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Nadeshiko Japan Star Sawa Announces Retirement

Sawa Homare lifts the 2011 World Cup

It’s very difficult to imagine anyone ever matching the record of Nadeshiko Japan legend Sawa Homare.

The football veteran and Japan captain (37), who plays for INAC Kobe Leonessa, held a press conference in Tokyo on December 17 to announce that this will be her last season wearing the uniform. The event was attended by about 300 journalists and filmed by more than 15 TV cameras for live broadcast on all TV networks.

In a career that spanned 25 years, Sawa has been a central figure in the rise of Japan to the very pinnacle of world soccer. She played her first game for the Yomiuri Beleza senior team at the tender age of 12, and was only 15 when she made her debut for the national team in 1993. She went on to play in a phenomenal six World Cups and four Olympics, gaining a record 205 caps and 83 goals for her country. As captain the midfielder led Japan to two Women’s World Cup finals, lifting the trophy in 2011, a year that saw her named as FIFA’s World Player of the Year and top scorer and MVP at the World Cup. That title lifted the country’s spirits just four months after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan, and the national team was given the People’s Honor Award by the Japanese government.

Japan manager Norio Sasaki said, “She led women’s soccer in Japan for many years, a great player who played in many World Cups and Olympics with the national side.” He added, “She scored at crunch moments and led us to victories in many matches. She’s one of the special players I’ve met in my career. It’s unfortunate she’s retiring, but I hope she continues to shine in the next stage of her life.”

At the club level, Sawa moved back and forth between leagues in japan and the United States – after starting with Beleza she moved to the U.S. in 1999, playing for the Denver Diamonds and Atlanta Beat for a total of four years. In 2004, Sawa she was back with Beleza, where she scored 47 times in 85 games. Another two seasons were spent with the Washington Freedom in 2009-10 before she joined INAC ahead of the 2011 season.

Sawa announced in August that she had married former Vegalta Sendai player Hiroaki Tsujikami (38).

Japanese Comedian Wins Top BBC Award

Congratulations to Japanese comedian (or should that be comedienne?) Kotani Yuriko, who has won this year’s BBC Radio New Comedy Award. The final was held last Friday live on BBC Radio 2, and broadcast live from the Comedy Store in London on the show of veteran DJ Steve Wright. Kotani beat five other finalists, chosen from 750 audition tapes, eight regional heats and two semi-finals, with votes being cast by listeners via social media.

After her win Kotani said, “I’m speechless… This is so wonderful!” She will take home £1,000 and development support from the BBC radio comedy department, with the chance to appear in slots across the BBC. Previous winners and finalists include such successful stars as Rhod Gilbert, Sarah Millican, Alan Carr, Lee Mack and Josie Long.

Watch Kotani’s winning comedy set in the video link below.

Yuriko Kotani wins the BBC Radio New Comedy Award Final

RIP Kawashima Naomi

Actress Kawashima Naomi died Thursday of bile duct cancer at a Tokyo hospital. She was 54. Her death was announced on Facebook by her husband, pastry chef Yoroizuka Toshihiko. The pair had been married since 2009.

Kawashima made her debut as a singer with “Champagne No.5” in 1979 while still a student at the prestigious Aoyama Gakuin University. She gained popularity in the early 1980s as a late-night radio DJ and on the NTV variety show “O-warai Manga Dojo,” where she displayed a very high level of manga artistry.

She went on to establish a career as an actress, appearing in the mid-90s gangster movie series “Shin gokudo no onna-tachi” and the controversial 1997 NTV drama series “Shitsurakuen.” The latter generated huge media attention with its raunchy sex scenes and intense story about a suicidal extramarital affair. A wine aficianado and socialite, Kawashima remained famously single into middle age and was often the face of the “arafo” phenomenon – women choosing to remain single as they reached “around forty.”

Kawashima continued acting even after being diagnosed with cancer in 2014, and in spite of being visibly affected by the condition. Her last performance on stage was just a week ago.

The Games of Summer

Kingyo Sukui literally means “goldfish scooping” and if you’ve ever been to Japanese summer matsuri (festival) you will no doubt have seen this game in action. You have a plastic scoop with a thin paper center with which you have to try to catch as many small, live goldfish swimming in a small pool as you can before the paper dissolves in the water. These days it’s more likely to be small plastic toys that you try to scoop up, which is more in keeping with current attitudes to the treatment of animals. And let’s face it, kids these days are probably more likely to look after a few little One Piece figures that care for real live fish. or it could be little rubber fish, Kitty Chans, Anpanman, or any number of popular characters.

Whatever the catch of the day, this simple game is a perennial favorite at all matsuri. Another is water yoyos, which are simply water filled balloons on a rubber string. Like kingyo sukui, the challenge is to catch them with a metal hook on a length of paper “string” before the paper dissolves. And like kingyo sukui, it’s not as easy as it looks. The challenge in kingyo sukui can be modified by using different grades of paper – the thicker the paper, the longer it lasts and the easier it is to catch something.

These games are increasingly becoming part of Japanese-themed culture festivals at schools and colleges across the world. And with their simple rules and setup, as well as the colorful prizes to be won, they make an easy but unique and appealing addition to any summer event.

Everything that you need to set up your own kingyo sukui or water yoyo stall is available from our Japan Store.

Win a Copy of “Cool Japan Guide”

Cool Japan Guide

New Monthly Giveaway!

Starting this month, we will be giving away 2 copies of a popular title every month from Tuttle Publishing. All you have to do to win is head over to our Facebook page and Like or Share the post about this title. We’ll choose 2 winners and contact you for to arrange delivery.

Tuttle are recognised as one of the leading publishers of books on Japan. They have 2,000+ books in their catalog, by best selling authors, internationally recognized experts and thought leaders in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and South East Asian Food, Language, Culture, Art and Antiques, History, Martial Arts, Religion, Fiction, Gardening, Flower Arranging, Children and Young Adult books.

The first giveaway title is the Cool Japan Guide by Abby Denson. Here’s more about the title from Amazon:

This full-color graphic novel Japan guidebook is the first of its kind exploring Japanese culture from a cartoonist’s perspective. Cool Japan Guide takes you on a fun tour from the high-energy urban streets of Tokyo to the peaceful Zen gardens and Shinto shrines of Kyoto and introduces you to:

  • the exciting world of Japanese food – from bento to sushi and everything in between.
  • the otaku (geek) culture of Japan, including a manga market in Tokyo where artists display and sell their original artwork.
  • the complete Japanese shopping experience, from combini (not your run-of-the-mill convenience stores!) to depato (department stores with everything).
  • the world’s biggest manga, anime and cosplay festivals.
  • lots of other exciting places to go and things to do – like zen gardens, traditional Japanese arts, and a ride on a Japanese bullet train.

Whether you’re ready to hop a plane and travel to Japan tomorrow, or interested in Japanese pop culture, this fun and colorful travelogue by noted comic book artist and food blogger Abby Denson, husband Matt, friend Yuuko, and sidekick, Kitty Sweet Tooth, will present Japan in a unique and fascinating way.

This is Not the Dreamliner You’re Looking For

Star Wars Dreamliner

Having just seen the tantalizing second trailer for the upcoming Star Wars movie, I’m excited. Like I was as a teenager back in 1977. And when you mix that excitement with my love of airplanes…well, I just had to share! ANA, one of Japan’s major airlines, has released this artists’s impression of their planned Star Wars tie-up. And it just may be the coolest looking airliner I’ve ever seen.

There were probably lots of ideas for how this could be done, but the bringing together of Boeing’s innovative 787 airliner and the most iconic and loveable droid ever is pure genius. Forget kids, adults will be swarming to get a ride on this plane.

As you probably know by now, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the seventh installment in the series and carrying the huge weight of expectation, is due for release this Christmas. Can’t wait.

Happy New Year!

Year of the Sheep

In the Chinese zodiac, also very popular in Japan, 2015 is the Year of the Sheep. The sheep and its flock are said to symbolize family and living in harmony with others. But if you reckon you’re more in need of protection from those around you, then maybe what’s required is a robot suit. If so, head along to Keisei department store in Mito, Ibaraki.

The store has decided to go for it with their “fukubukuro,” or lucky bags, this New Year. The bags are sold at certain set price, anywhere from ¥1,000 to ¥1 million, and you take your chances with the contents. If you’re in a position to shell out a bit more, you could be the proud owner of a 2m Kids Walker Cyclops robot suit. Made by by Sakakibara Kikai it weighs in at a hefty 360kg, seats one, and has two speeds. Sadly, rather than actually walking around, it runs on wheels. And it doesn’t come cheap, ringing in at ¥5,555,555.

A Band to Watch for in 2015: The fin

The fin

If you like UK navel-gazing music from the late 1980s, you’re sure to dig this excellent new Japanese band. The four guys from Kobe sing in English, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can break at home in Japan. They are currently doing an in-store tour of the country promoting their debut album release.

If you need a visual check, look no further than this 4-guys-and-a-cute-girl vibe on the video release for the catchy track “Night Time”. Judging from their hairier look in previous videos, they seem to have realized that the New Wave look better suits their retro sound.

The full debut album “Days With Uncertainty” is on YouTube:

Farewell to Another Screen Legend

Sugawara Bunta

Just weeks after the death of Takakura Ken, Japan has lost yet another of its screen legends. It was announced this week that Sugawara Bunta died of liver cancer on November 28. He was 81. He started acting in 1954 and made his screen debut two years later. He changed studios several times over his early career, even being fired once for turning up late for filming after a night of heavy drinking. Like Takakura, Sugawara made his name as a stoic tough guy during a golden age of Japanese hard boiled cinema in the 1960s. But he only became a major star in the 70s when he starred in Fukasaku Kinji’s five-part yakuza epic series “Battles Without Honor and Humanity” (Jinjinaki Tatakai), one of the major influences on the work of Quentin Tarantino.

In the popular Torakku Yaro comedy series, Sugawara mixed the tough guy image with comedy and in later years he continued to appear in increasingly diverse roles, including a voice role in Miyazaki Hayao’s anime classic “Spirited Away” (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi, 2001).

In 2012, following an illness and deeply affected by the tragedy of the Great East Japan Earthquake the year before, he announced his retirement from acting.

Sayonara Takakura Ken, a True Screen Legend

Takakura Ken in The Yakuza

Japan sadly bid farewell to one of the true giants of modern cinema when it was revealed today that Takakura Ken died of lymphoma on November 10 at the age of 83. Takakura made his name as the stoic star of gangster movies in a career that had many comparing him to a Japanese version of Clint Eastwood. The two never appeared together but Takakura did achieve western recognition alongside other Hollywood stars, notably Robert Mitchum in “The Yakuza”, Michael Douglas in “Black Rain” and Tom Selleck in “Mr. Baseball.” He continued making movies – over 200 in all – well into his later years, playing softer and more nuanced roles right up to 2012’s “Dearest” (Anata e) in which he starred with Kitano “Beat” Takeshi, a man whose own successful carer owes much to the trail blazed by Takakura.

A man who always seen to embody the samurai spirit of honor and chilvary, Takakura was one of the few remaining icons of a bygone age in Japan. He received the Order of Culture from Emperor Akihito in 2013 for his contribution to the arts.

Profile: Takakura Ken