Why Does Japan Have So Many Vending Machines?

Any first-time visitor to Japan is likely to encounter a variety of strange phenomena during their travels here; squat toilets, giant insects, speedy trains and kawaii mascots for everything from potato chips to life insurance all are endemic to Japan. However, nothing quite makes an impression on visitors like the abundance of luminescent, softly humming vending machines that seem to spring from the ground like weeds in both urban and rural locales and even at the top of Mt. Fuji.

Y500 for a can of hot cocoa?!

The diverse contents of Japan’s vending machines–called jidohanbaiki or jihanki in Japanese–has been thoroughly chronicled, as the existence of machines selling pornography and panties makes perfect fodder for the writers and consumers of expositions detailing the quirks and eccentricities of Japanese culture. But in spite of numerous articles featuring “15 of Japan’s weirdest vending machines,” articles that address why Japan has so many of these machines in the first place are few. Japan is home to a jaw-dropping 5,582,200 vending machines. That’s one vending machine for every twenty-three people living in Japan. Why are jidohanbaiki in Japan so numerous, and why do they exist in even the most seemingly arbitrary locations? There are actually a number of reasons why vending machines are so prevalent in Japan, regardless of their contents.

First of all, the Japanese economy is cash-based. In other parts of the world, credit and debit cards are used with more frequency and it is uncommon to carry around large amounts of cash or change on one’s person. In Japan, though, using cash is still very much the norm. Furthermore, Japan possesses high-value coins in addition to bills, which means that at any time a resident of Japan is likely to be carrying a great deal of change as well as paper money. Especially now that the sales tax has increased by 8%, goods are priced in awkward denominations, resulting in leftover change jangling in your pockets and wallet. Buying a drink from a machine is a quick and easy way to quench thirst while getting rid of cumbersome change at the same time.

Japan is safe. Low crime rates in Japan not only ensure that it’s safe for people to walk around with large amounts of cash, they also protect the nation’s population of vending machines. Unlike in other countries, vending machines in Japan are unlikely to be tampered with and are generally safe from vandalism. (Although recently counterfeiters have managed to deceive jihanki with specially made fake 500-yen coins.) Therefore there is little concern about the placement of vending machines, leaving location options virtually unlimited.

Japan is pedestrian-friendly. Many residents of Japan commute to work on foot, by bike, or by train. Even here in Ishikawa, where car ownership is much more common than it is in Tokyo or Kyoto, many students and office workers still walk, bike, or rely on public transportation to get to school and work. Therefore it’s advantageous to drink companies and vending machine owners to position their machines along commute routes. Outside train stations, near bus stops, and along sidewalks are all prime spots for machines to lure thirsty commuters. In more populous areas, machines placed near entrances and exits to busy subway lines also attract customers on their way to work and school.

Vending machines turn a profit. In Japan, anyone who owns sufficient land can own a vending machine. Either the machine is purchased and owned exclusively by the buyer, who then collects all the profits but must restock the machine, or a contract is made with a beverage company which installs the machine and restocks it in exchange for payment of electricity fees and a portion of the profit. If a landowner is lucky enough to own property that is on a commute route, near a train station, or in a place where people consistently congregate (near a park, etc.), they can supplement their income at an average amount of 20,000 to 40,000 yen per machine per month. The money collected from vending machines is passive income. All the owner has to do is obtain a machine, restock it regularly (or rely on a beverage company to restock it), then sit back and let the machine collect money. Judging by the number of vending machines in Japan, this is a pretty attractive opportunity for many Japanese landowners.

A vending machine in Fukushima Prefecture, brought inland and deposited in a field by the 2011 tsunami.

Vending machines are profitable in both urban and rural areas. About 80% of Japan’s population lives in urban areas. A spot along a walking commute route or near a subway station in an urban area like Osaka is a golden opportunity for a vendor…but so is a location near the center of town in a rural community that has few conbini. In a town with limited brick-and-mortar vendors, consumers will patronize conveniently-placed vending machines instead. Vending machine owners can take advantage of their surrounding infrastructure to insure that their machine makes money, regardless of their placement in a rural or urban communities.

Japan has extreme weather. Jidohanbaiki famously sell both hot and cold items. Not only does this benefit the more capricious among us (“Hmmm…yesterday I had chilled coffee, but today I feel more like hot coffee! I’m such a fickle minx.”), the sheer numbers of machines selling both warm and cold drinks provide brief respite from Japan’s unpleasant weather. In Japan, hot, muggy summers give way to cold, wet winters, and as we all know quite well, Japanese homes often lack central heating and air. Therefore, who would begrudge a hot drink to warm you up on your bitterly cold commute, or a cool beverage to ward off impending heatstroke on a hot afternoon?

Japan has a national affinity for automata. Japan already has an international reputation as a world leader in robotics and manufacturing. Engineering tweaks to the existing vending machine technology further promote Japanese innovation. Japanese vending machines which can simultaneously keep hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold seem basic in comparison to the Acure Vending Machine, which determines the age and sex of the consumer and suggests drinks on a sleek digital touch-screen.  Another example of vending machine innovation is Coca-Cola’s new energy-efficient “Peak Shift” machines, which cool drinks at night to avoid peak energy demand hours during the day.

A Coca-Cola “Peak Shift” vending machine, distinguishable by the Polar Bear logo.

The Acure Digital Vending Machine, which can approximate the age and gender of the consumer and use that information to suggest products.

Making vending machines quicker and more efficient and even adding interactive capabilities is important in a society with an aging population. As the employable population in Japan decreases, people will increasingly have to rely on automation and technology for tasks previously accomplished with manpower, including beverage vending.

My prediction for the future of jihanki: mobile vending machines that follow you around until you get thirsty again.

Interestingly, in my search to answer the question “Why does Japan have so many vending machines?” I found many explanations describing how the Japanese national character draws consumers to vending machines rather than into shops. Common stereotype dictates that Japanese people are meek and shy, so it follows that they would prefer making a purchase from a robot rather than engaging with another person, which is why Japan has so many vending machines. This explanation falls flat. Judging from the popularity of self-checkout lines in supermarkets, smartphones and messaging apps, and drive-thru windows in the U.S. and elsewhere, avoiding human interaction for the sake of comfort, convenience, or time is not a uniquely Japanese trait. As listed above, there are myriad logical reasons why Japan has so many vending machines so there’s no need to rely on fallacious generalizations.

So, the next time you’re feeling thirsty or cold, are in a hurry, and want to get rid of some of those pesky coins weighing down your wallet, rest assured that there’s a vending machine nearby, ready to satisfy all of your beverage-related needs.


“Vending Machine” (Wikipedia)

“What’s So Interesting About Japan’s Vending Machines?” (Japan Monthly Magazine)

“Earn Up to Y500,000 per month with a side business in ‘independent’ vending machines” (Japan Today)

The Wild and Wonderful World of Japanese Vending Machines (Kotaku)

Karin is a second-year ALT who now knows more than she ever predicted she would about vending machines. In her free time she enjoys climbing mountains, cooking, and reading.

Fall Events and Announcements

Ah, fall.  Scientifically proven to be the best season in Japan, fall means a lot of things.  For Japanese and JETs alike.  Of course, the weather’s cooling off and the days are getting shorter.  Soon the leaves will be exploding in color, and your Japanese friends will be flocking to the mountains by the busload to get a view (and you’ll tag along, if you know what’s what.)

Skill Development Conference

In addition to the leaves, there are a number if happenings between now and December.  First off, there’s the Skill Development Conference, the first day of which was Tuesday September 30th.  We hope you all enjoyed the Drink Bar!

The “second day” of the conference will be done in regions: for Kaga/Kanazawa-area, it’s on Wednesday, October 29th.  Keeping it spooky up in the Noto, their regional conference will by Friday, October 31st.

The final day will be Friday, November 21st for all ALTs.

Lights in Wajima

The Senmaida Illumination.

On the cultural side of things, October sees the return of the nationally acclaimed Sennmaida Illumination, an event just north of Wajima up in the Noto.  During this event, the “Thousand Rice Fields” are lit up with lights for a spectacular view unique to Ishikawa.  The event is getting bigger and bigger, and making the leap into the 21st century — this year, the event will use LED lights instead of candles.  A little less nostalgic?  Probably.  BUT, it means that we can see the lights any night from October 18th to March 15th, 2015!  Visit this web page for all the info (in Japanese) including maps, times, and driving/public transit info.


A Tale of Two Parties


Halloween Party 2014

This year’s AJET Halloween Party will be a deviation from tradition.  Responding to requests from JETs to have more events outside of the big city, we’ll be heading south to Matto for a night of music, drinks, and costumes.

We have teamed up with UDON BAR this year to celebrate Halloween, and it promises to be better than ever.  Details will be confirmed at a later date, but last year saw fire dancers, live music, DJs, a costume competition, awesome food, lots of dancing and a few drinks to wash it all down.  Entrance will likely be 1000円 or 1500円 with one drink/udon.  Thinks kick off at 7pm.

But wait!  Halloween only falls on a Friday once every few years – why stop with just one party?  After things wind down in Matto, hop on a train for Kanazawa (200円, 10 minutes) and check out the Freak Friday Halloween Party at Orbital, featuring none other than the famous DJ Hattori Hantz!  The party is always a big draw for those looking to celebrate Halloween, so don’t miss it.  It’ll kick off around 10 and go late into the night.


Finally, AJET encourages you to get out and take advantage of the perfect autumn weather this year, be it a bike ride, a picnic, or a walk through town.  Before long, the cold wet Ishikawa winter will be upon us.  But, never fear – AJET is planning some awesome events for the winter to keep Ishikawa’s JET community connected and active year round.



Daniel is a third-year JET who lives in Kanazawa and teaches at a junior high school.  He’s also serving as Ishikawa AJET’s Communication Chair.  He likes drinking coffee, riding his bike, and hanging out with his wife.


The Return of the Book

Ishikawa AJET, in cooperation with the Ishikawa JET Blog, is happy to announce the return of  “The Ishikawa JET Kitchen,” the Ishikawa JET Cookbook!

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The book was created a few years ago by real, live, Ishikawa JETs.  it includes bilingual recipes designed to be cooked by folks in Ishikawa using ingredients found in Ishikawa.  To give the best possible introduction, please see the words of the editor of the cookbook, Leah Zoller:

Six years of university Japanese had not prepared me for dealing with the culinary side of living in Japan. All my American recipes were too large for one person. All of my favorite pre-made ingredients (ravioli, veggie burgers) were nowhere to be found. The English cookbooks I owned either used American measurements or had failed to convert properly into metrics, which is necessary if using Japanese cooking supplies. So I was left wondering what 100 mL of solid butter was meant to look like or how to bake 20 cookies in a tiny oven range.

“I can’t be the only one with this problem,” I thought.

I began The Ishikawa JET Kitchen as a locked blog—a place to share and comment on recipes and perfect them before showing them to the public. A small team of JETs tested all of the recipes for availability of ingredients and ease of making with Japanese kitchen equipment.

What’s special about this cookbook?

  1. All recipes have tested, edited, and approved by a thorough team of JETs and friends—no more worrying about whether recipes will work!
  2. An equipment list letting you know beforehand of any special tools you will need to prepare dishes.
  3. The recipes are designed to work with your Japanese kitchen equipment—no more worrying about cakes that won’t bake in the center or runny cookies!
  4. The recipes include the Japanese words and readings for ingredients right on the page—no need to use a dictionary!
  5. A comprehensive index marking which recipes are suitable for people with dietary restrictions.
  6. All recipes are in metrics—no need to worry about conversion!

To everyone who submitted recipes, tested recipes, and provided input: I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your hard work and dedication. I hope this book will prove useful (and delicious) to the JET community.

Have we tickled your tasebuds?  If you, so you can click the “Ishikawa JET Cookbook” tab at the top of this page to find out how to get your hands on a copy!


The 2014 Uchinada Beach Party: Information Galore

The end of summer approaches!  Well… it may not be the end of summer weather (sorry, folks – still another month or more of that) but the summer as defined by the Gregorian Calendar is certainly drawing to a close.

"You're welcome!" -Guy who never lived in Japan.

“You’re welcome!” -Guy who never lived in Japan.

To celebrate the end of summer, as well as the beginning of life in Japan for our newly-arrived JETs, the Ishikawa branch of the Association of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (AJET) is holding its annual Uchinada Beach Party on Sunday, September 6th, from 2pm to whenever-the-beans.


Anyone can attend the party, so invite all your friends and/or co-workers.  However, the admission charge this year is 2,500円 if you’d like to have access to the copious amounts of BBQ and yaki-soba (due by Sunday, August 31st – see “Other Information” section below), or 1,900円 (due at the door) if you’d like to bring your own food.  Drinks are on a bring-your-own basis.

“But wait!” you say, “in the previous years, the Uchinada Beach Party has been a free event, open to anyone with a song in their heart and smile on their lips.  What gives?”  Well, when we sat down to talk about the Beach Party this year, the memory of the previous two years weighed heavily on our souls.  For those of you who weren’t around, two years ago the party encountered fierce resistance in the form of rain, forcing the poor party-goers to take shelter wherever they could.  Last year it was even more intense, with a typhoon sweeping through the party, cancelling trains and blowing all manner of things into the Sea of Japan, never to be seen or heard from again.

Beach Party 2013

“Worth iiiiiiiiiit!”

To remedy this (barring typhoons, because there’s no remedy for those.  Yet.) we wanted to host the party somewhere impervious to rain.  As such, we decided to call up our friends Apres on the Beach.  We struck a deal with them, and agreed to charge per head in order to use their space.  The space will include: refrigerators, teppan grills for cooking, shade in case of sun and shelter in case of rain, a range of pork, beef, veggies, and yaki soba, and of course a sound system.


If the weather holds up, we’ll have beach sports tournaments, with prizes (TBD) for the winners.  Right now sports include volleyball, football (soccer) and possibly ultimate frisbee.  Grab some friends and put together a team for a chance to win.

Rain or shine, we’re proud to announce that this year we’ll also have the AJET Trivia Showdown of Extreme Cerebral Prowess.  This will be a pub-style trivia game, testing your knowledge, mental agility, and ability to answer questions while drunk.  The winner will also be given a prize (also TBD, but it’ll be sweet, trust us).

Music! Explosions! Charity!

In addition, we’re having four separate DJs playing throughout the day (starting at 3pm) and into the night.  We’ll end the party with fireworks on the beach – light ‘em if you’ve got ‘em!

Finally, a portion of your admission price – 400円 – will go to help Second Harvest Japan, a food bank based out of Tokyo and serving the needs of hungry people right here in Japan.  If you’d like to make a donation on top of that, feel free!  We’d like to set a precedence of generosity along with fun for this year’s AJET events.

Other Information

To pay your admission if you’d like the yaki-soba/BBQ option, get in contact with your nearest AJET Representative.  If you don’t know who that is, email the Ishikawa JET Blog at “ishikawaJET (at) gmail (dot) com,” and we’ll point you in the right direction.

Parking is available on the beach for those of you who want to drive.

If you’re going home by train, it’d probably be a good idea to take the train from Uchinada Station (about a 15-min walk from the beach) at 9:45pm, since the last train from Kanazawa Station towards Komatsu leaves at 10:52, and the last one towards Nanao leaves at 10:41.

Of course, you can always sleep at the beach (sorta-recommended) or find a friend in Kanazawa who will host you (highly recommended!)

On behalf of Ishikawa AJET, we look forward to seeing you all there!


Ain’t No River Wide Enough: The Tanabata Festival of Japan

Summer festival season in Ishikawa has kicked off with Noto’s famed Abare Matsuri, and the JLPT summer date has – for better or for worse – come and gone. Give yourself a little break tonight and go star-gazing with that special someone! Why, you ask? Because today is Tanabata!

Tanabata (七夕; meaning ‘The Seventh Night’) is a traditional holiday celebrated all over Japan and was once described to me as ‘kind of like a Japanese Valentine’s Day.’ Well – another one, because we already have two of those here. It is also called the Lover’s Festival or the Star Festival. The legend of Tanabata is an old one, originally imported from China during the Empress Koken’s first reign in 755. It tells the story of two literally star-crossed lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, and their unbreakable, eternal vows of love to each other over their many years of separation.

According to the story, the King of the Heavens had a talented daughter named Orihime (Weaver Princess), and she made the most beautiful clothing in all of the universe.

No, not that Orihime!

He loved to wear the clothing she made so much that she spent every waking moment weaving so that he would be happy. However, this meant she had no time to find a suitor, and she was very lonely. So, the King of the Heavens arranged for her to meet Hikoboshi (Cow-herd-star), a cowherd who lived on the other side of the Amanogawa (The Heavenly River), a nearby river. They met, fell in love instantly, and got married.

Unfortunately, the Heavenly King’s plan worked a little too well; as they now spent all of their time together, Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi let his cows stray. This made the king furious so he separated the lovers once again. However, his daughter came to him and begged him to let her see her husband. So moved was he by his daughter’s tears that the king relented and said the lovers could meet on the seventh night of the seventh month  before returning to their respective sides of the Amanogawa and going back to work.

This story is all very romantic and sad, but it’s made even sweeter by its heavenly counterparts. Orihime is actually the star Vega, and Hikoboshi is Altair, and they are in fact separated by an ‘Ama No Gawa:’ the heavenly river of the Milky Way. On the seventh night of the seventh month every year, if the weather is clear and the stars are visible, it is said that stargazers can see the lovers cross the river and meet for their requisite one night a year – which happens when Altair and Vega intersect. If the weather is bad, Orihime cannot find the bridge that crosses the Amanogawa to see Hikoboshi, and she must wait another year to visit her husband.

Altair and Vega, separated by the milky way. If your long distance relationship is shorter than 14.81 light years then I don't wanna hear you complaining.

Altair and Vega, separated by the milky way. If your long distance relationship is shorter than 14.81 light years then I don’t wanna hear you complaining.

Tanabata is celebrated throughout the month of July and into August all over Japan . The festival is old enough that the old lunar calendar’s seventh-month actually lines up more with August, so traditionally, many towns celebrate on the 7th of August instead of the 7th of July. The most famous is in Sendai, and has been held every year from August 6th to 8th since the city was founded during the Edo period. Other famous festivals take place in Kanagawa and Tokyo Disney Land – Mickey and Minnie even dress up as Hikoboshi and Orihime! There are even Tanabata festivals outside of Japan, with large celebrations taking place in California, New York, and São Paulo. There are many different traditions from different regions, but there are some that remain the same no matter where you go:


A woman in yukata hanging her wishes out for the stars to see.

The same cosmic forces that allow Orihime and Hikoboshi to cross the Amanogawa and meet every year are said to be able to grant wishes, so many people will write their wishes on tanzaku – thin vertical strips of paper – and hang them on bamboo trees. It is not uncommon to see bamboo stalks at shrines and other popular places filled with tanzaku on Tanabata, all of them containing wishes for the future: for love, for a good marriage, for passing exams and getting into a good high school, or just for happiness. Other common sights include chains of paper cranes, kusudama (which are those origami balls that hang above streamers), fairy lights, and other star-shaped decorations that are intended to bring good fortune and love into one’s life.

As you might imagine, Tanabata is also a popular couple’s festival and date night. It’s not uncommon to see couples dressed in yukata tying their tanzaku on bamboo together, or going out to dinner, or having picnics in popular star-gazing spots to see Altair and Vega intersect.

Unfortunately for those of us in Ishikawa, Tanabata falls right at the beginning of the rainy season (and it is one of the rainiest in Japan!) – so as I write this post and stare out the window near my desk in my faculty room, all I can see are grey skies stretching out over the Nihonkai. Perhaps, on this rainy Tanabata, Orihime will not be able to find the bridge to cross the Amanogawa and she will have to wait another year to see Hikoboshi. However, don’t let that stop you from taking part in the festivities! If you can, head over to Kanazawa’s Omicho Market and add your own wishes to the tanzaku display there. And while perhaps this weather is not conducive to star gazing, there’s nothing more romantic on a chilly rainy night than cooking dinner and watching a movie with that special someone.


I recommend Stardust.

Frances Visintainer is a first year Junior High School ALT in Kahoku. You can follow her misadventures in the wide world of teaching at her blog, Footsteps in Education. Her Tanabata wish this year was for Orihime to build a boat or something, because seriously girl, this bridge nonsense was getting old 1,000 years ago. Go get yo’ man!

The 2014 AJET Primer

The results from the election are in, and it’s time to meet your new 2014 Ishikawa AJET Council!  The newly elected members of the Council are already planning and implementing ideas to make 2014 a great year for us Ishikawa JETS.


But first, you may be wondering, “What exactly is AJET?”  The acronym stands for the Association for Japan Exchange and Teaching.  Every prefecture in Japan has an AJET Council in some shape or form.  Then, prefectures are grouped in “blocks,” each of which also has its own Block Representative.  And of course, those blocks compose the National AJET.  Ishikawa belongs to Block 5, which you can read more about here.

But what does AJET do?  President Dan Campbell explains “The main purpose of AJET is to bring people together, we’ll do this through events, activities, trips, money raising and volunteering opportunities.”  (Dan helped me a great deal with this post, so from now on his input will appear in italics.)

Unlike Prefectural Advisers (PAs) or Coordinators of International Relations (CIRs) the AJET members are selected by fellow JETs, not the Board of Education, CLAIR, or any other outside agency.  And though the council members are all elected, they are also volunteers – no stipend or remuneration is provided.

This year the ishikawa AJET Council has eight positions: one President, three Representatives (north, central, south,) and then four chairs, Social, Charity, Sports, and Communications.  But who are these council members?  What do they do, how do they work, and what do they sing when they think they’re all alone?  Read on the learn the answers to all of these questions, and more!


 President: Dan Campbell


I feel that my role as AJET president is to make this year the best it can possibly be. I’m on top of whatever event or activity we’re planning and I’m also a link between you and AJET. I value any opinions you guys have and if you want help arranging a specific activity or event then let me know, or if you just need support with something then I’m here for that too. Contact me through the AJET email: ajetishikawa(at)gmail(dot)com or through our Facebook page: Here (be sure to ‘like’ it too!).


As you may know, Ishikawa is commonly divided into three areas – North (starting from around Nanao and extending up into the Noto) Central (from Kahoku to Hakusan/Nonoichi) and then South (from Hakusan down, including Kaga and Nomi.)  Each area boasts its own unique festivals, events, and great things to see/do.  As such, AJET has one representative for each area.

 Northern Representative: Alexander Schloss


Alexander will be spreading the news of the north. He’ll let us know about activities or festivals happening the beautiful north peninsula of Ishikawa.


Central Representative: Maritza Santa Cruz



Maritza is the center for central support! She will be telling you what’s going on in and around Kanazawa, as well as giving out handy tips about the big city. If you want to know anything about Kanazawa and it’s surroundings Maritza is your go to.


Southern Representative: Donna Pleso


Donna is repping it for the south. If there’s anything you need to know about the southlands of Ishikawa she’s the one to ask, she’ll also be promoting any events and news from said region.


One of the primary purposes of AJET is to connect the JETs living within the prefecture.  And one of the primary ways this happens is through social events like bar crawls, beach parties, festival meet-ups, and the like.  Our social chairs make sure these events happen, and see to all the nitty gritty details.  When you have a great time at an AJET sponsored event, thank these guys!

Social Chairs: Tom Foran (left) and Gerard Noakes (right)

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These lads are in charge of the years’ events. They already have some great ideas and have made it clear that the tagline for this year is bigger and better.


As I’m sure you all remember, JET salaries and expenses (think Tokyo Orientation and plane tickets to/from Japan!) are covered by the taxpayers of Japan.  That means we’re public servants in our communities.  And what better way to serve our communities than through charity?  Ladies and gentlemen, I give you…

Charity Chair: Frances Visintainer

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Frances’ role is to establish and build connections with charities and community projects in Ishikawa, she is also eager to set up a volunteering network in Japan and abroad.  Many of the events this year will have a charity element, which will be organised by Frances.


After a long week of teaching, what feels better than tossing a frisbee with some fellow JETs?  Or during those long, dark winter months, what gets the adrenaline flowing like a weekend ski trip?  Here’s the guy who makes it all happen:

Sports Chair: Clint Kimzey



Clint will be organising and creating this years sporting activities, with everything from skiing to frisbee golf. If you’re not sporty don’t fear, because there will be many events that are all about having a laugh and not running a marathon.


This year, I’ll be spreading the word about the AJET comings and goings.  You can visit our Facebook page, follow our blog, or just keep your eyes peeled for the emails that’ll be heading your way.

Communications Chair: Daniel Kenneston


Daniel’s position in AJET revolves around spreading the word. He will continue to post information about upcoming events and activities in the prefecture and as communication isn’t a one way street we want you guys to talk to him about what events/activities etc you’d like to see.

There you have it, straight from the President’s mouth!   This year the  Ishikawa JET Blog and AJET will be closer than ever, so feel free to use the “About & Contact” if you’d like to submit feedback or requests for AJET or the Blog!

Or, if you’d like to get a hold of AJET directly, you can reach them at ajetishikawa(at)gmail(dot)com or through the Facebook page: Here.


Daniel is a third-year JET in Kanazawa, teaching at a junior high school.  He likes drinking coffee, riding his bike, and hanging out with his wife.


A seasonally inappropriate post on sakura

103 years ago, the city of Washington D.C. accepted a gift of 2,000 cherry trees from the mayor of Tokyo, Yukio Ozaki, as a symbol of friendship between the United States and Japan. However, the donated trees were found to be infested with insects and nematodes and were subsequently burned.


Three years later, Mayor Ozaki tried again, this time donating over 3,000 sakura trees to the United States. Those healthy trees now line the Tidal Basin, a partially man-made reservoir in West Potomac Park, Washington D.C., and inspire annual cherry blossom fever and festivity in the capital of the U.S.

Cherry blossom trees encircling the Tidal Basin, backed by the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.

Neither the initial failed donation nor the second successful donation of cherry trees would have been possible without Toyama-born, Ishikawa-raised chemist Jokichi Takamine. Dr. Takamine was the first to isolate the eponymous enzyme takadiastase, which catalyzes the breakdown of starch; he was also the first to isolate and purify the hormone adrenaline, which is now used to treat cardiac arrest and anaphylaxis.

Dr. Takamine’s contributions to modern medicine are overshadowed only by his luxurious mustache.

These discoveries, in combination with his pragmatic licensing agreements with American pharmaceutical companies, made Takamine a multi-millionaire. When Takamine heard of Japanese efforts to donate cherry trees to the United States, he generously funded the gift in collaboration with the mayor of Tokyo, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the National Geographic Society. This year marks the 100th anniversary since the successful donation and cultivation of sakura in Washington D.C. (Recently the United States government sent 3000 dogwood trees to Japan as a reciprocal gift in recognition of this anniversary. 70 of the trees were planted in Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures. Many of the remaining trees will beautify the still-recovering Tohoku region of Honshu.)

However, the United States is certainly not the only country to receive sakura from Japan. Although the sakura is speculated to be native to the Himalayas, the tree and flower have become inextricably associated with Japan and Japanese culture. The tree and its blossoms have been featured liberally in classical woodblock prints, in anime and manga, in songs and poems, and as a design on consumer goods (as well as on the money with which those consumer goods are purchased).

Sakura blossoms depicted on the 100 yen coin.

Now, cherry trees are to Japan as pandas are to China; significant cultural property gifted to allies as a symbol of friendship. Japan has presented cherry trees as an act of diplomacy to Canada, Australia, The Netherlands, Germany, Turkey, and the UK, among other countries.

In other areas, sakura do not necessarily symbolize goodwill between Japan and other nations. Although cherry trees grow naturally in China and Korea, the presence of sakura trees also serves as a reminder of Japanese imperialism, as many of the most famous cherry blossom viewing sites were cultivated by the Japanese during occupation of mainland Asia. Indeed, according to Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney in her book Kamikaze, Cherry Blossoms, and Nationalisms, the Japanese planted sakura to “mark” their conquered territory in mainland Asia, thereby militarizing the aesthetic of the cherry blossom. In Korea, both cherry blossoms and the practice of hanami were introduced by the Japanese during the long and brutal period of Japanese colonization. Cherry blossom festivals continue in Korea to this day, but lingering tensions between Japan and Korea have led to the destruction of many trees.

Lastly, multitudes of cherry trees blossom and grow in Brazil due to the Japanese diaspora to South America that began in the early 1900s. Japanese immigrants to Brazil brought sakura seedlings with them. Nowadays, cherry trees are a common site in São Paolo, home of the largest Japanese community outside of Japan.

No doubt the memory of blossoming sakura and hanami picnics in springtime will follow Ishikawa JETs no matter where in the world life takes us. Thankfully, due to the spread of Japanese influence abroad, sakura have spread to other countries and, in most places, remain a symbol of international friendship, spring, and Japan worldwide. For Ishikawa JETs, the sakura we encounter outside of Japan will serve as a reminder of the times we spent in Japan and the memories we made in this country.

Karin is a second-year ALT who enjoys puns, trivia, and other annoying stuff. She had “Sakura Kiss” stuck in her head throughout edits to this post.

Konbu Tsukudani

Just made dashi and have left-over konbu and katsuobushi? Tired of eating plain rice? Konbu tsukudani is the answer.

Tsukudani is just the name for a style of cooking where the ingredients are cooked in mirin, soy sauce and sugar.


  • Leftover konbu from dashi
  • Leftover katsuobushi from dashi
  • Mirin
  • Soy Sauce
  • Sugar

The mirin : soy sauce : sugar ratio should be 2 : 2 : 1. For example, 2 tablespoons each of mirin and soy sauce with 1 tablespoon of sugar. How much of each depends on how much konbu and katsuobushi you have, so just keep tasting and see how it goes.

1. First, chop up the konbu into thin strips. Try and get them as thin as you can, kind of like seaweed julienne. Be careful while you’re cutting, as the konbu is slimy after the dashi process.

It could be thinner than this.

It could be thinner than this.

  1. Put the sliced konbu and leftover katsuobushi in a small pan and cover it with a little water. Only add enough water so it is covered. Let it simmer calmly for about 20 mins, if the water evaporates too soon then just add a little more. If the water hasn’t evaporated after 20 minutes, just leave it a little longer.
Add enough water to cover the konbu and katsuobushi.

Add enough water to cover the konbu and katsuobushi, let it simmer.

  1. When the water has evaporated, add the mirin, soy sauce and sugar. Start it at a medium heat and then turn it down low. When it has caramelised and it’s dark in colour it’s done.
Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar to the pan and wait for it to caramelise.

Add the soy sauce, mirin and sugar to the pan, stir and wait for it to caramelise.

Tsukudani is best eaten with rice, as a filling in an onigiri or just used as a topping but it tastes so good you could have it with anything (I have it with eggs). This recipe is only for konbu tsukudani but you can substitute the konbu for a number of things. At the restaurant ‘Hanbey’ in Kanazawa they serve cricket tsukudani!



Dan is a first year ALT who enjoys nothing more than a tabe-nomi houdai. He loves Japanese food, travelling and snowboarding.   

Dashi – 101

Dashi is to the Japanese as pasta is to the Italians. It’s the heart of hundreds of Japanese dishes.

Fortunately, it is not like other broths that you have to leave boiling for hours. Dashi is simple to make and only takes 20 minutes.

What you’ll need:

  • About a 10cm square piece of dried konbu, about the size of your hand.

Konbu (kelp) is a type of seaweed. It’s better to buy wild konbu as it’s more flavourful and goes further.

  • 10-15g (1 generous handful) of katsuobushi.

Katsuobushi are the fish flakes that you sprinkle over okonomiyaki. It’s Skipjack Tuna or Bonito that has been cooked, smoked, pressed, preserved into a block and then shredded.

  • 1 litre of water.

1. To begin, place the konbu in a pan with cold water. The konbu is quite tough so it needs a slow approach to release the flavour. Start with a low heat and leave the konbu to warm lightly. When the pan shows signs of boiling the konbu stage is done.

Note: If you’re a vegetarian strain out the konbu and stop here. This is a vegetarian safe dashi that still has the taste of the sea from the fragrant konbu.

Drain after it’s simmered if you’re a vegetarian.

2. Leaving the konbu in the pan, add the katsuobushi. Turn the heat up a little to bring it to a slow boil, as the fish flakes are so light it doesn’t take long for the flavour to escape and over boiling it can ruin it. After it’s started boiling, or when the flakes have sunk to the bottom, turn the heat off and let it rest for a minute.

A generous handful of katsuobushi.

3. All that’s left is to strain out the konbu and katsuobushi and it’s finished.

The finished product.

(Tip: Save the leftover konbu and katsuobushi in the fridge or freezer to make konbu tsukudani another time)

Dashi can be used for loads of other dishes, Tamagoyaki, Miso soup and as a base for Udon to name a few. You could even have it as is, enjoy!


Dan is a first year ALT who enjoys nothing more than a tabe-nomi houdai. He loves Japanese food, travelling and snowboarding.   

Hyakumangoku: One Festival to Rule Them All

This weekend, Kanazawa celebrates the 63rd Annual Hyakumangoku Festival, beginning on Friday the 6th and ending on Sunday the 8th.  The largest festival in the prefecture, it’s definitely one you should see in one capacity or another – and you’ll have many chances this weekend to get in on the action.

First, the history.  Hyakumangoku, or 百万石 in Japanese, refers to the 1,000,000 koku, (or about 5,000,000 bushels, if you know your farm measurements) of rice that Lord Toshie Maeda purportedly oversaw during his rule.  This made his domain the richest one in the Edo Period, since wealth was measured in how much food you could provide to your army back then, rather than pieces of paper with numbers printed on them.  But the purpose of the festival comes from before that time, when Maeda first moved into Kanazawa Castle to rule over present-day Ishikawa.  He and his entourage marched through the city to the castle and settled in for a good long lordship.  To symbolize this, the main parade (held on Saturday) starts from Kanzawa Station and ends at the Castle.

There’s the guy – Toshiie Maeda!

The festival activities kick off Friday evening, however, with a children’s parade and a lantern ceremony.  The children’s parade starts at 6:40 at the Shiinoki Reception Hall (the fancy building in the park across from City Hall in downtown) and circles around downtown, past Kohrinbo 109 and over to Hirosaka.  But, if you live in Kanazawa, you can go to your neighborhood’s elementary school and probably see a local parade.  The children put on happi and carry red lanterns on sticks.  Usually there’s a tiny shrine on wheels and a miniature taiko drum on the mix, too.

At 7pm on Friday there’s also a lantern ceremony at the Asanogawa, right next to the Higashi Tea District.  About 1,200 Kaga Yuzen lanterns are set into the river upstream and gently float down the river for about a kilometer or so.  People line up along the banks to enjoy the view and snap LOTs of pictures.  Get there early and be prepared for a crowded time.  But, it’s well worth it.

Hyakumangoku Matsuri : Three Days Centering on First Saturday of June

The floating lanterns on the Asanogawa River (http://www.kanazawa-tourism.com)

Saturday is the main day for the festival, with the aforementioned parade.  At 2pm, right before the parade in front of Kanazawa Station, there’s a huge taiko performance.  After they clear the drums out of the way (usually around 2:30), the procession, headed by Toshie Maeda, make their way from the Station, turning at Musashigatsugi (Omicho Market), then down to Kohrinbo, along the road in front of City Hall, the between the Castle and Kenrokuen Garden before finally entering the Castle grounds through the Ishikawa Gate.  Here’s a graphic of the route (Japanese, courtesy of http://100mangoku.net):

Hyakumangoku Parade : First Saturday of June

The parade on its way to the Castle. (http://www.kanazawa-tourism.com)

Children?  Floating lanterns?  A huge parade?  I bet you’re thinking that’s all the festival has to offer.  Well, you’re in for a surprise, because the party continues immediately following the parade, at 6pm.  That’s when the huge dance parade/party kicks off, beginning at Minamicho (near the Bunkyokaikan, for all you JETs who go to ESS events) and in Kohrinbo.  Thousands of people dressed in kimono and yukata take to the streets, dancing famous dances from Ishikawa.  Anyone can join, as the music blares through all of downtown and the dances are fairly easy to learn and imitate.  The dancing continues for about two hours, ending around 8pm.


Folks dancing up a storm after the parade. (http://100mangoku.net)

At about the same time as the dancing (from 7 – 9 ) in front of Kanazawa Castle, you can see a Noh play acted out in front of a huge bonfire.  Talk about a cool Japanese experience!

Hyakumangoku Parade (Celebration of Toshiie Maeda’s entry into Kanazawa Castle) : First Saturday of June

The torch-lit Noh performance. (http://100mangoku.net)

Finally, on Sunday, you can see traditional dancing and tea ceremonies at Kanazawa Castle Park and Kenrokuen Garden (respectively).  The Tea Ceremonies go from 8:30am to 4pm, and admittance is 1,500 yen.  The dancing (oddly enough called Bon Shogatsu, a mash-up of the two biggest Japanese holidays – the Bon festival and New Year’s) goes from 11am to 4:30pm.


Don’t miss this year’s Hyakumangoku Matsuri!  For more information, check out these useful sites:



(Japanese) http://100mangoku.net