mainly applied to carved wooden items, but urushi is also used on metal, glass, fabrics and even plastics.
The Latin name for the urushinoki contains a hint as to the main problem with lacquer itself — Toxicodendron vernicifluum.
The liquid sap from these and other trees in its family contains urushiol, the same compound in poison ivy and poison oak that cause severe rashes and potentially fatal allergic reactions. In Japanese, the rashes are known as urushi kabure, or urushiol induced contact dermatitis.
While lacquerware products generally don’t cause reactions in users, while taking part in a lacquerware tutorial, my instructor informed me that those who have severe allergies to poison oak and so on might want to appreciate lacquerware from a distance, just in case.
As with most things, there are regional differences to shikki across Japan. Given that the sap is a natural component, knowing when and how to collect it, the quality and viscosity of the substance itself, as well as how …continue reading
Clever design combines fashionable looks with pajama-level comfort.
As the first warm sensations of spring make their appearance, it’s just about time to pack up the winter wardrobes we’ve been wearing for the past few months. If you’re living the stay-at-home lifestyle as the pandemic continues, though, odds are comfort is as high a priority as style, and thankfully Japanese roomwear brand Yuruwa is ready to provide both.
Yuruwa calls its latest lineup the Yuru Hakama Hannari Version, so let’s unpack the linguistics first. Hakama are the billowy pants worn over kimono, while yuru means “loose,” implying even extra comfort. As for hannari, it’s a Kyoto-dialect expression for a relaxed and cheerful elegance, in keeping with the fabrics’ colorful patterns.
But while these outfits look like separate tops and bottoms, they’re actually a clever one-piece design with a cinchable waist. That means no fussing with tying the sash or straightening the folds, helping the clothes achieve their goal of “combining the looks of traditional Japanese clothing with the functionality of modern clothing.” The garments are made out of 100-percent cotton that’s so soft and light that Yuruwa boasts you can use them as pajamas, and they’re machine washable too.
The women’s versions, available in gingko and tulip patterns, have a more prominent knot to their sash and a subtle lace trim to their collar.
The men’s options, meanwhile, are a breezy blue firework pattern or earthy leaf motif.
It’s not without it’s challenges, however, and one of them remains the Japanese people’s general skittishness when it comes to vaccines. It might seem surprising in a country that’s all too ready to slip on a mask, but the fear of side effects and a general attitude of “It probably won’t happen to me” has kept flu shot rates lingering at a steady 50 percent year after year, despite the fact that in Japan the number of flu deaths in 2018 was about the same as COVID-19 deaths in 2020.
However, some who fear that the prevention might be worse than the disease may be swayed by a recent report that the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare will award a lump sum of 44,200,000 yen (US$420,000) to the surviving family of any person who dies as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine and even cover funeral costs up to 209,000 yen ($2,000).
It doesn’t even matter if there was negligence on the part of medical staff or the vaccine producer. In other words, there’s no strings attached. Except, you know, the death part.
▼ Maybe if there’s way to tee up a dead-but-don’t-know-it situation like Bruce Willis did that one time….
This is actually a long standing policy of the ministry which covers any kind of vaccination, not just COVID-19. However, it recently …continue reading
Osaka District Court ruled on Tuesday that it is legitimate for a prefecture-run high school to ask its students to dye their brown hair black under school regulations and instructions.
In a lawsuit filed by a 21-year-old woman in 2017, the court, however, ordered the Osaka Prefectural Government to pay ¥330,000 to her for failing to include her name in attendance records after she stopped going school.
The woman sought some ¥2.2 million in damages from the prefectural government, claiming that she suffered mental distress as she became a truant student after she was ordered by teachers to dye her hair black. The school regulations ban brown hair.
“The school regulations are reasonable in light of conventional wisdom, and hair color instructions are based on a legitimate purpose under the school education act,” presiding Judge Noriko Yokota said.
Yokota also rejected the woman’s claim that her natural hair color is brown.
On the school failing to include her name in the attendance records when she advanced to the third year and not assigning her a seat in a classroom, the judge said that the school’s decision was extremely inappropriate, and that the school abused its discretionary power.
According to the ruling, the woman entered Osaka Prefecture Kaifukan Senior High School in Habikino in April 2015.
After she was repeatedly instructed to dye her brown hair black for violating the school regulations, she stopped attending the school in September 2016 when she was a second-year student.
The lawyer for the woman said at a news conference that the ruling is regrettable, adding that the court decision that her natural hair color is black is an unjustifiable factual error.
An official of the prefectural bureau of education said its position on school regulations and …continue reading
Sapporo’s oldest capsule hotel closes, apartment rents hit a record high, and Keio Plaza Hotel to offer monthly stays. Below is a quick weekly summary of some of the recent goings-on in the Japanese real estate market.
Sapporo’s oldest capsule hotel closes
Capsule Inn Sapporo closed its doors on January 24, ending 40 years of operations. It is said to be the oldest capsule hotel in Sapporo. In recent years it was running at a loss, made even worse by the pandemic. Sapporo’s entertainment district of Susukino continues to struggle with a sharp drop in tourists and shortened restaurant operating hours. On January 31, nearby Spa Hotel SOLE Susukino permanently closed. The capsule hotel opened in an existing office building in August 2013. BIZCOURT Cabin Susukino has been temporarily closed since March 2020.
Apartment rents in Tokyo hit record high in January
According to Tokyo Kantei, the average monthly advertised rent of a condominium-type apartment in the Tokyo metropolitan area was 3,723 Yen/sqm in January. This is the highest on record. In Tokyo’s 23 wards, the average rent was 3,853 Yen/sqm, up 0.8% from the previous month and up 3.2% from last year. In Osaka City, rents remained relatively flat at 2,464 Yen/sqm.
Keio Plaza Hotel offering monthly stays
Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku is following in the Imperial Hotel’s footsteps by offering hotel rooms on a monthly rental basis. A standard room (23.5 sqm) can be rented for 210,000 Yen (US$1,980), including tax, for a 30 night stay. A 33.7 sqm superior room goes for 240,000 Yen, while a 35.5 sqm deluxe room goes for 270,000 Yen. Up to two people can stay in the room. The packages include breakfast each day in the hotel restaurant, car parking, conference room use and newspaper delivery. Up to 16 rooms will be made available under this plan. …continue reading