Hokkaido temple seeks to rediscover the spirit of community

The Japan Times

NEMURO, HOKKAIDO – A Buddhist temple in Nemuro, Hokkaido, is seeking to redefine its role in the community amid a rapid decline in followers. Nemuro Betsuin Temple of the Shin Buddhism Otani sect began a series of meetings with volunteers last June under the moderation of Ryo Yamazaki, 42, a self-styled community designer, to re-evaluate the temple's functions. Around 40 people attended the fifth meeting, held recently at the temple. A range of events have been tried, including live music, and finally it was decided that the temple should host a cafe. The upbeat meetings energized participants, especially elderly people.


Gifu women turn plastic waste found on beaches into accessories

The Japan Times

Four women in Tajimi, Gifu Prefecture, are creating ornaments made from plastic fragments collected at beaches in Aichi Prefecture, selling them amid growing global concerns over the microplastic waste in the ocean. The women, all in their 20s, say they hope people will have an opportunity to become aware of environmental issues on a daily basis by wearing the accessories. "I was wondering if there is a way to contribute to society through making ornaments," said Hinako Yamazaki, 23, who leads the project. In April, Yamazaki came up with the idea of using microplastics and other plastic garbage when her friend who lives in the coastal city of Chita, Aichi Prefecture, told her that beaches are filled with plastic waste. She went to a beach and was surprised to see plastic debris mixed in the sand.


Premium Friday campaign kicks off in effort to boost consumer spending

The Japan Times

Starting Friday, many workers in Japan, notorious for its culture of overwork, will have a chance to start the weekend early, albeit once a month, for a trip to an onsen (hot springs), a shopping spree or simply dining out with family and friends. The Premium Friday campaign, launched by the government and business lobby Keidanren, calls on workers to leave the office at around 3 p.m. on the last Friday of each month. Aimed at boosting consumption and curbing long working hours, businesses are hoping to cash in on the move, offering a variety of new services and products. With high expectations that a longer weekend will encourage people to travel, Japan's largest airline, All Nippon Airways Co., is offering 1,000 people up to a ¥10,000 discount for domestic flights scheduled to depart on Friday with further promotions planned. "We hope this will encourage people to rest and to leave the office earlier," said an ANA spokeswoman.


Former astronaut Naoko Yamazaki hopeful for commercial space travel

The Japan Times

The year 2019 marks 50 years since the first humans landed on the moon in 1969 as part of NASA's Apollo 11 lunar mission. Former astronaut Naoko Yamazaki hopes to open Asia's first spaceport, which will serve as a hub for space planes for travelers, in Japan as early as 2021. She believes that a new age of space tourism where ordinary people, not only astronauts, will be able to travel beyond Earth is just around the corner. In July, she co-founded the Space Port Japan Association, an organization to support efforts to open spaceports in Japan through collaboration with companies, groups and government institutions. "There are rocket launching sites in Japan, but what we are envisioning is a spaceport where tourists will be able to leave for space, just like hopping onto an airplane to travel abroad, and return to Earth," Yamazaki, who is one of 11 Japanese astronauts who have been to space, told The Japan Times in a recent interview.


Regional underdog shows Japanese banks how to beat demographics

The Japan Times

Critics say Kochi Shinkin Bank has lost its way and is acting more like an investment firm than a regional lender. Supporters say it shows that provincial banks can thrive in Japan even as their customer base shrinks, so long as they're prepared to adopt new business models. The bank's president, Kurumi Yamazaki, steers clear of the wider debate. Sitting in her office at the bank's headquarters -- a modern five-story building sheathed in glass and stone -- Yamazaki says she's focused on maximizing returns for customers. This means maintaining services and offering above-average interest on deposits.