Latest News from Japan Zone & Japan Store

Sakura on the way

Sakura, Cherry Blossoms, Mt. Fuji

The Japan Weather Association has announced the news that’s eagerly awaited across Japan every winter – the expected arrival of the “sakura kaika”, or the opening of cherry blossoms. The sakura is of course Japan’s national flower and its arrival also marks the coming of spring. The fact that the often dramatically beautiful display of color only lasts a week or two is considered both an opportunity to consider the beauty and transience of life itself and a chance to party and get blind drunk under the falling blossoms.

So when should you plan to visit Japan or hold your hanami party? For the Tokyo area and most of central Japan, the sakura are expected to peak around the end of March and beginning of April. Southern parts of the country will see it about a week earlier, and the sakura front will move north of Tokyo over the period of a month and a half until early to mid-May.

See the map below for the expected dates when you can see various parts of the country at their most beautiful.

Sakura, Cherry Blossoms

Extreme Weather Causing Delays

Heavy snow in Japan
Heavy snow in Japan

Extreme weather conditions, whether it’s a polar vortex in North America, extensive bush fires in southern Australia, or widespread flooding across the UK, have been causing chaos and devastation in many parts of the globe. And now large areas of Japan – a country well used to being regularly hit by typhoons, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes – have been brought to a standstill by record levels of snowfall. Fatalities number in the dozens, and thousands more have been trapped for days in stranded cars and trains.

All this is by way off explaining why deliveries of goods within and from Japan have been directly hit by the weather conditions. Our suppliers and courier companies are doing their best to ensure that products reach us as quickly as possible and of course we are doing everything we can to dispatch orders in a timely fashion.

Hikki’s Getting Hitched Again

Utada Hikaru

J-pop superstar Utada Hikaru (31) is getting married again. The singer-songwriter posted yesterday on her Hikki’s Website that she and her Italian fiance will be tying the knot on May 23. Media reports describe the lucky guy as a 23-year-old barman working in a London hotel but originally from the small town of Fasano in southern Italy.

Utada is still in the traditional one-year period of mourning for her mother, Fuji Keiko, who died at the age of 62 last August after jumping from her 13th-floor Tokyo apartment. But she decided to go ahead with the wedding, saying that when she spoke last year with Fuji about her new partner she saw her mother “happier than I’d seen her in years.” The couple had planned to keep their church ceremony in Fasano a secret but news leaked out to the media.

The marriage will be Utada’s second – her previous 5-year marriage to photographer and director Kiriya Kazuaki (45) ended in 2007, with the couple citing personal changes, different viewpoints on the future of their marriage, and lack of communication due to the nature of their jobs. The failure of a subsequent romance, also with an older man, was also reportedly due to Utada’s busy work schedule.

It’s almost a decade since her career peaked and she has been on an extended hiatus for the last several years, releasing only an occasional hits collection or commercial tie-up single.

Read our profile of Utada Hikaru

Japan Post Announcement


Japan Post announced at the end of December 2013 that it is no longer possible to add Registered Mail to packages sent by Economy Airmail to the following countries:

  • Australia
  • Denmark
  • Germany
  • Finland
  • Norway
  • Hungary
  • Poland
  • Greenland

We will of course continue to ship to these countries. But please be aware that if you choose Free or Economy shipping, you will not have a tracking code for the package. So we would advise customers in those countries to choose Airmail or Express.

Japan Post announcement (Japanese only)

Happy New Year of the Horse

A belated Happy New Year to all of our customers. 2013 was a good year for us and 2014, the Year of the Horse in the 12-year zodiac, is off to a galloping start. We’re seeing lots more orders than we did at this time last year, so that’s a good sign that things are starting to pick up in the global economy. And of course in our case the weakened Yen helps.

Gold plated horse
A gold-plated bronze horse, sold by Ginza Tanaka in Nagoya for ¥15 million.

People here in Aichi prefecture have a reputation for liking things gaudy and expensive. So it was no surprise to see one jewelry store in Nagoya promoting its New Year sale with this ¥15 million ($150,000) full-size, gold-plated bronze horse. Although it’s modeled on an actual racehorse, that’s a lot to spend on a horse that’s not going to earn its keep by winning a steeplechase or two. If that’s too rich for your blood, Ginza Tanaka is also selling gold statuettes and oban (traditional oval coins) with a horse motif for a more moest ¥1.4-1.7 million ($14-17,000).

But don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get your year off to a golden start. Our store lineup now includes a gorgeous little gold Maneki Neko, or lucky beckoning cat. These figures are traditional placed in the entranceway of a home or business, where they beckon to new customers, friends or even lovers! And the gold symbolizes the fortune that is headed your way. A bargain for just $25.95.

End of the Road for Waratte Iitomo

Waratte Iitomo, Tamori

A Japanese TV institution is coming to an end. On the Tuesday afternoon edition of “Waratte Iitomo” (It’s Okay to Laugh) comedian host Tamori (real name Morita Kazuyoshi) confirmed rumors that the live studio show will air for the last time next March after 32 years on the Fuji TV network. The show is broadcast with a live (and almost entirely female) audience from Studio Alta next to Shinjuku station in Tokyo every weekday, with highlights and outtakes shown on Sundays.

The show features regular celebrity co-hosts who rotate during the week. On Tuesday, they included SMAP member Nakai Masahiro, who brought up the rumors and had them confirmed by Tamori.

The very first show was aired on October 4 1982, when the special “Telephone Shocking” guest was pop legend Sakurada Junko. The show is what established Tamori as one of the best known faces in the nation.

On April 5, 2002, Tamori set the Guinness World Record for the longest continued hosting of a live television program with the show’s 5000th edition. Tamori, with his trademark sunglasses (worn to conceal an eye injury suffered many years ago) is one of Japan’s trinity of top television comedians, along with Kitano “Beat” Takeshi and Akashiya Sanma.

See the Japan Zone profile of Tamori.

RIP Anpanman creator Yanase Takashi

Yanase Takashi, Anpanman

After all the updates on the damage being caused by the biggest typhoon to hit Japan in 10 years, today’s morning variety shows discussed the sad loss of animator Yanase Takashi. He died of heart failure on Sunday at the ripe old age of 94. Energetic and optimistic until hospitalized with liver cancer in August, Yanase was the creator of some of Japan’s best loved anime characters.

“Soreike Anpanman” was first broadcast in 1988, when Yanase was already a veteran at the age of 69. Starring a superhero with a head made of anpan (sweet bean bun) the central theme of the show for young children was justice, compassion, and self scrifice. Anpanman was regularly called upon to help those in need, when he would invariably let them eat a chunk of his anpan head. Yanase has said that the theme grew out of his harsh experiences serving in the Imperial Army in China during WWII.

Soreike Anpanman featured a never ending cast of characters, and was recognized by Guinness Book of World Records in 2009 for the record 1,768 different characters who had appeared on the show. After northeastern Japan was devastated in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the show’s theme song was often played in the region to cheer up survivors.

Actress Toda Keiko (56) spoke of her sadness, “Mr. Yanase was the Anpanman. He embraced us gently and taught us to share. We’ve lost a precious guiding post.”

Yanase became a cartoonist after a more traditional career at a newspaper company and the Mitsukoshi department store. In 1961 he gained fame as the lyricist of the popular kids song, “Te no hira wo taiyo ni”.

We screwed up and we’re sorry

We're very sorry.
We’re very sorry.

When shopping online, there is nothing worse than finding exactly what you want to buy and not being able to actually buy it. Well, unfortunately that was what happened to many of our customers yesterday. The reason was a technical glitch caused during an overhaul of the payment processing system that resulted in an error for customers in the U.S. We worked through the night to both get the problem fixed and to stay in contact with those customers who were kind enough to point out the problem and give us a chance to sort out their order “manually.” A very big thank you to them for their patience and confidence in our ability to live up to our own high customer service standards. The good news is that we got all those orders sorted and they are being processed right now.

Still, I’d like to apologize to them and to anyone else who found their visit to Japan Store yesterday to be frustrating and a waste of their time. We will endeavor to avoid a similar situation happening again in the future.

But moving on, there is other good news – the overhaul now means we can offer Express Checkout from PayPal. This makes the checkout process incredibly simple if you have a PayPal account, and much simpler even if you’d prefer to pay by credit card (in which case you don’t even need to have or to open an account with PayPal).

Tanaka sets incredible pitching record

Tanaka Masahiro Record

One of the biggest reasons why the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are solid favorites this season to finally win the Pacific League is ace pitcher Tanaka Masahiro (24). No surprise there. But yesterday he set a phenomenal new record in professional baseball with his 21st consecutive win of the season. Carrying on from the end of last season, he’s actually now a mind-blowing 25-0. That’s one more than the Major League Baseball mark set by Carl Hubbell of the New York Giants way back in a period between the 1936 and 1937 seasons.

Yesterday Mah-kun gave up two runs over the distance but got more than enough batting support to beat the Orix Buffaloes 6-2. Tanaka hasn’t lost a game since Aug. 19, 2012. His team are currently leading the Pacific League by 7.5 games and would have to be strong favorites to go all the way to the Japan Series.

Tanaka first appeared in the limelight as a high school junior in 2005, and over the course of two years his epic pitching duels with rival Saito Yuuki in the national championships was one of the major sports stories. His very last pitch of the 2005 summer tournament was clocked at 150 km/h (93 mph), the first time a pitcher had ever clocked that speed as a junior in the history of the event. In 2006 his school finished runners up but Tanaka was a first-round draft pick by the Eagles, while Saito went on to play ball in college before turning pro.

Tanaka is likely to be the subject of intense interest from the MLB after the end of this season.

Scandal upon scandal for Mino

Mino Monta Son Arrested

Japanese TV’s Don, Mino Monta (69, photo left) has been having a rough week. First he was embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal (see photo below). And now Tokyo police have announced that they recently arrested his son for attempted theft. They say that on August 13 Minorikawa Yuto (31, photo right) was spotted by a convenience store CCTV trying to use a cash card stolen earlier from a drunken office worker sleeping on the side of the road in the Minato-ku district of Tokyo. Minorikawa works in the sports department of the major NTV network, located close to the scene of the crime. Upon his arrest, he refused to speak to police except in the presence of his lawyer. His father made a formal statement of apology to the media yesterday.

Mino Monta Sexual Harassment

It was previously rumored that Mino’s uncharacteristic second one-week “holiday” from “Asa Zuba!”, his regular early morning variety show on TBS, was due to the recent “sekuhara” scandal, in which he was spotted touching up fellow Asa Zuba! announcer Yoshida Akiyo (25). But news of his son’s arrest helps explain the absence from the air of the hardest working TV presenter in the world (as recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records). He is expected to return as scheduled on September 16.

Read the Japan Zone profile of Mino Monta.