Google Translate gets a Japanese upgrade

Google translate is adding new camera functionality.

This option has been seen for other languages, allowing the app to translate text captured by the camera. For Japanese, however, you had to capture a still image and manually highlight the text which you wanted to translate.


Osaka Olympics

The Olympics in Osaka?
Japan is preparing to host the Summer Olympics for the second time. Tokyo hosted the Olympics in 1964 and will do so again for the 2020 Olympics. Hosting the Summer Olympics twice is an honor which has only been given to the cities of Paris (1900 and 1924), London (1948 and 2012), Los Angeles (1932 and 1984) and Athens (1896 and 2004). If you count the Winter Olympics, Japan has hosted the Olympic games three times already; Tokyo (1964), Sapporo (1972) and Nagano (1998).

Osaka made a bid to host the 2008 Olympics, along with Paris (France), Istanbul (Turkey), Toronto (Canada) and Beijing (China). Beijing won the bid to host the games for 2008, but Osaka had some interesting plans for the games.

While the country was still preparing for the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, Osaka began it’s campaign for the Olympics. In 1996 Osaka schools started collecting children’s essays and art on the theme of the Olympics and sending child ambassadors to the 1996 Atlanta Olympics to promote Osaka.

Osaka already had a number of large facilities to host sporting events and gathering but to host the Olympics there were plans for a few new venues to be constructed; such as an Olympic Village (on Yumejima island), Olympic Stadium (on Maishima island) and a new center for wrestling and judo.

Here you can see a Google Map detailing the proposed locations of various events. Most of the events are within 20 kilometers of the Olympic village with the most distant venues being the Lake Biwa rowing location, which is about 70 kilometers to the north, and the Misaki mountain-biking course, which is about 70 kilometers to the south. If you are in Osaka you can still use this map as a guide to finding excellent sports facilities:

Osaka’s Olympic bid was rejected in 2001 but you can still see some “Osaka 2008” promotional stickers on shop shutters, 16 years later. Those shops were another point in Osaka’s Olympic plans; there was a proposed “one shotengai per country campaign” in which the many “shotengai” (shopping streets) in Japan would each represent a different country. This was aimed at revitalizing the aging shopping streets, internationalizing the local communities and generating enthusiasm for the Olympics with Osakans. During the Olympics, Japanese media and audiences are extremely focused on the Japanese athletes and the attention goes into the events in which Japanese athletes are expected to do well (such as judo). Given this strong Japan-first focus it may have been difficult trying to get entire streets of small local businesses behind foreigner promotional themes.

You can look for the Olympic candidate promotional signs, with the five-color Olympic rings reshaped into a cherry blossom emblem, but those signs and stickers are now extremely rare.


The main reason cited for rejecting Osaka as an Olympic host was the fact that the Nagano Olympics had been too recent, only ten years before. Another concern was the transportation system, with crowded trains, narrow streets and concerns for foreigners who were trying to navigate in a system designed with the Japanese language.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave Osaka the following scores (out of 10)

Transportation Infrastructure 7.40

General Infrastructure 7.55

Sports Infrastructure 7.00

Olympic Village 7.00

Accommodation 9.70


Ginger flavored Coca-Cola in Japan

Yesterday (Jan. 24, 2017), the new Coca-Cola with ginger flavoring. I was not impressed with the spicy taste. Coca-Cola has released a number of promotional drinks in Japan.

About two years ago the lemon flavor which appeared for a short time. It’s mild, pleasant taste made it the best of the novelty flavors. While the lemon flavor was nice as a temporary addition to the cola line-up it was not really as good as the regular version.
Just after Coca-Cola lemon was presented in Japan there was also a lime version. During the short time that Coca-Cola lemon was available it shared some shelves with lime but lime had a more limited distribution and was available for an even shorter time. The lemon bottle had a similar yellow label, so I expect that some customers will pick up these ginger bottles expecting that lemon has returned (as I did).
Coca-Cola has also sold some novelty bottles in Japan; a few years ago there were the labels which each bore popular Japanese names, so people would look for familiar [given] names and you would often see people with bottles bearing labels that were marked with their own names. The name labels were also a thing in America (obviously they were marketed with names that were common in America, rather than Japanese names).

Starting around November of last year, Coca-Cola was selling bottles with holiday labels that were designed with a pullable band through a dual layer foil label; when the band was pulled the label scrunched up into gift bow.

Sasumata; the samurai weapon of Japanese school administrators

Sasumata 刺股

Safety and threats in society-

Japan is an incredible safe country, violent crimes rates (and crime rates in general) are among the lowest levels in the world.

Americans are familiar with mass shooting and gun violence, so it is not unusual to see security officers or even metal detectors in schools.

Despite the social safety and stability in Japan as well as the limited access to firearms, there have still been acts of violence that have shaken Japan. Most foreigners are aware of the sarin gas attacks on the Tokyo subway that were perpetrated by a religious cult (Aum Shinrikyo) in 1995, sending thousands to hospitals and killing 12.

Foreigners are much less aware of the “Osaka school massacre” of 2001. In Osaka, at the Ikeda Elementary School, a mentally ill man went on a rampage with a kitchen knife, killing 8 and injuring 15.

A defensive weapon-

After the massacre, schools became more concerned with the possibility of classroom invasions and random violence. Some schools have specialized security staff, but the possibility of an attacker armed with a knife caused Japanese school workers to go medieval in their thinking. To combat knife wielding attackers the “sasumata,” (刺股, literally “spear-fork”) was reintroduced to society. The sasumata is a “man-catcher” weapon from the samurai period, consisting of a long pole with wide u-shaped prongs on the end. The sasumata is used to restrain the arms and torso of an attacker while keeping them at a safe distance. The medieval weapon sometimes incorporated a bladed edge and spikes along the shaft to prevent the target from grabbing the weapon or pulling it away from defenders.


An exhibit of historical weapons with a sasumata at Wakayama Castle.

The modern sasumata looks like a piece of pool equipment as it is made from lightweight aluminum and does not have the scary-looking spikes which prevented the medieval version from being resisted. In the event of an attack the idea is aim for the attackers torso, arms and legs to hold them down and keep them back, minimizing any injuries until police can arrive.

You can see the sasumata hanging in Japanese schools, usually in the teachers room. Sometimes, they are places in more public parts of the school; in which case I marvel at the restraint of students who do not joust each other with these long pole weapons.

Label instructions: 用心棒 (use the shaft)

There are also traditional martial arts, still being practiced that focus on the use of long pole similar weapons, such as Sojutsu and Hojojutsu. The Hozoin-ryu Sojutsu group often gives such demonstrations in the Nara area:

Hozanji; the hodgepodge temple of wealth


Hozanji, a temple an the side of Mount Ikoma, which is the border between Osaka and Nara prefectures. The site upon which the temple was built was used as a training ground for monks as far back as the year 655.

The temple buildings began construction in the 1676. The buildings on the temple grounds reflect a number of different styles. Including Japanese style buildings with a cedar bark roof and flared eaves,


Cliffside statue overlooking the site


Dezome-Shiki: New Years Firefighter Show

The Firefighter demonstration in Osaka is held at the beginning of every year. The word “dezome” (出初め) means “first outing” and “shiki” (式) means “ritual.”

At this event, cities present demonstrations of their fire department’s capabilities. This includes dress parades, PR interactions and disaster drills.

Representatives of various firefighting groups in Osaka gathered at ATC (a port area with a shopping mall and government offices) for the 2017 dezome-shiki. They presented drills with firefighters hosing down a mock house fire, performing CPR, loading ambulances and scaling obstacles. They used helicopters to demonstrate rooftop evacuations and retrieving overboard sailors from the sea. As a major port city, Osaka also employs firefighting ships which demonstrated their abilities by mixing colored dye with the jets of water they deploy.

Some places (such as Yokohama) have performances of traditional fire brigades who show off their acrobatic stunts with bamboo ladders.

Historically, fires have been a manor threat to Japanese society. In the Edo-era huge populations crowded into cities of densely built and very flammable architecture.


Kadomatsu; the Japanese bamboo bouquet of New Years🎍

Kadomatsu is a traditional decoration which is set out during New Years (about one week before and after Jan.1). The design/arrangement varies, with some variations being unique to specific regions. Generally, the kadomatsu is made of several of mature bamboo shoots, branches of pine needles and often some pine branches.

The bamboo and pine are the most basic and universal elements. Shoots of bamboo are hollow, so they represent purity or honesty. Also because they are hollow, they serve as a temporary home for spirits that visit their families for the holiday. They are usually displayed in pairs on either side of doorways, thus the name kadomatsu, 門松, or gate-pines. The matched pair represent male and female (I guess the spirits have segregated facilities like a bathhouse?)

In Japan New Years is a time for family gathering while Christmas Eve is the time for romance (reverse to American tradition).

The pine elements represents the persistently blooming life of that evergreen tree during the winter season.

The plum tree represents prosperity because the plum tree is the first to bloom, even while the weather outside remains cold.

These three plants together are thought of as the “three friends of winter” (“suihan sanyou”) and placed together in context are known as “shou-chiku-bai” (松竹梅). “Shochikubai” is also the name of a popular brand of sake.

This is confusing because the normal pronunciation of these character is different: pine = matsu 松, bamboo = take 竹 and plum = ume 梅. You can also see these secondary pronunciations in some other words: for example the word for a “plum grove” is 梅林, which is the word for plum (ume) and forest (hayashi) together that make the word “bai-rin.”

The trio of plum-bamboo-pine also appears in Japanese culture as a traditional version of gold-silver-bronze. You can see this method used in rating grades of goods; plum=cheap, bamboo = medium level, pine = highest grade. For example, some restaurants use this scale for meal sets and kendo goods sell grades of equipment (especially himo) in these terms.