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News from
January 2007

January 4th
Happy New Year!!! How did you spend your New Year’s holidays? I hope you had a lot of fun. I caught up with friends, visited a shrine on New Year’s Eve, and ate special dishes called [Osechi] with parents and relatives etc. Sounds quite lazy…but I did enjoy myself. I am so surprised that time goes by so quickly especially recently…so I want to make the most of my time. Have you thought about your new year’s resolution? I haven’t yet…Umm…what should it be??? (Risa)

January 5h
I told you I ate special dishes called [Osechi] in the news yesterday. Osechi are traditional Japanese New Year foods. The tradition started in the Heian Period (794-1185). Originally, it was a taboo to use a hearth and cook meals, except when cooking zoni (a soup with mochi) during first three days of the New Year. The Osechi was made by the close of the previous year, as women did not cook in the New Year. Today, we cook osechi as a usual dishe, and the religious aspect has been lost. I took a photo of Osechi my family had on New Year’s Day. Would you like to try some? (Risa)

January 9th
It was a national holiday called Coming-of-Age Day yesterday here in Japan. I saw lots of people who attended the coming-of-age ceremony on the street when I was out. Many girls celebrate the day by wearing a special kind of Kimono. Because most of them don’t know how to put on the Kimono by themselves, they go to a beauty salon to dress up and to set their hair. A full set of formal clothing is very expensive, so it is usually inheritated or rented rather than being bought. While boys sometimes also wear traditional Kimoro or Hakama, they usually wear business suits instead. After attending the ceremony, the young adults often gather in groups and go to parties or go out for a drink. When I saw them yesterday, I guess they were heading to the parties!!! (Risa)

January 11th
I’m sure you know what it is. Yes, that’s the Nintendo DS Lite. It is a dual-screen handheld game console developed and manufactured by Nintendo, and first released in 2006. It is a similar, more lightweight redesign of the earlier Nintendo DS model. The Nintendo Lite is available in Japan in white, arctic blue, pink, black and navy blue; in North and South America, as well as Australia and Europe, in white, black, and pink.

I am not a huge fan of computer games…but I can feel it has attracted soooooooo many people all over the world. Can you see the game disc in the photo? It was a big hit here in Japan. People enjoy the game and study English at the same time. I think it is great if they can improve their English while enjoying the game. (Risa)

January 12th
It’s already about 2 weeks since we welcomed the New Year 2007. I really can’t believe that… Did you go back to a perfectly normal life after a long holiday yet? Or are you still struggling? I’ve put on a couple of kilos as I ate much food during the New Year period…so I am still struggling in that sense. I will try not to have a lazy weekend, and I want to get back my usual weight. I hope you have a wonderful weekend!!! (Risa)

January 15th
January should be the coldest month in Japan…but I don’t feel it’s in the middle of winter yet. As I told you before, I don’t like winter…so I am happy but I am worried about the abnormal climate… I went to the Kyoto Imperial Palace on Saturday and saw the Japanese apricot trees. The flowers aren’t in bloom yet, but I guess they will come into bloom much earlier this year. I will update the flower forecast when I know. The Imperial Palace is famous for the Japanese apricot blossoms, so don’t miss it!!! (Risa)

January 16th
In Japan, Setsubun is the day before the beginning of eash season. The name literally means division of season. Usually the term refers to the Spring Setsubun properly called Risshun, cerebrated yearly on February 3rd. Spring Setsubun is traditionally celebrated by the head of the household throwing roasted soybeans out the door, while chanting, [Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!]. The literal meaning of the words is [Demons out! Luck in!]. The soybeans are thought to symbolically purify the home. In the Heian period, a famous Buddist monk was said to have driven away Oni (Demons) by throwing beans. At Buddist temples and Shinto Shrines all over Japan, there are celebrations of Setsubun. Priests and invited guests will throw roasted soybeans, small envelops with money, candies and other prizes. Lots of people look forward to the event every year. Traditional Families will also put up small decorations of fish heads and holly leaves on their house entraces so that bad spirits will not enter. People also eat the same amount of soy beans as their age, plus one for bringing good luck for the year to come…(Wow…this story is getting pretty long…so I will finish it tomorrow…) (Risa)

January 17th
It is customary to eat uncut a rolled-sushi on Setsubun while facing the yearly lucky compass direction in Kansai Area, determined by the zodiac symbol of that year. Charts are published and occasionally packaged with the sushi. These days we can buy the sushi at a convenience store easily even if we don’t have time to go to a sushi restaurant. I will try to take the photo and put it here soon. If you are interested in this custom, please have a try! Oh, I should tell you one more thing before I finish this story…this year’s direction is north-northwest! (Risa)

January 18th
I suppose some of you know about what happened on January 17th in 1995. Yes, we had the Great Hanshin Earthquake on that day. The disaster killed more than 5000 people, and quite a few people are still suffering from the aftereffects. When the earthquake hit the Kansai area in the early morning, I was asleep. Of course I did wake up, but I didn’t think the cost of the disaster was so huge. I was surprised to find out all the trains were stopping when I arrived at the station. I was still half in doubt at the time though… I turned on the TV after school, and I realized how enormous the earthquake was. The number of missing and dead went on increasing at high speed. Immediately after the earthquake, so many volunteers began to help with recovery efforts in the area. If you have a chance to visit Kobe, none of you notices such a big disaster happened only 12 years ago. But, we shouldn’t forget lots of people are still suffering from psychological aftershock… (Risa)

January 19th
The National Centre Test for University Admissions will be held this weekend. It is a type of standardized test used by public and some private universities in Japan. Because candidates aren’t able to know their test scores before applying to their universities, most write their answers on the question sheets (which they can take back home), and check their answers using rubrics published by cram schools. A number of cram schools and other companies have services to which candidates can send their scores and get to know their overall position in the other users of the service, called Centre Research. Candidates can use this information to see how they fared compared to other test takers, and make their final admissions decision. I guess you are getting confused now… You might think we should apply to all the universities and see what will happen. Here in Japan, candidates can’t apply to all the public universities they want to, such as in the United States, mainly because the secondary exams fall near or on the same day. I suppose a great number of test takers are feeling very nervous now… I hope they will do their best!!! P.S. My cousin is one of them. I do hope he will show his ability satisfactorily on the exam! (Risa)

January 22nd
How was your weekend? I was sitting around watching TV the other day. I got my eye on the TV program as the Yuzuya Ryokan was featured in there. The ryokan is recently picked up by the media very often, and it is getting more and more popular. I do understand why the ryokan has attracted so many people from all over the world. Everything (entrance, room, bath, food and service etc) is just wonderful. Even if you don’t have a chance to stay at the ryokan, I recommend you to have lunch/dinner at the restaurant. The Yuzu (Japanese lime in English) flavoured dishes are very popular, so you should definitely try them! If you want to know more about the ryokan, please visit our site; http://kyotoguesthouses.com/guesthousedyn.php?GH_ID=71 (Risa)

January 23rd
I found interesting news about Shizuoka, Japan on the Internet. Shizuoka Prefecture is in Chubu district, and it’s been a famous production centre of tea since old days. According to the news, the Shimada Daiichi elementary school in Shizuoka came up with a fresh idea. Can you imagine what it is? The school kids can drink tea from the tap…it’s hard to believe, but it’s true! Green tea has been attracting worldwide attention in recent years, as its health benefits have become better known. It is also said that tea catechin is highly effective in sterilization, so I think it’s great for school kids to drink tea easily to prevent colds especially in this season. The Shizuoka City Board of Education says they will try to introduce the service to all the 17 elementary schools in the Shizuoka City. I hope it comes true in the near future. (Risa)

January 25th
Today, one of my co-workers, Kohei wrote the news. Please check it out!

Some people say that Japanese culture is really hybrid. And, I agree that. For Example, today’s my lunch like the photo below… I went to the dining bar and Ramen restaurant [GoGyo]. Sitting on a tall stool, eating soy sauce flavoured Ra-men (Chinese noodle) and Japanese rice, drinking Japanese tea…and then I took coffee after lunch. All these festivities wer held in Machiya (Japanese traditional building) rebuilt in the present age style. Is it strange? I would rather say that is just hybrid. Japan used to be called [WA] which is the word for the sum or harmony. (Kohei)

If you are interested in the Ramen restaurant, here is the information:

Address: 452 Jumonji-cho, Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto

Phone: 075-254-5567 (Risa)


January 26th
I don’t like (I would rather say I hate) to hurt other people’s feelings. It’s much more painful for me to hurt someone than to be hurt by someone. I think even a tiny thing can hurt our feelings easily. It might not be a big deal for someone, but it might be for others. The feeling has bothered me for a week, and I wanted to say sorry to him. Although I knew he would say I didn’t have to, [I] wanted to apologise to him. You surely have had the similar experiences in your life, right? I know it’s sometimes hard to express our gratitude or apology to someone, but I think it’s a very important thing. I give you a basic but important Japanese lesson here today: [Thank you] is [Arigato] and [Sorry] is [Gomen-nasai]. (Risa)

January 30th
Do you know where Akita Prefecture is? I guess most readers don’t… The prefecture is situated in Tohoku district, and it is said that there are lots of beautiful women there. Yokote City in Akita has recently set up the website to encourage people to move to the city and settle there. The main target is the postwar baby-boom generation. That’s because they are now getting retired and planning for aging. The city guarantees 1 you will be provided farmland and/or grave site at a bargain price. 2 you can get to the hot-spring resorts in 10 minutes, and 3 you will be provided all the enjoyment of snowy country. Also, the city believes that the Yokote city is the most livable countryside in Japan. Well…I wonder how many people have an interest in this project. Are you one of them? (Risa)

January 29th
There has been a cafe boom in Japan in recent years. The cafes try to develop their creativities/originalities, and they compete each other. Today, I pick a cafe called [CAFE KOCSI] near our office. Once you enter the cafe, you might feel as if you were back at home. I really can’t remember…but Kohei says all the chairs at CAFE KOCSI are soooooooo comfortable… Maybe you never like standing up again? Also, the cafe is like a small library…so if you go there by yourself, you will never get bored. We recommend you to visit there and relax after your exciting sightseeing in Kyoto! (Risa)


January 30th
DoWhat do you think he is doing in the photo? Yes, he is selling boxed lunch at the stall. As there are usually 4-5 kinds of boxed meals, you can choose according to your mood of the moment. If you buy the lunch box, you will get a cup miso soup for free. The menu is changed daily, so you won’t get tired of having the same meals. There are lots of boxed lunch stalls on main streets near our office, and they compete with each other. The lunch boxes are all 500yen without exception. I think it’s interesting to experience an ordinary life during a trip. If you feel the same as me, please try it for a lunch. (Risa)