Hokkaido park’s “sakura on the ground” are a breathtaking reason to venture beyond Sapporo

The often-overlooked Doto region of Japan’s northern island is off the beaten path, but should be on your itinerary.

Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s four main islands, is latitudinally different enough from the rest of the country that its seasons change later. So while the Tokyo area is getting ready for the early-summer rainy season to start, spring is finally getting into full swing in Hokkaido.

Most visitors to the island plan their itinerary around the Sapporo to Hakodate route, but if you’re willing to venture into the eastern section of Hokkaido, called the Doto area, there’s some truly breathtaking scenery waiting for you in Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park.

Technically, these gorgeous flowers are a kind of phlox. In Japan, though, they’re called shibazakura, meaning “lawn cherry blossoms,” due to their beautiful shades of pink that bring to mind the sakura which bloom on trees each spring.

As we mentioned above, Higashimokoto Shibazakura Park is a bit out of the way, with the closest airport being not Hokkaido’s main air hub of New Chitose, but rather the regional Memanbetsu Airport. As added bonuses, Memanbetsu is also the ideal airport to fly into if you’re headed to the wilderness of the Shiretoko Peninsula, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or to hike Mt. Mokoto.

According to the park’s website, right now is the ideal time to see the shibazakura. As a matter of fact, there’s even a Shibazakura Festival going on until June 3, featuring live music performances and food booths selling local Hokkaido delicacies, like shibazakura soft serve.

Because really, the only thing better than a day gazing out over a field of beautiful flowers is a day gazing out over a field of beautiful flowers while eating ice cream.

Park information
Higashi Mokoto Shibazakura Park / ひがしもこと芝桜公園
Address: Hokkaido, Abashiri-gun, Ozora-cho, Suehiro 393
北海道網走郡大空町東藻琴末広393
Open 8 a.m.-5 p.m.
Website

Photos ©SoraNews24

Supposedly simple math homework for Japanese elementary kid stumps gamer dad, with good reason

”If you spent four hours and 40 minutes playing video games, how much time did you waste?” has no easy answer.

Even though they’re incredibly important for showing real-world applications of mathematical principles, some students struggle with word problems. Once the discussion goes beyond the bounds of the nuts and bolts of arithmetic, young minds can sometimes become overwhelmed from the extra information.

But if solving word problems can be challenging for students, creating them can apparently be a challenge for teachers, too. Japanese Twitter user @HiZiRi_DIESEL recently shared a snapshot of his young daughter’s math homework, which included a question many adults feel has no answer, or at least no good one.

The question in question is:

“In the morning, you spent one hour and 50 minutes playing video games.
In the afternoon, you spent two hours and 50 minutes playing video games.
It total, how many hours and minutes of your time did you waste?”

If we take the approach that the only numerical data we’ve been given is two quantifiable data of the same category, and the final question is of the “How much?” variety, it would seem the answer the teacher is hoping for is “four hours and 40 minutes.” After all, that would show that the student can handle addition, and also knows that there are 60 minutes in one hour.

But many commenters were upset that the teacher doesn’t seem to understand that “time spent playing video games” and “time wasted” aren’t necessarily one and the same. “That’s a pretty malicious question,” @HiZiRi_DIESEL tweeted, “and an insult to people who work in the game industry,” which is a sizable part of the Japanese economy.

Others who find games to be mentally stimulating, emotionally stirring, or just plain fun joined in with their own comments.

“I want the teacher to show his work in proving why playing games equals wasting time.”
“Yeah. It’s not part of the given information.”
“If playing those games had a positive effect on your life, the answer should be ‘zero hours and zero minutes.’”
“This is an impossible question. It’s like asking ‘If you have 10 apples and five oranges, how many bananas do you have?”
“With that much time playing games, I estimate 20 minutes or so would be loading screens, so my answer is ’20 minutes.’”

One commenter proposed an alternative wording that tests for the same mathematic understanding, but without the judgmental attitude about anyone’s hobbies.

“How about if you instead ask ‘In the morning, you spent one hour and 50 minutes playing video games. In the afternoon, you spent two hours and 50 minutes playing video games, but before you could save your game, your mom accidentally unplugged your system. In total, how many hours and minutes of your time did you waste?”

And finally, one commenter decided to flip the script and remind the teacher that adults themselves often take time for non-productive leisure activities without being stigmatized for “wasting time.”

“On his day off, the teacher spent one hour and 30 minutes watching a TV drama. After that, he spent two hours watching a talk show where his favorite actor was a guest. In total, how many hours and minutes of his day off did the teacher waste?”

In the end, there’s really not a good answer to the original question, but @HiZiRi_DIESEL’s daughter can still learn a valuable lesson: adults, even teachers, sometimes make mistakes.

Source: Twitter/@HiZiRi_DIESEL via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso

How do you split two apples for three people using one knife? Japanese Twitter’s violent ideas

Many think that violence is the answer, but there’s also a clever, bloodless solution.

Riddles and brain teasers are all about thinking outside the box. Sometimes when you leave the box, though, you can end up in a very dark place.

Japanese Twitter user @omahuko recently tweeted the following question:

“Three people are going to divide two apples between them. Using a knife only once, how can they make sure the amounts received are exactly equal?”

It’s a tricky question. Some of the more clever solutions other Twitter users offered were:

“Grind the apples up and make apple juice.”
“Sell the knife, then use the money to buy another apple.”
“Play rock-paper-scissors, and whoever wins gets both apples.”

Others, though, suggested a more violent reckoning.

“This, right?”

“Increase the number of dead bodies by one,” suggested another commenter with a love of pulpy dialogue, while someone with a particularly morbid creative streak said “First, stack both apples on one person’s head. Slice the apples, and the person, into halves, cutting straight down the middle, giving you four people and four pieces of apple.”

But perhaps the darkest answer came from someone who suggested:

“Why turn the knife on someone else? The correct answer is to just kill yourself with it.”

And the weirdest thing of all? It turns out he’s right, at least according to the original source of the question, 1989 Japanese late-night comedy quiz show IQ Engine, from where @omahuko took the screen capture of the question.

IQ Engine’s answer to its three people, two apples, one knife usage riddle.

But while violence is the answer in IQ Engine’s eyes, one commenter managed to come up with a solution in which no one has to die.

Just line the apples up at a two-thirds offset, and cut through them both with one slice. You’ll end up with two large pieces, each of which go to one person, and two small pieces, both of which go to the third person.

Granted, some grumbled that the person who gets the two smaller pieces gets less than the other two people, since he doesn’t get the larger middle section of either of the round fruits. Still, it’s only a slight difference, and it really shouldn’t be the end of the world, or anyone’s life.

Source: Twitter/@omahuko via Hachima Kiko
Top image: Pakutaso

Shohei Ohtani amazes Major League Baseball with his impeccable Japanese manners

After making jaws drop both on the mound and at the plate, the Los Angeles Angels’ two-way star is winning fans with his performance in the dugout.

To be perfectly honest, at first I didn’t like Shohei Ohtani. Yes, he’s an extremely talented athlete, and one of only a very few professional baseball players who can both pitch and hit at a top-class level, but I’ll always be a little sore about the Fighters, Ohtani’s former Nippon Professional Baseball team, beating the Hiroshima Carp in the 2016 Japan Series.

But in the here and now, Ohtani is in America playing for the Angels, the closest team to my hometown. He’s helping them rack up wins in the early part of the season, so I’ve really got no present-tense beef with him, especially with a recently revealed tidbit that shows Ohtani is a serious class act.

Jeff Fletcher, a sports reporter for the local Orange County Register who covers the Angels, recently shared something he learned from one of his readers: Ohtani is the only guy who doesn’t spit his sunflower seed shells on the floor.

Foreign visitors to Japan often remark on how clean the country is, but for people who grew up here, that level of cleanliness is to be expected, and adhered to. Just like Japanese society has little to no tolerance for people who litter in public places, it’d be unthinkable for an athlete, especially a professional who’s reached the highest level of the game, to sully the stadium or playing ground. As a matter of fact, when a contingent of Major League payers traveled to Japan for an exhibition series in 2014, Japanese fans were appalled at how filthy they left the dugout they used as guests at Tokyo Dome.

Impressed, but not surprised, by Ohtani’s conduct was C. J. Nitkowski, a baseball analyst who played in not only the Major Leagues, but also in Japan (for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) and in Korea.

Other Twitter users also chimed in to praise Ohtani’s tidiness:

“He’s so respectful and polite. I love it.”
“That’s total respect!!!”
“Ahhhhh a gentleman.”
“Witnessed this yesterday too! Japanese fans really do treat their stadiums as cathedrals of the game. We need to learn from that.”

Saying Japanese fans treat sports stadiums as “cathedrals” is getting a bit dramatic. Often, the attitude is closer to “We all have to share this space, and if I make a mess, someone else has to clean up after me.” It’s absolutely true, though, that not just the players, but the spectators too, try to leave the stadium as clean as it was when they arrived.

And it’s not like this mentality disappears if the stadium in question isn’t in Japan, as the world saw during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when a group of Japanese fans cleaned up after themselves even after watching their team go down in defeat.

Ohtani is less than two months into his time in the Majors, and, like anyone who lives overseas for an extended period of time, he’ll gradually adapt to local customs and societal norms. Here’s hoping, though, that no matter how long he’s away from Japan, he always keeps this part of his homeland’s culture.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News/Full-Count via Hachima Kiko, Twitter/@JeffFletcherOCR
Top image: Wikipedia/Ship1231

Make potato chips twice as delicious by soaking them in green tea before eating them【SoraKitchen】

If it works for white rice, the ochazuke recipe can work for potato chips too!

Let’s start with a little honesty: Potato chips don’t really need to be any tastier than they already are, since we love them plenty in their standard form. But between Japan’s culinary passion and kaizen/continuous improvement philosophy, though, the country is always looking for ways to make the snacks even better, which in the past has bestowed us with chips that taste like KFC or sushi, or just come drizzled with delicious green tea-infused chocolate.

The newest gourmet chip to hit the market is the latest entry in snack maker Koikeya’s Pride Potato series, this time called Pride Potato Tempura Matcha Salt. Koikeya boasts it has the texture of freshly fried tempura, and the chips are dusted with a mixture of salt and powdered green tea, so we expected great things from the product.

And our faith was not misplaced. The Pride Potato Tempura Matcha Salt went on sale May 14, and as we munched on a bowl of them, we were impressed by their above-average yet still balanced crispiness, as well as the elegant sensation of matcha that came with each bite. But as much as we would have liked to eat the whole bag, we had to restrain ourselves, because Koikeya had made an unusual recommendation to us.

For those who haven’t tried it, ochazuke is one of Japan’s simplest yet most satisfying comfort foods, consisting of a bowl of white rice with green tea poured over it, plus a few seasonings like small strips of nori (seaweed). Koikeya told us that after we’d tried a few Pride Potato Tempura Matcha Salt chips on their own, we should add them into a bowl of ochazuke and see how we liked them.

▼ Ochazuke

Ochazuke is pretty easy to make, so we scooped some white rice into a bowl, added the contents of a pack of Nagatanien-brand ochazuke mix (which you can buy at any supermarket in Japan, and many Asian markets overseas), and poured hot water over them.

▼ Ochazuke mix shown in the left

Finally, we grabbed a handful of chips and tossed them in.

We waited a few moments for the mixture to cool down enough so that we could taste it without burning ourselves, then used our chopsticks to pick up a green tea-marinated chip…

and it was incredible! The saltiness of the chip had been combined with the flavor of the green tea, creating an enticing synergy that kept our chopsticks moving until we’d eaten the entire bowl.

Granted, since the Pride Potato Tempura Matcha Salt chips come pre-seasoned with a bit of matcha powder, they’re an especially appropriate ingredient for potato chip ochazuke. That said, in their normal form the green tea flavor isn’t incredibly strong, so this recipe should work even with normal potato chips, and if you don’t have, or particularly want to eat, any rice, you could always leave the grain out and make a bowl of chips-only ochazuke, which is what we’re thinking to do right now with the chips we still have at the bottom of our bag.

Photos ©SoraNews24

Japan passes law requiring efforts for equal number of male and female candidates in elections

Back-to-back unanimous votes draw praise from Minister in Charge of Women’s Empowerment, but will anything really change?

On Wednesday, the House of Councilors, the upper of Japan’s two houses of parliament, ratified a law seeking to increase the role of women in politics. In a unanimous vote of the all-members meeting, legislators approved a law which, if implemented effectively, would result in an equal number of male and female candidates in national and local elections.

The proposed law had already been approved by the lower House of Representatives, also by a unanimous vote. With approval from both houses of the Diet secure, the law becomes effective immediately.

Seiko Noda, concurrently Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Communication and Minister in Charge of Women’s Empowerment, was predictably pleased with the outcome, saying:

“I am happy the law has been created, and I hope, and believe, that it will lead to great changes in Japan’s government. By reminding voters that government is not a job for men only, I hope this will give courage to women who have been hesitant to stand up and announce their candidacies.”

However, it’s not guaranteed that change will be as swift or sweeping as Noda hopes for. For starters, though the law formalizes a responsibility for political parties and organizations to make an effort to field as equal a number as possible of male and female candidates, implementation of such policies is being left up to the organizations themselves. What qualifies as a satisfactory effort is still murky, as is how small-scale of elections the law applies to, though at the opposite end its scope includes parliamentary elections.

There’s also, at the moment, no clear framework for enforcing the law, as no penalties have been formalized even should a party be found to have failed to make a proper effort to promote an equal number of male and female candidates.

Without any teeth, the law, in its current form, seems to be more of a moral victory for its supporters than anything else. However, as Noda alluded to, its goal may simply be to dramatically remind women with political ambitions, and voters, in Japan that female politicians can be as effective as their male counterparts.

Source: NHK News Web via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso

Japan sees huge growth in jobs in the “cleaning up the homes of old people who die alone” field

Demand grows more than 10 times in size in just five years as Japanese family dynamics change.

As time passes, technology advances, and economies evolve, certain industries will shrink. For example, electronics manufacturing used to be a huge part of the Japanese economy, but it’s been in contraction for many years, with Casio’s exit from the digital camera game the most recent example.

But on the other hand, some industries can see huge growth due to socioeconomic trends. So if you’re hunting for a job in Japan, and you want to be part of a rapidly expanding field, you might want to consider a position in tokushu soji, or “special cleaning” industry.

What makes the cleaning special? Well, tokushu soji companies come in and clean the homes of senior citizens who have died alone. Back in the old days, this is something that was almost always handled by surviving relatives, often the deceased’s children, and in fact it used to be far more common than it is today for elderly parents to live with their offspring in multi-generational homes.

Things have changed, though. As families become smaller and more people move farther away from home to seek out academic or professional opportunities, the number of seniors in Japan who live alone has been steadily increasing, from roughly 4.1 million in 2010 to 6.55 million in 2016 (according to statistics from the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare). In response, there are now over 5,000 companies offering special cleaning services in Japan, which is 15 times as many as there were just five years ago.

Aside from recycling or otherwise disposing of the deceased’s possessions, special cleaning companies have to clean and disinfect the home. Sometimes a significant amount of time will have passed before someone discovered that the resident had passed away, and in addition to using professional-grade cleaners and pesticides, special cleaning staff often wear protective clothing to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

While cleaning and waste disposal are the primary services offered, some special cleaning companies have expanded their role to coordinating funeral services. Many also believe that respectful treatment of surviving relatives is part of their duties, and the Special Cleaning Center, and industry group formed in 2013, offers training and certification programs to ensure high-quality service in both the technical and human aspects of the job.

With Japan’s birth rate steadily falling, demand for special cleaning services is likely to continue to grow, as families get smaller and the population gets older. It’s no doubt a difficult job, but it serves a valuable purpose for society, especially when someone passes away and leaves behind six tons of porno mags.

Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Jin
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert image: Pakutaso