Koichi Wakata

On March 18, astronaut Koichi Wakata arrived at the International Space Station to begin his three-month space sojourn — the longest ever for a Japanese spaceman. Although much of Wakata’s time in space will be devoted to official research and maintenance duties, he plans to set aside a little free time for 16 offbeat experiments proposed by the Japanese public.

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) selected the extra experiments from nearly 1,600 proposals they received after asking the public what tests they would like to see performed in space. The 16 experiments are listed here as questions posed to Wakata.

1. Calisthenics: Is it possible to follow an audio-guided workout program in zero gravity?

2. Backflips: On Earth, backflips take a lot of practice and leg strength. How about in zero gravity?

3. Volleying (soccer): Crumple a piece of paper into a ball and try kicking it around. How does the ball behave in zero gravity? Can you volley it?

4. Push-ups: In space, can you do push-ups while facing the ceiling or walls?

5. Cartwheels: In zero gravity, can you rotate yourself continuously like a windmill?

6. Swimming: Try to swim through the air as if you were in water. Can you move forward by swimming? If not, why not?

7. Spin like an ice skater: On Earth, ice skaters can increase their rotation speed by pulling their arms closer in to the body while they spin. Does the same thing happen in zero gravity? If so, what is the reason?

8. Folding clothes: In space, can you fold clothes and put them away as you do on Earth? It seems that the shirt sleeves would be difficult to keep in place. What is the best way to fold clothes in space?

9. Magic carpet: Try to sit on a floating carpet. Magic carpets are a fantasy on Earth, but are they possible in space?

10. Water gun: On Earth, if you squeeze a drink bag, a single stream of liquid shoots out through the straw hole and falls to the ground. How does the liquid behave in zero gravity?

11. Eye drops: On Earth, you have to face upward to put eye drops into your eyes. Is there a better way to do this in zero gravity?

12. Propulsion through space: When floating in zero gravity, how much power do you need in order to propel yourself around? Can you move simply by blowing air from your mouth or by flapping a hand-fan?

The next four activities are to be performed by two people:

13. Arm wrestling
14. Shaking hands
15. Sumo
16. Tug-of-war

JAXA plans to release videos of Wakata’s experiments in July.

Related Links
Koichi Wakata’s Underpants

[Source: JAXA]

SnowJapan – Exclusive interview with Andrew Lea

We sat down with Andrew Lea of SnowJapan.com for a little Q&A and to get his thoughts on the snow and slopes. Here’s what he had to say…

Why did you start SnowJapan?

Since I arrived in Japan I thought that with so many great ski areas, it was a real shame that there wasn’t any information available in English. So during my fourth year as an AET I put together a printed guide called “Ski Niigata”.

The booklet was a 64 page guide to the resorts in the Yuzawa and Myoko areas of Niigata prefecture that I had been to. It consisted of some general information about the ski resorts in the area, some travel information and a page with a review of each of the ski resorts in the region.

That guide was distributed to more than 200 AETs and other foreigners living in Niigata at that time.

The response was very positive and it was reprinted the year after, with the Niigata Prefectural Office helping with distribution.

I didn’t know at the time, but I suppose that was the first step.


What information do you provide? What else can be found on the site besides information?

While there is a lot of information on the site that is always being added to, there is also a very active and friendly community that has grown up over the last 6 or 7 years. The main focus of that community is our Forums: http://www.snowjapanforums.com, but also with things like the Photo section and Resort Reviews etc. The Forums are a generally very friendly and welcoming place with lots of people based in Japan and overseas. If people ask a question, someone usually gets back within minutes with an answer.

What is considered the best place in Japan for professional skiers, boarders, or other sports?

Since I started the site in 1999, Niseko in Hokkaido has always got a lot of focus especially from overseas due to it’s excellent snow conditions. However, other places offer steeper terrain though, for example, places like Hakuba in Nagano which is also not gaining a lot of attention from overseas. Having said that official ski and snowboarding events take place in various resorts throughout the country each season.

Same question..but for beginners?

I think just about anywhere! Beginners are very well catered for at ski resorts in Japan with most resorts having at least a few beginner runs. With over 500 resorts up and down the country, the choice really is enormous.

As a visitor what else is there that you shouldn’t miss when visiting the towns that have winter sports? Is there anything or place of note that might be unusual?

My personal recommendations would be onsen hot springs which you can often find near resorts.
I am also fond of those Snow Monkeys near Shiga Kogen in Nagano – which also happens to be one of my favorite ski resorts – and they are well worth a visit.

What’s considered the best onsen/winter sports resort?

That’s a difficult question to answer as it will depend on your needs. Like I said there are many good resorts in Japan and for most people lots of them would be a great day out. In terms of fame and size, places like Niseko, Furano and Rusutsu in Hokkaido, the towns of Yuzawa and Myoko in Niigata, Hakuba, Shiga Kogen and Nozawa Onsen in Nagano. But the list goes on…..! My personal recommendation would be to try out different places rather than just stay at one place for a longer time as there is just so much variety out there.

My favorites are Nozawa Onsen, Shiga Kogen (both in Nagano), Yamagata Zao Onsen (Yamagata) and Maiko (Niigata).

What should anyone bring with them is there a check list for say skiing or boarding?

Wrap up well and look forward to having a lot of fun! If at all possible keep an eye on the weather forecasts. (We offer detailed weekly snow and weather forecasts for most resorts on our site). Especially for beginners, weather and snow conditions can make a lasting impression! Bring a camera too. It might also be worth keeping in mind that often Japanese resorts have stricter policies concerning backcountry and off-piste skiing than many overseas resorts.


What the best deal for getting out of Tokyo to the mountains?

Yuzawa in Niigata is probably the easiest place to get to from Tokyo – just 80 minutes or so direct on the Joetsu Shinkansen. Some bus tour companies as well as JR offer some special day-trip deals, and being so close a day trip really is possible. That isn’t the only choice though with resorts in Nagano, Gunma, Niigata, Tochigi and more all possible day trips. If you have a few days then you could choose from many many resorts.

What would you share with our readers about SnowJapan?

One thing we would like people using our site to know is that we are independent – meaning that we’re not trying to promote any one area and we do not offer tours or own hotels etc. The concept is to introduce Japanese winter sports to our readership, and we are always trying to add more information and introduce places throughout Japan – not just the most popular places, but less well-known ones as well. It’s also important that people can trust our daily reporting – so for example if the snow conditions are bad, we will say that rather than leave it out (or even worse say something other than the truth!) We simply wish to give an unbiased and fair account of ‘Japan winter sports’. I believe that to be one of the strengths of the site and the reason why such an active and friendly community has built up around it over the last 8 years. We’ll continue developing and growing the site and hope to welcome more regular members in the coming months and years.

I’d also encourage people who have never skied or snowboarded to give it a go. Not many other countries can offer such ease of access to the mountains, so if you are in Japan it’s a perfect opportunity to take it up. Enjoy the winter!

Please visit www.snowjapan.com and www.snowjapanforums.com for more information. Photos courtesy of SnowJapan.



Yosui Inoue

Yosui Inoue (井上陽水)

Yōsui Inoue (井上陽水 Inoue Yōsui?) (born August 30, 1948 ) is an influential Japanese singer-songwriter, and record producer, who is an important figure in Japanese music. As a recording artist, Inoue has had a commercially successful career, having sold more than 20 million records. He began performing in 1969.

The Shrines of General Nogi and the Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shokan

The serenity of General Nogi’s shrine overwhelmed me. It is nestled amongst the concrete jungle of the city. It’s an oasis of peace and calm and filled with landscaped grounds. The silence was broken by the occasional shuffling of feet or the chirping of birds. Two huge sets of Torii and guardian lions lead the way to his shrine. The son of a samurai family he pursued a military career culminating in his victory over the Russians.

On site is a small museum dedicated to preserving his memory. On exhibit are his rifles, saddle, medals, gold watches, and a myriad of photographs and scrolls/citations.

Regrettably, there isn’t much information available in English but don’t let that stop you from visiting the Nogi Shrine.  There is a plaque however in English and Japanese describing his house and stables. He was very proud of his horses. There’s a walkway wrapped around his house that lets you peak inside. It sounds morbid, doesn’t it? It’s a little eerie to say the least. His house has been left as is.

The grounds are lovely, immaculate, and inviting, and are a testament to Japanese gardening. The shrine and its surroundings, I found, express an inherent Japanese sensibility, which is bestowing honour amongst its beloved.

Two stops away on the Tozai line is the Meiji shrine. It’s definitely worth a visit. It’s situated amidst a beautiful park and wood lots. It’s breathtaking and evoking the splendor and glory of Japan’s former emperor who was at the helm of its transformation into a powerful, modern nation along with his devoted General Nogi. The Toriis marking the way to the Meiji shrine are imposing. They must be the tallest in the land. The grounds are immaculate. I thought the park must be an oasis for the people of Tokyo from the stress of city life.

There’s a plaque along the way to the shrine that cites a poem of Emperor Meiji, which hints at his essence. Here it is:

By gaining the good and rejecting what is wrong, it is our desire that we’ll compare favourably with other lands abroad.
Poem by Emperor Meiji

Emperor Meiji was a shining light in the modernization of his country by embracing Western ways and customs. He cut off his topknot and donned Western clothes.

The soul of the Meiji emperor and his consort’s are enshrined here. If you wish, for 500 Yen, you can purchase a votive plaque, an ema, and write out a wish or wishes, which are then offered up by the Shinto priests.

I walked over to the Treasure House, which houses artifacts belonging to the Emperor and his Empress. Regrettably, it was closed today. Perhaps, I thought I’ll get another chance to visit. Nevertheless, I very much enjoyed my visits to the Meiji and Nogi Shrines and came away with a deeper understanding of Japanese history.

Originally posted on ThingsAsian.