Archive | December, 2010

The “Japanese Schindler”

31 Dec

Today is the last day of the first decade of the 21st century. And New Years is Japan’s biggest holiday. But this post is unrelated to that. Click here if you’d like to read an post I wrote about New Years in Japan.

This post is about a man who risked his career and even his life to help save thousands of Jews from Nazis in Europe during World War II.

杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune),
1900 Jan 1 - 1986 July 31.

His name is 杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune) and he’s often called the “Japanese Schindler” because his courageous actions were similar to the German Oskar Schindler whose story was made famous by the movie titled “Schindler’s List” by Steven Spielberg.

杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune) was a diplomat for Japan in Lithuania during the war.

While stationed there he issued thousands of visas to Jews to enter Japan and transit to America, Canada or other countries.
He issued the visas without proper approval from Tokyo and without even requiring proper application paperwork from the people he gave them to.

If he was discovered by the Japanese government he would have be striped of his diplomatic credentials, removed from office and probably prosecuted.
If he was discovered by the Nazis, his fate would surely have been much worse.

When asked why he risked so much, he replied:

It is the kind of sentiments anyone would have when he actually sees refugees face to face, begging with tears in their eyes. He just cannot help but sympathize with them. Among the refugees were the elderly and women. They were so desperate that they went so far as to kiss my shoes, Yes, I actually witnessed such scenes with my own eyes. Also, I felt at that time, that the Japanese government did not have any uniform opinion in Tokyo. Some Japanese military leaders were just scared because of the pressure from the Nazis; while other officials in the Home Ministry were simply ambivalent.

People in Tokyo were not united. I felt it silly to deal with them. So, I made up my mind not to wait for their reply. I knew that somebody would surely complain about me in the future. But, I myself thought this would be the right thing to do. There is nothing wrong in saving many people’s lives….The spirit of humanity, philanthropy…neighborly friendship…with this spirit, I ventured to do what I did, confronting this most difficult situation—and because of this reason, I went ahead with redoubled courage.

– 杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune)

There are monuments dedicated to 杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune) in America, Europe and Japan.

 

Monument to 杉原千畝 (Sugihara Chiune) in "Little Tokyo", Los Angeles, California, USA.

Wonka bar

30 Dec

Do you know Roald Dahl?
He was a great author of classic children’s books such as “Matilda“, “James And The Giant Peach“, and “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory“, many of which have been into excellent movies.

When I was a kid I read his book “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” and I saw the 1970′s film adaptation starring Gene Wilder that was titled “Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory“.

 

「夢のチョコレート工場」 ("Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory")

The better movie version of this story was the one made by director Tim Burton and starred Johnny Depp.
This version was titled the same as the book and more closely followed the storyline.

 

「チャーリーとチョコレート工場」 ("Charlie And The Chocolate Factory")

In the story, Charlie finds one of the limited number of “Wonka Chocolate Bars” with a “Gold Ticket”.

Similarly, I learned that most of the “Wonka Chocolate Bars” sold in Japan have the same English-language labels as the ones sold in other countries…but there are harder-to-find “Wonka Chocolate Bars” with labels with the name written in Japanese カタカナ (Katakana) characters.

Well, I saw some in a store yesterday and, even though I don’t eat chocolate often, I bought one.

It says 「ウォンか」 which means "Wonka".

I haven’t opened it yet. I’m going to give it to my kids but I’ll probably try a piece of it.
Have you ever tried a “Wonka Bar”? Is it good?

How is X-mas celebrated in your country?

27 Dec

Christmas isn’t nearly as big of a holiday in Japan as it is in western countries.
In Japan, New Years is the biggest holiday.

In Japan, Xmas is a regular workday and many people don’t even bother to celebrate it at all.
Generally speaking, X-mas Eve is considered a romantic evening for couples to go on a date…often to a place with X-mas Illumination, and either on X-mas Eve or X-mas Day families eat a Christmas dinner (often of Kentucky Fried Chicken).
Champagne and “Christmas cake” are popular parts of a X-mas dinner in Japan too.

Japanese X-mas cake (from "Fujiya")

To give you an idea of how X-mas is spent in Japan, some statistics from a poll taken by monitoring group conducting a poll of Japanese people (the respondents were a ratio of 50:50 male:female and between the ages of 20-60):

  • How do you spend Christmas?
    - Relax at home 45%
    - Nothing special 19%
    - Party at home 17%
    - Go on a date 10%
    - Go drinking 5%
    - Take a trip 4%

  • Who do you spend X-mas with?
    - Family 64%
    - Boyfriend / girlfriend 11%
    - Undecided 11%
    - Alone 8%
    - Friends 5%
    - Other 1%

  • What will you eat on X-mas? (multiple answers OK)
    - Christmas cake 61%
    - Roast chicken 53%
    - Fried chicken 47%
    - Pizza 39%
    - Salad 35%
    - Sushi 25%

  • What will you drink on X-mas? (multiple answers OK)
    - Beer 44%
    - Champagne 43%
    - Wine 36%
    - Other 29%

How important is Christmas in your country? What is your country’s biggest holiday?
How is X-mas celebrated in your country?

Some photos

24 Dec

Here are a few photos I took around Tokyo yesterday.

Public mailboxes in Japan are orange and have two slots. One for domestic mail and one for international.
But in late December, they’re changed…they become one slot for 「年賀状」 (New Years Postcards) and the other slot for all other mail.

Click here to read a post I wrote that explains a lot about New Years in Japan…including 「年賀状」 (New Years Postcards).

 

Until early January, the left slot is for 「年賀状」 (New Years Postcards) and the one on the right is for other mail.

 

「年賀郵便」 (New Year's mail)

Yesterday was 「天皇誕生日」 (the Emperor of Japan’s birthday). It’s a national holiday in Japan.
On Japanese national holidays many buildings such as post offices and 交番 (Police Boxes) display the 「日の丸」 (Japanese flag). It can also be seen on the front of city buses and along streets.

 

Putting the flag away in the evening.

 

「パンダ・クロース」 ("Panda Claus")

This panda reminded me of a sign I saw last March in Ueno about the panda that the zoo will be getting.
Click here to read my post about it.

Also, I have a few posts about the many different flavors of Kit-Kat in Japan.
Click here to see the most extensive post.

Well, I saw a store in 東京駅 (Tokyo train station) that sold many of the flavors.

This store sold many flavors, including 「わさび」 (Wasabi), 「いちみ」 (Chili), Strawberry Cheesecake, and the store's recommendation: Blueberry Cheesecake.

2010 in review

23 Dec

Yesterday was 冬至 (Winter Solstice). In Japan, many people eat pumpkin and take a bath with Yuzu fruit to prevent catching a cold.

Click here to read a post I wrote with more detail about this Japanese tradition.

Today is a holiday in Japan. It’s 天皇誕生日 (the Emperor of Japan’s birthday). He’s 77 years old now.
This is one of the two days of the year that the public are invited into the Emperor’s Palace grounds to see him and listen to his speech.

Click here to read my FAQ about it.

Anyways, every year the Mitsukoshi Department Store in 銀座 (Ginza, Tokyo) has an exhibit of press photos of the biggest news stories of the year.

We often go to see it. And we went to this year’s exhibit today.

It was quite good, as usual. There were nearly 300 photos that showed many big events of this year…from the World Cup and the Olympics to the miners rescue in Chile.

2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada

Of course, there was photos of the closing of the Kabuki Theater in Tokyo.
Click here to read my post about this famous theater’s closing (with photo that I took).

The closing of the famous Kabuki Theater in Ginza, Tokyo.

If you’re in Tokyo you should check out this exhibit. It’s free of charge and runs until Sunday (2010 December 26).

All photos in this post are from the Mitsukoshi 2010 Press Photo Exhibit website.

Pizza Burger

19 Dec

I wrote a post about how, for many people in Japan, “Christmas dinner” = Kentucky Fried Chicken.

It’s been that way for years.

And I also wrote another post about how McDonalds in Japan is offering a special chicken meal set for Christmas this year in attempt to take some of the lucrative X-mas chicken-dinner market from Kentucky Fried Chicken of Japan.

Well, it seems that Burger King Japan has decided to jump on the bandwagon.

But rather than try to compete directly with Kentucky Fried Chicken (which would probably be a futile attempt since if Japanese people don’t prepare their own X-mas dinner they almost inevitably have chicken from KFC), Burger King Japan is offering a “NY Pizza Burger Set” as their holiday set.

The huge Pizza Burger (which meant to shared by six or so people) can be ordered 単品 (singularly, without the “set”) for ¥1,680. Or a single burger “slice” can be bought for ¥320.

But the entire “Holiday Set” can be purchased until 2010 December 30th for ¥2,980.

This set comes with one Pizza Burger (serves six), a salad, an order of “BK Chicken Tenders”, an order of “BK Cheese Bits”, and an order of onion rings.

2010′s Top Baby Names

17 Dec

My daughters were born in the early – mid ’90s, so it’s not really relevant to me but it’s still interesting to see how the most popular names people chose for their babies changes over time.

The most popular names of my generation are no longer popular with today’s parents.

When I was born, the top five boys names for American babies were:
Michael, David, James, John and Robert.
The top five girls names in America that year were:
Lisa, Michelle, Jennifer, Kimberly and Melissa.

At the same time, the top five boys names in Japan back then were:
Makoto, Hiroshi, Osamu, Naoki and Tetsuya.
For Japanese baby girls, it was:
Akemi, Mayumi, Yumiko, Keiko and Kumiko (names ending with ~子 (-ko) used to very popular for girls in Japan…now, not so much).

These days, I guess those names are considered “old-fashioned” in both America and Japan.

In America, the top five boys names for babies born in 2010 were:
Aiden, Liam, Noah, Jackson and Ethan.
For American baby girls:
Sophia, Charlotte, Ava, Addison and Olivia.

This year (2010), the most popular baby names for boys in Japan were:
Ren, Hiroto, Souta, Yuuma and Sora.
For Japanese baby girls in 2010:
Yua, Yui, Aoi, Hina and Riko.

America’s GM CEO insults Japanese cars

14 Dec

The 「最高経営責任者」 (Chief Executive Officer (CEO)) of one of America’s automobile corporation,  Dan Akerson, unveiled the latest model of the Chevrolet electric hybrid car called the “Volt“.

GM's Chevrolet "Volt"

At the unveiling of his company’s car, Mr. Akerson decided to express his opinion of Toyota Motor‘s hybrid car, the “Prius“.
He called Japan’s Prius a “geek-mobile” (かっこ悪い車) and he said that he wouldn’t be caught dead in one.

I wouldn’t be caught dead in a (Toyota) Prius.

- Dan Akerson, General Motors C.E.O.

The Toyota Prius doesn’t look “geeky” to me.  What do you think?

 

Toyota Prius

Which do you think is nicer, the Chevy “Volt” or the Toyota “Prius”?

2010 was a “hot” year

11 Dec

Every year around this time in Japan a Kanji character is chosen that best represents the year that is ending. The character is presented in the public in a ceremony in Kyoto, Japan in which a Buddhist monk writes the character in 習字 (Japanese calligraphy).

Last year the character 「新」 (“new“) was chosen to represent 2009. (Click here to read my post about it).

This past summer had record high temperatures in Japan.
Also from August until October, miners in the country of Chile were trapped underground where the temperature was often over 30°C.
And Japan sent an unmanned space probe into space to take samples of an asteroid. Upon it’s return to Earth, most of the capsule was destroyed in the re-entry temperature of over 10,000°C.

For these reasons it was decided that the Kanji character that represents 2010 is 「」, which means “hot“.

Top news stories of 2010

11 Dec

It’s almost 2011. It seems that 2010 just flew by! But maybe it only feels that way because I’m getting older. ;)
What would you say were the biggest news stories of 2010?
Which stories were covered by the news media extensively where you live? Which stories affected you the most?

As for me, I think I’d say that 2010′s biggest headlines were:

  • North Korea attacked South Korea in November 2010.
    I live in Japan and Korea is the nearest country to us. So if the Korean War were to restart, it could affect Japan.

    Norea Korea bombed South Korea, Nov. 2010
  • Haiti Earthquake
    On 2010 January 12, a major earthquake struck the country of Haiti. Over 90,000 people died.
    Japan is an earthquake-prone country. I think they are the worst of the natural disasters since they can strike anytime without warning.

  • Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico
    In April 2010, a major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico caused over 4 million barrels of oil to pollute the water and cause immense damage to the eco-system.
    I grew up on the Gulf coast of Florida.

Which news stories do you think were 2010′s biggest?

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