Updated with media coverage of the visit.
Boston and New York had the honor of hosting Kumamon’s North American debut last week! Who is Kumamon you may ask? The rosy-cheeked, sack-shaped bear is the official mascot of Kumamoto Prefecture in Kyushu. Voted the top “Yuru-kyara” (cuddly mascot character) in Japan, he has taken Japan by storm and sold more than $300 million worth of merchandise in 2012 alone.
Kumamon’s remarkable success in promoting his rural prefecture across Japan–there is even an exclusive “Kumamon Goods” store in Tokyo’s upscale Ginza neighborhood–is being studied in government offices and marketing departments across Japan. In fact, no less than the Wall Street Journal has published no fewer than three articles about the phenomenon.
If you’d like to learn more about Kumamon, including what he does every day, I recommend checking him out online:
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/kumamotodiary.en
Home page: http://kumamon-official.jp/
Kumamon accompanied Kumamoto Governor Kabashima during his visit to Boston on Novermber 12-13, which included giving a lecture at Harvard on “The Political Economy of Kumamon: A New Frontier in Japan’s Public Administration.”
Kumamon spent time with the Boston Red Sox’s mascot, Wally the Green Monster, for what was surely an important, high-level diplomatic meeting. The full itinerary of their Boston visit can be found here, here, and here. Media coverage of their visit includes:
The lovable bear and Governor Kabashima made their way down to New York on November 14, where they paid back the compliment with a visit the Wall Street Journal. Later they visited the Consul General’s residence, as part of a special reception to promote Kyushu. JET alumni from the New York Chapter of JETAA representing all of the prefectures of Kyushu were invited to the reception. In addition to presentations on Kyushu travel, tourism and shochu, Governor Kabashima introduced Kumamon. Guests dined on Kumamoto oysters and “ekiben” prepared by the chef from Hataka Tonton, and sipped shochu from the region. Kumamon and Governor Kabashima’s full New York itinerary can be found here. Media coverage of their visit includes:
Photos of JET alumni at Kyushu Promotion event at Consul General’s residence
Governor Kabashima is an interesting person. He was an “at-risk” student who grew up poor in Kumamoto. Against all odds, through hard work and dedication he ended up earning a PhD from Harvard and becoming a political science professor at University of Tokyo. His launch of the Kumamon public relations campaign is one of the great local promotion success stories of recent times.
Kabashima has also gotten a lot done in Kumamoto, including making some real headway in repairing Kumamoto’s troubled finances (he started by cutting his own salary), trying to resolve remaining issues related to Minamata disease, and blocking Tokyo’s plans to build a huge dam in the prefecture. A very good article about his life can be found here in the Asahi newspaper. The governor introduces himself and his views in two videos, here and here.
From the start, Kumamoto Prefecture and local communities have been dedicated supporters of the JET Program. Year after year, the prefecture has been near the top of the list in hosting the most JETs, hosting around 100 this year. I myself was a Kumamoto JET. I grew to love the prefecture while I lived there, and now consider it to be my “second home.”
I encourage everyone to take some time to visit Kumamoto while traveling in Japan. The prefecture boasts some of the best onsen hot springs in the country. Aso-Kuju National Park is one of the natural wonders of the world, with its giant ancient crater that is so large that an entire volcano and six towns exist inside of it (I lived in one of them!). Kumamoto Castle is one of the three finest castles in Japan. Beautiful parks and gardens, beaches and mountains, history and culture, Kumamoto has it all!
If you are a JET alum from Kumamoto, I encourage you to join the LinkedIn Group for Kumamoto JET alumni here. In fact, I encourage all alumni to join their prefecture’s LinkedIn Group. You can find yours here. It’s a great way to stay connected with other alumni from your prefecture.
I’m glad JET alumni had a chance to welcome Governor Kabashima and Kumamon to the U.S. Congratulations on the great success of their first U.S. tour together!
Yes. This past week on Kume Island, children were sent screaming as a single wild lion went rampaging through a peaceful neighborhood. Well, it was mostly peaceful. Since it was the full moon and August 15th of the Kyureki calendar, there were also a bunch of people around banging gongs and playing music. There were also some creepy Hacaburo running around egging the lion on. Warned in advance that something might be going on, I showed up with some local friends just after sunset with my camera ready. What I saw shocked me, and soon my former students were running for cover… behind me.
By the end of the night no less than 5 children had been bitten. When asked, parents responded that they were overjoyed. One parent, while holding a screaming infant, smiled widely and talked about how smart he would be while neglecting to stop the lion from continuing its rampage.
For more on this story, visit MoreThingsJapanese.com for pictures and video.
Tara Hohenberger, who first fell in love with saké and the Japanese culinary world as an ALT in Nara (2001-2003) wrote to us about a film project she is helping produce. The documentary The Birth of Saké profiles the production seasons and lives of the workers at Tedorigawa, a fifth-generation, family-owned sake brewery in Ishikawa, Japan. Tedorigawa has been producing some of the world’s top award winning sakés since 1870 and still utilizes very traditional brewing methods.
Tara is working on the project with filmmaker Erik Shirai, who was a cinematographer on The Travel Channel’s No Reservations’ with Anthony Bourdain. The crew was first invited to the brewery in August of 2012 and was intrigued by the intense and relatively unknown process (even within Japan) of traditional saké making. Led by Brewmaster Teruyuki Yamamoto, the team of brewers is made up mostly of migrant farmers who grow rice in the summers and return to the brewery in late October to begin an intense six-month period of saké production. They will live under the same roof and eat three meals a day together. At the most intense time, when they brew the ultra-premium Daiginjyo variety they will barely have time to sleep.
In January 2013, they returned to Ishikawa and were granted permission to spend several weeks living amongst the workers at the brewery. It allowed them a rare window into a cast of vibrant and dynamic characters and fueled their interest in painting a deeper portrait of the people behind the product. Shirai’s film captures this little understood world with his signature lush visual aesthetics in the stillness of winter in northern Japan.
On July 9, they launched a Kickstarter campaign running through September 2, 2013, to complete the project. They hope to raise $50,000, which will allow a visit to film the Brewmaster in his hometown of Noto, Japan to illustrate the contrast of the intense life he leads inside the brewery for six months a year, with that of his land, his rice fields, his wife, children and his grandchildren. The film will also capture the critical moment when the workers return to the brewery to begin the production cycle again. Funding will also cover editing, musical composition, licensing, equipment rentals and other post-production costs.
You can view the trailer on The Birth of Saké’s Kickstarter page at
The filmmakers greatly appreciate your help in spreading the word about the film. Follow them at facebook.com/birthofsake + on Twitter: @iamwhatieatTV
Remember the job listing for the Part-time Project Director with the US-Japan Bridging Foundation (USJBF) to support JETAA USA growth? The USJBF has announced that it has selected Laurel Lukaszewski (ALT Kagoshima-ken, 1990-92) for the position for its new initiative “Strengthening the JETAA Network and Connecting Next Generation Leaders.”
Shojiki ni itte, it’s hard to imagine anyone better suited for the role. Laurel has maintained a strong connection with Japan and the Japan-US community since here time on the JET Program by previously serving on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Japan-America Societies (NAJAS), as the Executive Director for the Japan-America Society of Washington, D.C, and as a Program Director of the Japan-America Society in Seattle. She currently lives in Washington, D.C. where she actively participates on the Board of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and JETAADC. You can see her in this panel discussion with fellow JET alums Jim Gannon (Ehime-ken, 1992-94) and Anthony Bianchi (Aichi-ken, Inuyama-shi, 1988-89) from the 2011 JETAA National Conference in D.C.
July 11, 2013
The U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation (USJBF), is pleased to announce that Laurel Lukaszewski has been hired as Project Director for its new initiative “Strengthening the JETAA Network and Connecting Next Generation Leaders.” Funded by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP), the purpose of the project is to build infrastructure in support of the Japan-Exchange and Teaching Program Alumni Association, United States of America (JETAA USA) and enhance its impact promoting U.S.-Japan relations.
Laurel is an alumna of the JET Programme (Kagoshima-ken, 1990-1992) and has a solid understanding of U.S.-Japan relations, the U.S.-Japan community and how nonprofit and membership organizations are governed and run. After completing the JET Programme and receiving an M.A. in Asian Studies, Laurel embarked on a nine-year career with the Japan-America Societies in Seattle and Washington, D.C.. In 2005, Laurel left her position as ED of the JASW to pursue a career as an artist. She has maintained her ties to the JET Programme and U.S.-Japan community by serving as an active member of the JET Application Review and Interview committees for over thirteen years. Laurel served on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Japan America Societies (NAJAS), and has been on the National Cherry Blossom Festival Board of Directors since 2002. Paige Cottingham-Streater, Executive Director of the U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation said, “Laurel is a valuable addition to our team and will bring a unique understanding about the JET community and its potential to promote a strong U.S.-Japan relationship.”
The U.S.-Japan Bridging Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, awards scholarships to U.S. undergraduate students to study for one semester or academic year in Japan. The Foundation grows global leaders to help prepare America’s young people to assume future leadership roles in business, education, international and public affairs and other professions.
It’s no secret that Japanese food is popular outside of Japan. Not only is the food in-country highly rated, but there are Japanese restaurants all over the world. A lot of people wonder, why is Japanese food so good? It’s a complex answer. Many will tell you it’s umami, others the care and thought put into food, and yet more that it’s the simplicity of the dishes that highlights natural flavors.
I’m not a food expert, but I think it’s a bit of all the above.
When I lived in the States, I never ate fish. Maybe it was because I lived in the desert and all we got were frozen or river fish. Whatever the reason, I’ve had an aversion to most fish since I was young. Then, 5 years ago, I got dropped on a little island in the Pacific, their second industry being fishing. Their food was fresh, delicious, and amazing.
A week ago I had a shrimp that was still moving a bit. And IT WAS SO GOOD. My family will tell you what large strides my palate has taken over the last five years. So why was that prawn tail I had so much better than any other shrimp I’ve ever had? How did a bit of still moving shrimp overcome 23 years of stubborn dislike?
Simplicity. The shrimp was peeled, and served with a bit of soy sauce. There were no other flavors to get in the way, no cross-contamination from sauce pans, pasta, or other fish.
Umami. The briny flavor combined with the bite of soy and the sweetness of the meat meant create that unique sixth taste that everyone raves about. It’s a balance easily lost when the simplicity is left out.
Quality. Kume Island is known for miso cookies, sugar cane, and white sand beaches, but it’s also home to many kuruma prawn farms. Kuruma Prawns are similar to tiger shrimp, but a slightly different species. They’re the kind of shrimp Jiro’s restaurant used in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi.
So what makes Kume Island’s shrimp so good? Checkout the video below then head over to Kumeguide.com to learn more about Kume Island Prawns.
**Please note: At least 3 shrimp were harmed in the filming of the video and writing of this post. They were delicious.**
The sequel to “Sh*t Gaijin Say.” (Also no JETs involved to my knowledge.)
Just came across this on YouTube. (No JETs involved in this to my knowledge.)
Update 5/28/13: I originally listed Karl as a Gumma JET before learning that he’s actually based in Saitama-ken. Apologies for the error.
CBS News did a feature on Japanese school lunches this past Saturday morning, May 18. They happened to pick a Higashi Chichibu Junior High School in Saitama-ken where JET Karl Hoeschen works and they ended up interviewing him for the story.
Click the link below to see the video. (The features starts around 07:54:30, after the opening segment on Michelle Obama.)
Here’s another link to the video that also has a written article in connection with the video: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-33816_162-57585156/whats-for-lunch-in-japanese-schools-its-always-healthy/
Tom Baker (Chiba-ken, 1989-91) spent many years on the staff of The Daily Yomiuri. On April 1 this year, The Daily Yomiuri became The Japan News. The paper’s website includes a daily video introducing a few sample headlines from each day’s paper, and Tom is one of the presenters. His latest video appears below, and you can see more at the-japan-news.com or The Japan News’ YouTube page.
Your first question is probably a lot like mine when I got my placement in Kitadaito. Where?
A lot of us on the JET programme end up in interesting locations that we’ve never heard of before. My first JET posting was on a small island, 320km east of the Okinawan mainland with a population of 550 people. I spent three years on Kitadaito and loved every(well pretty much) minute. A lot of what I learned there inspired my first two books Samurai Awakening and Revenge of the Akuma Clan. During my time on the island, I made a video for an event on the mainland.
The video was my first ever and I used school equipment which, combined with my limited experience produced a so-so video. I went back with a bit more practice and re-did the video, upgrading the quality where I could and adding new material from a visit last year. I hope you enjoy this digital look at Kitadaito Island.
Here’s a little background from the WILL & TALE site:
Like many fans, we’ve been anxiously awaiting the release of Man Of Steel since it was announced a few years ago. Taking inspiration from diehard fans who created unofficial title sequences for films such as Adventures of Tintin and X-Men: First Class, we wanted to see how far we could go with this same idea. The result is a passion project – the culmination of many long nights and weekends over the past three months.
The story we developed is a take on our favorite superhero, Superman. We created a narrative of news anchors and eyewitnesses highlighting major events throughout Clark Kent’s life. It was important to have Clark’s story told by the world and show how he has impacted the lives of others.
Nothing in the video has been pulled from a video game or other movie footage. We created all the 2D/3D animations, compositing, articles, voiceover recordings, and more.
By far my most popular post on More Things Japanese is my easy recipe for Chahan. This time around, I wanted to share a slightly more time-consuming, but even tastier recipe for those of you who love Chahan. As with my advanced recipe for miso soup, it is all made from scratch, including the dashi. This take on Fried Rice is a mix of the local flavors I’ve learned on small Okinawan islands, and a bit of flair from me as well. I hope you enjoy.
- 5 cups water
- 1 piece conbu
- 1 cup packed bonito flakes
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 onion
- 170g sausage
- 1 pack mushrooms
- 1tsp salt
- 1 carrot
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 package nirai
- 1 cob fresh corn
- 1/2 cup chopped green onions
- 1/2 cup chopped nira (a scallion-like leaf)
- 5 eggs
- 1tbsp sake
- 6 tbsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp ginger
- 2tbsp mustard
- 2tbsp honey
- 1/2 tsp pepper
For detailed directions visit MoreThingsJapanese.com
Wesley Julian (Miyagi-ken, 2008-10) is now in Japan with a small film crew making a video that will share the story of JET alums and others who have made and continue to make a difference in Tohoku, Japan. Below is a video update from Wesley regarding his Tohoku Tomo project:
Himeji Castle in Hyogo Prefecture is hailed as the most fabulous of Japan’s many castles. It is definitely the largest. I had the opportunity to visit Himeji for a half-day at the start of March in 2013. Himeji Castle is a UNESCO World Hertiage site.
Over the past several years, the main keep of Himeji Castle has been covered by a giant scaffolding that is essentially a building that encircles the high roof. The internal structure has been reinforced to prevent earthquake damage, while the plaster and roofing tiles have been replaced or reworked for water and fire proofing.
The last major restoration of the castle was completed in 1964. This new reconstruction is similar to the first. When I visited the restoration work was nearly complete. I had the opportunity to travel to the top of the scaffolding and view the roof from the outside, a view that will disappear in 2014 as the scaffolding is disassembled and the main keep re-opened. Despite the construction work, I found the grounds beautiful and interesting. Though the inner keep is not accessible, much of the rest of the grounds were, including the West Bailey. It was a great way to spend a few hours strolling through the castle grounds and trying to snap a few photos.
Throughout the grounds there are multilingual plaques describing many aspects of the history and culture of the castle including its reconstruction and maintenance. Many crests of past lords who reigned at the castle, many worked into the roofing tiles. In the Egret’s Eye View, I was even able to observe a live demonstration of the tiling work. I’ve always found Japanese style tile roofs to be interesting, so it was great to see how they and the walls were actually put together.
Himeji Castle is located in Hyo prefecture at 68 hon-machi, Himeji, Hyogo. Hours of operation are 9 am to 4 pm (September through April) and 9 am to 5 pm (May to August). Closed December 29 and 30. The Egrets Eye closes a bit earlier.
For more pictures from Himeji Castle please checkout my post at www.MoreThingsJapanese.com