Jun 23, 2014

Tomioka Silk Mill will get registered as a world heritage of UNESCO!

Hi everyone!

Good news for us! 富岡製糸場(Tomioka Seishijo) Tomioka Silk Mill factory in Gunma Prefecture will soon become the 18th world heritage of UNESCO in Japan.

Est Cocoon Warehouse ©Tomioka Silk Mill

I have never visited the factory, but almost all the people who have learned Japanese history at school know that the Tomioka Silk Mill played sigificant role in modern industrialization in this country.

The factory was built in 1872 by the Japanese government under the supervision of French silk engineer Paul Brunat. Equipped with silk reeling machine brought from Europe, it enabled mass production of quality raw silk, one of the most important exporting items of the day. 

The silk reeling factory, planned by French ship carpenter Edmond Bastien, is 140 meters long, 12 meters wide and 12 meters high, the biggest of its kind in the world at that time.  


At first they had difficulty hiring female workers because of  a stupid rumor that Western people were sucking the blood of girl workers. They say someone who saw French engineers drinking red wine must have misunderstood and spread this rumor. How strange!

Anyway, about 400 girls, mostly daughters of former samurai families who had lost their privileged social status due to the abolition of class system, were collected from all around the country to work there.

Their working conditions were not bad at all. They worked 8 hours a day, had a day off on Sundays and 10 day-holiday in summer and winter. They were well paid as well. Most skillful workers were paid 25 yen, while the first salary of elementary school teachers and police officers was 8-9 yen.  (1 yen of the day is equivalent to 20,000 yen today.)


Unfortunately the business went into the red only eight years late, and the factory was sold to a private company. 

The silk production continued till 1987, when the factory was finally closed down because of the declining demand for silk and the competition against cheap imports from China.

Today the well-maintained silk mill and its related buildings in the site are the property of Tomioka City.  

Outside of the reeling mill ©Tomioka Silk Mill

Inside of the factory ©Tomioka Silk Mill
I heard Tomioka Silk Mill has been very busy with a lot of tourists since the designation of world heritage was announced. I'll probably wait for a couple of years until this boom calms down, but if you don't mind going to crowded places, why don't you visit there?  For more information, check the factory's official website (in English) .  Click here



富岡製糸場(とみおかせいしじょう)  Tomioka Silk Mill
世界遺産 (せかいいさん)  world heritage
登録する (とうろくする)  to register 


技術 (ぎじゅつ) technique
導入する (どうにゅうする)  to introduce
近代化 (きんだいか) modernization
貢献する (こうけんする) to contribute


工場 (こうじょう) factory
最初 (さいしょ) at first
西洋人 (せいようじん) Western people
生き血 (いきち) blood (of a living person)
吸う (すう) to suck
噂 (うわさ) rumors
苦労する (くろうする) to have difficulty


全国 (ぜんこく) whole country
労働者 (ろうどうしゃ) workers
労働条件 (ろうどうじょうけん) working conditions
意外にも (いがいにも) unexpectedly
最も (もっとも) most
熟練した (じゅくれんした) skillful
職人 (しょくにん) artisans
月給 (げっきゅう) monthly salary


警察官 (けいさつかん) police officer
初任給 (しょにんきゅう) the first salary
給料 (きゅうりょう) wage


残念なことに (ざんねんー) unfortunately
赤字 (あかじ)  deficit
民間 (みんかん) private, nonofficial
閉鎖 (へいさ) close down
操業 (そうぎょう) operation
富岡市 (とみおかし) Tomioka City
管理する (かんりする) to manage

Jun 18, 2014

Useful Japanese expressions 5: Osusume wa nan desuka? (What would you recommend?)


Hi everyone! This is the photo of the Nagasaki Champon that I had when I visited Nagasaki City in Kyushu Island. It is a noodle dish with fried pork, vegetables, seafood, etc., created more than a century ago, inspired by a Chinese dish. You don't have to go all the way to Nagasaki only to eat this regional cuisine, though. At a nationwide chain restaurant Ringerhut they offer tasty Nagasaki Champon for less than 600 yen.  

When you know what you'd like to eat, there'll be no problem. You only have to say,

長崎ちゃんぽんください。 Nagasaki Champon kudasai. (Nagasaki champon,please)

But when you go into a restaurant that you happen to find and you are given a menu written all in Japanese with no photos on it, what should you do?

Today, I'll teach you how to deal with such a situation.

First of all, tell them that you can't read Japanese.

すみません。日本語が読めません。 Sumimasen. Nihongo ga yomemasen.  (Excuse me, I can't read Japanese)  

Sumimasen means "excuse me" or "I'm sorry", or even "thank you" depending on the context.
Nihongo: Japanese
Yomemasen: can not read.

Then ask them their recommendation. That's probably the easiest.

おすすめは何ですか。 Osusume wa nan desuka?  (What would you recommend?)

Osusume means recommendation, and "nan desuka?" is "What is?"

If there are ingredients you cannot eat, say as follows:

豚肉は食べられません。 Butaniku wa taberaremasen. (I cannot eat pork.)  

Butaniku is pork, and taberaremasen is "I cannot eat." You can replace butaniku with other ingredients such as 肉(niku, meat), 魚(sakana, fish) and 卵 (tamago, eggs).

When you don't feel like having what they recommended to you, you can say like this:

他はありますか。 Hoka wa arimasuka? (Do you have any other suggestions?)

"Hoka" means "other things," and "arimasuka?" is "do you have?"


Jun 14, 2014

Fukushima is still alive. See this Youtube video!

Hi everyone! I haven't posted in a while. 

A few weeks ago my Japanese friend now living in France visited me and we had dinner together. It was so much fun and we talked a lot -- what's going on in France, her romance with a Korean boy and Fukushima's current situation.  

She told me how she felt shocked when a French woman angrily said to her, "Tell me what Japanese people think of Fukushima. You know, our life is now facing a great danger due to Fukushima's radiation. They don't feel guilty or sorry for that?" 

I don't know how much Fukushima's tragedy caused by a natural disaster is affecting this woman's daily life, but if someone living in France becomes ill due to the nuclear contamination happening in Japan, we who live in this country should be all dead long time ago.

I'm not saying you don't need to worry at all, as I'm not a specialist on this matter. But I want to say this. Contrary to the popular belief, Fukushima is not a ghost town. While some areas near the nuclear power plant are still restricted to enter, people in other parts of the prefecture are leading normal lives.  

I would like to show you a YouTube video that proves this. Fukushima people of all ages and occupations are dancing to Japanese girl group AKD48's "Koisuru Fortune Cookie (Fortune Cookie in Love)." Since this song was released last year, making a dancing video has been a mini-boom here and this is one of them. Hope you'll watch it and realize Fukushima is still alive despite the devastating earthquake, tsunami and on-going nuclear problem.

If you are interested in the original version by AKB48, watch this. I'm too old to be interested in this type of music, but I find it cute.

And here is the video uploaded by the Sanriku Railway Company (Iwate Prefecture) , commemorating the restart of the service of 36.6 km-long Minami Riasu line in three years after the earthquake. The disaster was so huge that it is taking longer than we expected to recover from the damage, but their lives are getting back to normal little by little. By the way, we should not forget that the restoration of the railway service would have been impossible without the financial support from Kuwait. Thank you Kuwait!



大地震 (だいじしん)  bit earthquake
起きる (おきる)  to occur
津波 (つなみ) tsunami
亡くなる (なくなる)  to die


福島 (ふくしま)  Fukushima
原子力発電所 (げんしりょくはつでんしょ) nuclear power plant
原発 (げんぱつ) = 原子力発電所
立ち入り禁止 (たちいりきんし)  no entry allowed


外国 (がいこく) foreign countries
誰も (だれも) ~ない  no one
住む (すむ)  to live
違う (ちがう) incorrect


区域 (くいき)  area
以外 (いがい) outside of
普通に (ふつうに) normally
生活する (せいかつする) to live
残念 (ざんねん) sorry


証拠 (しょうこ)  proof


去年 (きょねん) last year
曲 (きょく)  song
恋 (こい)  love
流行っている (はやっている) be popular
恐ろしい (おそろしい) scary
場所 (ばしょ) place