Fun Link Friday: Amabie sweets

Amabie sweets by かおる堂 in Akita prefecture.

Amidst the regular pandemic news over the last weeks, there have been numerous reports related to Japan centered on amabie アマビエ, a supernatural, mermaid-like creature from Japanese folklore. Although amabie only appears in one text from 1846 (and thus was probably not widely known), the legend that drawing a picture of amabie will ward off illness has captured the imaginations of people living through the time of COVID-19. As a result, makers of traditional Japanese sweets have shifted to making cute amabie of their own.

Here are just a few varieties that have popped up:

By 和創菓ひとひら in Hakodate.

By くらづくり in Kawagoe.

By 金蝶園総本家 in Gifu.

By 紅谷三宅 in Tochigi.

There are many more out there, but this is just a sample of tasty amabie trends emerging. Have a favorite? Let us know! Stay safe and have a happy Friday!

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Book Announcement: Japan Through the Lens of the Tokyo Olympics

Japan Through the Lens of the Tokyo Olympics

Edited ByBarbara Holthus, Isaac Gagné, Wolfram Manzenreiter, Franz Waldenberger

This book situates the 2020 Tokyo Olympics within the social, economic, and political challenges facing contemporary Japan.

Using the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as a lens into the city and the country as a whole, the stellar line up of contributors offer hidden insights and new perspectives on the Games. These include city planning, cultural politics, financial issues, language use, security, education, volunteerism, and construction work. The chapters then go on to explore the many stakeholders, institutions, citizens, interest groups, and protest groups involved, and feature the struggle over Tokyo’s extreme summer heat, food standards, the implementation of diversity around disabilities, sexual minorities, and technological innovations. Giving short glimpses into the new Olympic sports, this book also analyses the role of these sports in Japanese society.

Japan Through the Lens of the Tokyo Olympics will be of huge interest to anyone attending the Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020. It will also be useful to students and scholars of the Olympics and the sociology of sport, as well as Japanese culture and society.

For more information:

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Resource: Historical Sound Recordings from the National Diet Library

As the digitization of resources grows, it’s important remember that not everything is visual! At the end of 2019 Japan’s National Diet Library announced that it had added 1,000 new recordings to its already substantial database of historical sound recordings. Known as Rekion, the Historical Recordings Collection.

The database boasts of 50,000+ sound recordings, which can be browsed by title or by of its 19 genres:

Although there is an English site that provides these categories, the titles themselves are only available in Japanese. Furthermore, the majority of the holdings are only accessible through NDL and its partner institutions. However, you do have the option of ticking the “available online” option under the search bar to filter out things that you don’t have access to, which is helpful in navigating what is streaming and what is not. At the moment, approximately 4,900 titles are open to listeners.

In addition, the NDL has prepared some of the open-access materials with commentary, which can be useful for expanding your knowledge or teaching. These pages can be quite extensive and are also sourced with references.

Many of the recordings are from as early as the 1920s and look fascinating. Be sure to poke around the site and see what they have! Happy listening!



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Book Announcement: Masculinity and Body Weight in Japan

Masculinity and Body Weight in Japan: Grappling with Metabolic Syndrome
By Genaro Castro-Vázquez

Drawing on the concept of the somatic self, Castro-Vázquez explores how Japanese men think about, express and interpret their experiences concerning bodyweight control.

Based on an extensive ethnographic investigation, this book offers a compelling analysis of male obesity and overweight in Japan from a symbolic interactionism perspective to delve into structure, meaning, practice and subjectivity underpinning the experiences of a group of middle-aged, Japanese men grappling with body weight control. Castro-Vázquez frames obesity and overweight within historical and current global and sociological debates that help to highlight the significance of the Japanese case. By drawing on evidence from different locations and contexts, he sustains a comparative perspective to extend and deepen the analysis.

A valuable resource for scholars both of contemporary masculinity and of medical sociology, especially those with a particular interest in Japan.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • 1 From Obesity and Overweight to Metabolic Syndrome
  • 2 The Somatic Self and the Japanese
  • 3 The Somatic Self, Metabolic Syndrome and the Mass Media
  • 4 The Somatic Self of Some ‘Chubby’ (debu) Men
  • 5 The Somatic Self of Some Beefy and Slim-muscular Japanese Men
  • 6 The Somatic Self and Culinary Practices of Japanese Men
  • 7 The Somatic Self and Social Class of Some Japanese Men
  • Conclusion

For more information:

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Call for Applications: Reischauer Policy Research Fellows Program

Reischauer Policy Research Fellows Program

Program Overview:

Inaugurated in May 2013, the Reischauer Policy Research Fellows Program is a critical element of the Reischauer Center at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC. It is designed to support the Center’s various research initiatives, while also providing recent undergraduate or graduate students with broad practical experience regarding the public and private-sector analysis process. Fellowships are paid and tenable for one academic year beginning in August 2018 with the potential for renewal for an additional year.

More information about our activities can be found on the Reischauer Center’s website ( and Facebook page (@ReischauerCenter). Please direct any questions about the position or application process to the Research and Program Coordinator at <>.

Job Description:

Research Fellows personally assist Dr. Kent Calder, Director of the Reischauer Center, with projects related to the Center’s mission of supporting the study of transpacific and intra-Asian relations. Recent topics include, but are not limited to: policy best practices in U.S.-Japan relations such as infrastructure, public diplomacy, and agriculture; the role of cities in global governance; the functioning of Washington’s ‘idea industry’ and government-business relations; global energy policy; and comparative Eurasian political economy.

Fellows also provide logistical support for seminars, luncheons, and conferences offered by the Reischauer Center. They are able to interact with senior researchers affiliated with the Center as part of our Visiting Scholars Program, who typically join us for one academic year from various government agencies in Japan. Furthermore, Fellows are welcome to participate in events in the larger Johns Hopkins SAIS community and are frequently able to attend courses relating to Japan Studies and Asian political economy.

Applications will be considered on a rolling basis with final decisions made no later than July 2020.

For more information: link

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Writing into a Career: Learning How to Write and Adult in Japan and the United States

Today’s guest post is by Daniel Morales. Daniel Morales is a writer and translator based in Chicago. He studied Japanese literature at Harvard and writing at the Creative Writing Workshop at the University of New Orleans. After graduate school, he relocated to Chicago where he has worked for the Japanese Consulate and the Institute of Real Estate Management. He’s an avid homebrewer and is waiting for Japan to fully legalize the hobby so he can move back.


Hello! My name is Daniel Morales. I’m a writer, part-time translator, and an association professional living in Chicago. I write about Japanese study and translation for the Japan Times Bilingual page and my website How to Japanese.

I’ve managed to cobble together a career doing gainful work related to Japan despite my best efforts at selecting the most stereotypically “useless” liberal arts degrees—East Asian Studies (modern Japanese literature) and Creative Writing.

There have been three major steps in getting to this point: learning Japanese, learning how to write, and learning how to be a professional.

I hope that by walking through my experience, I can provide guidance for anyone who is early on in any of these three steps.

Learning Japanese

It’s important to be able to read, speak, and understand spoken Japanese, but the most critical aspect of studying the language is knowing what you want to gain out of the experience, and then ensuring that you’re able to achieve that. 

Do you want to be an interpreter for a baseball player? Do you want to be able to read novels? Manga? Play video games? Are you looking to scour obscure texts from previous centuries? To read the menus of posh bistros and discover the latest Tokyo foodie trends? Or do you just want to be able to navigate the JR Rail system and guide yourself to a hot springs? 

How you answer this question will partly determine how you approach your language study. You’ll need to dedicate time to the basic grammar, pronunciation, and writing scripts, but you should also be crafting your study to achieve your goals. So be sure to take a step back and do an honest assessment of how your study is going.

I studied abroad in Tokyo for a year during college, and at around the halfway point, I took a moment to think about how things had gone so far. I realized that 1) I needed to level up my reading and 2) my spoken Japanese was not as good as many of my classmates.

Then I took action to fix these. I found a professor who was willing to meet with me once a week and answer questions about a novel I was reading. And I started setting up coffee dates with all my Japanese friends. I was a poor student, so I ended up at the Cafe Veloce between Takadanobaba Station and Waseda University almost every afternoon, drinking 120-yen cups of coffee and talking with friends. There are more unpleasant ways to learn the language.

Your experience will likely be much different from mine, but I think the following ideas can be useful to everyone studying Japanese:

  • Create a routine. Consistency is often more important than what it is you’re doing. Obviously, you probably should try to do more than one kanji/grammar pattern per day, but a constant pressure applied over a long period of time is more effective than sporadic bursts of intense study.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s on Twitter or at your university, there are many who will be willing to help you read, speak, or write.
  • You’re always most accountable to yourself. In the end, becoming fluent is up to you. No one can study the kanji for you. You need to make sure you’re putting in the work, and that means prioritizing your study. If Japanese study is something you value, then it should be easy to make the time, but saying out loud, “Japanese study is something I value, and I’m choosing to spend time doing it rather than X” can be a helpful way to frame things.
  • Be careful when switching up your process. As I mentioned above, it’s important to do periodic assessments of how your study is going, but there are almost limitless ways to study, and many classmates or friends will have different study processes, so it can sometimes be tempting to try something new or model an approach that seems to be working for someone else. Resist the urge to switch study processes simply for the sake of trying something new. Instead, double down on what it is you’re doing and see if that has an effect.
  • Be gentle on yourself. If you’ve picked up a book that’s a little too difficult, don’t be afraid to abandon it for something easier. If 20 kanji a day is too many, dial it back to five or ten. Don’t get burned out too quickly. And on the flipside, if you’ve taken a break for a while, put yourself back in gear and study a little harder.
  • Prepare for the longterm. There are some people who are able to learn Japanese in a year, but I don’t think this is a helpful model for beginner students. Instead, give yourself a 5- to 10-year target to gain fluency. This may feel like a long period of time, but as you get older, I think you’ll find that life seems to proceed in five-year chunks. Don’t feel defeated if you don’t achieve your goal immediately.
  • Get over to Japan. Beg, borrow, deal, and do what it takes to immerse yourself in the language. There’s no substitute for being in Japan. (Obviously, the pandemic has kind of put a hold on this strategy. Now’s as good a time as any to start strategizing ways to get over to Japan and improving the skills you’ll need once you’re there.)

Learning to Write

I was not a very good writer in college, not on the sentence level nor on the big picture level. Fortunately, thanks to grade inflation and a knack for completing assignments on time, this didn’t affect me greatly. I managed to graduate and then moved on, confident that I was not really cut out for academic work.

I did have the instinct to write, however. I kept trying to write in various forums both public and private, but I didn’t find much traction until I started writing about studying Japanese and translation on my website.

I think the reason for this is simple: Writing is pain.

At least for me it is. I’m sure others may not find it so painful. But the process of sitting down, staring at the screen, fighting off the pressure of needing to produce something, and working and reworking the language to get it right was not one I enjoyed. So it wasn’t until I discovered a topic that I enjoyed enough—and for which I had actual insights that had some kind of value—that I was able to get past that initial obstacle.

The good news is that if you’re able to conquer this pain, writing is an incredibly useful professional skill. You can literally conjure up policy, procedure, negotiation, and analysis out of thin air, using language.

Here are a few things I’ve found helpful when it comes to writing:

  • Writing publicly and professionally is much different than writing for a college course. Professors and writing instructors will often suggest that you write for a specific audience during assignments, but the classroom can be a little sterile. There’s nothing that compares to actually putting writing out there for an audience. Starting a blog forced me to straighten up and really focus on getting the language right. If you’re hesitant to put your writing online publicly, find a group of friends you trust who will help you workshop your writing.

If you’re specifically looking to start a blog or online writing project, I have this advice:

  • Set a schedule and stick to it. Decide what your schedule will be – once a week, once a month, twice a week, etc. Any schedule will work, but setting a schedule will not only train yourself but also your readers to know when they can expect new material.
  • Write 10 posts before you start. Forcing yourself to produce a backlog of (ideally) evergreen content will give you an idea of what it would be like to maintain a blog over a long period of time. If you write 10 posts and still feel like you have more to say, it might be the right project for you. If you can’t get to 10 or are sick of it by the time you do, then maybe you need a different topic or a different project altogether. Once you have these 10, you should keep them in your back pocket. Start the blog with new material. Then, when you get food poisoning or end up working a 60-hour week at your day job, you can dip into the evergreen content to give yourself a rest.

Back to non-blog advice:

  • If you’re a writer, sometimes it pays to be an asshole. You shouldn’t be mean, but you should be interested, persistent, at times prying, and curious about what people have to say. Getting quotes and insight from experts is a key part of writing authoritatively on topics about which you know very little. I’m not sure what they teach in journalism schools, but being dedicated to getting other people to talk (calling numerous times, emailing, talking to administrative assistants, doing whatever it takes to get on the calendar) has been a skill I’ve had to develop, and one that has been very beneficial professionally.
  • And in terms of professional writing, your audience will likely be very clear and specific – a committee, leadership at your company, your supervisor/boss. This can make it both easier and more difficult to write, but you’re using the same skills that you’ve developed with other writing. What information do you need to communicate? What are the best techniques to communicate that information? These are the fundamental questions to ask about any piece of writing.

Becoming a Professional

When I finished the JET Program and moved to Tokyo to work at a translation company, I expected a stereotypical Japanese workplace experience: long hours, social time after work with colleagues, and an open office plan. The only thing I got was an open office plan.

After an initial boat cruise nomikai on Tokyo Bay, which admittedly was great, the office was silent, no one socialized after work, the hours weren’t bad, and my supervisor wasn’t even in the office (and didn’t provide an introductory email or phone call) until a month or two at the job. It was a decent enough place to spend the financial crisis years, but I learned quickly that even though the workplace wasn’t what I expected, I could take from it what I could—use it to earn a living, gain skills, and be a professional—and then focus on finding things that fulfilled me outside of work.

Balancing expectations is a critical aspect of being a professional. Being invested enough to become an expert without needing the work to be the be-all and end-all of your life.

Since my time in Tokyo, I’ve moved home and completed a graduate degree. I’ve worked as a writer, translator, graduate teaching assistant, political assistant at a Japanese consulate, and now a manager at a non-profit trade association.

Balance has been key this whole time. Much of this work has been Japan-related, so there’s been a learning curve for me, adjusting to both Japanese and U.S. business etiquette, despite my experience with the culture. These are the things I’ve found important:

  • Before you do anything, you must start reading Ask A Manager. That’s the one piece of advice I would give my younger self. I’ve learned more about workplace communication, creating compelling resumes, and what to do in job interviews by reading Alison Green’s advice column than anywhere else.
  • Pursue work that fits your resume. After I finished grad school in New Orleans, I was interviewing to become a gelato maker or be an administrative assistant—the local economy did not offer much beyond the service industry and a few specialized fields like insurance and petrochemicals. Once I realized I should focus on work related to Japan outside of New Orleans, I had more success. If your resume doesn’t have what you need it to have in order to get the work you want, think about how you might supplement it. Is there volunteering or an internship you could do to nudge it in the right direction? Consider looking outside your market. Consider doing remote work. Given the pandemic, everyone is going to need flexibility right now.
  • Japanese business culture shouldn’t be intimidating. It will be different, absolutely, but try not to tighten up just because you’re interacting in Japanese or with Japanese people. Most of the rules that apply in the U.S. also apply in Japan: communicate clearly, take care of assignments on time, and treat people with respect.
  • Working at a Japanese diplomatic mission (embassy or consulate), on the other hand, is not the same as Japanese business culture. There is a rigid hierarchy, and officers from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can be intensely competitive, aloof, petty, and occasionally very pleasant people. There will likely be yelling, a lack of communication, and in-fighting between the diplomats that spills over and can affect work of the locally hired support staff. Just remember that yelling is abuse and unacceptable. I had my resignation letter thrown on the ground because I gave two weeks’ notice and not two months’ notice. There are other stories I could tell, but this is the most egregious. It took awhile for me to realize that this was not acceptable behavior on the part of my bosses, and it was refreshing to find work related to Japan and discover that not everything operated the same way.
  • Watch your workplace for toxicity, and don’t let it scar you if it is indeed toxic. It can be difficult enough to do this in your native country. In a foreign country, it can sometimes be easy to chalk up unhealthy workplace eccentricities to cultural differences. Pay attention to things you should not tolerate (sexual harassment, power harassment) and try not to internalize them.

In the end, you should try to find a way to be yourself in Japan, in your home country, at your workplace, as a writer and translator, and as a professional. You’ll constantly be negotiating with others as you do this, and the rules and situations will vary, but rarely will it be personal. There’s almost nothing that can’t be worked out with clear communication, which is a great incentive to keep practicing your Japanese.

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Book Announcement: Ghastly Tales from the Yotsuya kaidan

Ghastly Tales from the Yotsuya kaidan, ed. with an Introduction by Takashi Saitō

Perhaps the most famous and oft told tales of horror in Japan, the Yotsuya kaidan tells of a young woman named Iwa and the curse she carried out after her death against those who had wronged her in life. For nearly three hundred years in the repertoire of itinerant storytellers, in dramatic performances on stage, and in modern adaptations for anime and film, Iwa’s story has lost none of its intoxicating power over the imagination. Just over a hundred years on from its original publication, the English translation has been radically revised for overall readability in the hope of securing its place among the classics of world literature.

Also available in e-book format for Apple and Kindle.

Saitō Takashi is a Senior Research Fellow at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan. He specializes in the history of the ghost story in Japanese literature, theater, and dramatic performances, with a special focus on their interface with religious beliefs and practices.

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