コンビニの 年越しそばで 年を越し At the convenience store, Crossing into the new year  With New Year’s Eve soba 

New Year’s Eve soba, said to be eaten by 80% of the population. There are various theories about its origin, but during the mid-Edo period, there was a custom among Edo merchants to eat soba on the last day of every month, and only that tradition survived into the grand New Year’s Eve, becoming what we now know as ‘Toshikoshi Soba.’ December is so busy, it’s called ‘Shiwasu’ (teacher runs), and especially the last week of the year is hectic. Unlike today, stores used to be closed for the first three days of the New Year, so not only did you have to prepare Osechi dishes, but you also had to stock up on food for the three days. On the 31st, stores were open all night, and you had to go and buy any forgotten groceries. There was no time to sit down and have a leisurely meal. That’s why the tradition of quickly eating soba might have been born. In addition, there is a symbolic aspect of breaking away from the misfortunes of the past year and praying for longevity, contributing to making it a customary event on New Year’s Eve. Even now, more than 50% of people still make soba at home, but it seems that the number of people who opt for convenience store New Year’s Eve soba is increasing. With the increase in people living alone and the decline in the tradition of families gathering for meals, this shift may be attributed. However, the convenience store New Year’s Eve soba is surprisingly delicious. The tradition of Toshikoshi Soba is unlikely to disappear, but its form seems to be continually evolving.


富士の嶺に 思いを馳せる 年の暮れ   The end of the year, I gaze the peak of Mount Fuji, thinking of the future 

Amidst the abundance of entertainment programs on year-end television shows, there are scattered programs reflecting not only on the past year but also on the post-war era. Looking back on this year, domestically, the three-year-long COVID-19 pandemic seems to be finally waning. Many events that were previously canceled or scaled down have almost fully revived, and the influx of tourists from overseas has recovered to around 80% of pre-pandemic levels.
Starting with the 14-year-awaited victory in the World Baseball Classic in March, followed by the Hanshin Tigers’ first Japan Series championship in 38 years, and most notably, the astonishing performance of Ohtani-kun that captivated Japan until the year-end, the sports world has been buzzing with big news. Amidst such bright news, the political turmoil in Japan continues as usual. We must somehow exterminate the maggots that are springing up in the Nagatacho area.
Presently, Japan finds itself in a state where it significantly trails the United States and China in nominal GDP, possibly slipping to fourth place, surpassed even by Germany. Per capita GDP, standing at $34,000 in 2022, ranks 32nd globally and is the lowest among the G7 nations. The working-age population is the lowest among the G7. The prominence of “Made in Japan” is fading, and the world export share, which exceeded 10% in the peak year of 1986, has dropped to 3% in 2022. The competitiveness of major export items such as electronics and semiconductors has remained low. Beyond that, 78 years after the remarkable post-war recovery, Japan shows signs of systemic fatigue in various aspects.
Amidst this, signs of Japan’s resilience are beginning to emerge. According to Google, the most searched topics worldwide from 2004 to 2023 were related to Japan, and there are signs of a revival in the “semiconductor” sector, where Japan has maintained a high share in manufacturing equipment and materials. Above all, Japan, with its unparalleled traditions, culinary culture, and rich nature, continues to possess unique charm. It remains a popular tourist destination, securing the top spot in the “Countries Readers Want to Visit Again” category in a reader poll by the major U.S. travel magazine Condé Nast Traveler.
There is much more to discuss, but Japan seems prepared to make a leap. In the fields of economy, society, and culture, Japan may well dominate the world by the end of the 21st century. At that time, the world may truly find peace.


正月も 用意万端 百円ショップ New Year’s ready, All set with a hundred yen shop, Preparedness on point.

There’s a 100-yen shop on the second floor of the nearby supermarket. After getting a haircut, I casually dropped by, and at the entrance of the store, New Year’s goods are lined up in a cramped space. It looks just like toys, but they are practical items. It’s impressive that such products can be made for 100 yen. The market size of 100-yen shops is approximately 996.9 billion yen in sales and 9,000 stores. By the way, the market size of convenience stores is about 11.76 trillion yen in sales, with 57,000 stores. In terms of sales, it’s 1/12 of convenience stores, and in terms of the number of stores, it’s 1/6. Convenience stores and 100 yen shops have one thing in common: they have grown rapidly over the past 40 years, and they have recently been active in expanding overseas. It seems that there are one coin shops in each country, but major Japanese 100-yen shops like “Daiso,” with the signboard proudly stating “DAISO JAPAN,” make it clear that they are a Japanese brand, expressing reliability and a sense of high quality as they increase the number of stores overseas. Both convenience stores and 100-yen shops have become formidable competitors to department stores and major supermarkets. It will be interesting to watch what strategies they will adopt for their new overseas expansion.

近くのスーパーの2階に100円ショップがあります。散髪の帰り、何の気なしに立ち寄ったら、店の入口にお正月用品が所狭しと並んでいます。まるでおもちゃの様です。しかし、おもちゃではなく、れっきとした実用品です。よくこんな商品が100円でできたものだと感心します。100円ショップの市場規模は、売上高で約9969億円、店舗数で9000店舗です。因みに、コンビニの市場規模は、売上高で約11兆7,600億円、店舗数は5万7000です。 売上高はコンビニの12分の1、店舗数は6分の1と言う事になります。 コンビニも100円ショップもここ40年の間に急成長したこと、最近は海外展開に積極的な事も共通項です。各国ともワンコインショップはある様ですが、日本の100円ショップ最大手の「ダイソー」 などは、看板に「DAISO JAPAN」と日本のブランドであることを明確にし、信頼性や高品質感を表現して海外でも店舗数を増加させています。コンビニも百円ショップも今や、百貨店や大手スーパーを脅かす存在になっています。新たな海外展開に向けてどんな戦略を打ち出していくか見守っていきたいです。

青鷺が じっと見詰める コールドムーン A blue heron Illuminated by the light of the cold moon Gazing intently

Today, December 27th, marks the last full moon of the year. What’s more, it’s the 13th full moon this year. Normally, there are 12 full moons in a year. While a year consists of 365 days, the time from one new moon to the next is approximately 29.53 days. From the perspective of lunar cycles, a year is about 354 days, resulting in an 11-day difference. This difference is the reason for the variation between years with 12 and 13 full moons. Native Americans, to track seasons, assigned names to each month’s full moon based on animals, plants, and seasonal events. For example, the full moon in January is called the ‘Wolf Moon,’ and the one in December is the ‘Cold Moon.’ This tradition is still relevant in modern American agricultural practices. Recently, in Japan, there has been discussion about the names of these full moons. This year’s ‘Wolf Moon’ was on January 7th, and due to an error within the 11-day range, this year’s ‘Cold Moon’ became the 13th full moon. While the ‘Cold Moon’ officially reaches 100% brightness at 9:33 AM on December 27th, the moon won’t be visible at that time. The ‘Cold Moon’ is most captivating when it rises in the eastern sky just after the sun sets this evening.


鉄瓶を 構うものなき 師走かな A cast-iron kettle Boiling and the lid rattling No one pays it mind

The iron kettle putting on the hearth is humming. The family members are so busy that they have no time to warm themselves by the fire. This was the scene of December’s hustle until not so long ago. There are many tanka and haiku poems that depict the month of December. Among them, I particularly like the following haiku by Kobayashi Issa: ‘Yoni tsurete Shiwasuburisuru Kusaya kana.’ The meaning is something like, ‘It’s a poor thatched house that acts like it’s busy even though it’s not even busy, in keeping with the world.’
Even in poems about December, Matsuo Basho’s ‘Tabine yoshi Yadoha shiwasuno Yuuzukuyo’ conveys a more elegant sentiment. It means, ‘It’s nice to have a bed during a trip like this. I can clearly see the waxing moon in December from a good inn.’  Basho had many disciples all over the country, and while traveling in December, which would normally be a painful sleep, he was entertained at a disciple’s home and spent a nice night with a clear view of the December moon. This is a phrase that expresses gratitude for the people who are here.
After Christmas, the scenery has transformed entirely, revealing glimpses of Japan’s original landscapes scattered here and there.

囲炉裏にかけられた鉄瓶がパカパカブツブツ唸っています。家人達は囲炉裏にあたっている暇もないほど立ち働いています。一昔前までは師走はこんな風景でした。師走を詠った短歌や俳句は沢山あります。その中でも小林一茶の次の句は好きな句です。「世につれて 師走ぶりする 草家哉」。 意味は「世の中の様子につられて師走のように忙しくする草家であることよ」くらいの意味です。「草家」は草葺きの家の事で、貧しくて忙しくするようなこともない師走なのに、世間の空気につられてそわそわとしている句です。
同じ師走を詠った句でも、芭蕉の「旅寝よし 宿は師走の 夕月夜 」は、「こんな旅の途中の寝床は良いものだ。良い宿で師走の上弦の月がよく見える」と言う意味で、実に優雅な句です。全国至る所に沢山の門人がいて、師走の旅の途中にも、「旅寝」は辛いものという歌や句が多いですが、門人の家でもてなされて、師走の月もよく見える良い夜を過ごしているという感謝が込められた句です。

商戦は 年末年始に 早変わり The shopping season From Christmas to the year-end and New Year Quickly shifts

At the nearby convenience store, all traces of Christmas cake reservation ads have been completely removed, and now it’s all about New Year’s soba and osechi cuisine reservation ads. Perhaps such a scene is unique to Japan. While Japan is a nation with a very weak sense of religious affiliation, looking at it in terms of religious affiliation, Shinto has 87.9 million followers (48.5%), Buddhism has 83.9 million followers (46.3%), Christianity has 1.9 million followers (1%), and other religious groups have 7.3 million followers (4%). Despite Christians making up only 1%, Christmas is as popular in Japan as New Year’s and Obon festivals, and there are many other Christmas-related events. The major world religions have approximately 2.3 billion Christians (33%), 1.6 billion Muslims (23%), 1 billion Hindus (14%), and 500 million Buddhists (7%). This means that one in three people globally is a Christian. Islam generally prohibits Christmas, and while Hinduism does not forbid Christmas, there is not much interest in it. While it is understood that Christmas is a global event, it is evident that Japan is indeed a unique country even on a global scale.


戦場に メリークリスマス 高らかに On the battlefield Merry Christmas loudly A cry of hope

Today is Christmas Eve, and tomorrow is Christmas. In Japan, Christmas is simply called a festival. While there are various opinions, if we consider it as a festival that everyone can enjoy, then that is also a good thing. However, in Bethlehem, the Palestinian Territories, which is considered the birthplace of Jesus Christ, the annual Christmas events have been canceled in 2023 due to the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip. In previous years, a large tree was installed, and pilgrims and tourists visited in large numbers. The Christmas Mass held annually at the “Church of the Nativity,” the place where Christ is believed to have been born, has also been canceled. On the other battlefield, Ukraine will celebrate its second Christmas on the 25th since the start of Russia’s invasion. Traditionally, Ukraine, like the Russian Orthodox Church, celebrated Christmas on January 7, but this year it officially changed to December 25, aligning with Western countries. In early December, a Christmas tree appeared in front of St. Sophia’s Cathedral in the capital, Kyiv, and amid a dramatic rise in anti-Russian sentiment, a “Western-style” way of life is taking root among the citizens. However, Russia’s attacks on Ukraine have intensified. On Christmas Day, air raid sirens will likely continue throughout Ukraine. In many Christian countries, while celebrating Christmas, there are also anticipated protests against the atrocities unfolding in Palestine and Ukraine.


山茶花の 霜がお髭の サンタクロース Frosty camellias Like Santa Claus’s beard Christmas is here

With Christmas tomorrow, the entire nation of Japan is bathed in Christmas colors. Whether you turn on the TV for news or entertainment shows, the talk is all about Christmas. Even the girls in the hip-hop class at the gym I always go to are dancing with reindeer headbands on. In the morning, camellia flowers in full red bloom are also dressed in frost, resembling Santa Claus. Christmas in Japan, where Christians make up only 1%, seems quite unique.
The celebration of Christmas in Japan is said to have started in 1552 during the Muromachi period, with the Nativity festival held in Yamaguchi at the request of Xavier. Although interrupted during the Edo period, it revived in the Meiji era, and with the confluence of Westernization and commercialization, Christmas became even more popular. While Japan is currently one of the countries that do not designate Christmas as a national holiday, did you know that from 1927 (Showa 2) to 1947 (Showa 22), Christmas was a holiday for 21 years?
Of course, this holiday was not specifically for Christmas but rather for the Taisho Emperor’s festival following the death of Emperor Taisho. Thanks to this holiday, Christmas customs had the opportunity to spread even further.


夜長がピーク 冬至と聞けば 気が晴れて The long night peaks, Upon hearing of winter solstice, Clearing my mind.

Today is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year with the least daylight. Due to Japan’s north-south expanse, daylight hours vary across the country. In Tokyo, the daylight duration on the winter solstice is 9 hours and 45 minutes, while on the summer solstice, it is 14 hours and 35 minutes – a difference of 4 hours and 50 minutes. In the northern city of Nemuro, situated at a higher latitude, the difference is 6 hours and 25 minutes, whereas in Malacca, located near the equator at approximately 2 degrees north latitude, the difference is only 15 minutes. These natural environmental variations likely contribute to regional and cultural differences.
By the way, the Antarctic region is currently experiencing continuous daylight during its summer. Surprisingly, today is the winter solstice, not the summer solstice. Although it may be a bit complex, solstices are defined in astronomy.
I saw scenes on TV of people throwing yuzu (citrus fruit) into hot bathwater, a traditional practice for this day. There seems to be a habit of eating Nanjing too. As we head into the heart of winter, knowing that daylight hours will gradually increase starting tomorrow brings a clear and uplifting feeling.


初雪と 聞いて気が急く 師走かな Upon hearing the first snow My heart hastens – the year-end hustle Midwinter is finally here

According to the meteorological agency, it has been reported that the first snowfall in Osaka was observed on December 21. This observation is five days earlier than the average and two days earlier than last year. However, this is the first snowfall that many people in Osaka don’t notice. In the present day, with the prevalence of meteorological instruments for measurements, it turns out that even this first snowfall was not detected by such instruments. The observation of Osaka’s first snowfall relies on the “visual inspection” of the meteorological staff at the weather station. Speaking of which, the first snowcap on Mount Fuji is also determined not by instruments installed at its summit but through visual observation from the Yamanashi Meteorological Observatory located at the foothills of Mount Fuji. Although television broadcasts provide detailed weather forecasts using the world’s fastest computer, “Fugaku,” in recent times, it is said that in meteorological information, while instrument-based data is accurate, the element of “human perception” is not entirely disregarded. This fact is somewhat reassuring and intriguing.

気象台などによりますと、12月21日に大阪で初雪が観測されたということです。 観測は平年より5日早く、去年より2日早い観測だということです。といっても大阪の多くの人が気付かない初雪です。観測機器による気象測定が主流になっている現在、実はこの初雪も観測機器では観測されなかったそうです。大阪の初雪は気象台の人の「目視」による観測で決まるそうです。そう言えば、富士山の初冠雪も頂上に設置された観測機器に寄るのではなく、富士山の裾野にある山梨気象台から目視して決まるそうです。最近、テレビでは天気予報が盛んに放送され、実に詳しいですが、この天気予報には世界最速のコンピュータ「富岳」が使われています。気象情報においては、観測機器による情報は正確ですが、一方では「人の感覚」をゼロにすることはないと言われているそうですから、なんだかホッとしますし、面白いです。