February 23, 2006 Vol. 2, No. 3

Princess Kiko's Third Pregnancy and Revision of the Imperial Succession

Japan and Trends in Innovation

-By Thomas H. Snitch*

For many years, there has been a commonly held myth that Japan is not a nation which fosters innovation. While Japanese industry has, for many decades, placed an emphasis on constant improvements within existing areas of technological expertise, many economists and analysts write that Japan lacks a truly innovative spirit in pursuing groundbreaking achievements in science and engineering.

We are told that the Japanese do not reward risk-taking behavior and that 'the nail that stands up is pounded down.' Japanese students, it is alleged, are not encouraged to pursue careers in the pure sciences or in cutting edge research and that they are counseled to stick with learning about applied technology.

Thus, a belief has developed over the years that Japan is only good at taking an existing product or technology and making incremental improvements or changes. Japan improves but does not invent.

Top 10 Private Sector Patent Recipients for 2005

Rank in 2005
# of Patents 2005<
International Business Machine Corp.
Canon Kabushiki Gaisha
Hewlett-Packard Development Co.
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
Samsung Electric Co.
Micron Technology, Inc.
Intel Corp.
Hitachi, Ltd.
Toshiba Corporation
Fujitsu Ltd.

It is difficult to argue with these numbers and this U.S. Government report should dispel the myth that Japan is not on the cutting edge of technological innovation. We can no longer state that Japanese companies do not have a commitment to innovation.

*Thomas Snitch is president of Little Falls Associates in Bethesda, Md., and specializes in U.S.-Asian security and economic issues.

Kotohime: (L-R) Nobuko Baba (koto),
Xiao-Qing Jiang (gu zheng)
and Sun-A Pak (kayagum)

Pan-Asian Zither Trio Aspires to Unite World through Music

-By Shiori Okazaki
(Embassy of Japan)

Kotohime, a trio of musicians from Japan, China, and Korea, strives to unite their native countries through the innovative East Asian music they perform together. All three are solo artists who perform different versions of zithers from their own countries: Xiao-Qing Jiang from China plays the gu zheng, Sun-A Pak from Korea plays the kayagum, and Nobuko Baba from Japan plays the koto. Together as Kotohime, or "Princesses of Koto," the three performed in a joint concert on February 1 at the Japan Information & Culture Center.

The concert, which was sponsored by the cultural offices of the Embassies of Japan, China and Korea, included among its audience the wives of the Ambassadors of Japan (Mrs. Hanayo Kato) and China (Mrs. Xie Shumin), as well as diplomats from all three embassies.

Kotohime Brings East Asia Together

Kotohime is the first koto unit in the world to include a Chinese member, a Korean member and a Japanese member. The three women met in 1996 through coincidence. Their common language is Japanese; Pak was born in Japan, and Jiang studied abroad in Japan. They each reside in Japan and have performed together for ten years now.

Their union as Kotohime reflects not only their musical pursuits but their personal values as well. Because of wars and interrupted communication over the centuries, "We East Asians used to have an impression that China, Korea, and Japan were countries that seem close to each other but were actually far apart," Baba said. "But we found that we can achieve mutual understanding through joint performances like this."

Although their backgrounds and talents already help fulfill their wishes to bring their three countries together, they hope to extend that further. The artists expressed their excitement that while they have visited the U.S. individually, this is their first American visit together. "Through our music, we hope to unite not only East Asia and the United States, but the whole world as well," Baba said.

Similarities and Differences

Kotohime wowed the guests by opening their performance with a melody specifically composed for and named after the trio, and a medley of Japanese, Chinese and Korean folk songs. In an unusual move for a concert, they then paused their music for a demonstration-lecture, explaining the similarities and differences of each instrument through words and examples:

All three instruments are made of paulownia wood. Silk was traditionally used for the strings, but since they break easily, each instrument uses substitute synthetic materials such as nylon (gu zheng), steel wrapped in silk (kayagum), and tetron (koto). These sister instruments originated from the Chinese gu zheng, but in the many centuries after they were incorporated into Japan and Korea, they began to differ in sound, shape, and performance style.

Pak said that the kayagum was born about 1,500 years ago, in a country called Kaya, which was in the middle of the southern part of the Korean peninsula. While the other two instruments are played with picks, the kayagum is played with bare hands and specializes in expressing human emotions.

The kayagum usually has twelve strings, but the one Pak played this day was a special version of twenty-one strings, so that it would harmonize better with the other two instruments. Pak explained the many meanings behind the specific numbers, demonstrating how the design of the instruments reflects East Asian beliefs. The twelve strings come from the twelve months of the year. While this kayagum is stringed on a seven-note scale, many East Asian instruments are pentatonic (on a five-note scale)--which comes from inyo gogyo, or the idea that everything in the world is created from the two principles of yin and yang, and the interaction of five elements: fire, water, wood, metal and earth. The three musicians turned their instruments over for the audience: all of them had holes underneath for better resonation of the sound, but the three holes of the kayagum symbolized the earth, the moon and the sun.

Jiang then explained the gu zheng: it is the oldest of the three instruments, born about 2,300 years ago. The 21-string instrument is decorated with many auspicious symbols, such as cranes, pines and plum trees, and is played with four picks on the right hand. The gu zheng, as well as the other two instruments, used to be played only with the right hand, with the left hand pushing down the strings. The playing became more complex over time, and now all instruments are played with both hands, with the right hand playing the melody and the left hand accompanying the tune.

The koto demonstrates the Japanese characteristic of maintaining tradition. Baba said that the koto has only 13 strings, all of which have the same thickness, retaining the design from when it first came from China 1,200 years ago. All three instruments used to be considered as metaphors of a dragon, but the koto is the only one that still reflects this idea today: the artists' left hand side is addressed as the dragon head, and the right hand side is called the tail. Using three picks on the right hand, the Japanese style of playing also emphasizes traditional technique, and there are specific ways to express certain sounds, such as "wind" or "water."

After the lecture, the members of Kotohime played three songs solo, demonstrating the characteristics and qualities of each instrument and of the music of their own country. They collaborated for three others songs, including a western melody: J.S. Bach's Ave Maria, where the kayagum played the arpeggio accompaniment. Even though the kayagum and the gu zheng here both have more strings than the koto (twenty-one, rather than thirteen), as well as different string thicknesses, the gu zheng has more range. The gu zheng, which is pentatonic and skips some notes that the seven-note-scale kayagum plays, is often responsible for the soprano and the melody when the three of them collaborate.

The guests were delighted to have the opportunity to listen to this one-of-a-kind music that the trio created, and to witness such a rare musical partnership. Following the concert, the three performers in their respective colorful national costumes--a China dress, a kimono and a hanbok--were very popular with the guests who hoped for a photograph with them.

Shabushabu: the name of the dish
comes from the sound the thinly
sliced meat makes when swished in water

Affordable Japan <2>: Eating Out

-By Yuri Arthur
(Embassy of Japan)

While it is possible to pay about 7 dollars for a cup of coffee in Japan (Cafe Doll, Ginza), there are many bargain meals that can satisfy both one's wallet and culinary desires. With just $30 dollars, one can try everything from sushi to tempura, and much more. Contrary to general assumptions, it is possible to enjoy Japanese cuisine on a budget, and to have a little fun while doing so.

A good way to start would be to venture to one of the dominant fast food chain restaurants. Conveniently located throughout Japan, restaurants such as Yoshinoya, Tenya, and Sukiya offer set menus for less than 450 yen ($3.49)*. At these restaurants, one can try Japanese-style curry, beef bowls and tempura bowls for a quick and inexpensive introduction to Japanese cuisine.

For those who want to taste something with a hint of familiarity, heading over to an American fast food joint may also be an interesting experience. McDonald's Japan offers items unheard of in the U.S. (except in Hawaii), such as the teriyaki burger, shrimp nuggets, the shrimp fillet burger, the tomato chicken fillet burger or the cheese demiglace burger. Starbucks Japan also offers specialties such as the marshmallow mocha or the mocha valenciana for a quick drink. Fast food burger restaurants located only in Japan, such as First Kitchen and Mos Burger, also have enticing menus such as rice or naan burgers. All options provide generous portions in set menus for under 800 yen ($6.98).

To try something a bit more Japanese, one can visit chain restaurants such as Ootoya or Ohachi. These two restaurants offer more traditional Japanese dinner entrees such as mackerel with miso or Japanese-style pork cutlet. All entrees come with miso soup, pickles and rice, and are about 1000 yen ($8.72). Businessmen and college students alike frequent these restaurants to get a taste of homemade cooking and enjoy items such as Japanese-style fried chicken, potatoes and beef simmered in sweet broth, or potato croquettes.

For those with big appetites, Japanese buffets can be an option. Takano Fruits Parlor, a famous dessert parlor in Japan, offers lunch and dinner buffets for 2500 yen ($21.81). This buffet includes smoked salmon and steak with an assortment of delightful desserts incorporating green tea, chestnut paste, red bean and Japanese fruits. Although there is a time limit of 90 minutes, one can surely eat his or her share. Another buffet restaurant, Mo Mo Paradise, serves all-you-can-eat shabushabu (thin slices of beef lightly cooked in a hotpot and enjoyed with vinegar or sesame sauces) and sukiyaki (a dish where all ingredients are cooked in a hotpot and eaten with raw egg). These Japanese specialties can be enjoyed for a mere 2000 yen ($17.45) with a beverage, rice and soup.

For dinnertime fun that is slightly pricier, one can venture towards theme restaurants with a few friends. These restaurants range from Ninja, where servers dressed as ninjas pop in and out of the customers' room, to Lockup, where servers imprison the customers in a cell after handcuffing them. The sumptuous entrees here range from 800 yen ($6.98) to 1000 yen ($8.72) and can be shared by several people. Having bite-size pot stickers in a jail cell is definitely a poignant way to remember Japan.

Of course, one must not forget sushi. Kaitenzushi, restaurants where one can select sushi dishes from a conveyer belt, are not only popular but inexpensive as well. One can retrieve two pieces from the belt for about 300 yen ($2.62) and pay about 2000 yen ($17.45) for a decent sushi meal.

With such options, there are no reasons to empty out your wallet when eating in Japan. There are a variety of inexpensive choices that will satisfy even the most gourmet visitor.

*According to the yen-to-dollar exchange rate as of January 24th, 2006: 114.49 yen/USD


Cafe Doll: http://gourmet.yahoo.co.jp/gourmet/restaurant/Kanto/Tokyo/guide/0501/P000842.html
Sukiya: http://www.zensho.com/menu/
Yoshinoya: http://www.yoshinoya-dc.com/brand/menu.html
Tenya: http://www.tenya.co.jp/spmenu.html
McDonald's Japan: http://mcdonalds.co.jp/
Starbucks Japan: http://www.starbucks.co.jp/ja/l_beverages.htm
First Kitchen: http://www.first-kitchen.co.jp/top.html
Mos Burger: http://www.mos.co.jp/menu/
Ootoya: http://www.ootoya.com/monthly/index_osusume.html
Ohachi: http://www.freshnessburger.co.jp/ohachi/menu/index.html
Takano Fruits Parlor: http://www.takano.jp/product/shinjyuku/5f_bar.html
Mo Mo Paradise: http://www.wondertable.com/doc/whatsnew/y232/232.html
Ninja: http://www.ninja.tv/
Lockup: http://www.cest-la-vie.co.jp/mainhp/restaurant/lockup/