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The Little Robot Still Enchanting Fans Worldwide

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Nobita Nobi is a boy who struggles with everything from schoolwork to sports and friendships. Naturally this is a source of frustration for his mother, who scolds Nobita daily. But one day Doraemon—an earless robot cat traveling back in a time machine from the twenty-second century—jumps out of Nobita’s desk drawer and changes his life.

A science-fiction manga series for children, Doraemon is the representative work of Japanese manga artist Fujiko F Fujio (the pen name of Hiroshi Fujimoto). The manga storyline follows Nobita and his friends, who overcome challenges in their everyday lives aided by the amazing futuristic gadgets that Doraemon pulls out of his “four-dimensional pocket.” Since it was first published in 1970, the series has been adapted into an anime series as well as films. Over the past five decades, Doraemon has gained numerous fans both within and outside Japan. The series has been translated into twelve different languages and published in seventeen countries, and the anime series has been broadcast in fifty-five countries.

Translated Doraemon manga are particularly popular in Asia. “In particular, Vietnamese fans’ love of Doraemon is unprecedented,” says Mitsuru Saito, chief producer of international media at publisher house Shogakukan. Even before Shogakukan and their counterpart in Vietnam concluded the official licensing contract, Doraemon was already famous in Vietnam due to unauthorized copies. Fujio opted not to receive royalties accrued from this official licensing, requesting instead that the money be spent on promoting education for children who wish to learn. The Doraemon Scholarship Fund, founded to honor Fujio’s wishes, has allowed over ten thousand Vietnamese children to pursue their education.

When Doraemon—now a traffic safety mascot throughout Vietnam—appears at schools, children welcome him enthusiastically. The Doraemon series occupies a third of the manga section in local bookstores.

“The Doraemon manga series was originally created for magazines that Shogakukan used to publish for school-aged children, so the character is like a friend to young readers,” says Saito, explaining the reason for the character’s celebrity and popularity. “The simple and easy-to-understand artwork, the fun plots where Doraemon makes children’s innocent wishes and dreams come true using his gadgets, and the gentle and encouraging worldview that encompasses the characters are universally appreciated, going beyond generations and national borders.”

As the publisher responsible for preserving the original artwork from the manga series, “it is Shogakukan’s wish to preserve the manga’s form and value as it is, and continue to pass it on to future generations,” Saito says. However, they continue to improve the quality of their publication. For instance, in pursuit of better picture quality, they renewed the printing films for the original volumes of the series.

“We’ll keep sharing Doraemon manga with the world,” Saito says. “While it may have a long history, we want to continue to emphasize the appeal of this wonderful, timeless work.” Thanks to the efforts of the publisher that took over Fujio’s creative philosophy, through the pages of manga Doraemon will continue to be a trusted friend to children for generations while staying true to himself.

By Tamaki Kawasaki

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The Pillow Book and the Japanese Mindset

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“The charm of The Pillow Book derives from beautiful depictions of the four seasons by Lady Sei Shonagon, who wrote over a thousand years ago in the Heian Period (794-1185),” explains professor Etsuko Akama of Jumonji University. “Starting with the famous opening line, ‘In spring, the dawn—when the slowly paling mountain rim is tinged with red…’ she incorporates seasonality by showcasing the highlights of each season, which are carefully depicted and blended in her prose.”

In the first paragraph that starts with the above line, the writer describes how the sky of Higashiyama in Kyoto changes color as the sun rises, along with the fireflies that illuminate the summer night. “Her descriptions convey a sense of movement, almost like a video posted on social media,” says Akama. Shonagon’s prose allows the reader to visualize the scene, and the distinctive characterizations through the senses—the chirps of the insects, the fragrance of irises and the drenching storm against the face—enthrall readers.

As her writing progresses, you can also spot many noteworthy plays on words and witty ideas. For instance, “near yet far” is used to describe the last day of the year and the New Year, as well as relationships with family members one doesn’t get along with, while “far yet near” is used to portray the Buddhist paradise and relationships between men and women. Her words are similar to those of modern women, mixing humor and sarcasm: the pleasure she finds when a hated person has a bad experience, noting that there is nothing more interesting than gossiping about others, or pointing out that sermons are better when the lecturer is a handsome man. “Sei Shonagon was talented at expressing people’s honest feelings through her writing,” Akama states.

It’s been said that female writers first appeared in Japan during the Heian Period and women’s literature flourished. Prior to that time, Japan’s written language was entirely based on kanji (Chinese characters), and it was considered vulgar for women to learn to write in this “men’s language.” However, during the Heian Period a new and simpler form of writing called hiragana was devised. This made it possible to print an anthology of poetry called the Kokin Wakashu in native Japanese instead of the classic Chinese characters. This sparked a revival in Japanese literature.

According to Akama, women became leading figures in literary studies during this time, with a focus on intricate descriptions derived from observation and emotions. Even in the modern dictionary of classic Japanese words, explanations for emotional adjectives are referenced from women’s literature.

Sei Shonagon’s father, Kiyohara no Motosuke, was a famous poet, so she grew up surrounded by books, reading, studying kanji characters and gaining wonderful writing skills. At the time, upper-class women were hidden away from society once they married. However, Shonagon thought that women should know more about the world. At court, she met Empress Teishi, which resulted in the birth of “seraglio literature” and The Pillow Book.

“Although Empress Teishi’s family soon fell to ruin and she died shortly afterward, thanks to Sei Shonagon this florid seraglio literature was preserved for posterity,” Akama notes.

The Heian Period was the longest in Japanese history, lasting for over four hundred years. Although there were political issues, it was a peaceful time without any wars. It was also an age of imperial aristocracy, and through complex human relationships and romantic emotions, many forms of expressions were born through self-reflection, suffering, weakness, craftiness and fear.

“Chirps of insects not being considered noise but rather something soothing is an aesthetic specific to Japanese people,” Akama says. “It’s likely that this form of emotional expression derives from the Shinto belief that trees, insects and even words contain a soul, and that we are surrounded by eight million kami (gods).”

These and other emotions of Heian people from over a thousand years ago still live within the hearts and minds of modern Japanese.

By Tamaki Kawasaki

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The Importance of Tradition, Research and Family

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The Importance of Tradition, Research and Family

A highly valued tradition in the Imperial Family is waka, a form of Japanese poetry, and Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress compose waka poems on various occasions. Every year in January, Utakai Hajime, the Imperial New Year’s Poetry Reading Ceremony, a ceremony said to date back to the mid-Kamakura Period (1185-1333), takes place at the Imperial Palace. Ten waka poems selected from across Japan are presented on that occasion, along with the waka poems composed by Their Majesties and other members of the Imperial Family.

Since the cultivation of rice is central to the agriculture culture of Japan, His Majesty the Emperor has continued the practice of rice cultivation passed on from Emperor Showa. He sows the seeds, plants the seedlings and harvests the crops Himself. Her Majesty the Empress carries on the sericulture tradition passed down from Empress Dowager Shoken by raising silkworms, which She feeds with mulberry leaves, at the Sericulture Center on the Imperial Palace Grounds.

His Majesty the Emperor has engaged in taxonomic research about gobiid fishes for many years. He has discovered eight new species of gobies and published more than thirty papers for academic journals as a member of the Ichthyological Society of Japan. Based on these achievements, He was elected as one of the foreign members, limited to fifty, of the Linnean Society of London in 1980, and was later elected as an honorary member of the Society in 1986. His Majesty is also a research associate of the Australian Museum, as well as an honorary member of the Zoological Society of London and a lifetime honorary member of the Research Institute for Natural Science of Argentina. In 1998, He became the first recipient of the King Charles the Second Medal from the Royal Society of London, an award established to honor those heads of state who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of science.

Her Majesty the Empress finds time in between Her official duties to enjoy literature and music. She has written the text for My First Mountain, a children’s picture book that has been published in Japanese and several other languages. She also translated eighty poems by Michio Mado into English, which led to the poet receiving the Hans Christian Andersen Author’s Award in 1994. Her Majesty also plays the piano, sometimes performing in ensembles with world-class artists.

Their Majesties also play tennis in addition to taking early morning walks around the palace grounds to enjoy the changes of the seasons.

Their Majesties value family bonds deeply and raised Their three children close to Them at home. His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince married Masako Owada in 1993 and welcomed the arrival of Princess Aiko in 2001. Prince Fumihito married Kiko Kawashima in 1990 and they have three children, Princess Mako, Princess Kako, and Prince Hisahito. Princess Sayako married Yoshiki Kuroda in 2005 and left the Imperial Family.

As of April 2019, Their Majesties will have been married for sixty years.

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A Craving for Noodles: Bringing Udon to the World

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Satoshi Suga, general manager of the International Business Planning Department at TORIDOLL Holdings Corporation, says that the overseas expansion of their sanuki udon restaurant chain Marugame Seimen began with a hunch on the part of CEO Takaya Awata. The company already had overseas expansion plans when in 2011 they came across an empty shop on a popular street in Hawaii. They grabbed the spot and were blown away by the positive reception. That Hawaii branch continues to grow—with lines of patrons waiting to sample the firm’s popular udon—and remains the top earner of all their overseas branches. Deciding to jump in quickly instead of spending money on marketing research, the company opened test shops in various countries and regions. From 2012, they swiftly expanded into Thailand, China, Korea, Indonesia, Oceania, Russia and the United States, and currently have shops in fourteen regions.

“While the ramen craze was in full swing, it seems many people were seeking something less oily and with a healthier image,” Suga says about udon’s popularity overseas. Compared to ramen, udon is also less expensive—another reason for its popularity.

While long tables bearing toppings to customize your udon are quite common in Japan, Suga notes that before opening shops in many countries they received feedback that this layout looked too much like a cafeteria. They decided to stick with the self-serve system, however, which ultimately captured the interest of customers and boosted popularity.

According to Awata, the key to expanding overseas is flexible product creation. He mentions that while half of their overseas menus feature classic dishes, the other half is adapted to suit local tastes. He finds it interesting to see what new combinations this flexible approach creates.

Of course, concocting new products is not an easy task. For instance, the strength and taste of the dashi broth had to be adjusted to match local food culture and preferences. The Chinese branches have a tomato-based soup, for example, while in Indonesia they offer chicken broth; in Thailand, customers can enjoy udon in a sour-spicy tom yum-based soup. In the Philippines, the savory and sweet Sukiyaki Ninja udon with beef and egg was an unexpected hit. The free toppings are also tailored to each country. For example, in Vietnam they offer cilantro, and chopped chili peppers at their Indonesian branch.

While there are limits to shop sizes and food handling regulations, regardless of where the shop is located, the chain sticks to their policy of making noodles from scratch in-house. Each country’s udon comes out differently depending on the water and the type of flour used. Every time the company opens a shop in a new country, they experiment repeatedly to find the perfect consistency for the noodles, making product creation the most crucial step.

The company now has six hundred shops overseas. Of these, Marugame Seimen is their largest brand. With udon as their core product, they plan to focus on expanding in the United States, and are considering moving into Europe and the Middle East. “We believe we can call ourselves a global franchise with more branches overseas than in Japan,” Suga expounds firmly. “We’d like to be the pioneers of this idea.”

Whatever other ingredients accompany these noodles, customers overseas clearly welcome the firmness and flexibility that Japanese udon offers.

By Tamaki Kawasaki

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Japanese mobile carriers postpone release of Huawei phones


Two of Japan’s top mobile phone carriers said Wednesday they will delay releasing new handsets made by Huawei after a U.S. ban on American companies selling technology to the Chinese tech giant.

KDDI and SoftBank Corp, the country’s number two and number three carriers respectively, said the decision was taken to give them time to assess the impact of the U.S. ban.

The country’s biggest carrier, NTT Docomo, said it was also considering similar action.

SoftBank had been due to release a Huawei-made smartphone on Friday, but halted the release “because we are currently trying to confirm if our customers will be able to use the equipment with a sense of safety”, company spokesman Hiroyuki Mizukami told AFP.

Japanese work environment points to know

Many both in and outside Japan share an image of the Japanese work environment that is based on a “simultaneous recruiting of new graduates” (新卒一括採用 Shinsotsu-Ikkatsu-Saiyō) and “lifetime-employment” (終身雇用 Shūshin-Koyō) model used by large companies as well as a reputation of long work-hours and strong devotion to one’s company. This environment is said to reflect economic conditions beginning in the 1920s, when major corporations competing in the international marketplace began to accrue the same prestige that had traditionally been ascribed to the daimyō–retainer relationship of feudal Japan or government service in the Meiji Restoration.

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From Surgeon to Japan’s First Female Astronaut

The Heisei Era (1989-) has been notable for Japan’s strides into outer space. Chiaki Mukai was the first Japanese female astronaut to join a space shuttle mission. Now the vice president of the Tokyo University of Science, she looks back on her career’s unusual trajectory.

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