I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Cherry Blossom Season Is Coming! –


And the question to ask yourself is, “Are you ready? “
In some cases, cherry blossoms have already started blooming, so the answer had better be yes!

Springtime is usually heralded in Japan by the blooming cherry blossoms, which the country is famous for around the world.
They are truly beautiful to see, and some popular cherry blossom viewing sites are often congested with foot traffic.

For example, Naka-Meguro is one such popular destination.
During this season, the area is a veritable zoo of people.
It becomes very difficult to walk around.
So many people want to see the cherry blossoms over Meguro River.
And they are beautiful, for sure.
It would just be nice to see them without so many people around!
The crowds get to some pretty ridiculous levels, and they can be very difficult to manage.
You have to be careful.

In that way, cherry blossom season is both a blessing and a curse.
It’s great to see the nice cherry blossoms, but the crowds can really get in your way.
Be careful when viewing the cherry blossoms this year.
Who knows how many people will be out!



I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Christmas in Japan –


Japan, of course, is not a Christian country.
But Japan doesn’t let that fact stop it from celebrating Christmas.
Like Halloween, Christmas is a holiday that has been imported to Japan, even if the history of the holiday isn’t all that well known among the revelers.
Even in America, Halloween’s roots are pretty much forgotten these days, but Christmas is a completely different story.
It is, by far, the most important holiday of the year.

Families travel great distances to get together.
A lot of money is spent on buying and exchanging gifts. (Other than birthdays, America doesn’t have the same tradition of gift-giving that Japan does.)
Even more money is spent on buying Christmas decorations and Christmas trees.
Most families go all out to make Christmas a special holiday.

That’s why it’s so interesting to see the way Christmas is celebrated in Japan.
Some of the trappings are evident (Christmas lights, Christmas trees, etc.), but missing is the strong familial (and even religious) connotations.
Naturally, not every family who celebrates Christmas in the U.S. is deeply religious, but I think there’s a level of seriousness and importance missing.
Still, it’s a fascinating thing to see.
I guess I shouldn’t even bring up the KFC connection, which still baffles me.

In many ways, Christmas and New Year’s are the exact opposite of each in the two countries.
In America, New Year’s is strictly a party.
There is no other significance attached to it whatsoever.
Christmas (and to a lesser extent Thanksgiving) take care of all that for us.
But, in Japan, New Year’s is as serious as holidays get.
It truly is the Japanese Christmas in that way.
All that’s missing are the trees and decorations!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Donald Trump: A Most Unusual Politician! –


The nominees have been decided, and the election is set for November.
Donald Trump will face Hillary Clinton in the presidential election this fall, and it is guaranteed to be one of the most unusual elections ever.
While Hillary Clinton is an establishment political figure who has been in the national spotlight for well over 20 years, the same cannot be said of Mr. Trump.

Of course, he is a well known television fixture who has been famous for many decades.
But he is a political newbie.
In the past, he has toyed with the idea of running for president before deciding against it.
Back then, he would have run as a third-party candidate, and his views were much different from what they are today.
He was more of a moderate when he considered a presidential bid in the year 2000, but times have drastically changed his views.

It is difficult to draw any parallels of previous national party presidential nominees.
Ronald Reagan was also an entertainer, but by 1980, he had made a successful transition from actor to California governor.
Say what you will about his policies, but it was clear that his political success was built on his political brand, not whatever success he had as an actor.

Donald Trump is in a league of his own, and he probably wants it that way.
He plays by his own rules.
I, for one, am excited to see how this election plays out.
There is some chatter that the GOP may change its rules at the last minute to deny Trump the nomination, but that might even be more risky than simply letting Trump become the nominee.
After all, how would Trump’s loyal supporters react to such a tactic?

All I know is, we’re in for one heck of a show!

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Obama Visits Hiroshima –


President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima at the end of May was a historical event.
Marking the first time a currently serving American president visited the symbolic site, it received a wide coverage on the media and generated both eager anticipation and skepticism.
Some went home to catch the speech that would be delivered by President Obama, while some set up a demonstration at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial to demand a formal apology.

I didn’t see the event on TV actually (I might’ve been working), but I did read the transcript of Mr. Obama’s speech.
I thought it was a well-written speech, carefully worded to offer both sympathy to the victims of the atomic bomb and also to assure other countries in the SE Asia that it America didn’t condone the expansionist Japan of the past (not that he explicitly pointed out wartime atrocities–but by emphasizing the evils of using technology to kill and the need to find a way to global peace).

In his speech, he repeatedly mentioned the idea of remembering the past so that tragedies may not be repeated again. In other words, reflecting on past mistakes as a moral compass to guide our future.

I thought it was a good speech.
But then again, I don’t have a personal connection to World War 2 or Hiroshima.
Everything I know about the war I learned in Social Studies 10 class.
So I was curious to know how my Japanese friends and acquaintances felt about Mr. Obama’s visit to Hiroshima.
When asked about the absence of direct apology in the speech (like some people have been demanding, but as far as I can tell these people are in the minority), one person told me, “For many Japanese people, what’s important isn’t whether America apologizes or not. He officially recognized the victims of the bomb, and that’s enough.”

Another opinion was that apology would’ve been inappropriate because Japan committed wartime crimes as well, and that it would be better to focus on building good relationships with other countries rather than holding onto grudges from the past.

As a foreigner living in Japan, I too agree that it’s important for countries to cooperate, rather than sabotage each other for political or economical gains.
Years from now, when the increasingly aging population is forced to accept immigrants of foreign nationals in order to replenish the number of workers (which is a point of debate), I hope both Japanese people and foreigners alike think of this event and remember that even former enemies can work together.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Superstitions in Japan –


I’ve never considered myself a superstitious person.
I tend to prefer logical explanations to things in life based on facts, because I find them easier to follow and accept than the alternatives.
There are of course many things in life I don’t understand, and I’m generally perfectly happy to label things as “unknowns” or “mysteries.”

I’m comfortable accepting that there are elements in life that are unexplainable to me because I don’t have the necessary pieces to see the full picture for the time being.
If the inexplicable happens to coincide with my interests, I usually try to gather as many facts as possible, until I’m satisfied that I have at least a somewhat passable understanding of the subject.

Why am I rambling on about this?
It’s because I’ve generally dismissed the supernatural beliefs as being little more than artifacts of cultural/historical heritage.
In other words, I considered them to be somewhat obsolete mode of thinking that was gradually on its way out, at least in developed parts of the world that already saw the benefits of industrialization and therefore scientific progress.

So what surprised me was realizing that not only was I getting acclimatized to old Japanese sayings based on old beliefs (e.g. “Be careful what you say, oni is listening,” or “Don’t be reckless with words, words have souls.”), but I actually found myself heeding to those words at times.
On New Year’s Day when we visited the shrine, it felt natural to pray to the local deity even though I clearly remember how strange that felt a few years ago.

And I still don’t think that I’ve become any more superstitious than I used to be.
For that matter, the vast majority of the Japanese people I’ve met since coming here don’t take these old superstitions seriously.
For the most part, Shintoist and Buddhist rituals seem to be part of cultural legacy they enjoy, but not much more than that.

The interesting transformation for me was going from being an amused observer to being an appreciative participant.
If you ask me if my luck would change if I didn’t draw the New Year’s fortune at the shrine, I’ll say, no, of course not.
But at the same time, if I skipped going through the motions at the beginning of the year, I’d probably feel like missed out on something.

When i think about it, it almost feels like there’s an incompatible dualism that’s only come to seem normal.
But I really don’t feel any internal conflicts.

Maybe I’m being influenced by the openness of Japanese culture to accept different belief systems.
Or not. In any case, I feel that I understand Japanese ways of thinking better.

I once met a Japanese drummer who regularly went to a church to play worship songs.
At the time, I wondered why.
Now, I don’t think that’s strange at all.

I LOVE JAPAN ❤ 日本の今を伝えたい!- Is Tokyo the Real City That Never Sleeps? –


A while back, I noticed what I consider to be a unique phenomenon.
I’ve lived in many places over the years, but Tokyo is the only place that had such an effect on me.
No matter how much I try, I cannot go to bed on time.

“On time,” of course, may change from day to day.
Some nights it’s perfectly acceptable to stay up all hours, so long as you don’t have to get up the next morning.
But even on those nights before work, it still presents quite a challenge.
As someone who values sleep, it baffles me.

I’ve lived in many types of places over the years.
Cities, suburban areas, rural areas — name it, and I’ve been there.
But I’ve never stayed up particularly late on a regular basis before I moved to Tokyo.
So i can’t figure it out. I remember how staying up until 2:00 a.m. used to be a shocking thing to do during summer vacation.
Now 2:00 a.m. is packing it in early!

I know lots of other people who are the same.
I sometimes get messages from fellow Tokyoites at all hours of the morning.
I once got a couple of text messages from a friend (who is in his 70s, mind you) early in the 5:00 hour. (And, yes, I was asleep by then!)
The notification sound effect on my phone woke me up.
I’m sure it’s possible he had woken up early, for example, to go to work, but given his age, I doubt it.
I don’t think he went to sleep at all!

It’s very unusual, but it’s so common in Tokyo.
I’d love to know why.
Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think many other cities ignore sleep so regularly.
Perhaps someone has an answer.
I’d sure like to know why!

Donald Trump Becomes the Unofficial Official GOP Presidential Nominee


Donald Trump has all but officially secured the Republican nomination for president, and it has surprised just about everyone who follows politics.
Sen. Ted Cruz proved to be a stiff challenger to Trump’s campaign, and despite winning many previous contests, suddenly dropped out of the race following his loss to Trump in the Indiana primary.

Gov. John Kasich, the more moderate-sounding governor of Ohio, remained in the race just a little bit longer than Cruz.
But given that he has only won his home state so far in the primaries, Kasich made the predictable decision to bow out of the presidential race, as well.
That leaves Trump as the last man standing, with no challengers to his nomination.

This would seem to remove any doubt about the inevitability of Trump’s nomination.
A lot of talk in the political world focused on brokered convention, and many bigwigs in the GOP hoped that a Paul Ryan, a Mitt Romney, or some other white knight would come from nowhere and secure the nomination on the second ballot (after no candidate could garner a majority of delegates on the first ballot).
That scenario now seems like a complete fantasy, if it ever had any real-world possibility in the first place.

On the Democratic side, the primary race will continue in earnest, with Sen. Bernie Sanders refusing to drop out, even though reality tells him that he should.
Cruz had much more of a realistic shot at securing his party’s nomination, but even he saw the writing on the wall and decided not to fight on.
Sanders has so far declined to do the same.
This will no doubt make it more difficult for Secretary Clinton to focus on her opponent in the fall.
How that will affect the contest in November remains to be seen.

One thing’s for sure: This race will be enormously entertaining. It already has been.