Alice's RSS feed

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:

<em>Keikaisen (guard ships)</em>

| Nov 19, 2009

Keikaisen (guard ships)

Dear Alice,When I'm in Tokyo on business, I like to take my morning run along the rivers and canals in the eastern part of the city. On several occasions now I've noticed smallish boats parked smack dab in the middle of a river, where ...

The first Western diplomat in Japan

Oct 3, 2009

The first Western diplomat in Japan

Pop quiz: The first Western diplomat to set foot in Japan came from what country? Portugal? Holland? England? Actually, the correct answer is Mexico. The diplomat in question was Rodrigo de Vivero, a high-ranking official who was returning from a post in the Philippines when ...


| Jul 16, 2009


Dear Alice, Is it weird to love a wall? I recently visited the Imperial Palace in Tokyo and was totally blown away by a high rock embankment on the far side of the moat. That rugged face! Those elegant lines! I am completely enchanted ...

A freedom that fostered richness

Jul 3, 2009

A freedom that fostered richness

Two exhibitions now showing at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography offer a fascinating contrast in photojournalism. "Press Photographers' Story," in the second-floor gallery through July 5, brings together the works of five well-known Japanese news photographers who were active from the 1930s to ...

| Jun 18, 2009


Dear Alice, Based on my forays into Japanese restaurants in North America, I was under the impression that Japanese cuisine didn't feature any spicy flavorsat all. Then, on my first trip to Japan, I wandered into a restaurant that specializes in soba noodles. When ...

Wild orchids

| May 21, 2009

Wild orchids

Dear Alice, Can you please find out what the heck I saw on Mount Takao on the outskirts of Tokyo? Last spring, about this time of year, I was on a trail with a lot of other hikers lugging cameras and tripods. All of ...

'No-wash rice' (<em>musenmai</em>)

| Apr 16, 2009

'No-wash rice' (musenmai)

Dear Alice,I recently returned to Japan after 12 years back in my home country. I knew a lot of things would be different after such a long time away, but I never expected the rice to have changed! My former home-stay mom was always ...

Lost & Found

Apr 3, 2009

Lost & Found

The discovery in a German archive of documents and photographs related to the Prussian mission to Japan in 1860-61 has shed new light on the early history of photography in Japan. In particular, newly uncovered letters and records help explain the mystery of why ...