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UNESCO: 8 Languages in Japan Could Disappear

Ainu Man

With only 15 speakers left, the Ainu language is “critically endangered” while seven other languages in Japan are also at risk of disappearing, according to a UNESCO report.

These eight languages in Japan are among about 2,500 around the world that have become or could become extinct, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s report said.

UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger listed eight languages in Japan, such as the Ainu language, as independent tongues under international standards rather than indigenous dialects, an official with Paris-based UNESCO said.

In addition to Hokkaido, the Ainu language used to be widely spoken in Russia’s Sakhalin as well as the Chishima island chain off the coast of Hokkaido, including the Northern Territories. But the speakers there have died out.

“Few people speak Ainu in everyday life,” said the Sapporo-based Foundation for Research and Promotion of Ainu Culture.

The seven other endangered languages in Japan are Yaeyama, Yonaguni, Okinawa, Kunigami, Miyako in Okinawa Prefecture, Amami in Kagoshima Prefecture, and Hachijo in Tokyo. The first six languages are spoken on the Nansei island chain, which stretches from north of Taiwan and south of Kyushu, and Hachijo in Tokyo’s Hachijojima island and nearby islets.

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Asahi Shimbun • Sunday February 22, 2009 • SocietyAdd Comment

Keio's Man Ahead of his Time

40904-0081 - Yukichi Fukuzawa

Next time you come by a ¥10,000 bill, take a look at the face of Yukichi Fukuzawa (1835-1901) that appears on the front, for he was a most remarkable man.

In October 1858, Fukuzawa, then a 23-year-old samurai, opened a small school of Western science (known as “Dutch studies,” because the textbooks were from Holland) in Edo, present-day Tokyo. In 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration, when the Emperor was made head of state after the overthrow of the feudal Tokugawa Shogunate, the school was named Keio Gijuku after the name Keio then given to that era. In 1918 it became Keio University, the first private university in Japan.

To mark its 150th anniversary, the school is now holding an exhibition focused on the ideas and achievements of Fukuzawa, one of the iconic intellectuals of modern Japan.

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The Japan Times • Saturday February 21, 2009 • HistoryAdd Comment

This Is Their Youth

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Young adults in Japan are unemployed, disenchanted, and depressed. A surprising number refuse to leave their rooms. Director Hiyao Miyazaki says that even his own movies like “My Neighbor Totoro” could be harming the country’s youth. Roland Kelts talks to poet Misumi Mizuki, novelist Ryu Murakami, and other artists to understand why. And he finds something surprising: Japan’s troubled youth might be changing the country for the better.

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Kurt Andersen • Friday February 20, 2009 • SocietyAdd Comment

Japanese Toy Travels Back in Time

Bandai Showa Ginza Diorama

The past few years, Japan has embarked on a nostalgic trip back to the Showa Era (1926-1989). People conveniently forget the terrors and destruction of war, debilitating poverty, discrimination of minorities and the high crime rates of this period, and instead focus on an imagined utopia. Most of the nostalgia has expressed itself in books and movies, but toys are increasingly traveling back in time as well.

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• Thursday February 12, 2009 • TrendsAdd Comment

Military Prostitution and the U.S. Military in Asia

US Helicopter

Where there are soldiers, there are women who exist for them. This is practically a cliché. History is filled with examples of women as war booty and “camp followers,” their bodies being used for service labor of various kinds, including sex. Contrary to common assumptions in the West, prostitution is not “part of Asian culture.” Just about every culture under the sun has some version of it during times of war and times of peace.

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Katharine H.S. Moon • Wednesday February 11, 2009 • SocietyAdd Comment [6]

100 Days of Concerts to Re-Open Akihabara's Pedestrian Heaven

It is 8 months since Akihabara’s popular pedestrian heaven was closed because of the murder spree. Fuji News Network reports on a group of Akihabara fans who are holding concerts at a small venue in Akihabara for 100 days to encourage re-opening the pedestrian heaven. I hope they succeed. We already lost the pedestrian heaven of Harajuku, and now only Ginza’s is left in Tokyo.

• Monday February 2, 2009 • SocietyAdd Comment

Will Japanese Men Start Giving Chocolate on Valentine's Day?

Gyaku Choco

Since the custom of giving chocolate on Valentine’s Day was first promoted in Japan in the 1960s, it has always been the women who have been doing the giving. Usually to men they are clearly not in love with, like a boss or a male colleague. Men get their chance to return the favor on the later invented White Day, held on March 14th. Now confectionery giant Morinaga believes that men are ready to initiate the gift exchange.

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• Sunday February 1, 2009 • TrendsAdd Comment [2]