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National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this monthly series.

Who runs the show: Kunihiro Nagasaka, Editor

Name of the game: National Geographic Japan

When it all started: April 1995

Where it all happens: Tokyo, Japan

Who makes it happen: Five production staff and three layout designers

What goes out: More than 124,000 issues a month

Upcoming GeoHappenings: Afghan Refugee Girl: Photographer Steve McCurry exhibits his Afghanistan work and speaks to subscribers about finding the subject of his most famous photograph on December 3.

6th Annual Subscribers' Photo Contest: Steve McCurry and others will judge photo entries from subscribers on December 4.

Business as usual: "While producing an issue, each of us drink about 10 or 15 cups of Japanese tea, coffee, or mineral water a day. During that time I may drink a lot more tea than average; I prefer its smell and astringent taste."

Best stress relievers: "One of our staff members swims in the morning. Another one plays basketball a couple of times a week. On my way to the office, I take photos of temples, shrines, and rice fields with my new Leica M7."

Best office perk: "All male staff wear a suit and tie to work, but I always wear casual clothes. An editor-in-chief needs to relax to come up with good ideas. A formal style prevents me from doing that."

What's great about the Japanese: "We're known for our diligence and graceful manner. Japanese people put much importance on harmony with nature, a quality that's reflected in the way we preserve the natural form in our gardens."

What's great about Japan: "The landscape, with traditional villages set among mountains and streams, is the essence of Japan. It becomes a beautiful white world in winter. In spring, everything is in bloom. In summer, we relax under broad tree branches. And in autumn, my favorite season, the forests transform into the rich reds, yellows, and browns of a painting in the nishiki-e style."

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The graceful beauty of Japanese culture shines through in the editor's choice of favorite traditions:

1. Zazen
"According to Zen Buddhism, truth is something that transcends the expression of language, and it can only be pursued by practicing zazen. To obtain serenity of mind, many people practice zazen, which means ‘sitting in meditation.' The exercise is simple. Sit on a tatami mat in the agura position, with the left foot resting on the right thigh. Place the right hand on the left foot, with palm up. The upturned right hand sits on top of the left hand. Slightly open your eyes. Then close your mouth and inhale through your nose naturally. Stay in this pose about 40 minutes. A good place to experience zazen is at the Eiheiji Temple, about three hours from Kyoto by train or car."

2. Kabuki
"Japanese people have enjoyed kabuki since the 17th century. This most popular of theatrical productions is performed to the accompaniment of traditional melodies played on the three-stringed shamisen and other musical instruments. Kabuki actors follow a specific rhythm in their speech and movements. The costumes are tremendously colorful and beautiful. Visitors can take in a performance 300 days a year at the Kabuki-za Theatre in Tokyo. An ‘English earphone guide' provides interpretations and explanations of the plot, music, and actors."

3. Noh
"This is one of Japan's oldest theater genres. The lyric dance-drama goes back to ancient times, but it began to flourish in the 14th century. Dance is performed slowly, and the principal characters wear masks. A Noh mask lacks individual expression. The mask combines with the symbolic movements of the actor and monotone music to display an artistic beauty. Noh performances are held four or five days a month at the National Noh Theater in Tokyo."

4. Tanabata Festival
"The Tanabata Festival, or Star Festival, combines Chinese tradition with Japanese beliefs. Tanabata celebrates the meeting of two mythical lovers symbolized by stars: Kengyu (the star Altair) and Shokujo (Vega). They are separated by the Milky Way, but reunite once a year in early July. The most famous Tanabata Festival is held August 6 to 8 in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. Each local family erects bamboo poles colorfully decorated with strips of paper. The most elaborate decorations are placed along the shopping streets. Hundreds of paper decorations, each more than 33 feet (ten meters) high, hang from the ceilings of shopping malls. On the eve of Sendai's Tanabata Festival, organizers set off a fantastic display of more than 10,000 fireworks for the two million tourists who attend. The Tohoku Shinkansen (bullet train) can get you from Tokyo to Sendai in about two hours."

5. Snow Festival
"The Snow Festival is held from the first Friday in February through the following Sunday in Sapporo's Odori Park. Locals, students, the armed forces, and other groups make huge snow sculptures of animals, popular cartoon characters, and famous buildings. Last year I saw an enormous Mickey Mouse. It was about 23 feet (seven meters) high. The festival also features the International Snow Sculpture Competition. Recent first-prize winners were a traditional Malaysian  sculpture and a Lithuanian abstract called ‘Invantion.' "

— Interview by Ben Paynter

Photographs by Charles Lenars, CORBIS (left), Steve Kaufman, CORBIS (center) and Bruce Burkhardt, CORBIS (right).

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