A Brave General

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Maresuke Nogi was a Japanese military general who was born in 1849 and died on September 13, 1912 aged 62. He commanded an army at the Battle of Port Arthur in 1904 and 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. Most of the world expected Russia to win, but General Nogi’s army won! However, General Nogi lost a lot of his men in the battle and he felt lots of guilt for this, so when he returned to Japan he went to the Emperor and asked permission to commit ritual suicide (seppuku in Japanese) because he felt he owed it to his men and he didn’t want to live with this guilt. But the Emperor liked General Nogi and didn’t want one of his best generals to commit suicide. So he said that Nogi wasn’t allowed to commit suicide while he, the Emperor was still alive (we don’t really know if he actually meant what he said or if it was just a way of saying ‘I forbid you to commit suicide’). Of course General Nogi always obeyed the Emperor and so he didn’t commit ritual suicide at that time.
Then in 1912 the Emperor died and on the very same day that the Emperor’s funeral was held, General Nogi and his wife both committed ritual suicide. His wife cut her throat with a short sword (this was the wife of a samurai’s way of doing ritual suicide) but men committed suicide differently to women, so instead of using a short sword General Nogi used a long katana sword, and instead of cutting his throat he cut open his stomach and pulled out his guts and waited to die. Not a very nice way to go!
So that was how one of Japan’s best generals died. And after he died a shrine was built on the land where he had lived and the area was re-named Nogizaka (Nogi’s Slope). Also, his house has been preserved and you can look in through the window and see the ‘death room’! So General Nogi is still remembered as a hero to this day in Japan. And strangely (at least to Westerners) his shrine – Nogi Shrine – is really popular for weddings!
If a famous general had behaved in this way in the West, I wonder how we would think of him now? Would we think that he was a hero and want to get married at his shrine?

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Ms. Junco Chihara

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This Japanese woman isn’t quite what she seems. Her name is Junco Chihara but she’s actually a robot – an android who works on the information desk in the Aqua City Mall on Odaiba, Tokyo. She is not yet advanced enough to answer questions that you ask her directly, but you can use a touch screen next to her that has a selection of pre-programmed questions that you can choose from. As well as asking her about the Mall, and about transport and tourist information, you can also ask her questions about herself and her life. Some of the answers are quite strange, for example she doesn’t like avocados, her favourite food is melon and she is a late riser and only gets up at 9am!

Yakuza Tattoos

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These guys are gangsters! In Japanese they are called yakuza and they often have full body tattoos all over their bodies except on their faces and necks, wrists and hands, and ankles and feet – this is so they can wear a long sleeved top and long trousers to hide the tattoos. They want to hide them because first of all they want to be a little secret about their identity, and secondly because in Japan it is traditionally considered that only criminals have tattoos. Of course, that’s what these guys are – criminals!
Because the tattoos can’t usually be seen, if you walk around Japan you usually won’t know if you meet a yakuza. You might meet a guy and not know at all if he’s a yakuza or a perfectly normal man! The yakuza only reveal themselves at certain festivals (like the Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo where this photo was taken) where they pose for photos with nothing on except for a loincloth and show off their tattoos. When they do this they are friendly and safe to talk to (as long as you’re are polite and respectful!) – just normal people if you overlook the tattoos! Yakuza tattoos are usually really high quality and very artistic.
At other times the yakuza might come to your store and say, “give us some money or something bad may happen to your store,” and they kind of control some areas of the city or town they live in . They work in gangs in entertainment areas mostly, and even have offices! But the police don’t often arrest them. It seems that they don’t really see them even though they know they are there. And there are so many that it seems that it is impossible for the police to arrest them all to stop the criminal activities!