Delightful Art Installations in Omihachiman, Shiga

Recently, I went to the Biwako Biennale (English page) in Omihachiman, Shiga. If you’re in the area, you can go too! It’s running until November 11, 2018.

First of all, Omihachiman is a charming little town, worth the trip by itself. There’s a reason you’ll find essentially this same picture, taken by a hundred other people — it’s a beautiful view that isn’t hard to enjoy.

Lovely canal!

Our main destination that day, though, was the Biwako Biennale, an art installation festival going on throughout Omihachiman. For ¥2,200, we got admission to a variety of very cool art installations.

These were generally built into old houses or other old buildings — these art installation biennales and triennales are becoming fairly popular throughout Japan, especially in smaller towns where dropping populations are leading to vacant buildings.

Some of the exhibits are full-scale installations that simply must be visited to be properly enjoyed (such as the hanging lights near the top, or this one above), but some of them were collections of smaller items. For instance, this next photo is one of several similar items; though it looks like a jar or vase or something wrapped in a cloth, the whole thing — “cloth” and all — is made of clay.

And then there was this large, impressive work. Perhaps the most impressive aspect was the fact that every part of it was made out of food. The bags below, in fact, contain examples of some of the seeds and other items used in the sculpture above.

If you have the chance, I absolutely recommend visiting for yourself! It’s still running for another week or so, and these photos only scratch the surface. A lot of the exhibits can only be properly experienced in person, so I didn’t even try to photograph them! And some of them, well… some of them are at least sort of expressed in video, but they’re still a lot more fun in person too.

Hello! I’m Greg, an American who has lived in Japan since 2008. I have a tremendous fondness for both reading and writing, which helps out quite a bit in my work as a translator: after all, at its core, the job is built on writing. I’ve always been fascinated with languages, and how they can differ in how they treat even seemingly basic, fundamental things. In particular, there are many common Japanese words that have no good English equivalent, so finding a good way to translate them can be a really interesting challenge.

 

My other hobbies include cooking (Serious Eats is one of my favorite websites, and I cook dinner from scratch nearly every evening), playing games with friends (both tabletop and video games), calligraphy (both English and Japanese, filling an A6 page with some sort of calligraphy practice every day for the past few years), photography, and a long-held interest in computers (as a teenager, I installed operating systems recreationally).

 

I also drink too much oolong tea.

The Spirit of the Old Edo Lives On… through Shopping

They say that back in the days of the Tokugawa shogunate, the feudal lords (or daimyo) from throughout Japan would alternate spending a year in Edo (now Tokyo) and spending a year at home.

This is the sort of fact that feels like it could be, but almost certainly isn’t, related to the “antenna shops” of Tokyo.

Bridge Niigata

Word is that Tokyo’s “antenna shops,” or shops dedicated to specific prefectures, began to spring up in the early 1990s. Today, these shops can be found in clusters around Tokyo, mainly in Ginza and the adjacent Yurakucho, but they can also be found in other areas of town, too: there are a few in Nihonbashi and Aoyama, as well.

Mie Terrace

These shops generally offer a selection of foods and snacks from the prefecture in question, as well as a collection of local sake and other products: for instance, Toyama’s antenna shop features tin items from Nousaku, as well as binzasara, a type of traditional musical instrument. Nara’s offers local pickled vegetables. Fukui’s offers heshiko preserved mackerel. These stores offer quite a range of items, including, in one case, wooden dressers and chests of drawers(!).

Mahoroba Nara

Some of these shops can be quite sizable: the one for Ishikawa, for example, is three stories(!), continuing up to the second floor and down into the basement.

Ishikawa Antenna Shop

Interestingly, though these are relatively prevalent in Tokyo, they can occasionally be seen elsewhere: in Kyoto and Osaka, for example, I’ve seen stores dedicated to Shiga, Okinawa, and the prefectures on the island of Shikoku.

On the other hand, I do feel like maybe Eataly in Nihonbashi doesn’t quite count as an antenna shop, as thematically appropriate as it may be.

Eataly Nihonbashi is not nearly as large as the one in New York, but still pretty good

If you can’t make it out of Tokyo, these shops are a fun way to get at least a taste of the rest of the country — or, if you miss the unique specialties of elsewhere in Japan, a taste of home.

Hello! I’m Greg, an American who has lived in Japan since 2008. I have a tremendous fondness for both reading and writing, which helps out quite a bit in my work as a translator: after all, at its core, the job is built on writing. I’ve always been fascinated with languages, and how they can differ in how they treat even seemingly basic, fundamental things. In particular, there are many common Japanese words that have no good English equivalent, so finding a good way to translate them can be a really interesting challenge.

 

My other hobbies include cooking (Serious Eats is one of my favorite websites, and I cook dinner from scratch nearly every evening), playing games with friends (both tabletop and video games), calligraphy (both English and Japanese, filling an A6 page with some sort of calligraphy practice every day for the past few years), photography, and a long-held interest in computers (as a teenager, I installed operating systems recreationally).

 

I also drink too much oolong tea.

スノーピーク山井太さんのお話を聴いて

先日のことですがスノーピークの本社を訪れて山井太氏のお話を聴いたことがとても印象に残っているので、ブログに記しておきたいと思います。

まずスノーピークについて。
https://www.snowpeak.co.jp/

新潟県三条市に本社を置く、世界を舞台に活躍するキャンプ用品メーカー。その品質はキャンプ愛好家の間では憧れとなっているそうです。
カンブリア宮殿で取り上げられるなど、非常に注目を浴びている企業です。

私はキャンプをしないのでスノーピークの製品を使ったことはなかったのですが、山井社長自身がキャンプ愛好家で1年の大半をキャンプ場で過ごしてユーザー目線の商品開発を大切にしている、という話をどこかで聞いて面白い会社があるものだな、と頭の片隅に残っていたので、知人からのお誘いでスノーピーク本社に訪問できるときいて、すぐに申込みをしたのでした。

本社はさすがと言いますか、非常に洗練された建物でした。三条市の郊外にある野山のなかにドカンと現れるのですが、良い意味でロケーションにそぐわないオシャレな建物が個性的です。

その本社の会議室で山井社長が経営について話をされました。

お話の枠組みは画像のスライドにある通り。

①AIに取って代わられる仕事が増える。新しいことを創造するのが人間の仕事である。

②企業経営には理念が重要。会社の目指すべき方向を明確にしなくてはいけない。

③顧客・社員・情報が集まるには経営者のパッション(熱量)が重要である。

そのなかで特に印象に残ったのが②でした。

経営者は会社の目指すべき方向を明確しなくてはならない。
山井社長は「真北の方角」という言葉で言っていました。

コンパスに例えて理念について説明されていたのですが、
方向が1ミリ違うと最初はわずかな誤差であっても、1年後ましてや10年後には大きなズレになる。自分たちの「真北の方角」を見極める先見性、知性、そして哲学が企業経営にはとにかく重要である。

会社だけではなく個人にとっても「真北の方角」を見極めることはとても大切ですね。

スノーピークの真北の方角をまとめたものが現在の理念であるそうです。
The Snow Peak Wayと名付けられた理念がウェブサイトにも載っています。
https://www.snowpeak.co.jp/about/01missionstatement.html

私達スノーピークは、一人一人の個性が最も重要であると自覚し、
同じ目標を共有する真の信頼で力を合わせ、
自然指向のライフスタイルを提案し実現するリーディングカンパニーをつくり上げよう。

私達は、常に変化し、革新を起こし、時代の流れを変えていきます。

私達は自らもユーザーであるという立場で考え、
お互いが感動できるモノやサービスを提供します。

私達は、私達に関わる全てのモノに良い影響を与えます。

 

The Snow Peak Wayは山井社長が会社を継がれた際に、その時のメンバーに「自分たちのミッションはなにか?」について考えてもらい、書き出してもらったものを、社長がまとめた内容ということでした。
その後、社長はこの考えを社内で言い続けていたそうで、現在のスノーピークがあるのはThe Snow Peak Wayを作ったことが最も大きな要因だ、と断言していました。

全体会議や入社式など、多くの人が集まる場所でみなさんで唱和するそうで、その度に「素晴らしい内容だな」と社長自身が胸が熱くなるほど、深く信じ愛している理念とのこと。

エクスプレッションズの理念
「外国語サービスの提供を通じて、社会の国際的な発展に貢献します。」

The Snow Peak Wayのように磨き高めていくことが、より良い会社にするために必要なことではないか。
そんな風に考えるきっかけを得ることができた貴重な体験でした。

Off the Beaten Path: Yokai Street and Halloween in Japan

In the past three or four years, it has been almost impossible to not notice Halloween making a rapid transition in Japan from “not really a thing at all” to “very much a thing,” though in practice it’s hard to say how much of the modern traditions of, say, American Halloween have been adopted.1

That old traditional favorite, blood glasses

What is most interesting about Halloween in Japan, arguably, is not the fact that Japan has more than its own share of ghost stories and other eeriness, but the fact that so little of it seems to wind up overlapping with Halloween — summer is the season of ghost stories in Japan, or at least that seems to be the stereotype.

In their defense, these ghost breads are positively adorable.

In Kyoto, however, there is a little shopping street, only about 400 meters long, that has benefited perhaps more than most from Japan’s newfound interest in autumnal spookiness. Drawing on local folklore from a thousand years ago,2 this little street rebranded itself as “Yokai Street,” named after the yokai monsters from Japanese folklore, in the hopes of drawing visitors to stir up business and revitalize the local shops. One of the main signs you’ll see of this is little figures of traditional creatures from folklore out front of the shops, often made from whatever the shop sells, or sometimes just folklore-based variants on common things like the “watch for children” sign.

Watch for cyclops children at play

CURRENT MOOD:

The local temple also holds semi-regular Mononoke-ichi art and craft markets, where visitors can buy coasters, sculptures, socks, art books, and more, all of it with a monsters-from-Japanese-folklore theme, or at least, say, eyeballs or white foxes. Depending on the season, you might also be able to get yourself a special bowl of shaved ice.

Current tally: 2 sad, 1 happy

One of the biggest events for this street, though, is a revival every several months of an old tradition based on the same legend: the Hyakki-yakō, or, essentially, “night of a hundred monsters.”3 As night falls, people crowd this street for a parade of monsters and ghouls, organized as a revival of the sorts of costumed parades once held in this part of Kyoto, many centuries ago.

Lanterns and fursuits!

Tengu guy wearing legitimate tall and narrow geta sandals! (not pictured

More foxes, or maybe cats? I am not good at animals.

Fox mask done in makeup, with cool weird contact lenses!

The “HAPPY HALLOWEEN” banners decorating the shops on the next street over last weekend may have been more conventionally Halloween-themed, but Yokai Street certainly felt much more in the spirit of the holiday. Perhaps that’s why they scheduled the parade for October.

For more information on Kyoto’s Hyakki-yakō and Mononoke-ichi events, check out their web site (in Japanese only). Their next event, as of this writing, is schedule for the second half of December: they’ll actually be visiting Tokyo to hold a Mononoke-ichi market there!


  1. Trick-or-Treating still seems decidedly exotic, but on the other hand, Halloween decorations can be seen popping up everywhere. The decorations have been generically “Christmas” or “Valentine’s Day” enough that it has led my wife and me to occasionally jokingly refer to them as “Merry Halloween” decorations. Lots of orange and black around, though, in any case. 
  2. During the Heian era (794–1185), at least in this part of Kyoto, it was said that old household tools and items thrown out while cleaning your home would hold grudges for being disposed of so coldly, so the tools decided to become monsters of various sorts to take their revenge on those who threw them out. As a result of this belief (or legend), there were nighttime parades held in this area centuries ago where people would dress up like these monsters. 
  3. Interestingly, this phrase is also used in a non-literal sense to refer to a state of utter chaos. 

Hello! I’m Greg, an American who has lived in Japan since 2008. I have a tremendous fondness for both reading and writing, which helps out quite a bit in my work as a translator: after all, at its core, the job is built on writing. I’ve always been fascinated with languages, and how they can differ in how they treat even seemingly basic, fundamental things. In particular, there are many common Japanese words that have no good English equivalent, so finding a good way to translate them can be a really interesting challenge.

 

My other hobbies include cooking (Serious Eats is one of my favorite websites, and I cook dinner from scratch nearly every evening), playing games with friends (both tabletop and video games), calligraphy (both English and Japanese, filling an A6 page with some sort of calligraphy practice every day for the past few years), photography, and a long-held interest in computers (as a teenager, I installed operating systems recreationally).

 

I also drink too much oolong tea.

I Really Like Osaka.

Osaka is easily one of my favorite places in Japan — up until early in the 20th century, it was actually the largest city in Japan (and the bombings it experienced during World War II certainly didn’t help it). What’s perhaps more interesting than its size, though, was its traditional clout: back during the feudal era, the merchant town of Naniwa (its name at the time) was enough of an economic powerhouse that, to no small extent, the city just ignored the shogunate government in Edo (now Tokyo).

Because of its history as a city built on and around business, rather than, say, politics and governance (Edo/Tokyo or Kyoto) or culture (Kanazawa), Osaka developed a reputation for… well, for everything that a city with lots of money and nobody to really answer to would develop a reputation for. In particular, Osaka became a center for both food and entertainment, in addition to commerce.

Even today, Osaka’s place in modern Japanese culture leans heavily toward the entertainment industry. The National Bunraku Theatre, dedicated to bunraku puppetry, is located in Osaka, rather than Tokyo as one might expect of a “national” anything.

Of course, more than highbrow entertainment, Osaka is closely associated with lowbrow popular entertainment. It’s widely regarded as that place you go if you’re an aspiring comedian, and rumor has it that people will even cultivate an Osaka accent as a way to make their way into the comedy world.1 This focus on comedy and showmanship has become a fundamental part of Osaka’s character — I’ve said on numerous occasions, half-jokingly, that while your stereotypical Tokyo resident might want nothing more than to drift, ghostlike and unnoticed, from public transit to their office and back every day for forty years, then retire to the country, the stereotypical Osaka resident doesn’t so much believe as simply knows that they will one day be on TV, so it’s crucial to keep in practice every single day.

This can be seen in parts of casual Osaka culture like nori-tsukkomi, which is essentially an extension of straight man/funny man comedy duo dynamics, where, for example, someone might ask for a bottle opener to open a bottle of beer, in response to which someone might hand them, say, a wrench, and say “here you go.” The proper response to something like this in Osaka is to play along for a moment, pretending to use the wrench (or whatever) as a “bottle opener,” after which point the norm is to react in an exaggeratedly exasperated way to the fact that no, of course it’s not a bottle opener.2

One fun thing about this deep cultural emphasis on comedy is its effect on local marketing:

The tooth is basically shouting

A billboard for a dental clinic. The headline at the top reads, in a thick Osaka accent, “Do you want to get your teeth drilled, or don’t you?” The message below the picture says, “If you don’t want to get your teeth drilled, then take precautions [to prevent cavities]!”

The Osaka police also have some really great marketing as well:

“Even if you can’t transform, you can still be an ally of justice.”

“Ideal job candidate.” (The copy underneath the picture reads, “For people who want to preserve their sense of justice.”)


  1. Interestingly, so far as I’m aware, this particular phenomenon isn’t necessarily limited to Japan: I seem to recall having heard a long time ago of a comedian being given advice by a mentor, who told them to, among other things, work to develop at least a hint of a southern US accent. 
  2. This comes directly from a fantastic episode of the TV show Himitsu no Kenmin Show, a show about unique local differences in various regions of Japan that the locals are often unaware aren’t universal. The example given happened with a hidden camera at a restaurant (and actually kept going), where the waiter would bring out a bottle of beer without an opener, and bring out silly things when customers asked for an opener. Osaka has such a uniquely straightforward and showmanship-oriented culture that Kenmin Show has a segment on it practically every week, with the occasional comparison to how people in Tokyo would react to something like responding to a waitress’s “Have you decided what you’d like?” with “Your phone number” (the answer: with a terrified stony silence descending around the entire table, instead of a laugh and/or a clearly fake response like 110, Japan’s emergency number), or how casually people in Osaka ask about one another’s salary or rent (“It’s like asking someone, ‘Did you watch Kenmin Show last night? What’s your rent?’ Same feeling.”). 

Hello! I’m Greg, an American who has lived in Japan since 2008. I have a tremendous fondness for both reading and writing, which helps out quite a bit in my work as a translator: after all, at its core, the job is built on writing. I’ve always been fascinated with languages, and how they can differ in how they treat even seemingly basic, fundamental things. In particular, there are many common Japanese words that have no good English equivalent, so finding a good way to translate them can be a really interesting challenge.

 

My other hobbies include cooking (Serious Eats is one of my favorite websites, and I cook dinner from scratch nearly every evening), playing games with friends (both tabletop and video games), calligraphy (both English and Japanese, filling an A6 page with some sort of calligraphy practice every day for the past few years), photography, and a long-held interest in computers (as a teenager, I installed operating systems recreationally).

 

I also drink too much oolong tea.