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Begin Japanology Season 5

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Season 05, Episode 01 Ekiden

S05 E01

Jan 12, 2012
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Ekiden Jan 12, 2012 Ekiden is a long-distance relay race. Instead of a baton, a sash is handed off. This sash is the secret to ekiden's widespread appeal in Japan; it is a symbol of perseverance and selfless duty.Ekiden's inventor was Japan's first Olympian. He ran the marathon but passed out before reaching the finish line. This defeat drove him to create an event that could produce world-class Japanese runners.There are various ekiden events, and the most grueling is the Mt. Fuji Ekiden. Teams of six run from the foot of Mt. Fuji to the summit and back down again - in four hours!There are also high school ekiden championships. Forty years ago, one team was on the verge of being disbanded, until an inspiring coach took over and turned them into national champions.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at ekiden - a unique Japanese athletic event that reveals what makes the Japanese tick.

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Season 05, Episode 02 Batteries

S05 E02

Jan 19, 2012
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Batteries Jan 19, 2012 Batteries... We use them so often that we hardly even think about it. Mobile phones, cameras, portable audio players - even your car keys might have a battery inside.Japan makes 4.8 billion batteries every year, and the Japanese have a long history of battery breakthroughs, from recent advances in rechargeable batteries to what may have been the world's first dry-cell battery over 120 years ago.Recently, electric car batteries have been used not just for driving, but as power sources for entire homes.After the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, supplies of water and electricity were cut off in many parts of northeastern Japan. Batteries played a key role in helping evacuees.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is batteries. We'll see how these small sources of power, invented in this small island nation, have transformed the lives of its people.

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Season 05, Episode 03 Cafes

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Jan 26, 2012
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Cafes Jan 26, 2012 People the world over love to enjoy a cup of coffee in a cafe. Japan is no different.Cafes first appeared in Japan in the late 19th century, and they have continued to evolve with changes in society. The country currently has 80,000 cafes and consumes more coffee than either France or Italy!But Japanese cafes don't just serve coffee; many offer a wide range of special themes and extra features - like "cat cafes," where you can enjoy some feline companionship, or "maid cafes," where customers are served and entertained by women in maid outfits.As Japanese society ages, "community cafes" are becoming a vital way for older citizens to find good company.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at cafes. In Japan, they are more than just a place to have a cup of coffee; they are a unique and fascinating world in their own right.

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Season 05, Episode 04 Hot Water Bottles and Pocket Warmers

S05 E04

Feb 2, 2012
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Hot Water Bottles and Pocket Warmers Feb 2, 2012 Hot water bottles and pocket warmers are just the thing for Japan's cold winters. Hot water bottles first came to Japan from China in the 16th century. The first pocket warmers are thought to have been devised in Japan as far back as the 12th century.From the age of the shoguns through the Second World War to the present day, the materials and design of hot water bottles have reflected the changing times. Today, hot water bottles and pocket warmers come in all shapes and sizes and are used not only to keep warm, but also to improve blood circulation and relax stiff shoulders.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is hot water bottles and pocket warmers. We'll see what these traditional heating devices reveal about Japanese ingenuity.

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Season 05, Episode 05 Ikebana

S05 E05

Feb 9, 2012
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Ikebana Feb 9, 2012 Ikebana: the traditional Japanese art of flower arranging. Each elegant arrangement is made with seasonal flowers and plants cut to perfection.The idea of using flowers as decoration first came to Japan 1,500 years ago, along with Buddhism. Flower arrangements were given as offerings to the Buddha, and Buddhist priests formalized the techniques that would become known as ikebana.In time, flower arranging became deeply rooted in Japanese life. Today, Japan has more than 2,000 schools of ikebana. Inside the home, people arrange flowers in ways that embody the changing seasons.Ikebana has a saying: "The flowers are your soul." Like other traditional Japanese arts, ikebana attaches great importance to formal etiquette and self-reflection. But that doesn't mean modern ikebana artists aren't creating bold new arrangements.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is ikebana. We'll trace ikebana's history and explore the Japanese aesthetic that comes to life in this art form.

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Season 05, Episode 06 Excavators

S05 E06

Feb 16, 2012
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Excavators Feb 16, 2012 Today, 80% of the world's excavators are built from Japanese designs. There's hardly a country in the world where Japanese excavators haven't made a contribution.And Japanese engineers continue to design innovative excavators - ones that can do much more than just shovel dirt. One state-of-the-art model has a versatile pair of arms; it's essentially a robot! And some models have such precise control that they can hold brushes and write Japanese calligraphy!One watershed moment in Japan came when a new kind of excavator greatly accelerated infrastructure development in the run-up to the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.In Cambodia, where land mines left over from past conflict often injure and kill people, one Japanese man modified an excavator so that it could save lives.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is excavators. Through an examination of these machines, we'll dig deep into Japanese craft expertise.

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Season 05, Episode 07 Woods & Forests

S05 E07

Feb 23, 2012
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Woods & Forests Feb 23, 2012 Forests have covered Japan since ancient times, and today they make up about 70% of the country's land area. Forests have long been vital to the Japanese way of life.Even the center of Tokyo has a large and famous man-made forest! It was created almost 100 years ago, meticulously designed and planted to keep itself going just like a natural forest.For centuries in Japan, cutting down trees has led to environmental degradation and even natural disaster. But the Japanese have always responded with passionate efforts to save and revive their forests.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is woods and forests. By exploring the long relationship between the Japanese and their forests, and their efforts to protect them, we'll discover how the Japanese think about nature.

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Season 05, Episode 08 Japanophiles - Dhugal Lindsay

S05 E08

Mar 1, 2012
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Japanophiles - Dhugal Lindsay Mar 1, 2012 This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan.Dhugal Lindsay is an Australian haiku poet. Lindsay's haiku, written in Japanese, have been acclaimed even by other Japanese haiku poets.But there is a very different side to Lindsay. He is also a marine biologist. Lindsay specializes in research on organisms that live thousands of meters under the sea. Jellyfish are one example.Lindsay first visited Japan in 1991 as an exchange student. By sheer coincidence, the mother of his homestay family was a famous haiku poet. Lindsay composed haiku as he studied the Japanese language. His first haiku collection was published in 2001 and won him a prestigious poetry prize.The worlds of marine biology and haiku might seem unrelated. But to Lindsay, both are essential parts of his identity.

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Season 05, Episode 09 Japanophiles - Richard Emmert

S05 E09

Mar 8, 2012
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Japanophiles - Richard Emmert Mar 8, 2012 This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan.Noh theater is one of Japan's great traditional performing arts.Today's Japanophile is Richard Emmert, an American Noh actor. Emmert has lived in Japan for 39 years, and Noh has been his overriding passion. He himself says that he is "married to Noh."Emmert first became interested in Noh theater as an undergraduate in the States. He took a seminar about Noh and ended up playing the lead in a production put on by the instructor.Now a professor of the performing arts in Japan, Emmert has written books about Noh, led international Noh workshops, and even directed English-language Noh plays. He's actually working on one now about Elvis Presley!Drawing on his boundless love of Noh, Richard Emmert offers fascinating insights into this unique and profound art form.

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Season 05, Episode 10 Japanophiles - Art Lee

S05 E10

Mar 15, 2012
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Japanophiles - Art Lee Mar 15, 2012 This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan.The taiko is Japan's own traditional style of drum. These days, it's widely performed on occasions ranging from religious festivals to concerts for paying audiences. And Art Lee, an American, is a master of this percussion instrument.Lee began taiko drumming when he was 17 years old. His talent soon led to recruitment by a prominent Japan-based taiko troupe. Just a year after taking up the instrument, Lee found himself performing in Carnegie Hall.In 2005, Lee was the first foreigner to be awarded the highest prize at the prestigious Tokyo International Taiko Contest. Behind his success, you'll find a rigorous training regimen and his supportive wife, Yukari, who worked hard to become a member of Lee's own taiko troupe.This time, we meet Art Lee, listen to his unique sound, and experience his passion for percussion.

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Season 05, Episode 11 Japanophiles - Philip Harper

S05 E11

Mar 29, 2012
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Japanophiles - Philip Harper Mar 29, 2012 This month, we present a special talk-show series called Japanophiles, featuring lively interviews with foreigners living in Japan.Sake is an alcoholic drink brewed from rice and water. It is quintessentially Japanese, but with its rich flavor, refined over centuries, it has recently achieved worldwide popularity.Brewers create sake's characteristic flavor using traditional techniques that date back to the 1600s. The master brewer is the boss of a brewery, and Philip Harper is the only foreign master sake brewer in all of Japan.Harper was born in 1966 in England. At the age of 22, while teaching English in Japan, he drank a glass of sake that changed his life. He has now been involved in sake brewing for over two decades.Harper's prize-winning sake is known for its fruity bouquets and for how it captures the sweetness of rice.Harper uses every ounce of his skill to make the sake he sees in his mind's eye a reality. His quest is to produce the ultimate Japanese sake.

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Season 05, Episode 12 Kabuki

S05 E12

Apr 5, 2012
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Kabuki Apr 5, 2012 Kabuki is one of Japan's best-known traditional performing arts. It combines elements of theater, dance, and music. In 2009, it was recognized as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.Dazzling costumes, striking makeup, and graceful movement... Kabuki acting is highly stylized, and the audience appreciates the many conventions. But Kabuki isn't stuffy. There are thrilling fight scenes and elaborate set designs. Audience members call out the names of the various houses of Kabuki actors.Kabuki was born in the early 17th century. It can be traced to a former shrine maiden with a very unusual style of dancing.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at Kabuki. Its timeless appeal rests on a unique sense of beauty and a great generosity of spirit.

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Season 05, Episode 13 Wild Vegetables

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Apr 12, 2012
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Wild Vegetables Apr 12, 2012 Wild vegetables have long been served at the Japanese dining table. With their great variety and low calorie count, they have recently become popular as health foods. But they also play important roles in long-established annual and seasonal rituals.In the 18th century, during a period of famine, one feudal lord realized that although crops were not sprouting, wild vegetables were. He commissioned a guidebook that gave people life-saving advice on how to gather and eat plants found in the wild.Wild vegetables don't only grow in the wilderness; some people enjoy gathering them in urban areas. There are even schools that share traditional knowledge about wild vegetables with their students.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is wild vegetables. We'll see how Japan's food culture has embraced what nature has to offer.

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Season 05, Episode 14 Horses

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Apr 19, 2012
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Horses Apr 19, 2012 Since ancient times, there has been a belief in Japan that horses are messengers of the gods, or even gods themselves. Samurai shared their fate with their loyal horses; riding a brave steed was a great honor.The horse breeds that have been in Japan the longest are small in stature. They are known for their gentle nature, and people have always loved them.These days, the focus is on thoroughbreds. Horse racing in Japan boasts the world's highest revenues and has created many famous horses.The Japanese see parallels between horse racing and life, and they identify closely with stirring stories. One crowd favorite was a horse that racked up a perfect career record...of zero wins!On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is horses. We look at horse-related rituals and traditions, and the way the Japanese have interacted with horses, as we seek a deeper understanding of their importance in Japanese culture.

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Season 05, Episode 15 Massage Chairs

S05 E15

Apr 26, 2012
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Massage Chairs Apr 26, 2012 In Japan, stress is a part of life. Giving and receiving massages, particularly shoulder massages, is a Japanese institution. And over the last several decades, the massage chair has become an equally important part of Japanese life.The world's first massage chair was invented in Osaka in 1950. Its creator was an amateur inventor who wanted his frail daughter to be able to have a shoulder massage, even when he wasn't around.Since then, massage chair technology has come a long way. The latest models can massage the whole body, and they use technologies like computers, optic sensors, and pneumatic pumps.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is massage chairs. We look at their state-of-the-art Japanese engineering and their little-known history.

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Season 05, Episode 16 Shikoku Pilgrimage

S05 E16

May 3, 2012
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Shikoku Pilgrimage May 3, 2012 The Shikoku Pilgrimage involves visiting 88 Buddhist temples spread across Shikoku, the smallest of Japan's four main islands.The route is 1,200 kilometers long, and to walk it takes around 50 days, although most people today ride in a car or bus for at least part of the journey.The pilgrimage can be traced back to Kukai, a 9th-century Buddhist high priest who reached enlightenment in the wilds of Shikoku. These days, many older people undertake the pilgrimage as a way of reflecting on their lives. Many young people do it to find out more about themselves.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is the Shikoku Pilgrimage. We'll look at traditional expressions of religious faith and examine the challenges of modern life.

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Season 05, Episode 17 Regional Fast Food

S05 E17

May 10, 2012
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Regional Fast Food May 10, 2012 When you think of regional Japanese food with a long history, you might think high prices and refined presentation. But Japanese "regional fast food" is unique and inexpensive everyday fare, and it is now more popular than ever.Regional fast food is often called "local gourmet" or "B-grade gourmet." Most of these dishes were created between the 1950s and the 1970s, during Japan's post-WWII resurgence.In the 1990s, as the Internet became widespread, regional cuisines began attracting nationwide attention.In recent years, regional fast food has even launched the revival of towns and cities.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is regional fast food. We'll look at casual local dishes from around Japan and at the culture that created them.

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Season 05, Episode 18 Department Stores

S05 E18

May 17, 2012
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Department Stores May 17, 2012 The first department store appeared in Japan about 110 years ago. It evolved from a kimono shop.With their world-class goods, department stores soon became popular as centers of culture and of the latest trends. They also began featuring family-friendly attractions like large dining halls and rooftop amusement parks.The signature feature of a Japanese department store today is a group of restaurants on an upper floor coupled with an area in the basement where food is sold. These top and bottom culinary areas draw customers up and down through the rest of the floors.From concierges to personal stylists, Japanese department stores have always worked to meet the customer's every need. A few stores still even employ old-fashioned elevator operators.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is department stores. We'll see how they became closely linked with Japanese lifestyles and delve into their unique appeal.

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Season 05, Episode 19 Kimonos

S05 E19

May 24, 2012
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Kimonos May 24, 2012 The kimono is the traditional costume of Japan. Yet even the most sumptuous kimono is constructed quite simply: just a few strips of fabric sewn together.With their wide variety of seasonal designs, kimonos reflect Japan's rich natural beauty. And the obi - the sash - makes a kimono even more gorgeous. Typically more than three meters long, the obi is tied in a beautiful and often elaborate knot.The origin of the kimono as we know it today is an undergarment worn by ancient Japanese nobles. Later, during the days of the samurai, authorities tried to ban extravagant kimonos; they unwittingly inspired a kimono fashion revolution.In the early 20th century, mass-produced kimonos with bold new designs appeared. They look fresh even today and are now enjoying popularity with a new generation of young women.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at kimonos, which fully embody the Japanese sense of beauty.

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Season 05, Episode 20 Aquariums

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Jun 7, 2012
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Aquariums Jun 7, 2012 Japan is home to 20% of the world's public aquariums. And it has all kinds, from places specializing in one kind of sea life - like jellyfish or salmon - to theme parks offering splashy shows with marine animals.The first aquarium in Japan opened in 1882. It was located in Ueno Zoo, which, at that time, belonged to the Imperial Family.More recently, cutting-edge Japanese technology has made it possible to produce crystal-clear tanks of any shape or size, and to maintain saltwater tanks very far from the ocean.One aquarium has become a powerful symbol of Japan's recovery from the massive March 2011 earthquake. Another is run by high school students who not only catch and breed fish but also serve as friendly and knowledgeable guides.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is aquariums, which give us a glimpse into the Japanese love for creatures of the sea.

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Season 05, Episode 21 Confectionery

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Jun 14, 2012
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Confectionery Jun 14, 2012 Various sweets first came to Japan from the West, but the Japanese put their own distinctive stamp on them. Today, this "Western-style confectionery" is an important part of Japanese culinary culture.The first Western confectionery that came to Japan was brought by Christian missionaries from Portugal and Spain in the mid-16th century.In the mid-19th century, after being closed off for centuries, Japan opened to foreign commerce. New confections poured in from the West, and original recipes were adjusted to suit Japanese tastes.In the last 50 years, Western-style Japanese confections have earned popularity and acclaim in the West, and Japanese chefs have won top prizes in the world's most prestigious confectionery competitions.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at Japan's own brand of Western-style confectionery and what it reveals about Japanese culture.

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Season 05, Episode 22 Dolls

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Jun 21, 2012
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Dolls Jun 21, 2012 From ritual charm to children's toy, from star of the stage to life companion, dolls play a wide range of roles in Japanese society.Japanese dolls have their origins in religious charms that absorbed misfortunes or diseases that would otherwise befall people. Over time, dolls became toys for children, works of art valued for their beauty, and even part of the performing arts.It is a traditional Japanese belief that a doll can have its own soul. When dolls become old and worn out, some people go to great lengths to give them a proper send-off.The United States and Japan once had a historic exchange of dolls. These dolls were sent as symbols of friendship, but war later twisted their original meaning.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at dolls - the special roles they have played over the ages and the special affection the Japanese have always felt for them.

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Season 05, Episode 23 Moss

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Jul 5, 2012
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Moss Jul 5, 2012 Mosses are some of the most primitive terrestrial plants. They have no roots - only leaves and stems. But moss is deeply embedded in the Japanese way of life.You'll even find the word for moss in the Japanese national anthem. It is an essential element of bonsai and of Japanese-style landscape gardens.One temple garden was originally designed as a large bed of white gravel. But war and natural disaster left it in ruins. The garden was neglected for centuries and became overgrown with moss. It took on a new kind of beauty and is one of the most famous and beloved gardens in Japan today.Moss is the home of tiny forest creatures. Water bears and trapdoor spiders are just two of the fascinating creatures that rely on moss.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at moss - its remarkable ecology and some of the uniquely Japanese ways of enjoying it.

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Season 05, Episode 24 High School Baseball

S05 E24

Jul 12, 2012
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High School Baseball Jul 12, 2012 Each summer, Hanshin Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya City, Hyogo Prefecture, becomes the stage for a drama that grips the entire nation.Here, high school baseball teams from across the country assemble to compete for the national championship. Fans, in the stands and at home, go wild with excitement.Yu Darvish, Hideki Matsui, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and many other Japanese players who have gone on to play Major League baseball in the US made their names at Koshien as youth players.One epic 18-inning game is considered Koshien's greatest ever. Where are the players now?Some men continue to chase the dream of playing at Koshien Stadium decades after finishing high school. But how?On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at high school baseball - how it is more than just a sport and why it captivates the Japanese imagination like nothing else.

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Season 05, Episode 25 Planetariums

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Jul 19, 2012
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Planetariums Jul 19, 2012 Today, there are about 400 planetariums in Japan. That's the second largest number in the world, after the US. The world's largest planetarium, with a dome 35 meters across, is in Nagoya.Japanese people have long enjoyed the starry skies, on occasions such as moon-viewing parties and the annual star festival. And a recent assortment of astronomical phenomena viewable from Japan, including a solar eclipse this May, has helped drive a stargazing boom.These days, you can enjoy the planetarium experience not only in specialized facilities but also at cafes and even a Buddhist temple!Cutting-edge Japanese-made optical projectors have captured over 70 percent of the global market. They are typically made by large manufacturers, but one Japanese man single-handedly changed this high-tech industry.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is planetariums. We'll bring you the latest on efforts in Japan to recreate the starry sky in greater detail than ever before.

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Season 05, Episode 26 Japanophiles - Adam Booth

S05 E26

Aug 16, 2012
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Japanophiles - Adam Booth Aug 16, 2012 Adam Booth is an English-born master of Nihonga, a kind of painting that uses traditional Japanese methods and styles.Nihonga requires special materials, including unprocessed natural pigments used in making the paint. It can take a week to fully apply just one color to a painting.In 2002, Booth came to Japan and began studying Nihonga painting in earnest. Part of what makes his own Nihonga style so unique is his use of fables and allegories in his work.Booth lives in the old heart of Tokyo and draws inspiration from the area's traditional festivals and friendly people.Recently, he served as the chief artist of a giant mural of Tokyo packed with detailed illustrations of more than 80,000 buildings. It sits inside the newly opened Tokyo Skytree, the world's tallest communications tower.Today, we meet Adam Booth, whose paintings embody the appeal of Nihonga and reveal his love of Tokyo.

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Season 05, Episode 27 Japanophiles - Dave Spector

S05 E27

Aug 23, 2012
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Japanophiles - Dave Spector Aug 23, 2012 Just about everyone in Japan knows Dave Spector.It's been almost 30 years since this American first appeared on Japanese television. He currently makes more than 10 TV appearances a week, sharing the latest gossip and video clips from overseas. He has also helped introduce Japanese television and culture to the West.Spector grew up in Chicago, where he began learning Japanese as a child, largely on his own. He memorized 30 words every day and eventually mastered the language. Spector's rapid-fire Japanese wordplay has been his trademark on Japanese television.Spector also has 420,000 followers on Twitter, where he posts several jokes a day. In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, he began focusing his jokes on the disaster, making people smile in difficult times.Dave Spector, a man who has bridged the worlds of Japanese and American television. We'll discover what makes Japanese broadcasting so unique through his eyes.

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Season 05, Episode 28 Japanophiles - Euan Craig

S05 E28

Aug 30, 2012
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Japanophiles - Euan Craig Aug 30, 2012 Australian-born potter Euan Craig is a master of Mashiko ware.Mashiko ware originated in the town of Mashiko. Most Mashiko-ware ceramics are practical vessels like dishes. Craig first encountered Mashiko ware at age 18. Captivated by its rustic beauty, he has been making his own Mashiko ware for the past 22 years.Craig aims to craft objects that will be part of everyday life. His pottery is made to be used, not admired from afar. He says the beauty of his dishes only truly emerges when food is placed on them.In March 2011, Craig's kiln was destroyed in the Great East Japan Earthquake. But in June 2012, having relocated his family, he completed a new kiln and restarted his career.Today, we learn about Craig's daily life and work as an artisan, and we witness his passion for Mashiko ware and the beauty of functionality.

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Season 05, Episode 29 Shamisen

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Sep 6, 2012
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Shamisen Sep 6, 2012 The shamisen is a traditional three-stringed Japanese musical instrument. Its unique sound has been enjoyed in Japan for centuries.When you play the shamisen, you strike the body along with the strings. The strings and body vibrating together create a distinctive tone.The history of the shamisen goes back about 500 years. It has long given traditional performing arts, like Kabuki and Bunraku, a lively musical accompaniment.In recent years, many children have begun taking shamisen lessons, and some musicians are adapting the shamisen to modern musical genres like rock and punk.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, we look at the shamisen and what this traditional instrument reveals about Japanese musical tastes.

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Season 05, Episode 30 Crested Ibises

S05 E30

Sep 13, 2012
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Crested Ibises Sep 13, 2012 The crested ibis (scientific name Nipponia nippon) has beautiful pale rosy feathers that have been loved in Japan for centuries. The crested ibis used to live all over Japan, but at one point, because of overhunting and the destruction of its natural habitat, it disappeared from the wild.After a lot of hard work, crested ibises were successfully bred in captivity. And several years ago, they were reintroduced into the wild in Japan.Currently, the crested ibis lives in just one place in Japan: Sado Island. Farmers in Sado are working hard to create a pure natural habitat for the ibises. Some of them are tending their rice fields without any agricultural chemicals.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is crested ibises. The story of this bird's disappearance and eventual revival reveals various ways in which people are learning to coexist with the natural world.

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Season 05, Episode 31 Abalone

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Sep 20, 2012
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Abalone Sep 20, 2012 The abalone is a shellfish found along Japan's rocky coastline. Abalone have shallow, spiral shells that look like dishes, and they have been treasured by the Japanese since ancient times.Abalone is delicious raw, boiled, or grilled. Dried abalone in particular is a fine delicacy, and it was once such an important export to China that the shoguns outlawed its consumption within Japan.Abalone have long been considered auspicious. They are an essential part of sacred Shinto offerings on festive occasions. Centuries ago, samurai ate abalone before heading off to battle.In the late 19th century, Japanese entrepreneurs brought abalone cuisine to the world. And today, methods to increase abalone production are being tried out in many parts of Japan.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is abalone. We'll trace the long history of this shellfish in Japan and what it tells us about Japanese culture and cuisine.

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Season 05, Episode 32 Tokyo Station

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Oct 4, 2012
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Tokyo Station Oct 4, 2012 Tokyo Station's 100th anniversary is approaching. With 28 tracks, and 3,000 trains arriving and departing each day, it is Japan's largest rail terminal.Over the years, Tokyo Station has been the site of countless hellos and goodbyes, and the station building is an Important Cultural Property in Japan.The third floor and two striking domes burned down in 1945 during the Second World War, and for 60 years Tokyo Station remained a two-story building. Five years ago, work began to restore the station to its original appearance.The restoration project not only meticulously re-created the craftsmanship of a bygone century, it also included a state-of-the-art seismic-safety retrofitting.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is Tokyo Station. This is part of our special Tokyo trilogy. We trace the station's history and explore its latest features.

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Season 05, Episode 33 Tokyo Skytree

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Oct 11, 2012
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Tokyo Skytree Oct 11, 2012 Tokyo Skytree, completed this year, rises 634 meters. The world's tallest broadcasting tower, it's packed with the finest in Japanese engineering.Its steel framework was assembled with millimeter precision from sections lifted to dizzying heights. Special construction methods were needed to cope with the wind. And Japan is an earthquake-prone country, so Skytree has the latest seismic defenses, including one inspired by pagodas.The construction company that built Skytree commissioned an architectural photographer to record the building process. He was the only photographer permitted on the construction site, and the 40,000 photographs he took are an epic chronicle of this once-in-a-lifetime building project.Tokyo Skytree sits in an old-fashioned part of Tokyo with a tradition of small manufacturing enterprises. But now, an entirely new venture is emerging.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is Tokyo Skytree. This is part of our special Tokyo trilogy. We explore Skytree's cutting-edge technology and see what effect this new landmark has had on people's lives.

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Season 05, Episode 34 Tokyo Bay

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Oct 18, 2012
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Tokyo Bay Oct 18, 2012 Right on the doorstep of Japan's capital is Tokyo Bay.The shores of the bay are packed with industrial complexes and some of the world's most densely populated areas, but it boasts a rich biological diversity that nurtures a wide variety of seafood for the city's inhabitants.In samurai times, the fish caught here were used for tempura and sushi, which are popular to this day. In recent decades when the Japanese economy was booming, Tokyo Bay became badly polluted. But countless initiatives have been undertaken to restore its natural beauty.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is Tokyo Bay. This is part of our special Tokyo trilogy. Clarifying the role the bay has played over the years in Tokyo life casts the city itself in a new light.

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Season 05, Episode 35 Potatoes, Taros, and Yams

S05 E35

Nov 1, 2012
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Potatoes, Taros, and Yams Nov 1, 2012 Potatoes, sweet potatoes, taros, yams - these are just some of Japan's imo, a word that describes starchy vegetables with enlarged underground roots and stems.Sweet potatoes saved countless lives during the great famines of the samurai era and the food shortages of the Second World War.Konjac is a food with a unique appeal. It has practically no nutrients or calories, and little flavor, but its unique texture is widely enjoyed in Japan. It also, believe it or not, played a role in a Japanese wartime plan to terrorize the United States with fire balloons.Japanese mountain yams are prized for their viscous texture, and some people trek through the woods in search of the very largest ones.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is potatoes, taros, and yams. By exploring this wide variety of tubers, we will dig deep into a rich Japanese culinary tradition.

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Season 05, Episode 36 Name Seals

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Nov 8, 2012
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Name Seals Nov 8, 2012 Many countries require signatures on contracts. But in Japan, name seals are used instead. From marriage registrations to car registrations, from birth certificates to death certificates, the stamp of a name seal is required on many public documents.Carving the face of a name seal is a task that requires painstaking workmanship. Seals with beautiful decorative designs can be artistic masterpieces in their own right.The samurai competed among themselves to have the most exquisite name seals, which were vital symbols of identity. Japan's imperial seal, the mark of the emperor, has been in use for more than 130 years.Even in our high-tech times, demand for name seals remains strong. Advances in digital technology have led to an entirely new type of name seal with some fascinating features.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is name seals. We investigate the large role that these small carved stamps play in Japanese life.

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Season 05, Episode 37 Mushrooms

S05 E37

Nov 15, 2012
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Mushrooms Nov 15, 2012 About 5,000 species of mushroom can be found in Japan, a quarter of the world's known species.The matsutake is the gold standard of edible mushrooms. And whether it's a broth of shimeji mushroom, or tempura-fried hen-of-the-woods, mushrooms are a quintessential autumn food in Japan, and have been for centuries.There are also some very rare mushrooms, like the caterpillar fungus - which grows on insects and which has been used medicinally since ancient times - or the glow-in-the-dark mushrooms of Hachijojima.In recent years, Japan has seen a decline in the number of wild mushrooms. Intense efforts have been made to revive matsutake harvests. Some efforts to stimulate mushroom growth are even using artificial lightning strikes - quite a shocking idea!On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is mushrooms. We'll see how Japan's climate and culture have made it the nation that eats a wider variety of fungi than any other.

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Season 05, Episode 38 Vending Machines

S05 E38

Nov 22, 2012
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Vending Machines Nov 22, 2012 Japan is a nation of vending machines - 5.2 million of them! You find them everywhere, selling all sorts of products. And many vending machines do much more than simply sell things.There are ultra-energy-efficient vending machines, vending machines with lifesaving equipment, vending machines that give you the option to donate your change to charity, and vending machines that can evaluate a customer's age and gender in order to recommend specific drinks.Japan pioneered vending machines that could dispense hot drinks in cans. The inspiration behind their development might surprise you.Retro, low-tech vending machines still exist, and they have ardent fans. One man has made 150 short documentaries about these old machines that receive hundreds of thousands of views online.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is vending machines. We'll examine the unique history of how they developed in Japan, as well as their latest cutting-edge features.

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Season 05, Episode 39 Scissors

S05 E39

Dec 6, 2012
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Scissors Dec 6, 2012 Scissors were first created in Europe and reached Japan in the 6th century.Japan has scissors for making kimonos and for preparing sweets. It has pruning shears that make a distinctive clack and scissors that help the world's hairstylists snip with style. Japan also makes fabric shears forged like samurai swords.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is scissors, an everyday tool that offers insights into Japanese culture.

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Season 05, Episode 40 Satsuma Mandarins

S05 E40

Dec 13, 2012
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Satsuma Mandarins Dec 13, 2012 The satsuma mandarin is a citrus fruit grown in Japan's warmer regions. Its perfect blend of sweet and sharp is loved by the Japanese, who consume 60 satsumas per person per year!On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is satsuma mandarins. By looking at this iconic fruit, we'll find out more about food in Japan and recent developments in agriculture there.

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Season 05, Episode 41 Gift-giving

S05 E41

Dec 20, 2012
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Gift-giving Dec 20, 2012 In summer and winter, seasonal gifts are sent to friends. At the New Year, young people receive envelopes with money inside. These are just some of the occasions throughout the year when the Japanese exchange gifts.On this edition of BEGIN Japanology, our theme is gift-giving, which oils the wheels of social interaction in Japan. From traditional customs to the latest trends, we'll look at Japan's unique and diverse gift-giving culture.

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Season 05, Episode 42 Mapping Kyoto Streets

S05 E42

Dec 27, 2012
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Mapping Kyoto Streets Dec 27, 2012

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