Japanology Plus: Collection 1
Host Peter Barakan visits experts in various fields to show Japanese culture from a new perspective.
Part 1: Okinawan Karate
Okinawan karate, takes a very special approach. As we learn in this edition of Japanology Plus, the aim is to perfect techniques without ever needing to use them. Even if attacked, the practitioner of Okinawan karate will only strike at an opponent as a last resort — but pity the individual who forces such a turn of events.
Part 2: Cherry Trees
Springtime in Japan means cherry trees in brief, yet glorious bloom, before their petals fall like confetti on the breeze. This yearly occurrence strikes a deep chord in the Japanese soul. Our expert guest this time is Toemon Sano, whom host Peter Barakan remembers as “delightfully outspoken and funny”, and whose family owns and maintains a forest with over 150 varieties of cherry tree. In Plus One, learn how to hold your own blossom-viewing picnic.
Part 3: Izakaya
Japan’s cherished homegrown pubs, Izakaya, offer drinks, comfort food and a lively atmosphere. Expert guest Kenji Hashimoto, a sociologist who has spent the last 25 years conducting fieldwork in Izakaya all around Japan, takes us to the backstreets of Shinjuku, Tokyo. Host Peter Barakan recalls: “it was fascinating to wander into an area that still has the feel of a post-war black-market back alley”. In Plus One, we visit a unique kind of liquor store.
Part 4: Silk
What gives Japanese kimonos their luxurious appeal? Pure silk, which is also used to make strings for the shamisen, as a canvas for Japanese paintings, and these days is even being applied in medicine. With our expert guest, Takayuki Nagashima, an expert in “insect technology”, we explore the importance of silk to Japan’s culture and way of life, in an edition described by host Peter Barakan as “incredibly educational”. And in Plus One, the wonders of wild silk.
Part 5: Haunted Houses
Japan’s creepy haunted houses offer a distinctive style of fright, popular with people seeking to beat the scorching summer heat with spine-chilling fear. Even the normally calm and collected Peter Barakan enjoyed the ride. “Being frightened is pretty low on my scale of priorities”, he says, “but this edition was a lot of fun”! Our expert guest this time is Hirofumi Gomi, who has been the brains behind roughly 50 haunted houses in Japan. And in Plus One, eerie ghost art of centuries past.
Part 6: Onsen
Japan has many active volcanoes, which also means a lot of hot springs. Known in Japan as Onsen, host Peter Barakan feels that these natural baths are “one of the best things about living in Japan”. They were used in turbulent times to heal wounded samurai, and the peace that followed gave birth to onsen tourism. More recently, new onsen businesses are taking off across Japan. Our expert guest this time is Michio Ishikawa, who has visited over 2,000 onsen. And in Plus One, onsen aquaculture!
Part 7: Restoring Castles
What does it take to restore a castle to its former glory? Each time, Peter Barakan meets experts with fascinating cultural insights, while Matt Alt presents an entertaining take on the same theme.
Part 8: Shopping Streets
As in much of the industrialized world, a significant amount of shopping in Japan takes place in towering shopping malls and chain supermarkets. But cities and towns throughout the country are also home to a more traditional form of shopping thanks to their shotengai, or shopping streets.
Part 9: Volcanoes
Japan is a volcanic hotspot, with 7 percent of all the world’s volcanoes. The archipelago actually contains 110 active volcanoes, and throughout history, Japan has been at the mercy of the terrifying power of volcanoes.
Part 10: Sweets and Snacks
The last three decades or so have seen the estimated value of Japans market in sweets and snacks increase tenfold to an astonishing 3.5 trillion yen per year. The convenient catchall Japanese term used to encapsulate such items is okashi. As well as globally ubiquitous favourites like potato chips, cookies, and chocolates (albeit often with a Japanese twist), the category also includes a host of indigenous treats (or wagashi) with a history going back several centuries.