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Alice Gordenker

Alice Gordenker writes the “So, What the Heck is That?” column, providing in-depth, carefully researched explanations of the things foreigners find so puzzling about Japan. Her work has been modified as a textbook for Japanese university students called “Surprising Japan” (Shohakusha, 2012).

For Alice Gordenker's latest contributions to The Japan Times, see below:

The Yamatane Museum presents a brilliant show

Oct 9, 2014

The Yamatane Museum presents a brilliant show

Gold and silver have long been used in Japanese painting for their decorative value, on works ranging from intimate handscrolls to large-scale screens. But as the current exhibition at the Yamatane Museum of Art makes amply clear, in the last century or so tradition ...

Blood types

| Sep 19, 2014

Blood types

Dear Alice, Can you please explain why the heck Japanese are so interested in my blood type? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a normal social situation and someone asks if I’m type O or whatever. I don’t mind so ...

The bright sparks of photography

Aug 14, 2014

The bright sparks of photography

Photography, because it is both familiar and accessible, is an excellent medium for young people to use for self-expression. With this as a guiding principle, the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (K*MoPA) in Yamanashi Prefecture has sought since its founding in 1995 to contribute ...

Organ donation

| Jul 18, 2014

Organ donation

Dear Alice, I’m looking at my Japanese driver’s license and wondering if the form on the back has anything to do with organ donation. Years ago, I registered in the United States to be an organ donor, which was a simple matter of checking ...

Shocking baths of Japan

| May 19, 2014

Shocking baths of Japan

Dear Alice, On my first trip to Japan, my host took me to an up-market hot-springs resort on the island of Awajishima. There I was introduced to a small tiled “box” within the large soaking tub. I noticed there were small panels along the ...

Tetrapod

| Apr 14, 2014

Tetrapod

Dear Alice, I have always wondered about the curious cement structures you see up and down the coast of Japan, the ones that look like the toy jacks I played with as a child, except that they’re massive in size. I assume they are ...

Shimooka Renjo, back in focus

Mar 26, 2014

Shimooka Renjo, back in focus

It's not surprising that the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography has organized a retrospective on Shimooka Renjo, one of the first commercial photographers in Japan. What is surprising is that it didn't happen sooner.