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Begin Japanology invites you into the world of Japanese culture, both traditional and modern, explaining how traditions evolved and the part they still play today in people's everyday lives.

Genres: Lifestyle
Station: NHK (UK)
Rating: 0/10 from 0 users
Status: Ended
Start: 2008-04-14

Begin Japanology Season 2011 Air Dates


S2011E01 - Mochi Rice Cake Air Date: 13 January 2011 15:30 -

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Mochi, a glutinous dough made from steamed rice, is a favorite food among the Japanese. At least two people are required to make mochi the traditional way: a mallet man and a flipper. The movements of the two must be perfectly synchronized, and the best teams can be very interesting to watch. Mochi is used in various ways at the New Year and on important occasions in life. At weddings, the groom may take part in mochi pounding. Its stickiness symbolizes a wish that the couple will enjoy a strong, lasting bond. A soup of mochi, vegetables, meat, and seafood is an essential part of many New Year's meals throughout Japan. The recipes vary not only from region to region, but almost from family to family. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at mochi rice cake - a food steeped in history and the Japanese way of life.


S2011E02 - Watches and Clocks Air Date: 20 January 2011 15:30 -

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S2011E03 - Fugu Blowfish Air Date: 27 January 2011 15:30 -

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S2011E04 - Haneda Airport Air Date: 03 February 2011 15:30 -

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S2011E05 - Kagura Dances Air Date: 10 February 2011 15:30 -

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S2011E06 - Snow Air Date: 17 February 2011 15:30 -

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Around 20 million people live in Japan's "snow zone," where a single winter brings at least five meters of snow altogether. Japan is distinct in having so much snow so far south. Life in the snow zone has inspired many innovations. Traditional homes in Gifu Prefecture have steep, snow-shedding roofs and flexible frames. People in Niigata Prefecture weave colorful textiles whose brightness can be enhanced by laying them on the snow on a sunny day. Snow creates beautiful visual effects, as well as bringing great pleasure to children. In parts of Japan, children gather in snow huts on winter evenings. Some farmers look at mountainside snowmelt patterns to help them decide when to plant rice, and one farmer even uses snow to preserve the taste of freshly harvested rice. Discover how the Japanese appreciate and coexist with snow.


S2011E07 - Pollen Allergy Air Date: 03 March 2011 15:30 -

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S2011E08 - Sashimono Woodwork Air Date: 10 March 2011 15:30 -

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In Japan, traditional wooden furniture is assembled without using a single nail. Advanced sashimono joinery techniques have been passed down for centuries. There are around 30 different basic types of joint. Tenons and mortises are carved to precisely matching shapes. Sashimono techniques are used not just to connect pieces of wood, but also to enhance visual impact. Master craftsmen use subtle optical illusions to make finished items look more elegant. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at sashimono woodwork, which embodies the essence of Japanese aesthetics and traditional craftsmanship.


S2011E09 - Cranes Air Date: 07 April 2011 15:30 -

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Cranes have been revered throughout Japan since ancient times. Forming almost inseparable mating pairs, cranes are a symbol of harmonious married life. Crane motifs are widely used on wedding clothing and accessories in Japan. A flock of red-crowned cranes on Japan's northern main island of Hokkaido is one of the world's few non-migrating populations. The red-crowned crane is a rare success story in wildlife protection. However, the increase in crane population in recent years has brought new problems. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at cranes and the longstanding fascination they have held for the people of Japan.


S2011E10 - Kitchen Knives Air Date: 14 April 2011 15:30 -

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Knives for culinary purposes have been made in Japan for centuries, using a technique perfected by Japanese swordsmiths. The blades are sharpened on only one side, ideal for cleanly separating fish flesh from the bone. One of the 50 different types of Japanese kitchen knives is the sword-like "tuna knife." It's 1.5 meters long, and two people are needed to wield it. 90 percent of the knives used by Japanese kitchen professionals are made in Sakai, a city in Osaka. Local artisans in Sakai still make each knife by hand, to order. It took a small Japanese manufacturer five years to perfect the world's first all-stainless-steel knife. Now it exports more than 600,000 knives each year. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we explore the long history of Japanese kitchen knives.


S2011E11 - Fishing Air Date: 21 April 2011 15:30 -

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People of all ages have long been drawn to Japan's seas, rivers, and lakes to enjoy fishing. Over the centuries, the Japanese have used great ingenuity to develop unique tackle such as lacquer-coated bamboo fishing rods, handmade fishing hooks, and silk fishing lines. Some people set out to catch the smallest fish they can. Catching tiny fish requires an equally small rod. And small hooks are sharpened to make them even smaller. Lure fishing is increasingly popular in Japan. Exquisite fish-shaped lures with beautiful patterns and meticulously carved scales and gills look just like the real thing. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at fishing and what it reveals about Japan's pursuit of pleasure and perfection.


S2011E12 - Armour Air Date: 28 April 2011 15:30 -

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Japanese armour was developed to offer protection from spears, arrows, and swords, while allowing agile movement on rough terrain and steep slopes. After the introduction of firearms, the future shogun adopted aspects of Western-style armour, leading to a major turning point in Japanese history. The best armour is a complex work of art. It takes Japan's few remaining specialists up to three years to make a full suit. But today, enthusiasts will spend hundreds of hours crafting realistic replicas from everyday materials. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at Japanese armour, its beauty, and what it means to people in Japan.


S2011E13 - Judo Air Date: 05 May 2011 15:30 -

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Judo is practiced by around eight million people in 199 countries and regions, making it the most widely played sport that was developed in Japan. Players grapple with each other on a mat and win by pinning an opponent for a certain amount of time or with one of the many throwing techniques. Redirecting an opponent's momentum, players are able to throw people much taller and heavier than themselves with little strength. It's not just about competition. Players don't celebrate victory on the mat. Competition begins and ends with a bow. And an honorable player doesn't take advantage of an opponent's injury. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we explore the deep spirit of judo and its spectacular techniques.


S2011E14 - The Life of Taro Okamoto Air Date: 12 May 2011 15:30 -

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Taro Okamoto was Japan's leading avant-garde artist of the 20th century. His memorable phrase "Art is an explosion!" became a well-known expression, winning him popularity with the general public. Okamoto ignored established ideals of beauty, instead reaching back to Japan's prehistoric Jomon period for inspiration. In the folkways of remote rural regions, he sought traces of Jomon beauty long forgotten in urban Japan. In 1970, Japan hosted Expo '70. The symbol of the science and technology exposition was Okamoto's Tower of the Sun. The shining golden face at the top of the tower stands for the future. Then, in 2008, a work long thought to be lost was unveiled in Tokyo's Shibuya Station. Okamoto chose the atomic bomb as his theme for Tomorrow's Mythology. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at the life of Taro Okamoto, the free spirit who battled Japan's entrenched values in pursuit of art.


S2011E15 - The Life of Osamu Dazai Air Date: 19 May 2011 15:30 -

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Osamu Dazai (1909-48) was one of Japan's preeminent modern novelists. Born in wealthy circumstances that he later rejected, Dazai drew attention as a writer when he was 26 for Flowers of Buffoonery. His life was turbulent and controversial. While still a student, he started living with a geisha. After he married, he kept a mistress. He battled addiction and finally committed suicide. Dazai's books never go out of fashion. Even today, more than 60 years after his death, Dazai continues to be popular among young people. Some of his major works are: No Longer Human; Run, Melos!; Return to Tsugaru; and The Setting Sun. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at the life of Osamu Dazai, a troubled author who nevertheless wrote some of Japan's most enduringly popular literature.


S2011E16 - The Life of Kenzo Tange Air Date: 26 May 2011 15:30 -

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Kenzo Tange laid the foundations of modern architecture in Japan. On August 6, 1945, the day the U.S. detonated an atomic bomb over Hiroshima, Tange lost all that mattered most to him. Four years after World War II, Tange won the competition to design the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, marking his debut on the architectural scene. As Japan rebuilt and grew, Tange shaped the skylines and landscapes of its cities with landmark projects such as the Yoyogi National Gymnasium, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings, and St. Mary's Cathedral. Tange also developed urban plans for cities outside Japan, including Nigeria's capital, Macedonia's capital, and Naples in Italy. By the time of his death in 2005, Tange had completed over 330 projects. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at the life of architect Kenzo Tange.


S2011E17 - The Life of Hideko Maehata Air Date: 02 June 2011 15:30 -

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As a child, Maehata studied traditional swimming techniques passed down from the days of the samurai. At 18, competing in the 200 meters breaststroke at the 1932 Summer Olympics, she missed out on gold by one-tenth of a second. Determined to do better, Maehata trained incredibly hard for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. On August 11, 1936, Japan's first live international radio broadcast brought the drama of the women's 200-meter breaststroke final to the entire nation. Maehata won. After a long hiatus, she returned to the sport as a teacher to help rebuild Japan's swimming culture. She suffered a stroke in 1983, but characteristically battled back and resumed coaching. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at the life of Hideko Maehata, a woman who captured the imagination of the Japanese public.


S2011E18 - Toilets Air Date: 09 June 2011 15:30 -

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Japan is famous for its high-tech toilets with water spray functions and lots more, and toilet technology continues to evolve in unique ways. After months of research, a Japanese toilet manufacturer found the ideal temperature for a cleansing water jet. When short-circuiting became a concern, a solution was found in a surprising place. Western-style toilets are commonplace in Japan, but many public restrooms are still fitted with traditional squat toilets. These can be baffling for foreigners who don't know which direction to face when using them. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we take a look at toilets and how they relate to Japan's love of cleanliness.


S2011E19 - Lifts Air Date: 16 June 2011 15:30 -

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Japan leads the world in building ever-faster and ever-quieter lifts, or elevators. In 2004, Japan's long history of engineering know-how was used to build the world's fastest elevator in Taipei 101, a 509-meter landmark skyscraper in Taiwan. The elevator travels at up to 60 km/h! At Tokyo's Roppongi Hills, one of Japan's largest multipurpose complexes, elevators serve two floors at once: an even and an odd floor. In other office buildings, cameras and ID cards connected to computers dispatch lifts automatically. Will "space elevators" someday carry people into orbit? The key may be carbon nanotubes, a material that was brought to the forefront of science in Japan. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at the continued evolution of lifts and how they have become an indispensable daily convenience in Japan.


S2011E20 - Motorcycles Air Date: 23 June 2011 15:30 -

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Japan is the largest producer of motorcycles in the world. It has proudly held this title since 1960. Today, Japan produces all sizes of motorcycles. The Honda Super Cub is an especially popular smaller motorcycle with over 70 million units produced. Large motorcycles are now finding new levels of popularity among older generations of riders. Motorcycles also gave one Japanese woman with a disability fresh confidence and a renewed appreciation of life. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is motorcycles. We look at the evolution of these machines and the passion of the people who have devoted their lives to them.


S2011E21 - Unagi Eel Air Date: 30 June 2011 15:30 -

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Japan is the world's number one consumer of eels, or unagi. Grilled, glazed unagi ranks alongside sushi and tempura as one of the best-known types of Japanese cuisine. It is even reputed to boost stamina. The Japanese have been eating eels for more than 5,000 years. Traditional methods of catching them are still practiced in many regions of Japan. In recent decades, farmed eels have provided most of Japan's unagi supply. Farmed eels are generally considered not as tasty as those caught wild, but some eel farmers have developed unique methods to improve the flavor. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at unagi and how it has provided sustenance in Japan from ancient times to the present.


S2011E22 - Japanophiles - Ilan Yanizky Air Date: 07 July 2011 15:30 -

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This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan. When ink-brush artist Ilan Yanizky paints, he splashes vibrant colors as though conducting an orchestra. His unconventional painting style is actually based on a traditional art form in which plants, animals, and landscapes are portrayed in an austere monochrome black palette. Born in Israel, Yanizky first arrived in Japan 28 years ago at the age of 27. Looking to expand his art beyond the possibilities of oil painting, he came to Japan seeking a new challenge. Today, even after years of training, he says he is still learning. Yanizky now spends his days teaching in his Tokyo classroom, practicing tai chi, and painting in his studio. Today, we explore a unique artistic realm where Western and Eastern painting traditions meet: the world of Ilan Yanizky.


S2011E23 - Japanophiles - Silvain Guignard Air Date: 14 July 2011 15:30 -

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This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan. Silvain Guignard came to Japan 28 years ago and is now a master of the biwa, the Japanese lute. Today, he performs both in Japan and abroad. He also teaches ancient Japanese music as a professor at a university in Osaka where one of his main goals is to make the subject more accessible to his students. Before coming to Japan, Guignard was already an established Chopin scholar. He was 30 years old when he first encountered the biwa. His switch from Chopin to the biwa occurred in 1983 when he met a musician who would change his life. For 23 years, Guignard studied the biwa under this musician, a Living National Treasure. Nowadays, Guignard's life is deeply embedded in the rhythms of Japanese culture and tradition. His everyday experience of Japan has become indispensable to his performance on the biwa.


S2011E24 - Japanophiles - St├ęphane Danton Air Date: 21 July 2011 15:30 -

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This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan. St├ęphane Danton is breathing new life into Japanese tea. He subtly adjusts the flavor of the green tea that people in Japan are accustomed to. At a time when fewer people in Japan are drinking traditional Japanese tea, Danton's new take on tea has become popular with young people, and especially women. Danton's interest in Japanese tea began in 1992. He came to Japan to import wines, but in his travels around the country he encountered tea plantations that reminded him of the vineyards of his native Lyon. In 2005, Danton opened a shop in Tokyo. Three years later, at the Japanese pavilion at Expo 2008 in Spain, he showcased teas that reflected his expertise as a sommelier and his own refined taste. Danton also debuted a new flavored tea he had created, and people loved it. Slowly but surely, Danton is leading a revolution in the traditional world of Japanese tea.


S2011E25 - Japanophiles - Dorothy Feibleman Air Date: 28 July 2011 15:30 -

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This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan. American potter Dorothy Feibleman lives and works in Japan where she creates her works using a traditional Japanese technique called nerikomi. Many of her works are so delicate that light can pass through them, transporting the mind to a world of fantasy. Feibleman first came to Japan in 1993, when she submitted work to a competition in Aichi Prefecture. In 1997, one of her pieces was added to the collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Today, she lives and works in Tokoname in Aichi Prefecture. Feibleman's translucent porcelain is blazing new trails in the world of ceramics. Adding layers of Western technique to Eastern tradition, Dorothy Feibleman produces a constant stream of unique creations.


S2011E26 - Plastic Food Samples Air Date: 18 August 2011 15:30 -

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In Japan, scrumptious looking dishes like marbled beef, spaghetti, and fluffy omelets often sit in restaurant windows tilted at gravity defying angles. Why don't they spill? Because the dishes aren't real! They are ultra-realistic plastic models. Skilled artisans constantly strive to make plastic food look realistic and delicious. Recently, the striking visual impact of plastic food has made the models popular souvenirs with foreign tourists. They've also found applications in stationery, interior design, and nutritional education initiatives. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we trace the history and explore the mystery of plastic food samples, a uniquely Japanese creation.


S2011E27 - Insects Air Date: 25 August 2011 15:30 -

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Japan is home to over 30,000 insect species, and insects are a familiar part of Japanese life. For centuries, staging battles between insects has been a popular pastime in Japan, and Japanese children love catching insects and keeping them as pets. Different seasons have different insect attractions. Summer nights are associated with the faint glow of fireflies. Autumn is known for beautiful insect sounds. Insects were once an important food source in Japan. It is still possible to find people who go hunting for wasps' nests, as wasp larvae are a traditional delicacy. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is insects. By looking at how they are appreciated and what insect-related customs there are, we examine how the Japanese view and enjoy the natural world.


S2011E28 - Traditional Japanese Mathematics Air Date: 01 September 2011 15:30 -

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Imagine that you have two equally-sized square sheets of paper. How would you cut each sheet of paper so that the pieces could be combined to make one larger square? This problem comes from Japan's indigenous mathematics tradition, wasan. In the 17th century and beyond, wasan enjoyed great and widespread popularity. Tablets with math problems written on them can be found in some Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Japanese mathematical genius Seki Takakazu raised wasan to perhaps its highest level. He revealed an understanding of mathematics that, in some respects, was ahead of Western knowledge of the time. In the late 19th century, wasan was replaced by Western-style mathematics and fell into obscurity, but now wasan is enjoying a revival. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is traditional Japanese mathematics. By examining the history of wasan, we will reveal the Japanese attitude towards math.


S2011E29 - Bicycles Air Date: 08 September 2011 15:30 -

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In Japan, more and more people are riding bicycles to go shopping, to commute, for exercise, and for leisure. Gunsmiths pioneered bicycle-making techniques in Japan. In the late 19th century, with the samurai era at an end, their profession disappeared. Special techniques they used to make gun barrels strong were also suited to building sturdy bicycle frames. Keirin bicycle racing from Japan became an Olympic event. Behind its rise was a racer of incredible drive who took on the world's best cyclists. Manufacturers churn out a wide variety of bicycles, but at least one rider has dedicated his life to customizing his bicycle with attention-drawing decorations. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is bicycles. We examine their evolution in Japan and look at the unique bicycle culture that has emerged.


S2011E30 - Chusonji Air Date: 15 September 2011 15:30 -

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In June 2011, the structures and artifacts of Hiraizumi, a town in earthquake-devastated Iwate Prefecture, were collectively declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The jewel in this crown is the Buddhist temple Chusonji. Its gleaming, golden Konjikido worship hall is one of Japan's first official National Treasures. The temple complex encompasses many buildings and examples of art and craft from nearly 1,000 years ago. These precious cultural treasures have been carefully preserved with the help of occasional restorations by Japan's foremost artisans. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is the Buddhist temple Chusonji. We explore the treasures that have recently earned Chusonji recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and meet the people who preserve the temple's long-standing traditions.


S2011E31 - Seaweed Air Date: 29 September 2011 15:30 -

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From time immemorial, Japan has reaped the bounty of the sea that surrounds it. Fish, yes, but just as important is seaweed. It's an essential part of the Japanese diet. Because seaweed is highly nutritious and low in calories, it is now gaining worldwide popularity as a health food. With its kaleidoscope of colors and shapes, seaweed can also be pressed like flowers. One man's lifelong interest in this pastime even led him to discover a new species! Scientists are also interested. One laboratory has made an anti-aging cream from seaweed, while another is trying to turn seaweed into a new energy source. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is seaweed. We examine the many ways in which it is woven into Japanese life.


S2011E32 - Charcoal Air Date: 06 October 2011 15:30 -

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For centuries, charcoal was a key resource in everyday Japanese life, and it is still used in a great variety of ways today. For Japanese cuisine, which uses simple preparation methods to get the most out of ingredients' original tastes, charcoal is essential. Charcoal makers still ply their trade using traditional methods. In the 8th century, an emperor embarked on a construction project that would become the largest-scale use of charcoal in Japanese history. In the old days, charcoal was widely used as a household fuel. The advent of electricity and gas has brought an end to that, but charcoal is still used in homes to regulate moisture, by farmers to help their soil, and in tea ceremonies as a source of beauty. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is charcoal. We examine its many uses in Japan over the centuries.


S2011E33 - Rain Air Date: 13 October 2011 15:30 -

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Japan gets a lot of rain, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Rain falls year-round in Japan, but differs from season to season. Tokyo gets its fair share of rain, but some areas of Japan receive more than three times as much. Traditionally, the Japanese prayed for rain during times of drought, and found ways to put up with violent downpours. But they also built large reservoirs of water, some of which are over 1,000 years old. Today, Japan's methods of putting up with rain are more sophisticated than ever. In urban areas, giant underground reservoirs have been constructed to help control flooding, and initiatives have welled up to capture and reuse rainwater. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is rain. We examine how rain has shaped Japan's climate, lifestyle, and culture.


S2011E34 - Golf Air Date: 20 October 2011 15:30 -

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Japan loves golf. The number of golfers in Japan is around 10 million - 1 in every 13 people. But playing golf in Japan can be expensive. If you want to hit the ball but can't go to the course, you go to the driving range. Japan has more driving ranges than any other country in the world. Golf was introduced to Japan in the early 20th century. The popularity of the sport grew with Japan's postwar economic rise. Golf was used to entertain business clients, and memberships to exclusive clubs were traded like assets. One survivor of the earthquake that struck Kobe in 1995 defied the odds and realized his dream of becoming a professional golfer...at age 60! A group of engineers is trying to apply the techniques used in a traditional Japanese craft to cutting-edge golf gear. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is golf. It Japan, it is much more than just a sport.


S2011E35 - Shipbuilding Air Date: 27 October 2011 15:30 -

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Japan is a shipbuilding superpower. About one-fifth of all the world's ships are made here. From advanced luxury cruise ships to gigantic oil tankers, cutting-edge technology and traditional knowhow power Japanese shipbuilding. Since ancient times, the Japanese have made distinctive boats suited to the country's climate. This has given rise to unique shipbuilding techniques. In the 1960s, Japan drew global attention as its shipbuilding technology was put to the test. An ambitious project was undertaken to build the world's largest tanker. In recent times, research to make ships more environmentally friendly has resulted in new and innovative "eco-ships." On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is shipbuilding. We'll discover how Japan became and continues to be a global leader in shipbuilding.


S2011E36 - Japanophiles - Bruce Huebner Air Date: 03 November 2011 15:30 -

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This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan. For so many people affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake, life still hasn't returned to normal. One man making an effort to keep spirits up among disaster refugees is American shakuhachi player Bruce Huebner. The shakuhachi is a Japanese woodwind instrument with over 1,000 years of history. Huebner, who grew up playing the flute and saxophone, came to Japan when he was 23 and began his study of the shakuhachi. He eventually became a shakuhachi teacher and has been a pioneer in incorporating the shakuhachi into Western musical genres, including jazz and blues. For several years, Huebner lived in Fukushima, an area severely affected by this year's disaster. After the disaster, Huebner began performing free shakuhachi concerts at the area's evacuation centers and temporary housing complexes. We will meet Bruce Huebner, listen to his music, and find out how he feels about disaster-stricken Fukushima.


S2011E37 - Japanophiles - Noelke Muho Air Date: 10 November 2011 15:30 -

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This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan. Noelke Muho is a Zen Buddhist priest from Germany. For nine years, he has been head priest at a temple called Antaiji deep in the mountains of western Japan. Zen is a school of Buddhism centered on zazen - seated meditation. The students who train with Muho practice zazen, but they also clean, prepare meals, and work the land. Muho came to Japan interested in Zen Buddhism. He trained at Antaiji and ultimately became a priest. When Muho's mentor - the head priest of Antaiji - died in an accident, Muho decided to become head priest himself. Antaiji aims to be self-sufficient, but it is certainly not isolated from society. Life there is supported by the local community, and Muho has a wife and two children. We meet Noelke Muho and hear his thoughts about the Zen life.


S2011E38 - Japanophiles - Matt Alt Air Date: 17 November 2011 15:30 -

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This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan. A hallmark of modern Japanese culture - in anime, video games, even all kinds of signs you see in everyday life - is its iconic characters. One American analyzing these characters from a unique perspective is translator Matt Alt. He believes Japan's "character culture" is rooted in legendary Japanese creatures called yokai. Alt became so fascinated by yokai that he published a book about them in English. Born in Washington D.C., Alt studied Japanese language from a young age and visited Japan as a teenager. He met his wife, Hiroko, when she was studying in the U.S., and they started a translation company together. The two take great inspiration from Lafcadio Hearn, a Westerner who introduced Japanese folk tales to the world with his English translations, and Hearn's wife Setsuko, who taught him about Japanese culture. We'll explore the appeal and origins of Japanese pop culture with Matt Alt.


S2011E39 - Karaoke Air Date: 24 November 2011 15:30 -

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Karaoke is one of Japan's best-known forms of entertainment. You choose your favorite songs and sing along anyway you like. There are two main places to enjoy karaoke in Japan: "snack" bars, where you sing in front of others, and "boxes," where you rent private rooms. Karaoke was invented about 40 years ago as a way to let people indulge their singing fantasies. One creator was a talented bandsman. Together with an engineer friend, he made one of the world's first karaoke machines. Since its invention, karaoke has evolved greatly along with the latest technology: 8-track tapes, LaserDiscs, the Internet. But the making of the videos and music for karaoke has remained in the hands of skilled professionals. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is karaoke. We will bring you the latest developments in Japan and explore the popularity of this extraordinary social phenomenon.


S2011E40 - Holidays Air Date: 01 December 2011 15:30 -

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The world sees the Japanese as workaholics. Believe it or not, Japan has the most public holidays in the industrialized world. But it is also true that Japanese workers take fewer than half their allotted paid days off. Before the late 19th century, Japan had no weekly day of rest and virtually no extended holidays. Modern Japanese people have tended to prefer quick holidays, but recently, slower, longer holidays are becoming more common. For example, stay on a farm and help with the chores in exchange for room and board. If all Japanese people took all their days off, it would greatly boost the economy - at least that's one idea behind efforts encouraging people to take more time off. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is holidays. By looking at attitudes toward holidays, we'll examine various aspects of the Japanese way of life.


S2011E41 - Red Sea Bream Air Date: 08 December 2011 15:30 -

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The red sea bream is one of Japan's favorite fish. People have been eating it since ancient times. Long considered a lucky fish, red sea bream is essential to Japanese festivities and rituals, from New Year's feasts to the ceremonial meal that babies eat on the 100th day after their birth. Historically, red sea bream's popularity really took off when the samurai gained power. Its barbed fins and tough scales evoked samurai armor. Veteran fishermen still catch red sea bream with hand-pulled lines, but actually, 80 percent of the red sea bream consumed in Japan are farm-raised. Farmed red sea bream have long been considered inferior to wild ones. But fish farms have begun breeding sea bream that can hold their own. One key is keeping the fish from getting sunburned! On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is the red sea bream. We'll find out how this fish became so important in Japan's cuisine and culture.


S2011E42 - Shopping Streets Air Date: 15 December 2011 15:30 -

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From food to clothing to daily necessities, you can find anything you need at a Japanese shopping street, a long road lined with all kinds of stores. There are 13,000 of them across Japan. Many shopping streets were destroyed during World War II, but afterwards they bounced back stronger than ever. Recently, however, shopping streets have been in decline. This decline has prompted various efforts at revival, from radical renovations to massive matchmaking events. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is shopping streets. We'll explore their history, their role in Japanese life, and also the people working to ensure they have a future.


S2011E43 - Chickens and Eggs Air Date: 22 December 2011 15:30 -

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The chicken was long regarded as sacred in Japan. Today, the bird has lost that mystique, but it remains an essential part of Japanese life. The Japanese have produced remarkable breeds of ornamental chickens. Some are admired for their crowing, others for their appearance. One breed has tail feathers that can reach ten meters long! For a long time, chicken was hardly eaten in Japan, but now it's one of the country's most popular foods. Japanese people also love to eat eggs, cooked or raw. Distinguishing the sex of a newborn chick is a difficult task. When the Japanese developed a method of doing so, they amazed the world and transformed the poultry industry. On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we'll see what chickens and eggs reveal about Japan's artistic sensibilities and culinary culture.

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