Author Archive Kinjo

Tokutei Guinou Visa – Specified Skills 2

Who qualifies for the new visa?

There are 2 new visa types being introduced: Specified Skills 1 and Specified Skills 2. Of the two, Specified Skills 1 is the more immediately accessible. Let’s look at this in more detail.

Specified Skills 2

This second visa type is a step up from Specified Skills 1 and recognizes those workers who are more highly qualified or better experienced in their field of work.

If you qualify for a Specified Skills 2 visa, then there are some additional benefits to be had.

Firstly, provided you continue working, obeying the law and paying your taxes, the visa can be renewed indefinitely, there is no limit on how long you can stay in Japan and like most other visa types, you could, in principle, apply for permanent residency after 10 years of continuous residence.

However, as this new status doesn’t exist yet, there is currently no data available to determine the likelihood of your application for permanent residence being approved.

Tokutei Guinou Visa – Specified Skills 1

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The Market that Stocks Japan’s Pantry

The Market that Stocks Japan’s Pantry

Guinness World Records recognizes the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market—commonly known as Tsukiji Market—as the world’s largest fish market in terms of seafood handled and produced, and the market’s intermediate wholesaling system offers quality control and attentive customer service that have no equal. Tsukiji Market supports Japanese food culture, and is the main reason people take for granted that fresh fish will always be available at the dining table.

Tsukiji Market opened in 1935 when the old fish market in Nihonbashi and the fruit and vegetable market in Kyobashi were relocated. The product lines include approximately 480 varieties of seafood and 270 varieties of fruits and vegetables, a daily volume and value amounting to over 1,779 tons and ¥1.55 billion worth of seafood, and over 1,142 tons and ¥319 million in fruits and vegetables (including eggs and pickles). The market welcomes 42,000 visitors a day (November 2002 survey), and admits about 19,000 vehicles daily. Handling everything from shipments to sales, operations run 24 hours a day, making it a market that never sleeps.

“Tsukiji Market’s greatest strength is that it isn’t a producers’ market directly connected to a particular fishing port, but rather the largest consumption market in Japan,” explains Osamu Shimazu of the Wholesales Cooperative of Tokyo Fish Market. “In general, all seafood products from every producing center can be obtained here, and it offers the best quality selection of fresh fish in all of Japan. Even if regional fishing ports are temporarily wiped out in times of natural disaster, we can always procure goods from somewhere.

“Including frozen items and processed goods, we collect cargo from all over the world, and not only high-end products—we can also provide the most suitable products to fit our customers’ budgets and needs,” Shimazu adds. “Even with the same type of fish, there are differences in how to prepare it to get the most delicious flavor out of it, whether it’s as sashimi or grilled with salt. The ability to understand that and offer a product that best fits the customer’s needs depends on the abilities of the intermediate wholesaler as a connoisseur.”

With the popularization of the Internet and an increase in customers who order products directly from regional fishing ports and fishermen, the necessity of intermediate wholesalers between buyers and sellers has come under debate, but it is these concierge-like abilities of the “connoisseur broker,” as well as his or her power to assemble wholesale cargo, that are cited as the advantages of Tsukiji Market.

“Because we are such a large market, each merchant works diligently to provide the best product, and that is a defining characteristic of Tsukiji Market,” Shimazu explains. “There are seven seafood wholesaling companies here, whereas in a regular market you would often find only one. There are over 630 intermediate wholesalers, and each provides attentive service to fulfill their customers’ needs. At every location of this system, built like a spider’s web, there are professionals checking and verifying the quality of products at Tsukiji Market. I believe that you can understand the value in that.”

The market system in place here, made possible through these intermediate wholesalers, has attracted a great deal of interest from overseas. In fact, Vietnam is reportedly considering adopting the same system. And in terms of fish exports, due to an increase in orders from Southeast Asia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and North America in recent years, the Wholesales Cooperative of Tokyo Fish Market is preparing a support system to handle and simplify the procedures as a way to reduce the burdens imposed on individual wholesalers in anticipation of the scheduled move of the market to nearby Toyosu in 2016.

“As interest in Japan rises as we approach the Tokyo Olympics in 2020, our goal is to show the world how wonderful Japanese food culture is,” Shimazu says with great enthusiasm. It’s only natural that supplying fresh, delicious fish to households and restaurants is the foundation for maintaining the importance of seafood in Japanese food culture. Since Tsukiji Market makes that possible, it can truly be called the pantry of Japan.

by RIEKO SUZUKI

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Welcome to the Cosplay Olympics!

Welcome to the Cosplay Olympics!

 Cosplay—short for “costume play”—refers to dressing as characters primarily from manga and anime, with a variety of events held not just in Japan but in countries around the world.

 

The World Cosplay Summit began in 2003, with countries sending the winners of their respective qualifying tournaments to Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture. The biggest cosplay event on the globe, the Summit is where the world’s top cosplayers are crowned. In 2015, the number of participating countries and regions rose to twenty-eight, and the event is now the ultimate aspirational objective for cosplayers worldwide. And with greater media coverage from many countries, the Summit has come to be known as the cosplayer Olympics. Tokumaru Oguri of the World Cosplay Summit executive committee spoke about the path this event has taken and its current outlook.

 

A mini-program reporting on the cosplay phenomenon and culture, organized by Oguri, then a producer at a Nagoya television station, inspired the inaugural event. “While we were doing research for the show, we learned that cosplay was enjoying more success overseas than in Japan,” he says, “so we organized a discussion and invited cosplayers from France, Italy and Germany along with Japanese cosplayers. Even if they couldn’t speak each other’s languages, their favorite characters all shared the same names. And that’s all it took. They had a great time. And that was the first World Cosplay Summit.”

 

When the event and cosplay championships took place at the 2005 World Exposition in Aichi Prefecture, it led to widespread international media coverage from outlets such as Reuters and the Associated Press. As a result, many inquiries came from various countries through their embassies, with some expressing a desire to join in. Thanks to this momentum, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism began lending their support in 2006, and in 2009 the event gained the backing of the city of Nagoya to establish the executive committee.

 

Since then the event has vastly expanded in scale each year, and as of 2015, a cumulative total of more than 1.96 million people have attended the Summit and its associated events. At the opening ceremonies for the 2015 Summit, held at Laguna Ten Bosch amusement park, representatives from the various countries gathered around as the ship Thousand Sunny (from the popular manga and anime One Piece) floated in the bay, and conducted a tape-cutting ceremony. Participants streamed this event in real time via social networking services worldwide, sharing their excitement and passion with an even larger global audience.

 

Another development was the inauguration of the WCS Omotenashi Student Executive Committee in 2013, which consisted mainly of Japanese students and paired up Summit participants with student volunteers (omotenashi refers to the Japanese spirit of hospitality). For the duration of the event, the volunteers provided extensive support—from assistance with cosplaying to translation—with the Summit serving as an opportunity for promoting cultural exchange and creating deep bonds of friendship.

 

“Over the period of about a year, qualifying trials are held in 15 cities in Russia and 26 provinces in China, and cosplayers from all over Europe gather at the Japan Expo in France,” Oguri says, explaining the flourishing overseas cosplay boom. “Japanese anime and manga are very high quality, and they feature characters that are easy to identify with. And with the advent of the Internet, it’s become easier to access such works. I think this is what served as the foundation for the worldwide cosplay boom. There are tens of thousands of events, both online and offline, where people can come together. Cosplay can be a tool—and one unlike any other—for cultural exchange.”

 

The World Cosplay Summit has several goals in mind. One is to reduce the number of countries that have indicated interest in participating but haven’t yet been able to do so—currently over thirty—to zero by the year 2020. There are also plans to contribute to the revitalization and creativity of Japan’s regions by sending the majority of overseas cosplayers to regional cities and holding the final qualifying rounds for the World Cosplay Summit within Japan’s borders. Cosplaying has become a common global language, and it continues to generate powerful connectivity and energy to the world.

By RIEKO SUZUKI / Photos: © World Cosplay Summit 2015

 

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A Celebration of the Arts

A Celebration of the Arts

For Japanese students, autumn’s onset not only heralds a change in wardrobe and the brilliant colors of changing leaves but also the anticipation of a special schoolwide culture festival known as bunkasai. In contrast with the school sports festival and its emphasis on athletics, the bunkasai allows students at all levels a respite from their desk studies to give performances, present arts and crafts and pursue other creative and culturally oriented activities.

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Visa Kỹ năng đặc định

Visa Kỹ năng đặc định

 

Đặc điểm của visa kỹ năng đặc định 

  1. Có thể làm việc tối đa  5 năm (không thể được kéo dài sau 5 năm) 
  2. Người có visa kỹ năng đặc định không được bảo lãnh người thân đi cùng
  3. Người có visa kỹ năng đặc định sẽ được các tổ chức được công nhận bởi công ty tiếp nhận và bộ Tư pháp hỗ trợ nhà ở và đời sống
  4. Chúng tôi cũng lên kế hoạch để ngăn ngừa những người môi giới có hành vi thu tiền đặt cọc từ những người muốn đến Nhật làm việc theo chương trình này
  5. Để tiếp nhận một cách –hợp pháp những người muốn đến Nhật Bản làm việc, chúng tôi sẽ tuyên truyền rộng rãi cách thức đăng ký, đào tạo tiếng Nhật ở nước sở tại, và sẽ có những đề xuất với chính phủ nếu cần thiết

 

Điều kiện

 

  1. Người đã đỗ kỳ thi tay nghề tương đương và tiếng Nhật tương đương với 3 – 5 năm hoàn thành chương trình thực tập sinh kỹ năng
  2. Có khả năng hội thoại tiếng Nhật trong đời sống hàng ngày (Trình độ tiếng Nhật cấp độ N4)

Yêu cầu trình độ tiếng Nhật khác nhau tùy từng ngành 

Những người đã hoàn thành chương trình thực tập sinh kỹ năng sẽ được miễn kỳ thi tay nghề và tiếng Nhật.

Ngành nghề tiếp nhận

  1. Hộ lý

(Hỗ trợ vệ sinh cá nhân, cho ăn.. không bao gồm dịch vụ thăm tại nhà)

  1. Vệ sinh toà nhà

(Vệ sinh trong các toà nhà)

  1. Ngành sản xuất, chế biến nguyên liệu

(Đúc, dập kim loại, hàn, kim loại tấm, bảo dưỡng máy, gia công, sơn, vv 13 ngành)

  1. Chế tạo máy công nghiệp
    (18 ngành như đúc, sơn, hàn, kiểm tra máy, kim loại tấm, bảo dưỡng máy, lắp ráp điện tử, v.v.)
  2. Các ngành công nghiệp liên quan đến thông tin điện và điện tử
    (Gia công, dập, bảo trì máy, tấm kim loại, sơn, hàn, lắp ráp thiết bị điện: 13 ngành)
  3. Công nghiệp xây dựng
    (Xây dựng hình thức, làm đất, nội thất, thạch cao, viễn thông, xây dựng cốt thép, vv 11 ngành)
  4. Đóng tàu và công nghiệp hàng hải
    6 phân loại như hàn, sơn, gia công sắt
  5. Công nghiệp bảo dưỡng ô tô
    (Kiểm tra bảo dưỡng xe hàng ngày, bảo dưỡng kiểm tra định kỳ, bảo dưỡng tháo gỡ)
  6. Công nghiệp hàng không
    (Công việc hỗ trợ tiếp đất, công việc xử lý hành lý và hàng hóa, bảo dưỡng máy bay)
  7. Dịch vụ lưu trú
    (Cung cấp dịch vụ lưu trú như tiếp tân, lập kế hoạch và quan hệ công chúng, dịch vụ khách hàng và dịch vụ nhà hàng)
  8. Nông nghiệp
    (Trồng trọt, chăn nuôi nói chung)
  9. Ngư nghiệp
    (thủy sản, nuôi trồng thủy sản)
  10. Chế biến thực phẩm
    (sản xuất, chế biến thực phẩm và đồ uống ※ trừ rượu)
  11. Dịch vụ nhà hàng
    (Nấu ăn, dịch vụ khách hàng, quản lý cửa hàng, v.v.)

Chính phủ Nhật Bản có kế hoạch sử dụng khoảng 345.000 người nước ngoài trong năm cho các ngành này. Trong đó có khoảng 45% được chuyển từ thực tập sinh kỹ năng sang. 

Sự khác biệt giữa kỹ năng đặc định số 1 và số 2

Sự khác biệt giữa visa Kỹ năng đặc định số 1 và số 2 là kỹ năng đặc định số 1 có thời hạn ở Nhật tổng là 5 năm. Trong khi đó visa kỹ năng đặc định số 2 không giới hạn thời gian ở Nhật. Sự khác biệt này cũng liên quan đến việc mang theo gia đình. Visa Kỹ năng đặc định số 1 giả định rằng bạn sẽ rời khỏi Nhật sau 5 năm, do vậy bạn không thể mang theo gia đình. 

Còn Kỹ năng đặc định số 2 không giới hạn số lần gia hạn thời gian lưu trú, do vậy bạn có thể mang theo gia đình. Gia đình ở đây được hiểu là vợ/chồng và con cái, không bao gồm cha mẹ và anh chị em. Điểm này tương đồng với các loại visa lao động khác. 

Kỹ năng đặc định số 1 đòi hỏi mức kinh nghiệm và kiến thức phù hợp có thể làm việc được ngay mà không cần trải qua thêm bất kỳ lớp đào tạo nào nữa. 

Cấp độ kỹ năng của Kỹ năng đặc định số 2 là kỹ năng thuần thục. Có nghĩa là kỹ năng tích luỹ được qua nhiều năm làm việc, đạt đến mức độ lành nghề tương đương với người nước ngoài có tư cách thường trú đang làm việc trong cùng lĩnh vực chuyên môn. Ví dụ, có khả năng thực hiện công việc chuyên môn cao một cách tự chủ, độc lập hoặc với tư cách là người giám sát . 

 

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Fishery

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Fishery

No. 1 specified skills foreigners who accept in the field of fisheries are required to engage in work requiring skills that require considerable knowledge or experience, as specified in Article 1 (1) of the Order of the Specified Skills Standards Ministry, You must be mainly engaged in the work (fishery or aquaculture) described in this Schedule which requires the skills identified by passing the tests described in this Schedule.

Foreigners do not engage in fishing or aquaculture mainly, but understand the instructions of the supervisors such as the master or the chief of the fishery, or while making their own judgment under the overarching instructions of the supervisor, I am engaged in the work of aquaculture work.

In addition, as described in the field-specific operation guidelines, it is acceptable for them to be engaged in related work in which Japanese people who are engaged in the work are usually engaged.

In addition, considering the circumstances of the fishing village area where fishery production can not be expected throughout the year, such as the time of the fishery, in view of the characteristics of the fishery, the scope of the fishery related business that specific skilled foreigners can engage in is flexible. For example, the following can be assumed to be applicable to related tasks.

(Note) It is not permitted to engage solely in related business.

(Operation policy 5 (1) relations according to field: When engaged in duties of fishery)

・Inspection and replacement of fishing gear and fishing machinery

・Repair and cleaning of the ship ・Cleaning of fish storage, fishing gear storage, and barn

・Feeding of fishing boats, ice, fuel, foodstuffs, daily necessities and other operation and living materials

・Loading

・Cooking, drudgery to affect fishing

・Farming and other incidental aquaculture of harvested fish and animals

・Transportation, display, sale of in-house products

-Production using in-house products or by-products of the production as raw materials or parts of materials

・Processing and transportation / display of the products / worked products

・Sale

・Sorting and sorting of fish at fish market and landing port

・Support for the capture of fish and animals carried by passengers during experience-based fishing

・Internal and external training

(Operation policy 5 (1) relations according to field: When engaged in duties of aquaculture business)

・Inspection of fishing gear and fishing machinery

・Remodeling

・Repair of the hull

・Cleaning

・Fish storage, fishing gear storage

・Cleaning of the guardhouse

・Feed for fishing boats, ice, fuel, food, daily necessities and other operations

・Charge of life materials

・Loading

・Cleaning, disinfection, management, maintenance of machines, equipment, tools for aquaculture

・Prevention of feeding damage to farm animals such as extermination, repayment, protection nets and tensions for birds and animals

・Collection of fishery animals and animals and juvenile fish for culture and other fishery to be fed for cultured fishery animals and plants

・Transportation of in-house products

  • display

・Sale

-Production using in-house products or by-products of the production as raw materials or parts of materials

・Processing and transportation of the products / processes

  • display

・Sale

・Fish market

・Selection of catch at landing port

・Sort

・Support for the capture of fish and animals carried by passengers during experience-based fishing

・Internal and external training

Specific skills employment contracts must conform to the provisions of the Labor Standards Act (Law 49, 1948) and other labor laws, as specified in Article 1 of the Ordinance of the Ministry of Specific Skills Standards. With regard to the fishery, the provisions of the Labor Standards Law, etc. for working hours, breaks and holidays are exempted as in the case where Japanese people are engaged, but No. 1 specific skilled foreigner has a healthy and cultural life. In order to maintain the efficiency at work for a long period of time, while taking into consideration the intentions of No. 1 specific skill foreigners and referring to the standards based on the Labor Standards Law etc., appropriate to avoid excessive work hours You must manage working hours and set breaks and holidays appropriately

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Electrical and Electronics Information Industry

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Electrical and electronics information industry

It is required that the establishment where the 1st specific skill foreigner in the field of electric and electronic information related industries is active is performing any of the following industries listed in the Japanese Standard Industry Classification.

1 Middle classification 28-electronic parts, devices, electronic circuit manufacturing industry

2 Medium classification 29-electrical machinery manufacturing industry (fine classification 2922-internal combustion engine electrical equipment manufacturing industry and fine classification 2929-other industrial electrical mechanical equipment manufacturing industry (excluding for vehicles and vessels))

3 middle class 30-information communication machine equipment manufacturing industry

The fact that the industries listed in the above-mentioned Japanese Industrial Classification are conducted means that the shipments of manufactured goods, etc. occur for the items listed in the above 1 to 3 in the last one year at the place where the 1st designated skill foreigner is engaged in business. Refers to what you are doing. The product shipment value, etc. is the total of the product shipment value, the processing fee income, the shipment value of scrap waste and the amount of other income in the most recent year, and the consumption tax and liquor tax, tobacco tax, volatile oil tax and local volatilization It refers to the amount including tax.

(1) With regard to shipment of manufactured products, products manufactured using raw materials belonging to the ownership of the establishment (including those manufactured by supplying raw materials to domestic establishments of other companies) When shipped from the office.

(2) The amount of processing rental income refers to the amount received when processing or processing is added to a product or semi-finished product belonging to another company’s ownership or manufactured from the main raw materials belonging to another company’s ownership during the last year. It means the processing fee to be paid or received.

3 The amount of other income is other than the above 1 and 2 and the amount of shipment of waste (for example, resale income (purchased or received and sold as it is), repair fee income, refrigerated storage fee and surplus power of private power generation Amount of sales income, etc.).

As specified in Article 1 (1) of the Ordinance of the Ministry of Specific Skills Standards, foreign nationals who accept No. 1 specific skills accepted in the electric and electronic information related industry field should engage in work requiring skills that require considerable knowledge or experience. If you are required, you must be mainly engaged in the work described in this Schedule which requires the skills identified by the passing of the exams listed in this Schedule.

In addition, as described in the field-specific operation guidelines, it may be incidental to engage in related work in which Japanese people who are engaged in the work will normally be engaged.

In addition, for example, the following can be assumed to be applicable to related work.

(Note) It is not permitted to engage exclusively in related business.

1 Procurement and transportation of raw materials and parts

2 Front and back process work of each job type

3 Cranes, forklifts, etc. Operation work

4 Cleaning and maintenance work

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Tokyo to Nagoya City in 40 Minutes

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Tokyo to Nagoya City in 40 Minutes

More than fifty years have passed since the Tokaido Shinkansen connecting Tokyo and Osaka began operating. Construction of the Chuo Shinkansen, which will connect Tokyo, Nagoya City and Osaka City using a new technology, superconducting maglev, commenced in 2014. The Tokaido Shinkansen was constructed along the Pacific coastline, but the Chuo Shinkansen will run through the inland areas of the Japanese mainland, connecting the three cities in as short a distance as possible.

The superconducting maglev is a contactless transportation system in which the train levitates approximately 10 centimeters due to the magnetic force generated between the on-board superconducting magnets and the ground coils. Because the system causes no friction between the wheels and the rails, unlike conventional railway systems, it enables ultra-high-speed operation. Its operating velocity is 500 kilometers per hour. At its fastest, the superconducting maglev will connect Shinagawa and Nagoya City (a railway length of 285.6 km) in 40 minutes and, further down the line, Tokyo and Osaka City in 67 minutes. (Presently the Tokaido Shinkansen at its fastest connects Tokyo and Nagoya in one hour and 34 minutes and Tokyo and Shin-Osaka in two hours and 22 minutes.) Central Japan Railway Company (JR Central) plans to open the route between Tokyo and Nagoya City, currently under construction as the first phase, in 2027.

One of the reasons for constructing the Chuo Shinkansen is to reduce multiple risks by building another line along the main artery connecting Tokyo, Nagoya City and Osaka City, which is vital for Japanese society. The Tokaido Shinkansen has now been operating for more than fifty years, and it will need to be fully prepared against aging degradation and large-scale disasters in the future. The opening of the Chuo Shinkansen will enable the impact of the improvement work for the Tokaido Shinkansen to be reduced. In addition, building another line along the main artery will be effective in preparing for disaster risks, including major earthquakes.

The Chuo Shinkansen is also expected to produce enormous synergistic effects on the economy and society. It will be effective in forming a huge integrated urban zone made up of Japan’s three largest metropolitan areas — the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area, the Chukyo area adjacent to Nagoya City and the Kinki area adjacent to Osaka City. This is expected to create wider regions for human activities, which will lead to major lifestyle changes, such as how business is carried out and how leisure is enjoyed.

Research into the superconducting maglev started in 1962 and running tests began in Miyazaki Prefecture in 1977. Running tests began on the 18.4-kilometer Yamanashi Maglev Line in Tsuru City, Yamanashi Prefecture in 1997. The Yamanashi Maglev Line was extended to 42.8 kilometers in 2013 and will be used as part of the Chuo Shinkansen in the future. Currently, running tests of Series L0, a railcar of the operating line specifications, are being conducted on the Yamanashi Maglev Line. The front railcar of Series L0 is 28 meters in length. This series is characterized by its 15-meter long “nose” to reduce air drag. In 2015, a manned running test recorded 603 kilometers per hour, the world’s fastest velocity for a railway. Although JR Central has already established the practical technologies for superconducting maglev, it continues to work on the upgrading of technologies such as those connected with improvement of comfort and efficiency of maintenance with a view toward the opening of the Chuo Shinkansen between Shinagawa and Nagoya City.

At the Yamanashi Prefectural Maglev Exhibition Center, which is located along the Yamanashi Maglev Line, you can watch the superconducting maglev run at ultra-high speed up close. There are also displays featuring the actual prototype of a test railcar that set the world record of 581 kilometers per hour in 2003 and a machine introducing the mechanism of the superconducting maglev. In addition, JR Central began conducting a lottery-based experience program for the superconducting maglev in 2014, and a total of more than 50,000 people have experienced journeys of 500 kilometers per hour to date.

Currently, there is a plan for high-speed railways based on the Japanese superconducting maglev technology in the United States as well. The superconducting maglev is expected to dramatically change the future of Japanese and global railways.

By OSAMU SAWAJI/Photos and Illustration: Courtesy of JR Central

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The Oldest Jokes in the Book

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The Oldest Jokes in the Book

 Ebisu, the God of a good catch and business prosperity, is having a bad day. He has cast his fishing line in the hope of hooking a jumbo fish, but none is biting.

“Yare-yare” (jeez!), he says as he reaches into his basket to pull out more bait, causing a ripple of excitement among his audience – in particular the younger members, who know what’s coming next.

In this comedic play during an evening of Iwami-kagura drama, held at a 450-year-old shrine in the city of Hamada, Shimane Prefecture, the forty members of the audience are in effect Ebisu’s fish and the bait is not grubs, or herrings, but candy, which he flings by the fistful into the audience to hearty applause and squeals of laughter.

“It was funny, but a little scary,” said a four-year-old girl, who had joined Ebisu on the makeshift stage to lend a hand reeling in the papier-mâché sea bream.

The girl’s contradicting response is almost germane to kagura, a genre of dance that is Japan’s oldest performing art.

Although kagura’s exact origin is unknown, its earliest form is believed to have been a ritual derived from the legendary tale of the sun goddess Amaterasu and the entertaining way in which the goddess Ame-no-Uzume performed dances to persuade the reclusive, cave-dwelling Amaterasu to shed light on the world once more.

Over the years, many types of kagura have evolved, incorporating Shinto and, to a lesser degree, Buddhist elements. Some are highly ritualistic, such as the miko-kagura performed for the Imperial court by miko shrine maidens — descendants, it is said, of Ame-no-Uzume — while others are highly theatrical, almost kabuki-esque.

This latter style, known under the umbrella term sato-kagura (village kagura), was officially encouraged during the Meiji period (1868–1912), when local residents adopted the roles previously played by shrine priests and attendants, who had previously been the sole purveyors of the ritualized, Shamanistic plays that are often referred to as “Shinshoku-Kagura.”

Sato-kagura subsequently flourished and today a variety of dances and music are performed at many local festivals and other public events around the country. Some of the events last not more than an hour; others, such as those held in the fall as part of harvest festivals, continue overnight.

Today there are hundreds of kagura troupes throughout Japan performing numerous types of the dance, including Ise-ryu kagura and Izumo-ryu kagura.

Iwami-kagura alone is performed by some 150 troupes in a district of western Shimane Prefecture once known as Iwami.

Iwami-kagura features a repertoire of around 100 dances, invariably accompanied by flutes, percussion and voice. It is believed to originally date back to the Muromachi period (1336–1573), according to Takashi Shimono, who played the part of Ebisu at the performance at Hamada’s Sanku shrine.

“It was originally a ritual dedicated to the gods that was performed by shrine priests but was handed over to parishioners and turned into a kind of show,” he said. “Today the plays are close to kabuki in style and created with the objective of enjoyment for those who come to watch.”

A major distinguishing feature of Iwami-kagura is its fast tempo, called hacchoshi, the elaborate dress, which can weigh in excess of 30 kg, and striking washi paper masks.

“Another feature is that the plays are visually impactful and easy to comprehend even if you don’t understand the words spoken,” says Kenji Asaura, who heads the Mikawa Nishi Kagura Hozonkai troupe, whose members include local public servants, fisheries employees and workers at a local auto parts manufacturer.

This is particularly true of the comedic plays. Ebisu’s feeble fishing exploits and plodding, almost vaudevillian dance moves, are given an extra humorous touch by his mask, featuring an oval face, slightly drooping eyes and permanent grin.

“Just looking at that face makes me want to laugh,” said another member of the audience at Sanku shrine. “Not all kagura plays are comedic, but they are all highly entertaining.”

The age-old power of kagura to captivate an audience remains undimmed.

By ROB GILHOOLY

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What’s Manzai?

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What’s Manzai?

Far and away the most popular style of comedy in Japan is manzai, a form of performance that can trace its roots in New Year celebrations back around a thousand years. The basic premise is similar to comedy double acts seen across the globe, with a tsukkomi “straight man” and boke “funny man/fall guy,” but with the emphasis in manzai heavily on rapid-fire delivery, puns and deliberate misunderstandings.

The particular style of manzai now dominant in Japanese show business hails from Osaka and was brought to the fore by Yoshimoto Kogyo, which is headquartered in the city. The popularity of the style helped turn Yoshimoto into a giant entertainment company with most of the famous comedians in Japan on its roster.

So when American-born Stephen Tetsu decided to undertake the ambitious challenge of becoming a manzai-shi (as performers are known) he knew that Yoshimoto’s New Star Creation school was the place to go. The year-long course molds aspiring comedians into shape, teaching them skills such as voice control and comedy writing, as well as dancing and stage sword fighting.

Tetsu, who grew up in California but got a taste for the style via his Japanese mother, says he was, “taken off guard” by the dance classes and sword fighting, but found performing routines in front of the demanding instructors, “taking notes and not laughing” the toughest element.

Forming and breaking up around ten double acts during the course, Tetsu — who plays the boke role — linked up with his current partner, Leo Togawa, to form “Iruka Punch” (“iruka” means dolphin in Japanese) shortly after its completion. The duo have been signed up by Yoshimoto Creative Agency, part of the entertainment conglomerate, and are currently paying their dues and honing their craft by performing on the manzai circuit.

In spite of the challenges, being one of less than a handful of foreign manzai performers in the field has brought advantages to Tetsu and Iruka Punch. Yoshimoto Kogyo has a content creation partnership with Netflix, and Tetsu became the narrator and star of What’s Manzai?, a documentary for the global online video platform last year. The film followed Tetsu through his training at the manzai school as well as introducing the form, how it works and how it differs from Western comedy.

“Japanese and Western comedy start from different places. Japanese comedy is more about just making people happy, whereas Western comedy is about saying what you want to say, a kind of confession,” says Tetsu in an interview at Yoshimoto Creative Agency’s Tokyo offices.

“There are a lot of political jokes in the United States, but Japanese comedy steers away from politics,” notes Tetsu, who admits his attempts to include political elements in his act have not gone down very well with audiences.

“I don’t know if it couldn’t work, but in Japanese comedy and manzai you want everyone to laugh. With political jokes there will always be someone who’s mad at you,” he adds.

While acknowledging the advantages that being a novelty brings, Tetsu says he “doesn’t want to be considered funny just because I’m American.” Nevertheless, he does use his otherness in his shows. “I tried not to play on it at first, but we got a lot of pressure from producers and other people to use it more, and the truth is that it does work,” he says.

With his career still in its infancy, Tetsu’s future goals include to perform at the Namba Grand Kagetsu (NGK) Theater in Osaka, a manzai Mecca, operated by Yoshimoto, and to win the M-1 Grand Prix contest. The end-of-year competition, broadcast nationally, and naturally organized by Yoshimoto, comes with a 10 million yen (90,000 US dollars) prize and the potential to catapult winners to manzai stardom.

“And in terms of performing, I want to see if manzai would work in English,” says Tetsu. “I would really like to know if it could.”

By GAVIN BLAIR/Photos: © 2016 Yoshimoto Kogyo

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