First Shrine visit of the year – Hatsumode

New Year’s is one of the most important holidays on the Japanese calendar. During the Edo period and the old way of counting, everyone was one year old at birth (because they counted the time you were in the womb) and aged one year on New Year’s day. The beginning of a new year symbolizes a fresh start and people do a thorough cleaning of their homes before stepping into the new year. By the way, 2017 is the year of the Rooster and this year’s element is fire.

After having celebrated at a Buddhist temple everyone heads to a Shinto shrine to pay their first respects of the year. This may happen right after midnight, as shrines are open with food stalls and ready to sell good luck charms. If you go during the day you will definitely spot people dressed in kimono amongst the thousands of people (sometimes even a million!) queueing to pray for the shrine. Many people will be dressed in kimono as a formal gesture to the shrine or temple.

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The origin of Hatsumode

The first shrine visits on New Year’s date back to the Heian period (794 – 1185) when the head of the household would pray at the family’s shrine in a secluded room. During New Year’s a god is supposed to visit each and every one of his/her shrines to give blessings. People wanted to lessen the burden on the gods by going out and visiting the shrine. During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), praying on New Year’s changed from a secluded room to a public shrine. People would pray at the shrine nearest to that year’s eho(恵方), or “lucky direction”. You can find your nearest shrine on this useful eho map. You have roughly until the 7th of January to visit a shrine.

Hatsumode was a way to celebrate going from the cold winter to the milder temperatures of spring. The coming of cherry blossoms and growing plants signals a new beginning. When Japan entered the Meiji era (1868) the Japanese government decided to have a standardized calendar instead of the ever-changing Japanese lunar calendar (1873). This made New Year’s day fall in the middle of winter instead of the beginning of Spring.

Charms and Prayers

Besides paying respect, people buy charms and bring their old ones so the temple can burn them. It is unlucky to throw away a charm as a god is believed to reside in it. You can bring any charm you don’t want anymore to a temple and they will professionally take care of it for you.

Old Charms

Buy a mikuji(fortune telling paper) from the Miko(Shinto priestess) and see if this year will be a good one. At big shrines they usually have English mikuji for foreigners, so don’t worry if you can’t read Japanese. If you have a paper with bad luck you tie it to a branch near the shrine, preferably a pine tree. The words for “pine” (松 matsu) and “wait”(待つ matsu) sound similar. Your bad luck will wait by the tree instead of staying with you.

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According to an old belief, you should not make a detour when returning home from the shrine. In order not to “spill” any of the good luck, you need to take the shortest way back. If someone died in your family last year you are advised not to visit a shrine either, as “death” is seen as impure. Each shrine and temple has a different view of death, so some shrines might have no problem with this.

Where to visit?

For the best luck, it’s good to follow your eho and visit the nearest shrine. After all, this god is closest to your home and can thus provide the best protection. If you want to visit a popular shrine, Rakuten Travel has made a list of the best shrines to visit for 2017 (Japanese only). Here is their top 10:

1) Imado Jinja – Asakusa, Tokyo (luck, wealth, love and finding a good partner)
2) Shinsoji Temple – Narita, Chiba (traffic safety, business related wealth, safety)
3) Atsuta Shrine – Nagoya, Aichi (safety for your home/family, business prosperity)
4) Nikko Toshogu Shrine – Nikko, Tochigi (longevity, safety for your home, realization of one’s earnest wish)
5) Samukawa Shrine – Samukawa, Kanagawa (traffic safety, protection from all directions, warding off evil)
6) Sensoji Temple – Asakusa, Tokyo (business prosperity, safety for your home, academic performance)
7) Ise Grand Shrine – Ise, Mie (safety for your home, easy childbirth)
8) Izumo Taisha – Izumo, Shimane (marriage, safety for your home, good luck)
9) Fushimi Inari Taisha – Kyoto, Kyoto (prosperous business, good harvest)
10) Dazaifu Tenmangu Shrine – Dazaifu, Fukuoka (academics, passing an exam, finding employment)

If you’re still unsure of where to go, you can check out this shrine guide for Hatsumode (Japanese only).

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How to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Japan

The Japanese way of celebrating New Year’s is very different from Western countries. New Year’s is possibly the most important day of the year and is usually celebrated with family or good friends. We’ll take you through a typical day leading up to the first day of the new year.

Write Nengajo

During the old days people would visit everyone they were grateful to for the past year on the first day of the new year. Nowadays everyone lives quite spread out so postcards became the new way to express gratitude. Japan takes nengajo very serious and if you send your cards before the deadline the trusty Japanese post office will make 100% sure your card arrives on New Year’s day.
Sometime during December the post boxes will have a separate nengajo slot. Read about how to write nengajo.

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2017 is the year of the Rooster

Eat Soba

These noodles are eaten on the last day of the year and are called toshikoshi soba. Their connection with New Year’s Day has different origins. Examples are the belief that because soba is cut easily you can easily let go of your hardships, long noodles help you “cross over” to the new year, soba “absorbs” the evil in your body and many more… Every region has a different reason.
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Prepare Osechi

Cooking on the first 3 days of the new year is considered bad luck, so families prepare a feast on or before New Year’s Eve. Every ingredient has a special meaning and can be difficult to prepare for a whole family, so nowadays most people order osechi boxes.
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Get your ornaments ready

After cleaning your house to welcome the New Year’s gods it’s time to start decorating. These decorations can also be set up in advance (but not too far) to ensure a “clean break” between the old and the new year.

First you’ll put up a Kadomatsu, an ornament with three bamboo shoots stuck in pine branches. The shoots represent heaven, earth and humanity. The gods live in the kadomatsu until January 7th. They are taken to a shrine and burned to send the spirits back to their realm.
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Then it’s time to get your Kagami Mochi and put it next to your Shinto altar. These are two stacked round rice cakes topped with a mikan (mandaring orange). Traditionally they used a citrus fruit called “daidai”. This fruit is usually not eaten because of its bitterness and has the ability to stay on its branch for several years if it’s not picked. Thus the fruit became connected with the wish for “prosperity for many generations”. The rice cakes represent the mirror of the sun goddess Amaterasu.

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Watch a singing competition on TV

This might seem strange, but over the years this has become a popular New Year’s tradition. NHK’s Kōhaku Uta Gassen, or Year-end Song Festival, is a singing competition between a red and white team. These teams consist of popular idols and celebrities and is considered an honor to participate in. It is the top-ranked music event of the year.

Visit a Buddhist temple

The singing competition ends just before midnight so you have enough time to go to your nearest Buddhist temple. The monks sound the bell 108 times, symbolizing all the human desires. The sound of the bell is meant to cleanse your spirit.
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First shrine visit and the first sunrise

The first shrine visit of the year is called hatsumode and many people choose to do it right after midnight. Shrines have prepared enough sweet sake to toast the new year and food stalls are set up until the early morning. The first sunrise is called hatsuhinodeand many people stay up late or wake up early to experience this beautiful sight.

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Unique Christmas Desserts

Just as the seasons inspire traditional Japanese confectionery, the Western-style shops are inspired as well. Especially during Christmas season!

Snowglobe Dessert (1,200 yen)

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PR Times

Working Holiday Connection is collaborating with a café in Harajuku to raise money for people who want to make a change abroad. Only available from Dec. 16th, 2016 – Dec. 25th, 2016. Be quick to grab these adorable snowglobes as the café only has 60 seats. The main components are pistacchio and raspberry mousse, champagne jelly and cake pieces. Truly a Christmas delight!

Information
Working Holiday Connection
Harajuku Omotesando YM square shop
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo Jingumae 4-chome 31-10 YM square Harajuku 2F
4-31-10, Jinguumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Hours: 11am – 11pm every day
TEL: 03-6434-0359
URL: http://wh-c.jp/

2016 Kid’s Dream Cake (5,400 yen)

Christmas Cake
PR Times

Well-known bakery chain “Ginza Cozy Corner” launched a competition to design your Christmas Dream Cake, and this is the grand prize winner! Chosen from 17,663 participants, 5-year old Manami Hirano’s design won the honor of being realised in cake form. Her “Christmas Rainbow Cake” can only be pre-ordered and there is a limited quantity of 200 cakes. Each cake serves about 6-7 portions.

Information
Ginza Cozy Corner
Shop list (600 shops all over Japan): http://bit.ly/2ddBZBP
Order deadline: until Dec. 18th, 2016
Delivery/Pick-up date: Dec. 23-24-25, 2016

Christmas Doughnuts (190 yen ~)

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PR Times

If you’re not into the classic Christmas Cake, here are some Christmas doughnuts! Floresta is known for its animal doughnuts that now received a Christmas twist. Besides the cute designs, there are also walnut and rum doughnuts for a limited time during Christmas. Your friends will be surprised when you bring this tasty alternative to a Christmas party. Floresta uses all-natural ingredients from Hokkaido such as flour and soymilk.

Information
Shop list: http://bit.ly/2h0T3MT (Japanese only)
Limited until Dec. 25th, 2016

Christmas Tree Pancake Parfait (1,790 yen)

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PR Times

Since its opening last year the Kawaii Monster Cafe in Harajuku has been charming diners with colorful dishes and crazy concoctions. Ingredients of this parfait are green tea mousse, cheese mousee and vanilla ice cream. This Christmas tree and snowman are made from cake and more ice cream.

Information
Kawaii Monster Cafe Harajuku
Shibuya Jingumae 4-31-10 YM square 4F
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30am – 4:30pm (lunch) 6pm – 10:30pm (dinner) / Sunday 11am – 8:30pm
Url: http://kawaiimonster.jp/pc/

Christmas Trifle (800 yen)

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PR Times

Cute little strawberry Santas on top of fruit-filled layers. No sugary whipped cream is used so you can savor all the natural flavors.

Information
Nicolas House Harajuku
Limited time menu until Dec. 30th, 2016
address: Shibuya-ku Jingumae 4-26-5 1.2F
Hours: Weekdays 11am – 8pm (last order at 7pm) , Weekends 10am – 8pm (last order at 7pm)
URL: http://www.nicolasusagi.com/

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Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Survey : December Giveaway

This campaign has ended. Thank you for all of your submissions!

Got 3 minutes? Please let us know your preferences regarding WAttention media. Five winners will be chosen and we will send the prize free of charge. This includes overseas shipping! Don’t forget to share your referral code that we will send to you via email to increase your chances of winning.

The prize

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One adorable character pen from Japan for five winners. Be the envy of your school or workmates as you write your New Years resolution with this pen. *Please note that you will not be able to choose the design of the pen even if you win.

History of Christmas in Japan

If you’re in Japan during the Christmas season you might be wondering why Christmas decorations are so prevalent. After all, only about 2% of the Japanese population is Christian and as good as all the holy places are Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

What you will probably see during Christmas in Japan

People standing in long lines at department stores, cake shops and KFC stores waiting to buy their goods they ordered at least five days before while couples are heading to expensive restaurants on an illuminated street with a Christmas tree.

To see why the celebration of Christmas in Japan is so unique, it is necessary to know its history in the land of the rising sun.

First a bit of background history:

Christianity (and foreigners in general) used to be banned

That’s right. The first Christmas mass was held in 1552 in Yamaguchi prefecture by Portuguese missionaries and involved extensive bible readings. When more and more missionaries started to get involved with political affairs in Japan, the lords started to get worried. In order to get rid of this foreign influence as soon as possible, they banned Christianity and all who practiced it in 1614. Christians were prosecuted and forced into hiding. You can still find remnants of these hidden communities in Japan. Not only Christians, but all foreigners were denied entry to Japan under its “closed country” policy. The hidden Christians, cut off from all foreign and traditional Christian influence, had to do everything on their own, sometimes camouflaging the symbols and iconography of their faith in plain sight with Christian statues resembling Buddha and statues of Virgin Mary resembling the goddess Kannon. Because of their secretive nature many rituals were never discovered, including their rituals concerning Christmas.

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Japan was open for Christmas business

Japan was still very chaotic when they opened up the country and entered a new era in 1854, so Christmas wasn’t immediately noticed. However, more and more foreigners came to Japan for business or pleasure. Some of them settled and started doing Christmas parties on their own. The record of the first Christmas tree in Japan was decorated in 1860 by the Earl of Eulenburg from Prussia (before it became Germany) and was set up in the embassy where he was stationed. There is also record of Katsu Kaishu, a prominent Japanese statesman and naval engineer and his family attending a Christmas party at the house of an American family in 1875.

After centuries of isolation, many Japanese were eager to find out more about these foreign cultures, embracing the progress and applying it to Japanese society. Very soon, the celebration Christmas started to bloom wherever there was a concentration of foreigners, leading to the public Christmas tree being set up in Ginza in 1900 by Meiji-ya. This lit the fire of the so-called Christmas “sales battle” between department stores, hotels and other luxury businesses in Japan.

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History of Christmas in Japan

The reason why Japanese people have strawberry shortcake for Christmas

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While many countries serve a type of fruitcake for Christmas, Japanese people will more likely serve strawberry shortcakes: light and airy sponge cakes topped and filled with whipped cream and strawberries. The founder of Fujiya encountered the strawberry shortcake on his trip to America in 1912. In 1922 the strawberry shortcakes started selling in high volumes as a Christmas cake. Fujiya believes that the cake became associated with Christmas because of its white fluffy cream resembling snow and the red strawberries resembling Santa Claus. The colors red and white also mean “happiness” in Japanese culture and are used to decorate gift envelopes.

Nowadays, businesses strive to outdo each other in creating the best-tasting and best-looking cakes so every year you can find a variety of lavishly decorated Christmas cakes for sale.

History of Christmas in Japan

The reason why Japanese people have fried chicken for Christmas

After the end of World War II Christmas became synonymous with “peace”, something the people desperately needed. The Christmas celebrations made a return and so did the cakes. More Western people and soldiers settled in Japan and had to adapt their Christmas to what they could get in Japan. Seeing as they couldn’t find any turkey, Western households substituted it with chicken. This would later pave the way for Kentucky Fried Chicken to build a Christmas chicken imperium.

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When television became a regular “must have” appliance in every Japanese household during the 70’s and 80’s KFC was the first brand to take advantage of its advertising capabilities. They started a clever campaign that said “Christmas is Kentucky” and the ball started rolling. In 1970 a missionary kindergarten in Aoyama asked the KFC delivery guy to come dressed as Santa Claus because they were having a Christmas party. He came in full outfit saying “merry Christmas” and from then on other kindergartens started ordering KFC on Christmas.
Department stores began to set up Christmas decorations and light-up festivals were organized. More than a family holiday, Christmas became time to enjoy the experience of being with those close to you. A new media-hype started to advertise Christmas as THE holiday to spend with your loved one, the first advertisement is believed to have been released by Japan Railways (JR). Christmas turned into a winter version of Valentine’s Day, but who can blame the Japanese. All those pretty lights, the happy atmosphere and the spirit of peace. It’s all very romantic.


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Japan Winter Street Food

Japan is sensitive to the seasons and this is reflected in their food. When the scenery changes the food stalls change as well. Here’s some of the most popular winter-themed Japanese street food.

Yakiimo (Baked Potato)

If you’re in Japan during the winter season you might have seen street vendors roast potatoes on coals. There are even yakiimo carts with a real fire, you’re lucky if you spot one! Most of the time they’re standard sweet potatoes but Japan has a large variety of potatoes that differ in taste. It’s wrapped in tinfoil and baked with its skin. This warm and sweet snack is delicious on a cold winter day and the roasted skin makes the outside nice and crispy.

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Nikuman

These meatbuns can be eaten all year round but are consumed more frequently during the winter season. The main reason is that they’re warm, delicious and fit comfortably in your hands. Your personal meat-filled pocket heater. You can buy these at special stands or at any convenience store. Besides the traditional niku-man (meat bun), there are also an-man (sweet bean paste bun), pizza-man (tomato meat sauce and cheese bun), curry-man and even chocolate-man.

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Oden

There is no clear way to describe oden as it consists of various ingredients in a clear broth. Moreover, these ingredients differ per region or have different fillings. The best way to describe oden is to eat it yourself. When it gets colder, oden stalls will pup up everywhere but you can also buy it at the convenience store. Usually there is a container size you can choose from and a variety of ingredients. Take the ones you like, add some broth and bring it to the register.

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WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

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Gundam and Japan: ode to the statue

Bandai Namco recently announced that it will remove the iconic Gundam statue in front of Tokyo Odabai’s Diver City next year (Model RG 1/1 RX-78-2 Ver. GFT to be exact). Its last public appearance will be on March 5th 2017 when it will be removed. Not only the statue, but also the nearby Gundamfront Tokyo entertainment zone will close its doors on April 5th 2017.

The owners have not announced any plans of a replacement statue or where the current one is going, but with the Gundam franchise still strong in Japan there’s a high chance this won’t be the last time we’ll see giant robots in Tokyo. Fans speculate that we’ll see a new Gundam around 2019 when the franchise celebrates its 40th anniversary. In fact, the statue might even move if we can believe the “Gundam Global Challenge”!
If you want to see the original statue in front of Diver City head to Tokyo before spring next year. As an ode to the iconic statue, let us share some interesting facts about Gundam and its history in Japan.

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A hit since 1979

The Gundam franchise was conceived in 1979 as an original production by animation studio Sunrise, titled Mobile Suit Gundam. It was the first show to use realistic working robots in a military setting and it spawned one of the biggest subgenres of hobby crafts in Japan. Nowadays there are still new creator kits released for Gundam enthusiasts by Gunpla.
In fact, the 2016 Gunpla Builders World Championship will be held on December 18th, 2016 at Gundam Front Tokyo.

Get your Gundam on

Even with the statue and entertainment zone leaving Odaiba, you can still get your Gundam fix by going to the Gundam Café in Akihabara. This official café not only serves food but also sells official goods you can only get at the Café. While you’re in Akihabara you can visit various hobby shops selling Gundam models and kits.

Tokyo Gundam Project

The announcement of the removal of the Gundam statue and the closing of Gundamfront comes as a surprise to most fans, especially as 2016 was the special “Tokyo Gundam Project” year. This is not the first time Gundam fans collaborated on a Gundam project. In 2008 the Hiroshima Animation Biennale saw the rise of the “International Gundam Society” with lectures from actual scientists discussing the possibility of a real Gundam and fans giving opinions about the series. However, since then nothing has been heard of the International Gundam Society. A year before that, in 2007, the Japanese army announced “project Gundam”, the building of several weapons and suits inspired by the franchise. Even now you will occasionally see similar news pop up.

The Statue’s Legacy

Even with all these Gundam activities going on in both Japan and the world, it’s still sad to see the statue go. The statue was erected in the Summer of 2009 at Odaiba Waterfront and quickly attracted 4,5 million visitors in its first month. Still, it was moved to Shizuoka for the Shizuoka hobby fair in 2010, was disassembled for display to raise money for the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and only got its most known spot in front of Tokyo Diver City in 2012. Over the years it got more features such as a moving head, lights and smoke coming from its body.

If you still need more Gundam, check out the official Gundam Info page for all the latest news in Japan and the world.

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WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Winter Solstice in Japan

Winter Solstice is the day of the year when the night is the longest. This year for Japan this day falls on December 21st with a sunrise from 6:48am and a sunset at 4:32pm.

Winter Solstice or Toji(冬至) isn’t a real festival in Japan but more of a tradition. The days are getting colder so people looked for ways to rejuvenate the body and to protect it against sickness.

Yuzu Bath (ユズ湯)

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It is said that the custom of taking a bath with yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, started during the Edo period (1603 – 1868). As the Japanese value the wisdom of their elders, this tradition exists to this day.

There are many different reasons why both eating and taking a yuzu bath is a good thing to do on this day. Yuzu packs a lot of vitamin C and is essential to protect yourself against colds and the flu. Adding yuzu to a warm bath gives it a nice fragrance and rubbing the yuzu against your skin heals it from the cold damage. Because of the sharp smell of citrus it is also believed to keep demons and bad luck at bay.

It’s easy, just pop some store-bought yuzu in your hot bath and you’re done. You can also cut the yuzu in slices and soak them in the bath using a sheer towel or cloth like you’re making tea.

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Pumpkin and other Solstice food

Besides yuzu Japanese pumpkin,kabocha(かぼちゃ) is eaten during Winter Solstice. During the winter it is difficult to grow crops, but kabocha is a sturdy vegetable and can be easily preserved. The vitamins are good during the winter for protecting your body from sickness.

What makes food lucky?
The Japanese hiragana alphabet ends with the character “n(ん)”. Since Winter Solstice marks the end of the short days anything with the last character of the hiragana order is seen as lucky. This includes; ninjin (carrot), daikon (Japanese white radish), udon (noodles), konnyaku (gelatine made from the devil’s root) and ginnan (ginkgo nut).

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Lucky Day

Japan has adopted many traditions from China, and amongst them is the belief in auspicious days. The Winter Solstice usually comes paired with a new moon, the mark to start something new. Since the day is also very short, it is seen as “the day when both moon and sun are rejuvenated”. It truly is a day about revitalizing both body and nature.

From this day onward the days will start getting longer again, bringing more sun. With this swing from night to day it is also believed that it’s a swing from the negative to the positive, meaning everyone’s luck will turn for the positive side!

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Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Why are Japanese homes so cold during winter?

The cold weather is creeping in and many foreigners start wondering why Japanese homes are so cold. Compared to Western houses that are insulated and equipped with central heating, most Japanese homes don’t have these features at all. The reason for this lack of heat goes way back.

Japanese homes are built for summer

That’s right. Japanese summers are very warm and humid, leaving you no escape from the heat. Aside from that, mold and mildew is a big problem in Japan, causing respiratory and health problems in severe cases. During the old times the option for most Japanese carpenters was simple, “during the winter you can always put on more clothes but there’s no way to escape heat and humidity.” That is why Japanese homes are built with plenty of ventilation, open windows and means to let the air circulate and cool down a house.

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One room at a Time

The idea that many Japanese have is to keep yourself warm over keeping a whole house warm. In old times people had one hearth in a central place called an irori (いろり). This hearth would also be used to cook and smoke food. It even helped protect the house itself by drying out the wood with its heat thus preventing rot, fungus and wood disease. Thanks to the heat of the irori many homes have been beautifully preserved. If you see an irori it usually has a fish decoration somewhere, symbolically protecting the house against the fire of the hearth.

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This idea of “one room at a time” is still visible in Japanese homes today with the use of appliances like space heaters and the kotatsu.

The idea of “Warm yourself first”

As mentioned before, the principle is that you warm yourself before you start warming an area. From an economical point of view this is very smart indeed. But for most Japanese they don’t have any choice because their homes aren’t built to preserve the heat from an airconditioner for long. Back when people wore kimono daily they wore a hanten during winter. This is a coat similar to a haori and consist of many fluffy layers of cotton for warmth. Families would huddle up next to the hearth and drink warm tea or eat a hotpot with their hanten on. You can still buy these warm jackets today.

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People on the go have options other than hanten and hearths, opting for warm layers and hot packs called kairo (懐炉,カイロ, literally means “pocket hearth”). The first form of kairo were simple tin cases. Special coal pieces would be lit and inserted in the case and people would bring them around in their kimono. Nowadays, you are more likely to find disposable kairo packs at any convenience store or supermarket. They become small sources of heat the moment you open the package. You can opt for the sticky kind, to stick on your clothing, or the non-sticky kind for holding in your hands. There are even versions to put in your shoes.

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Keeping the warmth

The key to surviving Japanese winter is to create as many hot spots in your home as possible to ensure you’re not in a cold space for too long. Soak in a warm bath or onsen. Bring out a space heater to warm your bedroom, wear a hanten while holding a hot pack when going to the living room, then immediately slip under the kotatsu to enjoy a hot pot and go to sleep with your electric blanket. Now you’re ready to survive until spring comes.

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Winter Illumination at Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture

Not even 2 hours away from Tokyo by train you can watch Japan’s No.1 Illumination Show at Ashikaga Flower Park in Tochigi Prefecture. 3,5 million warm and sparkling lights will surround you at this spectacular event during the cold days. Enjoy different carefully prepared themes to walk through. This event is divided into three main events:
1. “Collaboration of lights and flowers”  (October 22nd – middle of November);
2. “Flower Parks’ Christmas” (end of November – end of December),
3. “New Year Illumination” (beginning of 2017 – February 5th).

We visited the park in the middle of November and had the chance to see the first event of the season as well as some Christmas elements.

First you will enter a big hall full of flowers and decorations that you can purchase. The flowers and decorations match the current season so during winter you can see hundreds of red shining poinsettias, cute Christmas decorations and many more.

After entering the actual park, you will see booths selling delicious hot amazake (a traditional sweet, non-alcohol drink made from fermented rice). Warm up yourself before exploring the park. Aside from that, several food stands as well as a restaurant with a nice garden view provide local specialties.

Enjoy the compilation of pictures of the most beautiful spots

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Wisteria trees are decorated with thousands of LED lights to enjoy these beautiful flowers even during winter.

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Red roses and water lilies out of LED lights offer beautiful picture spots.

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Take a stroll through the lavender garden with its LED wisteria flowers.

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Flowers placed inside big lanterns out of glass on the pond.

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A Christmas tree made from LED lights, as well as more water lilies.

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The rose garden features hundreds of color-changing LED roses.

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A huge wall with changing themed illuminations, all related to winter and Christmas.

If you liked the pictures, don´t hesitate and plan your next trip to the Ashikaga Flower Park!

Information

Illumination Period: October 22nd – February 5th
Hours: 3:30pm – 9pm (weekends & national holidays until 9:30pm) [closed on December 31st]
Admission: 800yen (adults); 400yen (children)
Address: 607 Hasama-cho, Ashikaga-shi, 329-4216 Tochigi
Access: 13min walk from Tomita Station (JR Ryomo Line) [Take the JR Utsunomiya Line from Ueno Station into Koganei direction and get off at Oyama Station (1h15min; 1,317yen). Change the train and get on the JR Ryomo Line into Takasaki direction until Tomita Station (32min; 583yen).
Tel: 0284-91-4939
Ranking: ★★★★☆
www.ashikaga.co.jp

Ninja ID: nene16


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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

The Kotatsu Trap

Invented in the 14th century, the kotatsu has been trapping people with its warmth ever since. Forget all plans for a productive day once you turn on this toasty, motivation-sucking device. Has it been sent from heaven or hell? Nobody knows. But the kotatsu is definitely real and you can find it in Japan.

Anatomy of a Kotatsu

A kotatsu is basically a low table with a heater attached to it and a big blanket to keep the warmth inside. It may sound simple, but once you try the kotatsu you’ll be craving for it every winter.

The modern kotatsu has an electric heater, but the original kotatsu was a bit more dangerous with actual charcoal. Back then the hearth was fixed into the ground and would be covered when not in use. It was only until after the Edo period that the kotatsu became a movable piece of furniture. And earthen pot was filled with hot charcoal and could be moved with the table. Later the pot was abandoned in favor of an electric heater.

The kotatsu is most effective while wearing traditional Japanese clothing. The heat enters from the bottom of your kimono and exits at the top.

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Mikan + Kotatsu = …

newmikanFor Japanese, you can’t imagine a kotatsu without a mikan (mandarin orange) on top. Mikan look identical to mandarins but they’re quite different. Easier to peel and seedless, the mikan is the perfect fruit for a lazy day under the kotatsu. Because of its immense popularity it’s one of the few Japanese fruits that is exported in large quantities.

When it gets really cold, nothing beats lazing around under the kotatsu eating mikan.

Don’t fall asleep-!…too late

Because of the uneven distribution of heat, the kotatsu is unhealthy to sleep under. A nap however is totally ok, but there is a big risk of it turning into an overnight stay. Not only humans, but also animals rever the kotatsu. Cats especially love the heat and darkness the kotatsu offers.

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Getting out from under a kotatsu is nearly impossible. So here are some tips to make your kotatsu life easier!

  • Keep napkins nearby, in case you get the sniffles
  • Store all your food and drinks within reach
  • Find a victim to fetch everything you need when you forgot to put it near the kotatsu
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Enjoy!

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


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Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Tobu Treasure Garden in Tatebayashi (Gunma Prefecture)

The Tobu Treasure Garden located in Gunma Prefecture about 55km away from Tokyo, can be reached within only 1hour from Asakusa Station (Tokyo) and is perfect for a day trip during spring, summer or early autumn. It´s especially popular for its beautiful Rose Garden, the moss phlox flower fields and the Blue Garden.

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The entrance buildings are made out of bricks and resemble an English residence covered in rose bushes.

After entering the park you will be welcomed by a fountain and a small canal which leads you to the Sakura-Tunnel, entangled by hundreds of small pastel pink roses.

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After strolling through the tunnel you are inside the Rose Garden and the English Rose Garden.

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Enjoy looking at many different kinds of roses blooming in dozen of shining colors.

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Relax in the shadows of white roses which bloom during May and June.

The main spot of the park features the pink moss phlox flowers fields.

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Beautiful pink and white moss phlox flowers in front of blooming cherry blossoms. (Please refer to the image of the pamphlet ;D)

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The next path leads you to the Brilliant Garden which features many colorful flowers arranged to a nice pattern. The lavender blue is one of the main colors for this theme.

 

 

Take a break in the Victorian House and enjoy some delicious food, buy souvenirs at Koruri’s or purchase original Treasure Garden goods at Mary´s Room.

Besides taking a visit to the park, you can also knot the tie with your beloved one in the chapel next to the park. You can book the full wedding-service and enjoy your special day surrounded by nature in the middle of a beautiful garden ambience.

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The St. Peter & Paul Church was built and based on an original church from England and offers the best and most unique wedding location in this area.

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A big rose window, typical curch stained glass windows, a pipe organ, pews and much more will let you experience a typical proper western wedding ceremony.

Tobu Treasure Garden Info:
Hours & Admission for 2017:
☆Moss phlox Festival: March 25th (Saturday) – May 7th (Sunday); 9am – 5pm (last entry 4:30pm)
Admission: 600yen – 1000yen (adults: junior-highschool students and older); 200yen – 400yen (primary school students)
☆Rose & Garden Festival: May 8th (Monday) – June 30th (Friday); 9am – 5pm (las entry 4:30pm)
Admission: 1000yen – 1800yen (adults: junior-highschool students and older); 400yen – 800yen (primary school students)
☆Autumn Rose & Garden Festival: Early October – Early November; 10am – 4:30pm (last entry 4pm)
Admission: 800yen – 1000yen (adults: junior-highschool students and older); 200yen – 400yen (primary school students)
・July – September & Middle November – March closed due to maintenance
Address: 1050 Horikou-cho, Tatebayashi-shi, 374-0033 Gunma
Access: 15min walk from Morinji-mae Station (Tobu Isesaki Line) – 80min from Asakusa Station (Tokyo) station; 10min taxi ride from Tatebayashi Station (Tobu Isesaki Line) – 60min from Asakusa Station (Tokyo)
Tel: 0276-55-0750
URL: http://treasuregarden.jp/en/

Ninja ID: nene16


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Tabea Greuner
Living and working in Japan since 2015. Always excited about discovering new places. Passion for photography, nature-lover & Japanese fashion expert. MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA