Fuerza Bruta: an unbelievable and jaw-dropping performance

A mind blowing performance that will leave you in awe
A mind blowing performance that will leave you in awe

Having performed in over 60 cities in 30 countries, FUERZA BRUTA is in town to debut their new show “WA!-Wonder Japan Experience.” Don’t miss the chance to take part in this one and only experience-type entertainment at Tokyo Shinagawa Prince Hotel Stellar Ball from August 1 to December 10.

High wire flying dancers opens the show
High wire flying dancers opens the show
High technology is infused in the stunning performance
High technology is infused in the stunning performance
Dancers interacting with the audience as they perform in a mid-air pool
Dancers interacting with the audience as they perform in a mid-air pool
Dancers get together for taiko drumming
Dancers get together for taiko drumming

Breaking the boundary between performers and the audience, the Argentina-based Fuerza Bruta brings you a show that far exceeds your expectation of a live concert, play and musical. Fuerza Bruta has infused the essence of Japanese culture into their latest work by using 360-degree space as a stage and combining modern music, Japanese taiko drum with captivating light effects. Dancers jump out from every corner of the venue as the portable stage moves to engage the audience, closing the distance between the two. The performance, totally beyond imagination, will have you on the edge of your chair!

Dancers dance away in the transparent tube emerging from the sky
Dancers dance away in the transparent tube emerging from the sky

The portable stage allows close interaction between performers and the audience on the first floor
The portable stage allows close interaction between performers and the audience on the first floor

Pudding, WAttention Ninja

Ladies, be prepared to have your hair messed up by blowing winds and drenching rain. Four to five dancers opened the show by flying in the sky, moving back and forth, making us feel as if we were the ones hanging in mid-air. After that, a Japanese samurai took the stage. The audience was roaring for him as he cleared away all the enemies and obstacles on the way! Another impressive show involves a big piece of cloth that came out from two sides of the stage, covering the audience. As we focus on the projection on the cloth, dancers started flying up and down. Everything happened in a blink of an eye, catching everyone off guard! This is what FUERZA BRUTA is all about—a visual, sensual and unexpected fantasia.

Not only is the performance worth the while, the venue, designed with surprising features, is a must-see!

Torii gate projected at the entrance, extending a welcoming invitation to guests (Photo Credit: Panasonic)
Torii gate projected at the entrance, extending a welcoming invitation to guests (Photo Credit: Panasonic)
Exquisite 3D projection mapping on rugged walls
Exquisite 3D projection mapping on rugged walls

The projection at the entrance is as impressive as it sounds. Imaging technology from Panasonic is widely used in this ultimate performance. Aside from nine projectors at different corners of the venue, the entrance is decorated with a gigantic entrance door made by 34 LED panels and a floor made out of 125 LED screens. The digital imaging space, as colorful and real as it gets, is transformed into a torii gate and waterfall in a second.

The main hall has six laser projectors and 13 55 inch liquid crystal screens. Short focus projection technology makes 3D projection mapping all the more real on rugged walls. One becomes more and more expected just by looking at the projected images from the entrance extending all the way to the main hall.

Pictures are taken by hidden cameras and then displayed on a screen next to the locker area using AR effect
Pictures are taken by hidden cameras and then displayed on a screen next to the locker area using AR effect

The standing seat on the first floor moves from time to time so you might want to put larger luggage in the locker for convenience sake.
The standing seat on the first floor moves from time to time so you might want to put larger luggage in the locker for convenience sake.

WAttention editor’s review

In the main hall, there are also hidden cameras that take pictures of guests. AR effect is then added to make faces of Japanese Kabuki Theater or comic characters. Find a Kabuki version of yourself on the screen next to the locker area. Pictures and filming are allowed during the performance so you can share all the fun with friends on social media.

Panasonic presents WA!-Wonder Japan Experience

Time: From August 1st, 2017 to December 10th, 2017
Venue: Stellar Ball, Shinagawa Prince Hotel
Ticket: (presale) First floor standing seat 7,600 Yen / Second floor reserved seat 10,800 Yen / Second floor VIP seat (campaign, program list and original goods included) 15,000 Yen
(ticket at the door) First floor standing seat 8,700 Yen / Second floor reserved seat 12,000 Yen
* Prices are tax inclusive
* Second floor reserved seat and VIP seat ticket holders can go to the first floor as they wish after the opening show
Official website: http://fbw.jp/en/
eplus: Eplus tickets

In harmony with the seasons: Kangetsusai

kangetsusai

The beauty of the full moon that occurs in the middle of fall has been admired by the Chinese since ancient times. This “middle of the fall” moon is scheduled by the old Oriental lunar calendar that was in use before the Gregorian calendar was introduced and is equivalent to modern August. In ancient East Asia, August was regarded as the month when the air became the clearest and people started enjoying the full moon on the 15th of this month. The actual date of this ancient 15th of August can be translated into modern 27th of September this year. In Japan, traditionally, the full moon after the “middle of the fall” was also admired as “the moon after” or “the moon reminiscent of the fall”, and it was even regarded as unlucky not to celebrate both moons in some areas of Japan. is year, “the moon after” happens on the 25th of October. It is likely that ancient people were already aware that the moon and tidal changes are strongly related to life forces.

kangetsusai

In harmony with the seasons: Choyo no Sekku

choyu-no-sekku

The “yang” of the “yin-yang” concept is thought to become too strong and hence inauspicious on dates which are odd-numbered in both day and month. The sekku, or seasonal festival, became an event to counter this threat. Within these days, September 9th is known as the Choyo no Sekku as it is the day when the number strongest in “yang” is doubled. It has long been believed that when the power of the nature becomes too overbearing, the life of mankind is endangered. In order to avert that danger and pray for a long life, chrysanthemum flowers are soaked in water or sake and drunk for its blood-cleansing properties. In a time when most illnesses were thought to be caused by impurities in the blood, the chrysanthemum was a type of precious kampo medicine that only the royalty could afford. One of the rituals carried out during the Choyo no Sekku is to place a wad of silk on top of chrysanthemum flowers and to use the parts that absorbed the flower’s dew to wipe one’s body to cleanse oneself. The folksong, “Kikudoji”, used frequently in noh performances, is inspired by the eternal spirit of the chrysanthemum when it bursts into full bloom. In fact, during the Heian era, ladies from the nobility would wipe their faces and bodies with chrysanthemum dew in the hopes of staying young. For the peasants, it was a day to enjoy the chestnut. We now know the chestnut as being a health food rich in vitamin C, and well-balanced in terms of protein and fat. People in the past knew this from experience and eating this in the hopes of longevity on day of the Choyo is a festival tradition that cannot be missed.

In harmony with the seasons: Tanomi Festival – Early September

tanomi-festival

Tanomi Festival – Early September

The “Tanomi Festival” later became the “Hassaku Festival”—written in a different kanji character to mean festival for ‘pleading’—among merchants and samurai warriors, and evolved as a rite to foresee if riches would be amassed and a clan would be secure in the future.

In the old days, Japanese farmers used to go around the homes of friends and acquaintances on Hassaku, the first day of the eighth month of the year in the old calendar, carrying the first ears of rice harvested on that day to pray for a good harvest and to thank the Gods for being able to grow rice. These actions were called “Tanomi”. A time of year that has been noted in history as when typhoons had been feared, this period coincides with the two hundred and tenth day since the beginning of spring. Since the days when natural disasters were considered to be curses of the higher beings, people had prayed so damage would be minimal, and they buried offerings of money hoping for the safety of their family members. Such customs began to spread throughout the country, and they included the festival of the wind, hoped to appease the God of the wind. Over the years, these festivals became integrated and later led to the Hassaku festival, which eventually started to be observed throughout Japan.

Moerenuma Park – Natural Art & Artistic Nature

Tetra Mound
Tetra Mound

Not really seeing where the bus was going, and then awkwardly wandering into a parking space, trying to find Moerenuma park, I ended up crossing a bridge and the first landmark greeting me was an impressive glass pyramid. That is when I knew for sure I was at the right place.

Moerenuma-Park

Let me take you a bit back. Moerenuma park in Sapporo might be a misleading name and the green spot on the map doesn’t really help. If you think it’s just another park and opt to skip it, I’d say you’re missing out. It’s a landscape art paradise, the dream project of Japanese-American artist and architect Isamu Noguchi, who sadly did not live to see the opening of the park. Built on top of a former landfill site and surrounded by a marsh (hence the name, ‘numa’) it is a success story going on to win many awards. The park’s construction began in 1982 and it was completed in 2005. It is completely free of charge and open to the public year round.

Inside the pyramid
Inside the pyramid
zoria-outside-the-pyramid-moerenuma-park
zoria-inside-the-pyramid-at-moerenuma-park

The glass pyramid is a homage to Noguchi’s friend I.M. Pei, who designed the glass pyramid at Paris’ Louvre Museum. It’s nicknamed “Hidamari”, which means “sunny spot” in Japanese. We had a great time taking photos inside, capturing the sunlight and playing with the shadows. There, you can visit the gallery dedicated to Noguchi, where you can also have a drink or a snack and head to the top of the pyramid for great views of both Sapporo and Moerenuma park. And we realized we were in for a treat. From the Tetra-Mound to the little pond and perfectly planted tree groves, we couldn’t wait to get down and explore it.

view from the top of the pyramid
View from the top of the pyramid

icecream-in-moerenuma-park

The vast park features nature and art in perfect harmony,with the landscaped Mount Moere, the Tetra Mound, The Sea Fountain and the art sculptures that are actually playgrounds nestled secretly between the greenery until you discover them. Although you see the outline of the park from the top of Hidamari, there’s still a lot of surprise and discovery, that’s why you need a map to walk around, mouth gaping open and losing track of time while taking hundreds of photos, all of them perfect. According to the official website this park changes in synch with the seasons, so in spring the cherry blossoms are in bloom and in winter you can ski on Mount Moere. Visiting in summer, we were welcomed by a the green Eden, lush nature and a cool breeze.

 Mount Moere
Mount Moere
Mount Moere
Mount Moere

There was something serene and laid back in the way everyone relaxes in this park. First of all, it’s so spacious, crowds are never a problem. Secondly, you’re free to do anything you like. People were cycling, running, walking their dogs, parents playing with their children, couples taking photos, guys skateboarding under the Tetra Mound… You can dip your feet in the shallow pond called Moere Beach, have a picnic, play music and just truly enjoy the shared public space. You can rent a bicycle and use it in the park, but be careful, it’s only until 5 PM despite the park being open until 9 PM. Moreover different activities in the park have different working hours, so make sure to check the Sea Fountain show times, the pond etc.

zoria-on-playthings

As the day was ending and families were leaving the park before sunset, we got to see another face of Moerenuma – quiet, empty, almost eerie, beautiful. If you are a photo enthusiast, I recommend staying until the end, getting some nice clean shots and having the whole park to yourself as the gold of the sun dissipates across it and melts away. The best treat are the playthings, which are such beautiful sculptures that you cannot believe children were playing with them just moments before. But in the late hours before closing they can be all yours. You can forget your own age and get lost in the colourful labyrinth of fun, with new sculptures peeking around the corner.

playthings-sculpture
playthings-sunset

playthings-at-moerenuma-park

As darkness fell upon the park we knew it was time to leave. The five hours we spent there flew by as if it had been merely an hour. If you are on your first visit to Moerenuma park you might be torn between exploring all of it or just lying down, relaxing, taking it all in. I wish I could go there all the time, do all my work there, but for now I’ll just have to hope to visit it again some time. But you, don’t skip this park if you are in Sapporo!

moerenuma-park-at-night

sunset-morenuma-park

Moerenuma Park

Admission: free
Hours:
Apr.29 – May 9:00-19:00
June – Aug. 9:00-20:00
Sep. – Nov.3 9:00-19:00
Nov.4 – Apr.28 9:00-17:00
Closed first Monday of each month and every Monday from Nov.4 to Apr.28
The Sea Fountain Operates from Apr.29 to Oct.20
Access: From JR Sapporo Station, take the Sapporo Municipal Railway (Toho Line) to Kanjo-Dori-Higashi Station (approx. 25 minutes). Get off and take the Higashi 69 or 79 Chuo Bus to “Moerenuma Koen Higashiguchi” bus stop (east entrance). It’s roughly a 10-minute walk to the park’s Glass Pyramid from there.
URL: http://moerenumapark.jp/english/

WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Zoria April
Zoria is a writer, of the rare poet variety and a passionate photographer. If you see somebody around Tokyo taking photos of concrete walls, it must be her. She loves to dress fashionably and go drink as many cups of coffee as humanly possible, preferably in cafes with a view.

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Ninja ID: zoria

Thanksgiving for food in Japanese Itadakimasu and Gochisousama

Thanksgiving For Food in Japanese

thanksgiving

The words for this article are those used to give thanks before and after meals.

” 食への感謝の言葉〜「いただきます」と「ごちそうさま」”

”Tanatsumono, momonokigusa mo Amaterasu, hinoookami no megumi etekoso. Asayoini, monokuugoto ni toyoukeno, kamino megumi wo omoe, yonohito”

Itadakimasu – いただきます

The first half of the phrase reads: “Tanatsumono, momonokigusa no Amaterasu, hinoookami no megumi etekoso.” This is similar in meaning to the phrase “itadakimasu” that is said before eating a meal. Specifically, it means that the harvest from the fields is a blessing from the sun, which I gratefully partake.”

Gochisousama -ごちそうさま

The second half of the phrase reads: “Asayoini, monokuugoto ni toyoukeno, kamino megumi wo omoe, yonohito.” This is said to give thanks after a meal, like the phrase “gochisousama” used nowadays. “Toyouke no kami” refers to the god of food. “Gochisousama”, when written in kanji characters, infers to the action of running about and is meant to recognize the effort of the person who prepared the meal. In other words, it means, “Be it morning or night, I give thanks to god for providing my meals.” This complete phrase was recited by an 18th century classics researcher, Motoori Norinaga, and it is still currently chanted in shrines before and after meals.

Words of thanks

These days, the long phrases starting with “tanatsumono” and “asayoini” are not recited, but most Japanese would say “itadakimasu” before eating a meal and “gochisousama” at the end. It seems there is no equivalent for such phrases in English, but these phrases that come naturally for any Japanese when partaking in food is an expression of thanks towards nature for its bounty.

Though old-fashioned, these phrases embody an important aspect of the Japanese mindset. To reflect this history, I have expressed these words in old-style hiragana called hentaigana. This form of writing can only be deciphered by experts of Japanese classical literature nowadays, but this text, which evolved from kanji into its current typology, has a beautiful form. Each word connects to the next, and this makes it necessary to control the flow of ink from the brush, and control of one’s breath to be slow and even. These are words of thanks, suitable to decorate the dining table.

The “DATE Culture” Fostered by Masamune

Statue of Date Masamune overlooking the city of Sendai from the ruins of Sendai Castle, which is located on a plateau.
Statue of Date Masamune overlooking the city of Sendai from the ruins of Sendai Castle, which is located on a plateau.

More than Just a Warrior

Born in a time when Japan was plagued by civil wars during the Sengoku period (mid 15th century – early 17th century), Masamune rose quickly to become a tactful, ruthless and ambitious warrior from a young age, earning the name “Dokuganryu” (One- Eyed Dragon, as he had lost an eye to smallpox at a young age). In 1604, Tokugawa Ieyasu, the daimyo who completed the unification of Japan under central rule, awarded Masamune lordship of the Sendai Domain for his loyalty, making him the most powerful daimyo.

Despite his fearsome reputation, Masamune was an educated man and a patron of the arts, Wanting Sendai to rival the Kyoto-Osaka region, he worked to expand trade and beautify the area. Tohoku, once a remote part of Japan, soon prospered as a popular destination for tourism, trade and prosperity. While Masamune embraced tradition, he also saw the need to embrace foreigners, especially their technology and knowledge. He encouraged foreigners to visit his region and even dispatched an embassy on board the San Juan Bautista, (a ship built with European techniques) to meet the Pope, while also visiting the Philippines, Spain and Mexico.

In addition, Masamune had a distinct philosophy about hospitality that reflected his deep appreciation for the arts. Having a passion for food, when entertaining guests he personally created the menu, tasted the food and presented it, showing visitors the utmost care and attention with cuisine reflecting his sense of aesthetics, inspired by the Japanese tea ceremony and Noh (classical musical dramas). Far more than a typical general, Masamune expressed himself as a highly sophisticated and uniquely cultured individual.

Masamune’s cultural knowledge, as well as his governing policies, gave birth to the “DATE Culture” that spread throughout the castle town and eventually to the more distant Tohoku communities. But what exactly is ”DATE Culture”? It is a glamourous culture that respects the richness of tradition while embracing new ideas; in addition, it appreciates the highest beauty and perfection while remaining modest. Visitors cannot help but notice these principles on display as they explore Tohoku’s traditional artwork, cuisine and way of life in general.

http://datebunka.jp/en/

For Masamune-related spots, visit:

Sendai Castle Ruins

sendaijoshi

After becoming Sendai’s first feudal lord in 1603, Date Masamune build Sendai Castle on Mt. Aoba, which overlooks the city. Currently, only the stone walls remain, but it continues to be a symbol of Sendai City.

Masamune’s Zuihoden Mausoleum

zuiganji

Hours: 9am – 4:30pm (Until 4pm from Dec to Jan)
Admission:550 yen

Sendai City Museum

date-armor

Hours: 9am – 4:45pm (Last entry 4:15pm)
Closed: Mondays, days following national holidays and Dec 28 – Jan 4. Also closed for renovations from Dec 28, 2017 – Mar 31, 2018.
Admission: 460 yen

Experiencing Date Culture Today

The traditional Sendai Tansu were originally used for merchants and samurai to keep their personal items.
The traditional Sendai Tansu were originally used for merchants and samurai to keep their personal items.

Sendai Tansu: A Treasured Craft

Tansu were originally used as mobile pieces of furniture in which merchants and samurai could keep their personal items. Made from zelkova Japanese elm and chestnut, each tansu is painstakingly crafted, finished with kijiro-urushi (uncoloured) lacquer and embellished with embossed metal fittings of dragons, Chinese lions or peonies. At age 80, Eikichi Yaegashi is one of Sendai’s most respected tansu craftsman, specializing in the creation of the decorative metal fittings. As the fourth generation in his family to continue the craft’s tradition, he creates striking pieces of art that truly capture the undeniable beauty of “DATE Culture.”

A variety of metal fittings decorate the tansu.
A variety of metal fittings decorate the tansu.
Eikichi Yaegashi is a famous tansu craftsman who specializes in metal fittings.
Eikichi Yaegashi is a famous tansu craftsman who specializes in metal fittings.

Shokeikaku: Food Culture Derived from Masamune’s Aesthetics

Once the residence of the Date clan, who relocated here after having to relinquish their domain in 1867 due to the Meiji Restoration, this two-storey wooden bungalow is now a popular restaurant and venue for special occasions. Overlooking a splendid Japanese garden, it features local cuisine presented in adorable, miniature Sendai tansu. Other highlights are the artefacts and heirlooms on display, including Masamune’s iconic black suit of armour and helmet with the golden crescent moon.

Shokeikaku is the former residence of the Date clan.
Shokeikaku is the former residence of the Date clan.
shokeikaku by night
Shokeikaku by night
Shokeikaku
Shokeikaku:
143-3, Hitokita-nishi, Taihaku-ku, Sendai Taihaku-ku, Miyagi

Kamakura Matsuri (Snow Hut Festival): More than Just Igloos!

Burning tenpitsu so that it reaches heaven
Burning tenpitsu so that it reaches heaven

Kamakura festivals, often held on the day of the first full moon of a new year (around mid-February) to pray for household safety and a bumper grain harvest, are traditional events in the Tohoku region. And there is far more to the Akita Kamakura festivals than their ever-popular igloo-building activities!

Rokugo Kamakura: with a Bamboo Pole Fight!

The Rokugo district in Akita Ken’s Misato town holds a Kamakura Matsuri every February 11 to 15, featuring an array of activities such as writing down one’s wish on coloured paper, making igloos, participating in or watching a “fortune-telling” bamboo pole fight and making a bonfire to burn the wish papers. The Rokugo Kamakura Festival is a combination of a rice harvest ritual that dates back to the Yayoi period (300 BC–300 AD) and an ancient court custom of burning tenpitsu (wish paper) in a bonfire.

Wishes written on paper of five different colours are called tenpitsu
Wishes written on paper of five different colours are called tenpitsu

The festival’s highlight is on the last day, when locals participate in a bamboo pole fight and burn the tenpitsu. The pole fight can be traced back to the Edo period (1603–1867) and the result of the competition is said to reveal the fortune of the coming year’s harvest. Participants divide themselves into team North and team South and, legend has it, if team North wins, the town will be blessed with a good harvest; if team South wins, rice prices will go up due to shortage. As the fight involves an intense bonfire and the aggressive swinging of five-meter-long bamboo poles, it is considered one of the most dangerous and exciting festivals in Japan.

After two rounds (the entire fight lasts for three), the audience start to burn tenpitsu on the triangular-shaped, straw bonfire. Tradition has it that bathing in the fire’s smoke brings health and wellbeing. Also, it is said that the higher one’s tenpitsu flies in the flame, the better one’s handwriting gets by the year, resulting in better grades at school.

Both children and adults write down their wishes
Both children and adults write down their wishes
Akita’s Suwa Shrine is located opposite the venue of the bamboo pole fight
Akita’s Suwa Shrine is located opposite the venue of the bamboo pole fight

Miniature shrines made of snow can be seen everywhere
Miniature shrines made of snow can be seen everywhere

Misato’s Rokugo District: 10 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen) by car

Hiburi Kamakura: Swirling Balls of Fire

Akita ken’s Kakunodate is known as Tohoku’s “Little Kyoto” because many samurai residences are well preserved there, giving the town a refined, elegant atmosphere. Every February 13 to 14, the town holds a Lunar New Year celebration called Hiburi Kamakura (The Fire and Snow Festival). The event starts with participants lighting bales of straw on fire in furnances made of snow, and is followed by the burning of both tenpitsu and New Year’s decorations in a bonfire to pray for peace in the new year. The highlight of the festival is when participants grab the ends of the ropes tied to the flaming straw bales and whirl them in circular
Kakunodate’s Hiburi Kamakura is famous for participants swirling fireballs in wide circles
Kakunodate’s Hiburi Kamakura is famous for participants swirling fireballs in wide circles
motions around themselves. This swirling ritual of blazing fireballs, traditionally thought to ward off diseases in the new year, adds a mystical aura to the snow-covered landscape.

Kakunodate: Kakunodate Station (JR Akita Shinkansen)

Yokote Snow Festivals: Kamakura Matsuri & Bonden Matsuri

In the city of Yokote in Akita Ken, two traditional snow festival events are held annually on the first full moon of the year.

Calm Snow Festival – ‘Kamakura’

The Yokote Kamakura Matsuri, held every February, has a history of 450 years, and features many igloos at various locations across the city and a burning ritual. Traditionally, in the area between the Yokote River and Yokote Castle (once a samurai residence), locals would worship the God of Kamakura by offering sake and homemade pounded rice cakes. They also burned New Year’s decorations and ropes in igloos to pray for children’s wellbeing. On the other side of the Yokote River, where commoners used to live, igloos were traditionally set up to honour the
Igloos become places of worship during the festival
Igloos become places of worship during the festival
water gods next to the communal well, which supported the lives of the locals. Today, this tradition carries on as residents set up altars to worship the gods, while children often stay in the igloos enjoying grilled rice cakes and amazake, a traditional, sweet, non-alcoholic drink made from fermented rice.

Yokote:20 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen Station) to Yokote Station by local train JR Ôu Line

Active Snow Festival – ‘Bonden’

Men carrying a bonden to Asahiokayama Shrine
Men carrying a bonden to Asahiokayama Shrine
Bonden, a tool representing the descent of a divine spirit, are used in Shinto rituals. In the past, bonden were wooden sticks with many zigzag-shaped paper streamers tied to them. Today, bonden have evolved into 4.3-metre-high wooden poles with round bamboo baskets measuring 90 centimetres in diameter. They are accessorized with colourful strains of cloth, zigzag paper streamers and various other decorations.
Modern bonden sometimes weigh more than 30 kilos, depending on the amount of creativity that goes into the making. During the festival season, bonden are displayed around residential areas as a prayer for safety before being carried by a group of men to Asahiokayama Shrine on February 17.

Asahiokayama Shrine: 15 min from Yokote Station (JR Ôu Line) to Ôsawa stop by bus

Yuzawa Inukko Matsuri (Dog Festival)

Cute dog sculptures at the festival venue
Cute dog sculptures at the festival venue
On the second Saturday and Sunday of February, people make snow sculptures of dogs in Akita’s Yuzawa area to thank the canines for their loyalty. The festival, with a history of 400 years, also features altars made of snow, where participants offer rice cakes in the shape of dogs.
Staff wearing traditional outfits featuring an Akitaken (dog breed)
Staff wearing traditional outfits featuring an Akitaken (dog breed)

Yuzawa: 40 min from Ômagari Station (JR Akita Shinkansen) to Yuzawa Station by local train (JR Ôu Line )

Kento-Sai (Votive Lantern Festival)

Enormous candles are set up to pray for business prosperity
Enormous candles are set up to pray for business prosperity
Kanto-Sai, also known as the Candle Festival, in Nigata’s Sanjo city (famous for its cutlery production) has been held since the Edo period to pray for prosperous business and the safe travels for business owners. Visit the Sanjo Hachiman Shrine on January 14 and 15 to see gigantic candles weighing 30 to 50 kilos, with a diameter of 50 centimetres and a height of one metre!

Sanjo: Tsubamesanjô Station (JR Jôetsu Shinkansen)

Namahage Culture: Living with the Times

生剝鬼是秋田男鹿市特有的傳統文化
Namahage culture is a tradition unique to Oga, Akita Prefecture

In an agriculture society where people’s daily lives depend on the weather, people have worshipped the gods at festivals to pray for crop prosperity, to ward off evil and to bring good fortune. What was once a ceremony solely to worship gods, however, has transformed into a traditional folklore event in modern times. The culture of Namahage, frightening the people of Oga city in Akita Prefecture, is a perfect example.

What is Namahage
Namahage ( なまはげ ) is a folk event unique to the Oga Peninsula in Oga city, Akita Ken. The word derives from combining the Japanese word for erythema (namomi) caused by idling next to a fire for a long period in order to avoid the winter cold, and the word for tearing off (hagu) the reddish lumps that can build on the skin as a result. The demons looking gods who warn those slacking off from work and their studies became known as Namahage.
There are various theories as to the origin of these fearsome demons. one legend goes that a village was afflicted by the evil doings of five demons. To combat the problem, a deal was made: If the demons could build a thousand stone steps leading up to the Akagami Shrine Goshado in a single night, they would offer a girl in return but, if the demons failed, they had to leave the village forever. The five demons made it as far as the 999th step but, when they were about to set the last stone, the villagers interfered by imitated the morning crow of a rooster. Thinking it was a voice from heaven, the dissapointed demons ran away from the village, never to return.

To entertain a Namahage is to
To entertain a Namahage is to “Namahage Gozen” (meal)
The Namahage Sedo Festival is held annually on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February
The Namahage Sedo Festival is held annually on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February

Namahage Folk Ritual
Every year on December 31, New Year’s Eve, locals wrapped in knitted straw known as kede put on fearsome Namahage masks exclusive to their districts and walk around neighborhoods to visit homes. Warning children to work hard, to study and to listen to their parents, the Namahage shout things like, “Are there any crying children?” and “Are there any misbehaving children?”. This frightening act comes from the wish that the children will earn good grades in school, succeed in society and thus be happy in the years to come. Each homeowner entertains the Namahage with sake and sailfin sandfish (caught off the coast of Akita Prefecture) while praising his spouse and children in order to protect them from the frightful visitor. Also, on January 3, Saitou-sai(Festival) is held at Manshin Shrine, which boasts a history of about 900 years. In the vicinity of the shrine, a fire is lit and mochi (pounded rice cakes, also known as goma mochi) are roasted; they are offered to the Namahage, descended from the mountaintop as the gods’ messenger, and a prayer is said for the village’s peace and crop prosperity. Combining the New Year’s Eve Namahage event and Saitou-sai, locals have created Oga’s Winter Festival, also known as the Namahage Sedo Matsuri. Every year, the event is held on the second Friday, Saturday and Sunday of February, satisfying any tourist’s curiosity about Namahage culture. The highlight is when the Namahage ascends the mountain with torch in hand. The sight of the torch’s flame illuminating the dark road against the bright white snow creates a truly mystical scene!

At the Namahage Sedo Festival,
masks featuring each district are on full display
At the Namahage Sedo Festival, masks featuring each district are on full display

Goshado: 30min bus ride from Oga Station (JR Oga Line) by bus
Shinzan Shrine: 50min from Hadachi Station (JR Oga Line) by bus

Taking a photo with a Namahage
Taking a photo with a Namahage

The Event’s True Meaning
Originally, participants in the Namahage folk ritual would visit most households. However, with the changing times, now there are some families who do not welcome a visit from the Namahage. Some parents cannot stand to see their children being scolded, and some say that it is a cruel ritual of disciplinary punishment against children. In this way, the tradition of this culture has been challenged repeatedly through the ages.

Noboru Sugawara, a local elder, used to visit households as a Namahage. In his opinion, shouting of the Namahage wards off evil and brings good fortune. People who are unaware of Namahage culture sometimes misunderstand the ritual as simply an act of chastising children, Sugawara says, and hence something threatening. This conveys the importance of understanding the true meaning behind Namahage culture instead of inheriting the tradition blindly, and its value should be handed down to future generations.

American teacher Scott Camino dressed up as a Namahage on New Year's Eve
American teacher Scott Camino dressed up as a Namahage on New Year’s Eve
Ashizawa’s reproduced mask at the event
Ashizawa’s reproduced mask at the event
Ritual to start the festival
Ritual to start the festival

Cultural Revitalization through Mask Reproduction

Traditional Namahage culture is also under threat due to the disappearance of masks that are unique to each district, as well as the fact that the ritual is no longer held in certain regions. In 2014, Ashizawa District’s Youth Association gained attention for its efforts to reproduce its mask for the first time in 30 years. Yasuaki Takeda, a member of the Youth Association to produce masks, reveald that they used old photos in literature material, to confirmed the features of the mask, gather the necessary materials and collaborate in the production, a process that took over two years. They wanted to create an exact replica of the original mask, but soon realized the challenges that came with the color formulation and preparation of the material. This led the Association to have a change of heart regarding an exact replica, and they realized that by using current materials, the mask would truly reflect the current times.
Scott Camio, an American teacher at Funagawa Daiichi Elementary School in Oga, has participated in the New Year’s Eve ritual. As a non-Japanese, he said he was strongly moved by how local residents were struggling to preserve Namahage culture and their approach not only to pass it on to next generations, but also to improve it. In this way, the Namahage folk culture does not burn out in an instant like fireworks, but rather is deeply rooted in the lives of the local residents; they continue to explore how to find a balance between traditional culture and modern- day life in order for the true meaning of Namahage culture to be handed down to future generations.

At the Namahage Museum, there is a variety of regional masks on display
At the Namahage Museum, there is a variety of regional masks on display
Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (open year-round)
Access:15min from Hadachi Station (JR Oga Line) by car

FIVE unforgettable experiences during our Yamagata Minshuku stay!

minshuku-irori-yamagata-prefecture-stay
by Chew Yan Qiao
My colleague and I were blessed with the opportunity to stay at a minshuku at Iide town in Yamagata Prefecture. Minshuku are Japanese-style “bed and breakfast” lodgings. They are usually family run, offer Japanese style rooms, and often include one or two meals as part of the package price. Having thoroughly enjoyed my trip, I would like to share my experience with fellow travelers looking for new adventures!

irori-minshuku-in-rural-yamagata-japan

1. Quiet, peaceful environment & homely atmosphere

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Arriving at our minshuku, we found that it was surrounded by mountains and a vast number of trees. The calming sound of water running through the river and sight of plantations had us feeling like we were transported to the inaka (countryside). It was truly a beautiful sight that we are not able to see in big cities.

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The moment we stepped into the house, it gave off a homely and heartwarming vibe which radiated from every corner. The traditional tatami-style house was designed with wood structures and a pit in the middle where we could warm ourselves in the winter or just gather round to talk.

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irori-central-hearth-in-traditional-japanese-minshuku

Our okami san (女将さん, lady owner), Nobuko san was an 81-year-old lady who has stayed her entire life in this small town.
She started her minshuku business 10 years ago for Japanese who were interested in staying in the countryside to relax from their hectic work life and most importantly, she loves listening to stories from all walks of life. As night fell, we prepared our own futon to sleep. I was able to hear the calming sound of the river at the back of the house and slept soundly throughout the night.

Hands on activities

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We were supposed to experience vegetable farming or experience picking vegetable at the back of the mountains, but because of inconsistent rainfall coupled with the change of season, the ground was too muddy and difficult to move around. We were given another opportunity for some hands-on — Making wagashi (和菓子, traditional Japanese confectionaries)!

learning-how-to-make-wagashi-filled-with-anko
anko-filled-wagashi-in-yamagata

The dessert we were making was sasadango (笹団子), a wagashi from Niigata prefecture. It is filled with anko (アンコ, red bean paste) covered with a dough and wrapped with bamboo leaves. It was also my first time to make wagashi. Although it was difficult to get the fillings in into the wrapping leaves, I had a lot of fun making it. If I were to visit again, I would want to try picking some fresh vegetables from the mountains.

Enjoying sasadango
Enjoying sasadango

Food

delicious-minshuku-food-in-yamagata

It was sooooo good. Really. I am not joking.
All of our meals were made by Nobuko san, and every single dish was prepared beautifully and believe me, just looking at it already builds up your appetite to devour all the good stuff. With such delicate arrangement and attention to the detail in every dish that was to be presented to the guest, I can only describe her as a top notch service provider. Her omotenashi (sense of hospitality) is simply killer! One of her favorite ingredient to use was sansai (山菜, mountain vegetable). It can be found around the mountains and it needs special preparation when cooking. “Only the natives know” Nobuko san jokingly told us.

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Since I have never tried these type of vegetables, it was really exciting to taste these new veggies. There was the “just-picked” kind of earthy taste with a nice crunch at the end, and it goes really well with the Japanese rice.

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As you can see from the pictures, we were treated to tempura, beef stew, sashimi as well as pickles and fruits, all made with care by Nobuko san. The explosive tastes harmonized incredibly well and at the end of the meal, I felt super well fed and satisfied.
P.S. The rice used was from Yamagata Prefecture and is known as tsuyahime (つや姫). With the natural lighting acting as a backlight, the rice was literally sparkling with warm steam and practically begging me to eat it!

4. Nobuko san’s stories
のぶこさんの物語

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We were fortunate to hear many of Nobuko san’s life stories such as how different it is living in the place now compared to 50 years ago, and about her Europe trip with her friends when she was 70 years old. We were lucky to have a translator next to us to share what Nobuko san said. I think even if you don’t understand the language, body language speaks for itself, and simply listening to her speak was extremely enjoyable.

5. An experience that you can never get in big cities

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The whole home stay experience in a minshuku was really fun and exciting. World travelers will definitely love to have this in their list when traveling to Japan.From the warm environment, authentic Japanese meals to the experience of making wagashi, the hospitality that I received filled my heart with warmth. I really enjoyed being able to travel and witness another culture so similar yet so different at the same time. It is truly amazing how traveling can bring us closer to one another, no matter our backgrounds and history.

農家民宿 いろり
IRORI MINSHUKU

Address: 〒999-0436 Iide Town Iwakura, Nishiokitama-gun, Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
URL: iide-irori.com
Price: 1 Night 2 meals, 6,800 J
For reservation: [email protected] OR www.iikanjini.com/tomaru/

 

Suikawari: Blindfolded watermelon smashing

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Summer Tradition: Suikawari

The quintessential Japanese beach activity. Similar to the Mexican piñata, suikawari involves blindfolded players trying to smash open a watermelon guided by the shouts of their friends. Usually, a sheet or piece of cardboard is placed under the watermelon so the smashed pieces are kept safe from the ground. The first person to split the rotund fruit using a bokutou (木刀, wooden sword) or baseball bat is the winner of the game.

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Watermelon splitting on the beach

If you want to eat your watermelon in an original and destructive way, look no further. Suikawari is so popular that in 1991 the “Japan Suika-Wari Association (JSWA)” established a set of written rules for the game. The association no longer exists but it is pretty amazing that it even did. Some of the rules concerned the distance between the watermelon and the player, the type of stick to be used and JSWA-recognized blindfolds were to be used. Judges at the competition were required to have eaten at least ten watermelons in the current year. It makes you wonder how they were even able to check all these rules.

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Click here to learn more about Japanese traditions related to watermelon.

The owl statues of Ikebukuro

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Over 2.5 million people pass through Ikebukuro Station daily, making it the second busiest station in Tokyo after Shinjuku Station. While Ikebukuro is an important transportation hub, many people stop by simply to enjoy the shopping or anime (cartoon) subculture, which even rivals Akihabara, the famous pop-culture district in Tokyo. For this issue, we decided to explore the area for ourselves and see what it had to offer. Walking through the streets, we found Ikebukuro’s unique combination of elements: a strong-knit modern community blended with a rich historical, art and cultural scene. Join us as we unlock the undiscovered treasures of Ikebukuro!

The owls of Ikebukuro ikefukuro いけふくろ

Thought to bring good luck, the owl has been a community symbol in Ikebukuro since just after WWII, hence the countless sightings of owl-themed items throughout the streets. Start your Ikebukuro owl tour at Ikefukuro! Located in the basement of JR Ikebukuro Station, this owl statue (erected in 1987) has become a famous meet-up spot. The name is a play on words: “Ikebukuro” combined with fukuro (owl in Japanese). The best way to find Ikefukuro is by exiting JR’s Central Gate 2 and turning right.

Mitake Shrine 御嶽神社

mitake shrine in ikebukuro owls

Nested in a quiet, residential neighborhood, this shrine will provide an authentic experience of religion and community in Japan. If you go early, you can see residents stopping by before starting their day to say a prayer. In the spirit of Ikebukuro’s community are two statues of owl families and omamori (good luck charms) in the shape of or designed with owls.

owls statue in ikebukuro

mitake shrine red torii owl ikebukuro

In the spirit of Ikebukuro’s community are two statues of owl families and omamori (good luck charms) in the shape of or designed with owls.

omamori charms ikebukuro owls mitaka shrine
owl charm ikebukuro
Hours: Open 24/7 year-round
Address: 3-51-2 Ikebukuro, Toshima-ku

Miharado 三原堂

In business since 1937, this traditional Japanese confectionary shop features a café for customers to relax and savor their top-notch offerings, all made with Japan’s f inest ingredients. Don’t miss the owl-shaped monaka (wafer sandwich with red bean filling), which was created to appeal to a younger generation who tended to see traditional confectionary as being only for older people.
Owl-shaped confection
Owl-shaped confection
Hours: 11am – 9pm
Address: 1F 1-6-1 Nishiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL:Visit the Hotel Metropolitan’s website here.

Ikefukuro café いけふくろうカフェ

foreigner visitor tourist owl cafe ikebukuro
cute owls in ikebukuro owl cafe tokyo

For animal lovers, this up-close interaction with owls is an hour of heaven! With over 30 birds out of their cages at a time, you will meet owls you have never laid eyes on before. Take advantage of the knowledgeable and Englishfriendly staff to learn more about these majestic birds of prey. Your heart is bound to melt as you pet the necks of these fascinating, friendly creatures!

Hours: 1pm – 7pm (weekdays), 12pm – 6pm (weekends)
*To ensure a spot, make reservation by phone or email.
Admission: 1,500 yen (weekdays), 1,600 yen (weekends)
*Includes a bottle of water
Address: Sakimoto Bldg. 6F, 1-17-1 Minamiikebukuro, Toshima-ku
URL:Visit Ikefukuro Cafe’s website here.

Stroll through Ikebukuro’s Picturesque District

ikebukuro old town shop

Only a 15-minute walk separates you from the bustling inner city of Ikebukuro and its nostalgic old town, Zoshigaya. Wander through the myriad alleys and discover the wonder of secluded spots, all of which look like illustrations lifted from a picture book.

Tabi-Neko Zakka shop 旅猫雑貨店

Find the perfect souvenir

souvenir shop in ikebuuro old town

This adorable shop is the perfect place to buy authentic Japanese souvenirs for people back home! In line with the store’s slogan, “Let’s enjoy Japanese lifestyle,” the owner collects popular traditional toys and fun general goods that are certain to brighten your day. One of its hottest sellers are kamifusen (Japanese paper balloons), which come in different shapes/characters. For cat lovers, this is the perfect place to find Japanese feline-themed items!

Hours: 12pm – 7pm weekdays, 11am – 6pm weekends and national holidays Closed: Mon (opened if a national holiday) & Tue
Address: 2-22-17 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Chiasma Coffee キアズマ珈琲

Enjoy your coffee in peace

charisma cafe ikebukuro

From the decor to the jazz playing in the background, this coffee shop provides a tranquil ambiance making it the perfect spot to relax. Inspired by his grandfather’s coffee shop, the owner has created a vintage-like space with a modern touch. With beans that have been carefully selected and roasted in-house, the result is a cup of top-quality drip coffee. To go with your coffee, indulge in some mouth-watering homemade cakes!

cafe charisma owl mug ikebukuro tokyo
cafe charisma ikebukuro sandwhich
Hours: 10:30am-7pm Closed: Wed
Address: 3-19-5 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Kishimojin-do Temple 鬼子母神堂

Temple with several historical landmarks

temple in zoshigaya

The greenery surrounding Kishimojin-do leaves you wondering if you are still in Tokyo! Famous for enshrining Kishimojin, goddess of child care, many have visited to pray for the safe birth and growth of their children. Ironically, Kishimojin was originally an evil goddess who ate children, but after her son was hidden away, she reformed and became the deity she is today. This is why the name of the temple includes the kanji character for demon ( 鬼), but without an extra stroke to symbolize the removal of her horns.

statue demon Kishimojin-do Temple
owls at Kishimojin-do Temple
Address: 3-15-20 Zoshigaya, Toshima-ku

Toden Arakawa Line 都電荒川線

Take a trolley ride through charming Tokyo

Photo: © Bureau of Transportation. Tokyo Metropolitan Government.
Photo: © Bureau of Transportation. Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

In addition to walking, there is no better way to enjoy Ikebukuro’s old town than with a ride on the Toei Streetcar (Toden) Arakawa Line. With Tokyo’s advanced train system, this one-and-only remaining streetcar service is a hidden gem; the oldest section still operating today opened in 1913. Enjoy the charming scenery as you ride through neighborhoods of both historical and cultural importance.

URL: visit Toden Arakawa Line’s website here.

Interview with a kimono influencer

german kimono enthusiast

Taking Over Tokyo’s Fashion Scene

From a small town in northern Germany to the massive metropolis of Tokyo, Anji SALZ, who calls herself a “kimono influencer,” told us about the latest trends in the kimono community.

Already owning several yukata back in Germany, received as gifts, she first wore a kimono in Kyoto and fell in love with the elegance. After moving to Japan in 2010, Anji dedicated her life to spreading the beauty of kimono as a casual garment. We met the designer of SALZ Tokyo on a sunny afternoon in Shinjuku to talk about her current projects, future plans and this year’s yukata trends.

What fascinates you about kimono and yukata?
“Usually kimono have been passed down through generations and it feels like wearing a piece of art. I love that you can style and combine kimono quite wildly, the same as Harajuku fashion. You can go bold with patterns and colors, and it is a lot of fun! Match stripes and dots, or combine flower patterns and geometrical patterns. I just love how your whole posture changes, as it makes you feel more feminine and graceful. I also have the feeling that it changes me as a person. When I am walking in my regular clothes I tend to get stressed in crowds, but when I wear kimono or yukata I feel more gentle and kind. It changes my movements and I can take one step back.”

Where do you get your ideas and inspiration?
“First of all, I think of kimono as fashion. I have the feeling that many Japanese people don’t do that, as they feel intimidated by a lot of rules. I feel free and find inspiration in Harajuku fashion, kimono-wearing people around me, magazines or creative photo shoots. I like vintage clothes,

“The blue color makes me feel refreshed even on hot summer days, and fish are a specific summer motif in the kimono world! The checkered design is modern, yet transmits a retro atmosphere.”
“The blue color makes me feel refreshed even on
hot summer days, and fish are a specific summer
motif in the kimono world! The checkered design is
modern, yet transmits a retro atmosphere.”
especially clothes which tell a story. I also like to experiment and mix my outfits with western accessories – wearing sneakers and funky tights, while turning up the kimono a little to show the design.”
“This shade of green is my favorite color. I love bold colors, and the contrast between the yukata and the white arrow-patterned obi (sash) pops right into the eye – perfect for the next fireworks festival!”
“This shade of green is
my favorite color.
I love bold colors, and
the contrast between
the yukata and the
white arrow-patterned
obi (sash) pops right
into the eye – perfect
for the next fireworks
festival!”
Tell us about your mission.
“At the moment, I call myself a “kimono influencer.” I want to show interesting ways of styling kimono and yukata, as well as influencing and inspiring other people. Since kimono used to be standard attire, I would love to bring back this tradition. In my opinion, there is no special occasion needed to wear these garments – whether it is going shopping, dinner with friends or a park visit.”

What are your current projects and your future plans?
“Currently I am learning wasai (traditional kimono sewing), which involves the whole construction of kimono. I have almost finished my next project, which is a kimono made of python optic fabric. The bottom part, the bottom of the sleeves and the collar are made with real leather, which is quite difficult to sew. In the future, I plan to work with different kinds of modern technology that are already being used in the fashion industry, but I want to be the first to use them for my kimono designs. Further, I would like to create more creative photoshoots, as well as ways of styling the models.”

Watermelon yukata designed by SALZ Tokyo. “Watermelons give the ultimate summer vibes. Lace tabi ( Japanese socks with split toe) cover up naked feet but are still breathable in the heat.”
Watermelon yukata designed by SALZ Tokyo. “Watermelons give the ultimate summer vibes. Lace tabi ( Japanese socks with split toe) cover up naked feet but are still breathable in the heat.”
Follow her adventures at salz-tokyo.com or by her username "salztokyo" on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.
Follow her adventures at salz-tokyo.com or by her username “salztokyo” on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Yukata, timeless elegance for the summer

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Summer time means matsuri (festival) time in Japan! And there is simply nothing more fashionable to wear to a traditional Japanese festival than a yukata! This casual version of a kimono is lighter in fabric (cotton or synthetic), and is the perfect practical garb for Japan’s hot and humid summers!

The History of Yukata

The first example of a yukata appeared around 1200 years ago and was called yukatabira. People started to wear them as bathrobes to soak up sweat and protect their skin from burns during steam baths. At the end of the Edo period (1603 – 1867), the number of public bath houses increased significantly, and the common population spread yukata culture as both an after-bath gown and as casual streetwear.
After World War II, the Japanese lifestyle became even more westernized, making the yukata attire less common. Beside during summer festivals and firework displays, they are most commonly worn in onsen (hot spring) towns. Ryokan, traditional Japanese hotels, provide these garments as standard robes for their guests, and many even wear them as they stroll through the streets.

CHIKUSEN, art shaped by tradition

If you are looking for a yukata that doubles as a piece of traditional art, Chikusen is the place to go. Dating
back to 1842, the closing years of the Edo period, Chikusen took its first steps in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.

chikusen yukata store

Kabuki: The Stepping Stone for Traditional Craftsmanship

Sen’nosuke (仙之助), Chikusen’s founder,ran a yukata shop specialized in dyeing filigree patterns. With his deep interest in theatre and haiku (traditional Japanese poetry), many in his circle of friends were kabuki (Japanese classical theatre) actors, novelists and other types of artists.
Since plain yukata were the norm, Sen’nosuke’s elaborate designs captured the attention of kabuki actors, who started asking him to design their stage costumes. The audience were impressed and the name Chikusen spread among the general public in no time. According to a book telling Tokyo’s historical anecdotes, “Chikusen” is a combination of the owner’s name, and chinchikurin, the Japanese word for “short person.” He took “chiku” from chinchikurin and added “sen” from his name – giving birth to the name Chikusen.
japanese design fabric boxes

Asakusa: New Cultural Mecca

japanese fabric design yukata
In Edo (present day Tokyo), people tended to spend a lot of money at markets and theaters. To control and improve the entertainment business, the Tokugawa shogunate decided to move the three biggest kabuki theaters of Edo to Asakusa. Edo culture was characterized by kabuki, which was at that time considered to be a casual sort of entertainment, and whose actors were considered to be trendsetters. The audience was impressed by the outfits and wanted to adapt to the new fashion, therefore Chikusen’s yukata became popular among the general population.

Relation with Nihombashi Mitsukoshi Main Store

Asakusa turned from a business to an entertainment district. Meanwhile, department stores opened in Nihombashi and this area developed into a business district. Due to Chikusen’s strong relationship with this department store, the then-president suggested moving to Nihombashi. With yukata’s popularity at its peak, Chikusen had to deliver its products to Mitsukoshi three times a day. As it was only deliverable by hand carts, the new location could save a lot of time. Therefore, Chikusen relocated to Nihombashi shortly after World War II, and its headquarters have remained there.
japanese fabric for yukata blue

Key Dyeing Methods

Japanese dyeing methods yukata

Nagaita Chugata 長板中型
During the Edo period, a special dyeing technique for yukata was invented called nagaita chugata. First, a 12-meter long piece of fabric is tightened on a 6.5-meter long fir tree plank. Next, a stencil of about 40 centimeters is placed over the fabric and a special glue for resist printing (bosen nori in Japanese 防染糊) is added to the parts which are not supposed to be dyed. To obtain an even result, the glue is separately applied the same way to both the front and back. The most difficult part is adjusting the stencil on the back toth e print on the front evenly, in order to achieve a flawless pattern without fading the colors.
Nagaita Chugata 小紋中型
Another dyeing method is komon chugata, also called Edo komon, which is an original dyeing technique developed by Chikusen. The pattern is engraved on the stencil with a small, semicircle blade, which produces an intricate pattern of small dots or other detailed designs. This technique is especially challenging, since adjusting the delicate pattern on both sides is very complicated. Looking at the fabric from afar, it seems that there is no pattern at all, but as you take a closer look at the simple yet detailed design, it reveals its pure elegance. Since it was only possible to dye two rolls of fabric per day, many of Edo’s craftsmen were not able to produce nearly enough yukata for the whole population of Tokyo.
Chusen 注染
With the beginning of the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), a new dyeing method called chusen was introduced, which enabled the production of fabric in larger quantities. The patterns itself and the procedure of applying them stayed the same, but the stencil length changed from 40 centimeters to 90 centimeters. The glue is applied on a 12-meter long fabric, folded like a folding screen, and when this process is finished, it will be placed on the dyeing table. Afterwards the dye is applied with watering cans. With this new process, a craftsman was able to produce more than 100 rolls of fabric per day and the production increased dramatically.
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Traditional Designs with a Modern Twist
Chikusen’s trademark can be found in its historical patterns. Designers use stencils remaining from the Edo period and adapt and reform them to the current fashion trends. Compared to Japan’s western regions, the patterns of historic Edo are very simple and understandable for everyone. Simple designs such as dianthus, bamboo, sakura (cherry blossoms), hydrangea, waves and lilies are very common. Today, Chikusen is the only place that uses dyeing techniques from the Edo period.
Edo: Japan’s Trendsetter
Things which were popular in Edo spread throughout the rest of Japan, making the city the nation’s trendsetter in terms of all things cultural, including fashion. The “Edo-style” yukata with its dark indigo and bright white color combination were in high demand. According to a book written in late 19th century introducing Edo’s famous products, yukata was one of the popular souvenir item and had significant value.
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chikusen-entrance-exteriortabea
chikusen entrance exterior

CHIKUSEN

Hours: 9am – 5pm
Closed: Sat, Sun & national holidays (open Sat from Apr – Jul)
Address: 2-3 Kofuna-cho, Nihombashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Bonsai Master Kunio Kobayashi

bonsaiportada
Besides gardening on a large scale, Bonsai refers to the act of creating miniature potted plants. Since nearly every plant species can be transformed into a Bonsai, you can enjoy beautiful cherry- or plum blossoms during spring, as well as colored leaves in autumn without leaving the house. Bonsai spread a calm and refreshing atmosphere. Japan is the country of pine trees being the most cultivated and traditional one created into a Bonsai. In countries like Spain or Italy, people use olive trees which give a unique touch.

bonsaiportales

Originally this specific art of gardening came from China during the 8th century and was called penjing, referring to the special technique of growing dwarf trees in containers. It used to be a task practiced only by the elite of the society, spread throughout China as luxurious and extravagant gifts. This tradition made its way to Japan during the Kamakura period as a religious souvenir. Japanese people used deeper pots, so this kind of gardening was called hachi no ki 鉢の木, the tree in a bowl. It became a hobby practiced by the whole society. With the beginning of the 19th century, the tree was renamed as Bonsai to show the difference between conventional created hachi no ki and carefully grown trees made by people following Chinese art. In the late 19th century, Bonsai made its debut in the west and it is more and more becoming a hobby also among the younger generation.

Bonsai means Life

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Kunio Kobayashi, world-famous’ Bonsai master runs his school and museum in Tokyo’s Edogawa ward. At the age of 28 he dedicated his life to Bonsai and gained the required skills due to self-study. Growing up in a nursery he already was familiar with the beauty of plants and nature, but one encounter set him off his determined path in life. During an exhibition he spotted a Japanese white pine formed as a Bonsai tree. Fascinated by its elegant shape showing life´s dignity, the young Kobayashi decided immediately to start creating such graceful trees himself. “Bonsai is art” and can be described with the three words of individuality (個性 kosei), harmony (調和 chowa) and elegance (品位 hini). It takes years of learning and practice to become a professional Bonsai master. From creating very clear and beautiful Bonsai trees, he changed his style after 40 years to show several aspects of the tree which you have never seen before. “Aji no aru (味のある) Bonsai”, a Bonsai tree transmitting depth and graze. With this new form you directly feel the Japanese culture of wabi-sabi 詫び寂び, the quiet simplicity and subdued refinement.
While scraping off parts of the bark, leaving a stem with just a thin string of life reaching the leaves, the dry wood turns white. This combination of life and death shows the beauty of “Aji no aru Bonsai” and presents you with life energy and a new way of sensing the power of life.

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Left: Clear and beautiful bonsai / Right: Aji no aru bonsai

Kobayashi has more than 200 apprentices and international students studying and following his advice. For already more than 20 years he represents his skills during lectures in over 20 countries around the world. The Bonsai museum offers a special one month program for international followers to learn directly from the master. You will live together with Kobayashi’s family and other apprentices to learn and observe the traditional way of creating Bonsai trees. No need to worry as explanations can be provided in English or Chinese.

The Shunkaen Bonsai Museum was opened 15 years ago and displays over 1,000 Bonsai trees.

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The garden is designed with typical Japanese elements and the museum itself is a Japanese house with tatami-mat flooring and paper sliding doors. One whole room is dedicated to each of the most elegant trees, displayed in the typical tokonoma 床の間, an alcove in the wall of Japanese homes. Since it is a museum, the tokonoma features two steps instead of one. An inscribed kakejiku 掛け軸, a hanging scroll and a viewing stone, called suiseki 水石 create the perfect balance of simplicity to show the Bonsai tree’s most esthetic side.

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While strolling through the garden you have the chance to observe the master and his apprentices during their work and suddenly you have the feeling to be a member of the team.
Get yourself dressed in wonderful kimono and explore the garden or drink a cup of delicious green tea on the porch of the wooden museum which you have prepared yourself during the offered tea ceremony. This museum provides the full set of Japanese cultural experiences in one single place within a breathtaking setting. It is an experience which you should not miss!

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We met Benjamin and Philipp from Germany, wearing beautiful kimono and carrying katana-swords, looking like real samurai from the past. They told us that the Shunkaen Bonsai Museum was the best place they have visited in Japan!

Information:

Shunkaen Bonsai Museum

Hours: 10am – 5pm
Closed: Mon.
Admission: 800 yen including a cup of green tea (adults); 600 yen (students)
Address: 1-29-16 Niihori, Edogawa-ku, 132-0001 Tokyo
Access: 16-min bus ride from Koiwa Station (JR Sobu Line) until Keiyo-guchi bus stop / 7-min bus ride from Mizue Station (Toei-Shinjuku Line) until Keiyo-guchi bus stop

Bonsai Lesson: 3,800yen per person (admission to the garden included)
Tea ceremony: 4,000 yen per person for 30min
Kimono experience: 5,000 yen per person for 30min
Tea ceremony and Kimono experience: 9,000 yen per person for 1hr

Please make a reservation via “Japanese Culture Visit” (Mrs. Ichimi)
Tel: 090-2409-2742
E-mail: [email protected]
URL: http://www.japanese-culture-visit.com/english.html


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Japanese Gardens in Changing Times

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In the past, gardens were created by the upper-class of society and can be classified into three main groups:
1. Gardens representing a naturally scenery for aesthetic pleasure and later for strolling through
2. Dry landscape gardens
3. Tea ceremony gardens
Japanese gardens are meant to mimic natural landscape in a miniaturized form.

The history of garden design goes back about 1,000 years ago. The first form of gardening was seen in sacred places, deep in the forest containing natural objects like trees, mountains or rocks with extraordinary and rare shapes. These places marked with pebbles, white sand or rope ties were used for ceremonies to honor gods or sacred spirits which are believed to live in or come to these areas.

Saishou Tea Garden inside Tokorozawa’s Aviation Memorial Park (Saitama)
Saishou Tea Garden inside Tokorozawa’s Aviation Memorial Park (Saitama)

Chinese culture, especially Buddhism started influencing Japanese garden design in the 6th century. Since then, the style of this practice changed throughout the centuries and Japan developed its own special form of gardening. The ancient capital of Kyoto contains more than half of Japan´s historical gardens.

Different garden architecture throughout the centuries

Nara Period (710 – 794) 
Nara used to be the capital of Japan and during the end of the 8th century, Japanese garden culture sprouted and gardens for the higher society were built. These early gardens featured a pond with an island in the middle surrounded by shorelines and stone settings.

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Heijo Palace Site (Nara)

Heian Period (794-1192)
With the dawn of the new era, the capital moved to Kyoto. The upper class started building large gardens at their palaces and villas using a layout inspired by the Chinese concept of feng shui. The gardens located on the south side of the villa focused on large ponds and winding streams connected by bridges, which were passable by boats; as well as islands and pavilions which reached over the water. These royal gardens were first and foremost mostly places for amusement and ritual worship.
One specific feature in these gardens was an empty place covered in gravel. Since the emperor at that time was the chief priest of Japan, white gravel or sand was an element for purity. In this certain area gods were invited to visit and religious ceremonies, as well as welcome dances for the gods were performed.

The late Heian Period was determined by a new style of garden architecture which made its way to Japan, called Pure Land Buddhism or Amidism. This architecture represented the Buddhist paradise. These Paradise-Gardens were equipped similar to their predecessor, but much bigger and more colorful. The stream which flows through these gardens separates the earth and the afterlife in a symbolic way and the bridge symbolize exactly this chapter in life. The ponds instead were usually designed in the character for heart ‐心.The gardens were mainly used for meditative strolling, chanting sutras, and to receive guidance into spiritual life. These Paradise Gardens are the forerunners of the stroll gardens.

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Motsu-ji Temple (Iwate)

Kamakura (1185–1333) & Muromachi Period (1336–1573)

With the beginning of the Kamakura Period the power possessed by the aristocratic court was taken over by the military regime (将軍 shogun), which supported a new form of Buddhism called Zen. Due to this new movement, garden architecture changed and became more simple and compact.

The biggest change in gardening and towards minimalism were new designed dry landscape gardens (枯山水 karesansui), connected to temple buildings with the main purpose to support monks during their meditation exercises and for spiritual improvement. The accurate raked white sand represents water and precise arranged rocks are a symbol for islands. These gardens only consisted of elements like rocks, gravel and white sand. The garden is not accessible and mostly viewed just out of one angle representing an ideal landscape or a philosophical concept.

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Erin-ji Temple (Yamanashi)

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Tenryu-ji Temple (Kyoto)

Azuchi – Momoyama Period (1573 – 1603)

New gardens and cities were created when the Japanese feudal lords (大名 daimyo) and their robust castles were the center of power and culture. The gardens during this era had one or more ponds surrounded by a riverside out of small stones. Natural stone bridges and stepping stones, artificial mountains and more combined the design of a promenade garden with typical elements of Zen. They were located right next to the castle, where they were meant to be seen from above and combined the design of a promenade garden with typical elements of Zen.

A new concept of garden architecture was introduced, the tea garden (路地 roji). These gardens were meant to resemble the spirit of wabi (侘び), rustic simplicity, utility and calmness. The tea house is small and made out of wood with a thatched roof. A paper roll with an inscription and a branch was the only decoration allowed. The narrow garden itself was regularly watered to stay humid and green. Except a cherry tree bringing color during spring, other flowers in bright color were not allowed. The visitor was supposed to meditate before the tea ceremony starts, and bright and flashy colors would have distract the visitors’ attention. The entrance and the tea house were connected by a small path made of stepping stones, with benches to wait for the ceremony, while stone lanterns light the way and a wash basin out of stone was used for the ritual cleansing of hands and mouth.

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Daigo-ji Temple (Kyoto)

 

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Saishou Tea Garden inside Tokorozawa’s Aviation Memorial Park (Saitama)

Edo Period (1603-1867)

During the Edo Period, the Tokugawa clan, who became the Shogun, took over the power and moved Japan´s capital to Edo (today’s Tokyo). The minimalistic garden design from the Muromachi Period changed back into the landscape architecture of recreation and extravagance. Large strolling gardens (回遊式庭園 kaiyu-shiki teien) were designed featuring ponds, islands and artificial hills as well as elements of tea gardens.

Another new form of garden design was the tsuboniwa (坪庭 / tsubo is the size of 3,3m²), an inner garden or small courtyard garden created by the urban population. These could not be entered and provided a piece of nature and fresh air featuring decorative elements like stone lanterns, water basins out of stone, stepping stones and some plants meant to be viewed from a porch or from inside the house.

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Meiji Period (1868-1912)
With the Meiji Period came the age of modernization and the re-opening of Japan to the western world. A new law of the year 1871 opened old private strolling gardens and abandoned gardens from the Momoyama and Edo period to the public.

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Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (Tokyo)

Modern Japanese gardens (1912~)
Due to westernization western style city parks were designed featuring new elements like flowerbeds and open lawns. After World War II government agencies took over the task of building gardens instead of the private people. These new gardens are meant to be consistent with the architecture bringing landscape design to a different level.

“The White Gravel and Pine Garden “ Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane)
“The White Gravel and Pine Garden “ Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane)


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Spring events in Saitama

Days are becoming warmer and flowers are starting to bloom, this is the perfect time to visit Saitama city and see Japanese traditional crafts and beautiful Spring scenery!

Every March, Saitama city offers several events related to Hina dolls at the town of Iwasuki as well as several places to admire the cherry blossoms in full bloom.

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The town of Iwasuki in Saitama city is particularly known in the Kanto region for their Hina dolls. Lots of events are held before and after Hinamatsuri, or the Doll Festival, celebarted on March the 3rd. One of them is Machikado Hina Meguri, where you can see a beautiful parade of dolls and Taiko drums performances. During the festivities, you will be able to not just see the dolls but also try to make your own, learn to cook the local food and experience real Japanese culture. There are endless activities for you to enjoy.

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Event Information
The 14th Hina Doll Street Festival and the Machikado Hina Meguri
Date: February 25-March12
Place: Shopping streets around the East Exit of Iwatsuki Station.

At the beginning of March, the most popular places to admire the cherry blosoms start preparations to welcome guests. This year’s blooming forecast predicts that the cherry blossoms will be in full bloom around March 25th. Due to it’s proximity to Tokyo, Saitama city offers many beautiful and unique cherry blossom landscapes visited by thousands of people every year.

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Iwatsuki Joshi Park Sakura Festival (About 600 Sakura trees)
Date: April 1-2
Time: 10:00-16:00
Place: Iwatsuki Joshi Park
Cherry Blossoms Night Illumination
Date: Mar. 19-Apr. 9 (subject to changes in cherry blooming times)
Time: 18:00-21:00
Place: Iwatsuki Joshi Park Ayameike Pond

Saitama City’s famous Cherry Blossoms spots

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Omiya Park: About 1,000 cherry trees bloom from late March to early April. They are lit at night when in full bloom.
Access: 20-min walk from JR Omiya St., 10-min walk from Tobu Omiya Koen St. or Kita-Omiya St.

Saitama Stadium 2002
Every year you can admire beautiful cherry trees in full bloom just outside the stadium.
Access: 15-min walk from Urawamisono St.

Miharu Takizakura – Fukushima

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Blossoms cascade like a waterfall from the top of one large benishidare (weeping cherry blossom) tree, leaving a stream of petals on the ground. During its nocturnal light-up period, this sakura is especially beautiful; all will be moved by such a magical sight.


Miharu Takizakura – Fukushima

Hours: 6am – 6pm
Admission: 300 yen (free for junior high students and younger)
Address: Sakurakubo 91, Taki, Miharu-machi, Tamura-gun, Fukushima
Access: 30-min by bus from JR Miharu Station
URL: http://www.tif.ne.jp/lang/en/sightseeing/topic.html?id=41&category=4

Nebuta Matsuri

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Nebuta Matsuri Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture
Aug. 2 – 7
Highlight: fireworks festival on the final day

Aomori city comes alive every summer to celebrate the Nebuta festival. Historically the festival functioned as a means of keeping harvesters awake as they worked in the fields gathering rice and other produce. As dusk approaches the parade begins and many floats feature illuminated lanterns with various designs and shapes.

Hanagasa Matsuri

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Hanagasa Matsuri Yamagata City, Yamagata prefecture
Aug. 5 – 7
Highlight: different types of dances using straw flower hats

The iconic nature of the parade is the use of traditional agricultural workers hats decorated with red paper flowers that represent the beautiful safflower. The parade features all ages, with many young children dressed in traditional yukata. At the end of the festival, everyone is invited to celebrate and join in the last float, dancing the traditional hanagasa dance.

Waraji Matsuri

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Waraji Matsuri Fukushima City, Fukushima Prefecture
Aug. 3 – 6
Named after the traditional straw sandals for traveling, the 300-year-old festival features a huge waraji that measures 12 meters in length and weighs 2 tons. The gigantic waraji is carried in a parade by people who pray for strong walking and safe traveling before housed in a shrine.

Tanabata Matsuri

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Tanabata Matsuri Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture
Aug. 6 – 8
Highlight: beautiful streamers in the shopping arcades
and fireworks on Aug. 5

The main arcades all through Sendai city are adorned with beautifully hung, crafted spheres made of washi-paper and bamboo, with long streamers hanging down like celestial jelly fish. One can spend hours happily strolling through!

Kanto Matsuri

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Kanto Matsuri Akita City, Akita Prefecture
Aug. 3 – 6
Highlight: see participants balance 50kg lantern poles

A chorus of bamboo flutes signals the start of the festival and immediately various groups of men hoist the 12-meter bamboo poles hanging paper lanterns into the air. The Kanto festival can best be described as a performance of local groups showcasing their amazing dexterity and remarkable balancing prowess.

Look for sweets made by locals with plenty of love

Expect a vibrant spring and summer after the long and formidable winter!
Be amazed by Tohoku’s sweets and fruits.

Babahera

The sight of ice cream being sold under colorful parasols on the streets may be reminiscent of tropical countries and seaside resorts, but here in Akita prefecture, the sight of little old ladies selling ice cream on a regular roadside is commonplace.
This ice cream is called Babahera, a specialty of Akita. “Baba” refers to an elderly lady, while “hera” is the spatula that they use to shape the pink (strawberry flavor) and yellow (banana flavor) ice cream into a flower with practiced ease.

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Cherry Parfait

A variety of Yamagata’s delicious cherries top this luxurious parfait. Dig deep to discover the different unique ingredients that make up this multi-layered treat and compare the various cherries. The only time to enjoy this piece of art is during the cherry season, which usually starts in June.

Sansa Matsuri

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Sansa Matsuri Morioka, Iwate Prefecture
Aug. 1 – 4
The charm of the festival lies in a parade where taiko drummers and dancers proceed through the city. The origin can be traced back to a legend about a wicked demon. In summer evenings, locals would dress up in fancy costumes and dance and play drums to scare the demon away.

Pilgrimage to the 33 Kannon Buddha Temples


Aizu Culture through the eyes of a pilgrim


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Aizuwakamatsu, or Aizu for short, is a historic castle town known as the “land of the last samurai” in the Aizu district of Fukushima Prefecture in Tohoku. The people of Aizu were people of good faith and had a custom of paying respect to all 33 Kannon Buddha temples in the form of a pilgrimage. More than a tough, ascetic ritual, though, this pilgrimage was for entertainment.
In the Edo period, people would journey to the temples for sightseeing; even now, many people make the pilgrimage with friends. The image of Kannon makes its appearance everywhere, from wonderful temples in the city to the stone Buddhas in the mountains. Follow us on our journey as we visit some of them.

Visit the 33 Kannon Buddha Temples around Aizuwakamatu

Kannon, known as Kuan Yin or Goddess of Mercy to the Chinese, was known to have 33 manifestations. Most of the temples are modest, wooden structures, each dedicated to the various manifestation of Kannon. For example the Eryu-ji temple is dedicated to Juichimen Senju Kannon, the eleven-faced, one-thousand armed Kannon. The massive statue, standing at 8.5 meters high, was carved out of one single tree by Kobo Daishi (Kukai), the founder of Shingon Buddhism, in 808. It is designated as a National Treasure of Japan.

The temple itself was built in 1190. The statue is guarded by 28 Busyu divine generals and the gods of Wind and Thunder. The temple is believed to help visitors to overcome their negative attitude in life.
Another unique temple on the trail is Sazaedo Temple on Iimoriyama Hill, built in 1796 with an extraordinary, 16.5 meters high, three-storey hexagonal structure with a sloping double-helix ramp. Visitors ascend the ramp in a clockwise direction and descend anti-clockwise, thus not retracing any steps in their spiral track. It is an ingenious design.
Sazaedo
Sazaedo

In a forest on a remote mountain in Aizumisato, built in 830 at an altitude of 380 meters high, stands a simple but important rustic wooden temple called Sakudari Kannon Temple that is wedged against a rock face. It is said that Kukai founded this temple and carved its 80 centimeters high principle image, Kubinashi Kannon, which is placed upon an altar in a grotto concealed from public view. Not only is the structure of the temple truly amazing, the view is simply breathtaking.

Sakudari Kannon Temple
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Aizumisato
Aizumisato
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Sakudari Kannon Temple

Road to the Edo Period

The main street of Ouchi-Juku
The main street of Ouchi-Juku
There is a place where you can still enjoy the same experiences as a traveler from long ago: Ouchi-Juku, which lies south of Aizuwakamatsu on an old road called “Aizu Nishikaido.” The village is reminiscent of the old post towns on the ancient trade route in the Edo period; merchants and feudal lords would pass this way to rest and refresh. It is a living museum of old traditional houses with thatched roofs and bustling shops selling food, drinks and souvenirs. Here, you can experience and enjoy how the people of Aizu spent their everyday lives and lived their faith.

Another Japan Heritage

Aizu is a region steeped in samurai culture and natural beauty. One of the many scenic spots here is Lake Inawashiro, a beautiful lake surrounded by mountain ranges. It is a popular place for recreation for the local people, and also serves as the lifeline of the area by providing water for agriculture and hydro-electricity. The building of the canal during the Meiji era lead to the agricultural development of a previously barren land, and is considered a Japanese heritage site.
Lake Inawashiro
Lake Inawashiro
Tsuruga Castle
Tsuruga Castle
Eryuji Temple
Eryuji Temple
Sazaedo
Hours: 8:15am – sundown (April through December), 9am – 4pm (January
through March) Admission: 200 yen (middle and primary school students), 300
yen (university and high school students), 400 yen (adults)
Access: 4-min by
Akabe bus from Aizu-Wakamatsu Station, get off at Imoriyama shita.
Sakudari Kannon Temple
Access: 12-min by car from Amaya Station (Aizu Railway Line)
Ouchi-Juku
Access: 15-min by car from Yunokami Onsen Station (Aizu Railway Line)
Lake Inawashiro
Access: Area around Inawashiro Station (Ban-etsu-West Line)
The interior of a local restaurant in Ouchi-juku
The interior of a local restaurant in Ouchi-juku

Japan Heritage
http://www.bunka.go.jp/seisaku/bunkazai/nihon_isan/pdf/nihon_isan_pamphlet_english.pdf

There are two other Japanese Heritage sites in Tohoku.

In this edition, we briefly mentioned “The waterway that cleared the way to the future” (Fukushima Prefecture), and the “Culture honed by Date Masamune” (Miyagi prefecture) inspired by Sengoku warlords, these will be featured in our next publication of WAttention Tohoku 2017 Autumn & Winter Edition.
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Nature and worship “A journey of rebirth”


In The Realm of the Gods at Dewa Sanzan

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In many cultures, mountains often have religious significance and are regarded as abodes of the gods. Tohoku has three holy mountains, known collectively as Dewa Sanzan, that is regarded as one of the most sacred sites in the country. Its landscape is defined by the stunning natural beauty of mystical mountains, volcanic lakes, hot springs and farmlands. This is where the soul of Japan lies in its traditional and religious culture, and where ancient mountain worship is still very much practiced. Against this background, we embarked on an epic journey to trace the footsteps of pilgrims who are followers of Shugendo.

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The Three Mountain Blessings

Shugendo is an ethnic religion influenced by Buddhism, Shintoism, Taoism and spiritual faith. Its main purpose is to strengthen the connection between people and nature, reaching enlightenment in this way. Practitioners preach the teaching that “nature is a manifestation of the gods and we should live alongside it with respect.” Mountains and forests have paramount importance in Shugendo. The Dewa Sanzan mountains of Mt Haguro (419m), Mt Gassan (1984m) and Mt Yudono (1504m) are the centres of pilgrimage in the region. The followers, known as Shugenjas or Yamabushi (mountain monks), have been following the rites of worship for the last 1,400 years. Followers embark on long pilgrimages and practice austere feats of physical endurance of natural elements as an ascetic rite of passage to gain spiritual power. We had the privilege of experiencing the immersive ceremony of Shugendo first hand by visiting the three sacred mountains that represents the present, death and rebirth at Mt Haguro, Mt Gassan and Mt Yudono respectively.

Praying in the Official Shinto Style at Mt. Haguro
We arrived at Mt. Haguro as dusk was setting in and, after a short visit to Ideha Museum nearby to get an insight of Shugendo and Dewa Sanzan, we entered the sacred site through the torii, a wooden gateway that is found in all sacred sites in Japan. A long flight of stone steps, known as the Ishi-Dan, led down to an enchanting forest with towering cedar trees along the ancient pilgrim route. The 1.7km trail built in 1648 has 2,446 steps leading to the Sanjin Gosaiden shrine at the summit. There are 33 carvings etched on the steps and it is believed that if you can find all 33, your wishes will come true. As we were pressed for time, we could only follow the sacred path as far as the 600-year-old Goju-no-to, the five-storied pagoda, a recorded national treasure. In the gloom of the forest, the ornate pagoda exuded an air of mysticism that lent to the belief that a deity of the forest lives in it.
The Ishi-Dan, Mt. Haguro
The Ishi-Dan, Mt. Haguro

When we arrived at Sanjin Gosaiden, the main shrine at the summit, we were met by a Yamabushi dressed in his traditional religious garb. He sounded a horagai, a religious conch trumpet, as a welcome and to ward off bad spirits. We were led to the inner sanctum of the shrine. There, a monk dressed in a splendid ceremonial robe with motifs of cranes performed a special ceremony accompanied by a beating taiko drum, followed by space clearing of malevolent energy around us by wafting a pole with white paper strips attached to the end and ringing bells to cleanse the air. He then chanted some mantras in a trance-like voice, which reverberated around the room, sending powerful vibrations into the ambience. We felt blessed and awed as we bowed twice, clapped our hands twice and bowed once again, completing the ritual where we were “spiritually born.”

Sanjin Gosaiden, Mt. Haguro
Sanjin Gosaiden, Mt. Haguro
Shukubo, Mt. Haguro
Shukubo, Mt. Haguro
We stayed the night at a shukubo, a traditional temple lodge owned by a Yamabushi and his wife, who welcomed us graciously by kneeling Japanese style where they sat on the floor with their legs folded behind them. The delightful lodge was immaculately clean and the minimalist décor was the personified tranquility that we badly needed after a long journey. I would highly recommend staying in a shukubo to attain a Zen state of mind. Early next morning, our landlord performed a Shinto ritual prayer to bless us and wished us a safe journey to Mt Gassan and Mt. Yudono.

Stepping to Mt. Gassan and Mt. Yudono

We headed to Mt. Gassan in howling wind and rain to visit a shrine. The pilgrimage trail was officially closed for the season, but we braved the elements by treading precariously on the path of a slippery, wooden walkway laid across a marshland of dwarf bamboo and grassland.
After twenty minutes’ walk, we reached a small shrine presided by a giant stone rabbit, the guardian of the mountain.

Mt. Yudono
Mt. Yudono
This mountain symbolized the path to death and it was apt that the short journey we took in the inclement weather seemed to convey that message. In the summer, pilgrims could hike to the summit, where the main shrine lies; from there, they could also hike to Mt. Yudono, the last mountain on the holy trail.
Our visit to Mt. Yudono was an epic experience where we were sworn to secrecy by the priest about the ceremony of “rebirth” that we underwent to symbolize being spiritually reborn to start a new journey in life. It is a taboo to divulge the secret of the ritual, but suffice to say that the experience is something I will always remember.

Dewa Sanzan is a pilgrimage, but mere mortals with spiritual interest will find the journey enlightening and soul stirring. Reflecting on my own awesome experience of the religious encounter, I now appreciate why mountains belong to the realms of the gods.

Hagurosan

Access: 40-min by bus from JR Tsuruoka Station, get off at Zuishinmon.
55-min by bus to the summit.
URL:http://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/47/

Gassan

Hours: Closed late September until June
Access: 1h30-min by Shonan-
Kotsu bus from JR Tsuruoka Station to Gassan Hachigome.
URL:ttp://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/48/

Yudonosan

Hours: Closed late September until June Admission: 500 yen
Access: 1h30-min by Shonan-Kotsu bus from JR Tsuruoka Station to
Yudonosan.
URL:http://www.dewasanzan.jp/publics/index/49/

Mountain and sea delicacies that you can’t get in cities

Local dishes you’ve never had before!

Today, restaurant chains are so popular that there seems to be no diversity in the food and experience wherever you go. But this is not true in Tohoku, where food is reflective of local weather conditions and the region’s rich cultural heritage. Prepared to be greeted with an array of unique dishes that you have never heard of nor seen before. Time to challenge your taste buds!

Shark

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Your jaw might drop at the thought of eating shark meat, but in Miyagi prefecture they use every part of this marine mammal. Prepared in a multitude of ways, such as sashimi or shark fin soup, shark meat’s endless possibilities will surprise you.

Tuna Steak

The number one place to find tuna in Aomori prefecture is Fukaura Town, where natsu maguro (summer tuna) is available for a long period every year. This tuna has an exquisite taste both raw and cooked, and is most commonly found as part of a “tuna steak bowl.”

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Hoya (sea squirt)

Hoya looks like it’s part of another animal, but it’s actually a species of its own. The sea squirt is also called “sea pineapple” because of its thorny appearance, but its taste is anything but tropical. Being described as “the flavor of the ocean,” expect a surprising mix of sweet, salty, sour and sharp.

Hokki (surf clam)

The flavor of this ocean critter is said to reach its full potential when lightly cooked. In Miyagi prefecture, the favored way to eat hokki is as hokki meshi, a rice dish with thin slices of hokki.

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Shojin Ryori

This all-vegetarian Buddhist cuisine is part of monks’ daily lives. Buddhism teaches not to hurt any living creature and Shojin Ryori is an extension of that belief. Even so, this cuisine’s menu is not as meager as you might imagine. From pickled and braised wild mountain vegetables to bowls of miso soup with silken tofu, centuries of Shojin Ryori culture in this area has led to a variety of flavorful dishes. Yamagata’s three holy mountains are a famous pilgrimage spot and the abundance of mountain vegetables makes it a top location for experiencing the life of a Buddhist monk.

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Himemasu (landlocked sockeye salmon)

You don’t have to travel to the ocean to find fresh salmon. Himemasu can be found inland, making it a sweetwater fish with a different taste from saltwater salmon. Lake Towada is the top spot for this fish, where it is mainly served as sashimi to bring out its sweetness and soft texture.

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Discover the warmth of Japan’s No.1 rice


Japan’s best rice
from Niigata


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Rice is an essential part of Japanese cuisine. The rice cultivated in Japan (also known as “Japonica rice”) has a rounded, oval shape, is very sticky and features a slight sweetness. After making the effort to come all the way to Japan, don’t you want to sample the most delicious rice available? “Japan’s rice” is said to be produced in Niigata Prefecture so, for Japanese, Niigatamai (Niigata’s rice) is a very attractive brand. If you are familiar with Niigatamai, you’re already well on your way to becoming an advanced Japanese chef!

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Japanese Tea Ceremony: History & Philosophy

 

To gain an overall grasp of Japanese culture, why not try “tea ceremony?”

The tea house or tea room is a miniature museum of wa—all things Japanese. Tea ceremony includes various highlights that symbolize Japan, like the simple tea house made of bamboo, wood, and washi paper, and food dishes to match called kaiseki. Each item is an expression of the essence of traditional Japanese life.

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What is the culture of tea ceremony?

Tea is said to have been brought to Japan from China during the Nara period.

It was gradually accepted after the Zen master Eisai wrote the book “Kissai Yojo-ki”, or “tea drinking cure”, during the Kamakura era, stressing the effectiveness of tea as medicine. The act of drinking tea became a special experience during the Muromachi period, during which time equipment was introduced and the “shoin” was developed, which evolved as the tea houses that we see today. Tatemae procedures for tea ceremony were established, with deep ties to the philosophy of zen, and it was during the Azuchi-Momoyama era in the 1500s that Sen no Rikyu refined the philosophy and perfected “wabi-cha”, an extremely austere and Japanese style, to an art form.

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What sort of person was Sen no Rikyu?

Rikyu was a tea master, a professional who served two generals, Oda Nobunaga and Toyotomi Hideyoshi during a time when tea ceremony had been popular among warriors as a symbol of refined culture.

A tea master needs to be able to properly determine the utensils for tea ceremony. With his discerning eye, Rikyu not only stood out among the tea masters, he also had the ability to create new forms of beauty.

Rikyu surprised those around him by introducing innovative ideas for tea ceremony such as the koma, or dark, tiny tea rooms where the ceilings were too low to stand upright, and the use of jet black rakuchawan tea bowls he had made by Japanese craftsmen to use in the place of Chinese imports, which generated a sense of austerity that was similar to a religious aestheticism of sorts, which eventually spread as wabi-cha”.

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What is wabi-sabi?

Wabi-sabi refers to a quiet, serene world, or a subdued state. In its root form, the meaning of the word wabi includes “the pain of not having things proceed as desired”, and sabi means “the state of the power of life deteriorating”, both expressions of negative conditions. Inversely, it is possible to see a uniquely Japanese sense of beauty and culture from the use of these terms that began after the Edo period as “positive terms for expressing the beauty of Japan”.

Ichigo-ichie: One opportunity, one encounter, meaning that every encounter should be cherished as it may never happen again.

Ichigo-ichie: is a term that was mentioned by Yamanoue Soji, an apprentice of Rikyu, and Ii Naosuke, a high-ranking government official of the Edo period, and today remains a symbol of the spirit of tea ceremony: “This tea ceremony, held on this day of this year, is an irreplaceable moment that will never again be repeated. Tea ceremony can only be a success when the minds of both the person serving and those being served come together as one”. This is an eternal truth that applies not only to tea ceremony but other situations as well, whenever we may experience an encounter in our lives.

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5 Odd Omamori

At Japanese shrines you can buy many different omamori, protective charms, for defense against all sorts of evil and ill. Besides the regular charms for things such as safety, love, childbirth and health, Japan has some unique charms that can only be found at certain shrines. These charms are available all your round as opposed to bigger charms during special events.

If you’re into collecting omamori or just like a souvenir from every temple , these are some charms you can’t miss.

Pet Charm

Not only you, but also your pets can enjoy the divine protection of the gods. This charm can be attached to a collar by inserting it through the holes. The plastic protects it from the elements and any shenanigans your beloved pet might get involved in. Available in pink and blue at Chichibu Shrine in Saitama prefecture. Just a short trip from Tokyo, Chichibu has other amazing sightseeing spots besides the shrine.

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PC Charm

You will never have to worry about computer viruses or sudden data loss with this charm. Located in the electric capital of Tokyo, the kami of Kanda shrine in Akihabara protects even its digital inhabitants. Besides electronics you might also bump into some manga or anime charms as Akihabara is a hub for Japanese subculture.

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Manga/Anime Character Charm

We mentioned Akihabra and the existence of manga/anime omamori, well…you can find them for real. These omamori are usually found at special events instead of shrines, but there are some exceptions. If a popular manga or anime features a shrine in their story, this location usually becomes a “pilgrimage spot” for fans. If it becomes popular enough, special goods unique to that location might be sold. This charm was bought at a special event for the series “Gintama” and mimics the main character’s outfit.

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Married Couple Charm

Usually omamori are there to help you find your true love. But once you found that true love, it seems couples still depend on protection from the gods. This cute charm is bought in pairs and can be found at various jinja across Japan. This particular charm was bought at Nogi Jinja and features the image of a married couple in wedding attire.
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Travel and safe return charm

We all know charms for “safe travels”, but this is a specific charm wishing for a “safe return”. Because the word for frog in Japanese, kaeru, sounds similar to the word for coming back, kaerimasu, an illustration of a frog is used.

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I’m sure you will encounter many more fun charms during your visit to Japan!

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

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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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

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


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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

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

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


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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New Year Japanese Style in Saitama

New Year is often associated with countdown parties, midnight fireworks and endless drinking. But Saitama offers more than just that. Many valuable traditions passed down for hundreds of years are still being practiced here during the holiday season. For an authentic Japanese New Year experience, head down to Saitama where a full package of celebration and positive energy awaits you!

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Saitama’s New Year event calendar starts as early as December. Tokamachi, an annual open air market held on December 10, is a warm-up event of a month-long festival. At this time of the year, Musashi Ichinomiya Hikwawa Shrine and its neighboring areas are always packed with tourists and locals looking for colorfully decorated bamboo rakes called kumade to “rake in” success, wealth, fortune and happiness.

The tradition of selling and buying kumade in shrines dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1868). Kumade today comes in different sizes, price ranges and quality, but the rule remains the way it was hundreds of years ago: you have to get a kumade larger than the one you bought in the previous year for a bigger success.

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While at Tokamachi, it’s a good idea to let your taste buds explore some mouthwatering dishes. A wide range of traditional Japanese street food ranging from sweet dumpling dango to grilled fish and fried noodles can be found here at reasonable price. With so many food choices, you definitely won’t go hungry.

New Year Japanese Style in Saitama

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On January 3 at Saitama, the Seven Lucky Gods actually come to life in a special costume parade. This is an event you don’t want to miss because it just might be your once-in-a-lifetime chance to have a picture taking with Gods and Goddesses!

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Hatsumode, the first shrine or temple visit for the year, is another great way to start the New Year in Japan. Musashi Ichinomiya Hikwawa Shrine is just a 30 minute walk away from Omiya Station and thus a popular destination for hatsumode. Many people, dressed in traditional kimono, write their wishes on wooden plaques and get their fortune told by getting a scroll of white paper called omikuji.

After making a small offering, you can randomly choose an omikuji from a box. Unroll the paper to see what 2017 has in store for you. If the prediction is bad, don’t worry too much. Fold the strip of paper and tie it to a wall of metal wires to leave your bad luck behind.

The list of things to do in Saitama does not stop here. With its close proximity to Tokyo and rich history and culture, Saitama is the perfect place to spend not only the New Year holiday but weekends all year round!

New Year Japanese Style in Saitama

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Another event that will help you get into the New Year spirit is the Juninichimachi on December 12. The one-day market has been serving the community since the Meiji Period (1868-1915), attracting as many as 1,000 vendors selling amulets and traditional delicacies from the morning till late in the evening.

Juninichimachi extends from Tsuki Shrine to Kyu Nakasendo, one of the five routes connecting Tokyo and Kyoto in the Edo Period. Although the path is quite developed today, you can still follows the footstep of the 17th century haiku master Matsuo Basho and immerse in the nostalgic atmosphere.

For bunny lovers across the world, Tsuki Shrine is a must visit. Since tsuki can mean both textile and moon in Japanese, the shrine is vastly decorated with paintings and sculptures of rabbits, a messenger from the moon. Even the faucet used by worshippers for washing hands as a gesture of purification is in the form of a rabbit!

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Besides getting an amulet from shrines for good luck, you can ask the deities for a year of abundance. Shichifukujin Meguri is an Edo tradition of making a short pilgrimage to seven temples and shrines during the New Year holiday. With each visit to a temple or shrine on the course, you get a red stamp. After collecting all the seven stamps on a decorative cardboard, place the cardboard in your house for happiness and prosperity in the coming year.

The pilgrimage is usually done on foot. But if walking in cold weather is not your thing or if time is not on your side, then cycling might be a good choice. Along the course are a homemade soba noodle shop and a Japanese sweets shop that has been in the business since 1864. The strawberry daifuku—a large size strawberry wrapped with red bean paste inside chewy mochi rice—is really worth dropping in for.

Experience Chichibu Night Festival

The application period for this event has ended. We will email the results by Nov 28. Thank you for all your submissions!

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The Chichibu Night Festival, which has a history of more than 300 years, is Chichibu Shrine’s annual festival, held in December. The Gion Festival in Kyoto, the Takayama Festival in Hida, and the Chichibu Night Festival are regarded as the three greatest parade float festivals in Japan.
The festival is held on December 2 and 3, when the area is crowded with a large number of tourists. Six yatai floats shaped like small houses are paraded through the city streets.

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The festival is listed as UNESCO intangible cultural heritage recently. And to celebrate this memorable moment in the city’s history, participants are allowed to pull elaborately decorated Yatai floats with the locals.

Why not participate in the Chichibu Night Festival?

■ Schedule
Date: Friday Dec 2nd, 2016 (Festival will be held, rain or shine)
Hours: 11:00 at Ikebukuro Station to 15:00 after the festival, participants are free to go.

※The event organizer will provide each participant a limited express train ticket to Seibu Chichibu Station. For going back, a regular train ticket will be provided upon arrival around 13:00. (Not a limited express train ticket)

■ We are looking for…
・Foreign Nationals
・Those who are OK with being photographed at the event. There will be media personnel and a cameraman.
・Those who are responsible and will not chancel at the last minute.

If you fulfill the requirements, sign up by Nov.24 using the form below. Don’t miss this rare opportunity to experience authentic Japanese Matsuri. Pulling the elaborately decorated festival float with the locals will be something you will treasure for a long time.

If you have any questions or technical issues with the form, please contact us via email to [email protected]

Nengajo 101 : How to write Japanese New Year’s Cards

Every year Japan’s postmen make a New Year’s miracle come true by delivering millions of New Year’s cards right on time. These cards are called “nengajo” and are a Japanese tradition.
During the old days, people would personally visit families and stores that they were grateful to in the past year. When more people moved from the countryside to cities it became more and more difficult to do these visit. This is when postcards became the common way to thank friends, families and business partners.

Nengajo are a fun way to get creative and creating your own design is the best way to stand out in the recipient’s pile of cards. We’ll show you how to create and write your own nengajo.

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Buy or Make your Nengajo

Shops already carry beautiful designs that you can buy in bulk. When you’re pressed for time this is a good alternative. During the weeks leading up to New Year’s Eve you can find them in the post office, stationary shops and kiosks…basically everywhere.
If you do decide to make your own nengajo there are two ways to do it. You can buy blank nengajo at the same shops and decorate each one individually to your liking. Another popular way is to create them digitally and get the printed. This is actually not as expensive as it sounds because many people use this type of service. If you can navigate in Japanese, here are some sites to make your own cards (delivery only in Japan).

Japan Post Nengajo Design Kit(Japanese Only)
Happy Card (Japanese only)
Nenga Netprint (Japanese only)

Of course when you start from a blank design and want to do it manually, stationary and hobby shops sell stamps and stickers to make decorating easier.

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Sending Nengajo

Nengajo need to arrive at the first day of the new year, so post offices put in a lot of effort and hire extra staff to make deliveries. To make this process easier post offices have a temporary separate mailbox for nengajo during December. This way they can sort out the cards earlier. If you get your cards into this box before the specified deadline your card is guaranteed to arrive on the correct day.

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Official nengajo are easy to fill out and all have the same back. Even when you make your own design and onder them the back will have roughly the same layout. There’s a space for the address and your personal message. The pre-stamped area (if your card has it) usually features the new year’s zodiac animal. The animal for 2017 is the rooster.

Win the lottery!

…if you’re lucky!
Official nengajo have a lottery number printed on them and you can win actual prizes such as a television or cooking supplies. The results are announced mid-January on the official “Japan Post” website, in the newspaper and on TV. So don’t throw away your nengajo! Together with the list they will tell you where you can pick up your prize.

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

Kappabashi: Home of Japanese Knives

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Just a short walk away from Asakusa, Kappabashi is a great place to spend an afternoon among a joyful chaos of stores specializing in all sorts of kitchenware, and a must-visit destination for visitors looking to pick up world-class Japanese knives.

Over 100 Years of History

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Kappabashi Dogu-gai (Kappabashi Kitchenware Street) has been a center of commerce related to tools for over a century, and is one of the best places in Tokyo to find cool (not to mention useful) souvenirs. The two main streets are stocked to the brim with everything from super-realistic food samples to ramen shop signs, pots big enough to make curry for 100 people, dainty sake cups, chopsticks in every color of the rainbow… and knives.

Kamata Hakensha: Knives Galore

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Located around the middle of Kappabashi, this little shop is heaven for both amateur and professional cooks, as it stocks a huge range of Japanese and Western-style knives, each individually checked (and sharpened!) by the owner. The staff speak decent English and are really good at helping you find the right knife for your needs and ability.

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From the window you can watch Seiichi Kamata (the owner and third-generation craftsman) engraving names on the knives (a rather cool touch, especially if the blade is a gift) or restoring the razor-sharp edges of the implements used by top chefs around the city.

With almost four decades of experience, his fingers can detect the slightest imperfection in the metal, invisible to the naked eye. During a recent visit, he spoke of the intense training his son (the fourth generation) underwent under both his tutelage and that of the master knife makers in Sakai City, Osaka, in order to ensure that he too will gain this level of craftsmanship.

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As many of the knives are completely handmade, they’re priced accordingly. However, the shoo does have a nice range of light but sturdy stainless steel kitchen knives that are very reasonable, as well as other unusual choices (my favorite being a pair of scissors with a cherry blossom motif).

Be sure to check out the Japanese-style knives decorated with flowers, leaves and dreamy wave patterns, which look almost too pretty to use!

www.kap-kam.com


Read the original article on All About Japan: Kappabashi: Home of Japanese Knives

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November Lucky Days

In Japan November is a special lucky month because of the number 11 that can be pronounced as いい meaning “good”. Using this as an anchor point, companies and individuals use wordplay on numbers to turn almost every day of November into a lucky day. We’re already a bit into November but we’ll start the list from the top.

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11/1: good posture day いい姿勢の日 (ii shisei no hi)
Awareness day for keeping good posture at work to prevent lower back pain etc.

11/3: Good leather day いいレザーの日 (ii rezaa no hi)
On this day the leather industry of Japan appreciates good leather and even has a “best look in leather” award.

11/5: Good relationship day/ good man day/ いいご縁(ii goen) / いい男の日 (ii otoko no hi)
If you’re looking for a spouse, this is the day to visit a shrine. If you’re a man, this is the day to take care of your health.

11/7: Good woman day いい女の日 (ii onna no hi)
Appreciating women’s beauty. On this day many salons give discounts for beauty treatments.

11/8: Good bag day いいバッグの日 (ii baggu no hi)
Day to appreciate the purse/backpack/bag as a fashion accessory.

11/9: Good shoe day いい靴の日 (ii kutsu no hi)
Awareness day for wearing proper shoes to keep your feet healthy.

11/10: Good friend day いい友の日 (ii jyuu no hi)
Originally the name of a radio program. Show your friend some appreciation on this day.

11/11: Good meeting day いい出会いの日 (ii deai no hi)
The person you meet on this day might become your spouse next year on 11/22

11/13: Good knee day いいひざの日 (ii hiza no hi)
Knee problem awareness day, checkups are encouraged.

11/14: Good stone day いい石の日 (ii ishi no hi)
Good day to do anything with stones such as building a rock garden or honoring someone’s gravestone.

11/16: Good color day いい色の日 (ii iro no hi)
Awareness day for the effect of colors focusing on “making a space beautiful and functional with colors”.

11/18: Good home day いい家の日 (ii uchi no hi)
Good day to buy your own home.

11/19: Good breath day いい息の日 (ii iki no hi)
Take good care of your breath today by keeping it fresh

11/20: Pizza day ピザの日(piza no hi)
Because the pizza margherita was invented on this day, celebrate with some pizza

11/22: Good spouse day いい夫婦の日 (ii fuufu no hi)
Show some appreciation for your significant other on this lucky day.

11/26: Good team day いいチームの日 (ii chiimu no hi)
Teamwork awareness day

11/29: Good meat day いい肉の (ii niku no hi)
Day to enjoy some good quality meat.

As you can see, Japan finds a reason to celebrate almost everything. Every day has even more “lucky meanings” than the ones listed here and every year people come up with new ways to celebrate. Some are more popular than the other and people share the days on Twitter or Instagram. Will you be celebrating all these lucky days?

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Source: http://www.kinenbi.gr.jp/

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

Tori No Ichi: The Good Luck Charm Fair

If your sign is the Rooster you’re in for a lot of celebrations this year and the next. Tori No Ichi, or bird/rooster day, is celebrated every 12 days of November. This means that depending on the year there can be 2-3 “days of the rooster” in November.

A good luck charm fair

The rooster is a symbol for good luck and successful business, they wake up early and work hard every day. This bird is enshrined at different Otori-jinja in Japan and it is here that you will find all the festivities. You can buy goods such as charms, “rakes” to “rake in” good luck and food with lucky benefits. In actuality, the shrine in Asakusa is dedicated to the Buddhist priest Nichiren who found the Nichiren sect. His statue stands on an eagle and thus received the nickname “Otori-sama” (tori = bird in Japanese).

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Kumade

The wide rake of bamboo to “rake in” good luck is formally called a Kumade. They are heavily decorated ornaments with symbols of good luck and fortune. You can spot maneki neki, sake bottles, five yen coins, cranes and more. It all depends on the merchant and what type of luck you want to bring inside your home. When you buy the Kumade you’re supposed to sing a short phrase together to pray for your family’s safety and success in business; kanai anzen, shobai hanjo. Read more about Kumade here

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Information

Tori No Ichi in Tokyo

Shrine: Ootori Shrine, Asakusa
Dates: Nov. 11, 2016 & Nov. 23, 2016
Address: 3-18-7 Senzoku Taito-ku Tokyo
Access: 20min walk from Asakusa station, 10min walk from Minowa or Hibiya station
torinoichi.jp
Shrine: Hanazono Jinja, Shinjuku
Dates: Nov. 11, 2016 & Nov. 23,2016
Address: 5-17-3 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku Tokyo
Access: East exit Shinjuku station
Ranking: ★★★★☆
hanazono-jinja.or.jp(Japanese only)

3 Historic Fan Shops in Kyoto

Kyoto’s rich history even extends to its many shops and these shinise, or historic shops, are some of the Kyoto’s oldest. In fact, these three fan shops are among Japan’s most historic, with some dating as far back as the 17th century!

3. Aiba

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Aiba has been continuously selling traditional Japanese fans since 1689. Although they specialize in more traditional styles, the shop continues to be innovative. One of the more modern styles they’ve created is a transparent fan that gives the suggestion of delivering cool air while remaining quite stylish. These round fans were historically used within the Imperial Court during the Edo Period. They’re artfully crafted, featuring natural scenery, people or poetry, cast in block print, dye or raised cloth.

Aiba is situated in downtown Kyoto between Sanjo-dori and Shijo-dori on quiet Yanagi no Bamba Street.

www.kyoto-kankou.or.jp

2. Miyawaki Baisenan

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Established in 1823, Miyawaki Baisenan specializing in the iconic Japanese folding fan. You can shop to your heart’s content on the first floor, but don’t miss the second floor, which features an exhibit on the history of Japanese fans. Baisenan sells fans for every occasion, from the purely utilitarian fans that start at ¥743 (US$7), to the more indulgent sandalwood fans that can go for as much as ¥43,532 (US$410). Even if you’re not there to make a purchases, Miyawaki Baisenan offers a fascinating look at the history of fans, and the many varieties that exist from region to region.

Miyawaki Baisenan is situated north of Shijo-dori, on Rokkaku-dori.

www.nytimes.com

1. Sakata Bunsuke Shoten

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This shop had its start in 1808, specializing in folding fans. The fans at Sakata are strictly for decor, ceremonies, or entertainment, so you won’t be pulling one of these works of art out of your pocket when you’re roasting on a crowded train. Sakata Bunsuke Shoten exhibited at The International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925, meaning these well-made fans have been held in international high-regard for nearly 100 years. Sakata keeps things interesting, releasing a new design each year in a continued effort to blend modern design with Japanese tradition.

Sakata Bunsuke Shoten is located at the corner of Gojo and Yanagi no Bamba street.

eng.trip.kyoto.jp


Read the original article on All About Japan: 3 Historic Fan Shops in Kyoto

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Saitama Triennale 2016

To the north of Tokyo lies Saitama City. It’s not so well known amongst tourists but there are many fun activities and green areas. It’s a fun place for a daytrip. Currently Saitama is hosting the 2016 Saitama Triennale of which one exhibition area is in Saitama City.

The Saitama Triennale 2016 has participating artists from all around the world, famous in their own country and abroad. The Saitama Triennale has become a festival to be enjoyed by all five senses. This year’s theme is “Discover the Future!”. Discover Saitama’s charm and daily life through the art’s stories. There’s an indoor and an outdoor zone so you can enjoy the artwork in many different ways.

Wattention interviewed Thai artist Wisut Ponnimit who designed the event’s mascot character “Mamuang-chan”. We talked about his work and the Saitama Triennale.

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Tam’s interview

งาน Saitama Triennale 2016

Profile

Wisut PONNIMIT (Thailand)
Born in 1976, Bangkok Thailand. Nicknamed Tam. Debuted in 1998 in Bangkok as a manga artist. He lived in Kobe from 2003 until 2006 and currently works in Bangkok. His works include the “Mamuang” series, “Blanco” (Shogakukan), “Hesheit” (Nanaroku inc.) and various manga art. He also participated in the Yokohama Triennale 2005. In 2009 “Hesheit Aqua” received an honourable mention at the Cultural Affairs Media Arts festival in the manga division. In 2015 he had a solo exhibition “MELO HOUSE” in Bangkok. Besides having done animation work, Tam also collaborated with musical artists such as “Baan” (2013) and Harada Ikuko.

About the Saitama Triennale 2016
Q: Why did you participate in the Saitama Triennale 2016?
A: It’s a big event, so I think I participated to test my own strength.

Q: How do you feel about participating in an international event like this?
A: As I thought, I’m a bit nervous to work together with the other artists. I will have to work hard on my own art as well.

About his work
Q: What’s the style of your work? / What kind of work did you make?
A: Because the theme of this exhibition is “Discover the Future!”, I created work in that image.

Q: You also designed the event’s mascot character. Could you briefly introduce her?
A: The exhibition area is very big, the event is held at various places in Saitama. There are people who come only for the Saitama Triennale 2016 so I think most of them might not be familiar with Saitama City or its station. This is why we decided to place a guide sign with Mamuang chan near the station that guides visitors to the event. Because Mamuang chan is there, I hope people won’t get lost and will feel safe.。

Q: What kind of character is Mamuang chan?
A: I think she’s a child who doesn’t overthink things too much.

Regarding his studies and living in Japan
Q: Why did you study abroad in Japan? What sparked your interest in Japan?
A: When I was a child I loved Japanese manga and this made me start working on manga. I wanted to learn more about the origin of manga and came to Japan to better understand Japanese culture.

Q: Why do you think your work is also popular in Japan?
A: I think my art pieces has something that Japanese people cannot get from their normal life. Maybe, when they see my work they feel a sense of security.

Q: For foreigners in Japan and tourists from overseas who come to see the 2016 Saitama Triennale, please share your recommendations.
A: I think it’s an interesting event because there are many artists. The entrance is free and the weather is getting cooler so I think it’s a good chance to visit Saitama. Please come and see the event.

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Like Tam said in the interview, the Saitama Triennale 2016 is a great opportunity to visit various spots in Saitama. The event’s scenery and artwork is different in every area so photography enthusiasts can also enjoy themselves as well. There are events you can enjoy together as a family, events where you can experience culture and hands-on exhibitions so please come and see them in a leisurely mood.

Near Omiya Station, one of the venues for the Saitama Triennale 2016, is a railway museum with about 36 train cars on display from the late 19th century until the latest modern bullet train. There are 5 different driving simulators such as the steam locomotive D51 (Japanese built steam locomotive) and the Shinkansen 200 series (bullet train). It’s an interactive museum where you can see, listen and touch.

Iwatsuki, another exhibition area, is the lead producer of dolls in Japan with more than 80 doll ateliers. Dolls for Hinamatsuri (girl’s festival), boy’s festival and a variety of traditional dolls have been shipped to both domestic and foreign customers. How about experiencing a doll workshop after visiting the art exhibition?

In Saitama City you can enjoy the bonsai gardens and the Omiya Bonsai Art Museum, Japan’s leading bonsai museum and the host for the 8th World Bonsai Congress in 2017 (Apr. 27 -30, 2017). There are many other interesting spots in Saitama City.

The Saitama Triennale 2016 is held until December 11th. Why not make an art journey to Saitama City?

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Event Information

Dates: Sept. 9, 2016 – Dec. 11, 2016
Locations: 1) Yohonmachi Station ~ Omiya Station 2) Musashi Urawa Station ~ Naka Urawa area 3) Iwatsuki Station area
Link to the area map and access information (Japanese – English)PDF
Official website URL: https://saitamatriennale.jp/(Japanese – English)(Japanese – English)

Shichigosan, 7-5-3

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Every year on November 15th parents celebrate the growth of their children during Shichigosan. The name of this event literally means “seven, five, three” and corresponds with the age of your child. At the age of seven a girl is allowed to wear her first obi, when five a boy wears hakama pants in public for the first time and at the age of three both boys and girls are allowed to grow their hair out. Of course the tradition isn’t as strict anymore, but Shichigosan is still an event that many people love to celebrate.

History

During the Heian period (794 – 1185) parents already celebrated their children’s growth on a lucky day in November. The festival only got a set date as the 15th of November during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333). During the Edo period (1603 – 1868) commoners joined in on the practice combining it with a shrine visit and offering. Thus Schichigosan as we know it today was born. Boys celebrate it at the age of three and five and girls celebrate it when they turn three and seven. Birthdays weren’t traditionally celebrated in old Japan, everyone was one year old when they were born and aged one year on New Year’s Day. Events like Shichigosan were used as celebratory occasions. Parents buy or rent traditional clothing and dedicate a whole day to celebrate.

After the shrine visit parents buy chitose ame, thousand years candy. It’s shaped like a stick and has the image of a turtle and a crane on the package. These animals are traditional symbols for longevity.

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Clothing

Three year old girls wear a kimono that is tucked in at the shoulders and has no obi sash. When they turn seven girls wear a proper kimono with long sleeves. Five year old boys wear a full formal Japanese outfit with hakama and haori for the first time. Nowadays Shichigosan is more of a photo opportunity for the parents, but the wish for healthy children remains the same.

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Sanrio Puroland

I guess there are just a few people left who haven´t heard about the white fluffy cat with its big round eyes which enchants her fans since 1974!
In  the western part of Tokyo you can find an indoor theme park dedicated to Hello Kitty and her friends. Opened in 1990, Sanrio Puroland attracts more than 1.5 million visitors a year.
If you want to treat your kids to a magical experience, or if you are curious about Japan´s popular characters itself, don´t hold back and immerse yourself into a whole new world full of cute adventures.

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The entrance is a huge hall decorated with lovely artwork featuring the main characters of Sanrio Puroland.

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After entering the park you will be welcomed by one of the many characters which whom you can take a memorial picture with. Further, at the merchandise and souvenir booth located near the entrance, you can transform yourself into one of your beloved characters while purchasing its characters hairband with attached ears.

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Now you will take the escalator and reach Hello Kitty´s magical world.
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Beside having the chance to take a sneak peek inside Hello Kitty´s and Little Twin Stars house, you can also make a trip through Mariland with My Melody´s newest ride attraction.

While Cinnamoroll invites you to an exciting boat ride through the world of Sanrio Characters….

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….Hello Kitty takes you to see her fantastic musical at the “Märchen Theater”.

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It´s a magical place not only for families and children, also couples and friends can enjoy a pleasant day at Santrio Puroland.

Sanrio Puroland Info:
Hours: The opening hours and closing days differ from month to month, please check the website in advance.
Address: 1-32 Ochiai, Tama, Tokyo 〒206-8588
Access: 5min-walk from Tama Center Station, Keio Line
Keio Line: Central Exit / Odakyu Line: West Exit
Tel: 042-339-1111
URL: http://en.puroland.jp/

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Kanji 101

Socrates said, “The more I learn, the more I learn how little I know”. This is how I feel when it comes to learning Kanji. Though I’m Japanese and have been using Kanji for the past few decades, every now and then I make new discoveries and fascinating finds in the world of Kanji.Child Kanji

Just like Egyptian hieroglyphics, many basic Kanji comes from the shapes of actual objects. When you see them, you can kind of guess what they mean. For example, this is the Kanji for children: “子” (By the way, this Kanji also represents something small or a cute)

You can separate this Kanji into two parts.
The first part is “一”, which means first, beginning, or number one.
The other is “了”, which means the end.
Child Kanji4So the Kanji for child represents a beginning as well as an end. Children often remind us of how life begins, and at the same time how short life can be and that someday we all have to face our end.

“子” is also the Kanji for the year of rat in the twelve zodiac symbols. Interestingly enough, the year of rat marks the beginning of the circle. Some might agree that rats are small or even cute. Walt Disney knew the positive feelings regarding rats and mice when he came up with Mickey Mouse. Many years later, Disney is still going strong with the kids in Japan. Perhaps there is some kanji magic there.

Ok, here are some Kanji quizzes for you. Can you guess what these mean?Kanji Quiz1. 字
子 is underneath a roof. A new child is born and he needs a name. What do you use to write his name?

2. 学
It looks like 子 is wearing a crown. What would a kid have to do to be King of Knowledge?

3. 孫
There is 子 on the left side and 系 (lineage, connected thread) on the other. In your family’s lineage, your child is related to many people in different ways. The answer lies in one of these relationships.

There are around 2000 kanji for general use in Japan. Some are basic and simple, others are so complicated that they would make you dizzy. Of course, every now and then I would encounter an unfamiliar Kanji and have to look it up in a dictionary. It is quite a challenge and takes a long time to learn all the Kanji, but personally, I think they are very beautiful and interesting.

Here are the answers: 字 means a letter or font, 学 means learning and 孫 means grandkids.

Eiheiji, the temple Steve Jobs wanted to study at

In Fukui there are two well known temples, Daianzenji and Eiheiji, that differ very strongly from each other. Eiheiji Temple belongs to the “Soto Zen” school of teaching and its name literally means temple of eternal peace. The founder, Dogen Zenji, adopted Zen practices from China and applied them to his own “way of the Buddha” in Japan. In 1244 he built a mountain temple near Fukui City with the help of one of his most devoted followers, the samurai Yoshishige Hatano. Even though the Rinzai school was more popular with samurai at the time, the Soto school was more straightforward and easier to understand for most people. Because of these reasons Eiheiji and Soto Zen became the “to go” practice for the common folk.

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A Temple School

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More than an actual temple, Eiheiji is a temple school training monks from all over Japan. The strict teachings recorded by Dogen Zenji in his books attract more than 200 trainees who all live in the temple. They each have just one tatami mat measuring one by two meters on which they have to eat, sleep and meditate (zazen). The Soto Zen school teaches that every activity should be a religious practice, so talking and reading is never allowed in the priest’s hall. Because of the strictness and sanctity of most of the halls you are not allowed to take photos or even visit the trainees’ daily living quarters.
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Eiheiji, the temple Steve Jobs wanted to study at

What do priest trainees eat?

PillarWith more than 200 people living under one roof there must be a very complex system for cooking, right? On the contrary, the monks prefer to keep the sober lifestyle dictated by their teachings and still use the same kitchen, Daikuin, as during the old days. Of course most of the equipment has been updated to keep up with the times. These modern appliances are a great help to the eight monks who have to make all the meals every day for everyone else. The cuisine at Eiheiji is strict vegetarian and prepared with local ingredients. Meals are always sober and plain. “Upon flowing into the pure ocean of dharma, there are no such discriminations as delicacies or plain food; there is just one taste, and it is the Buddha dharma, the world itself as it is.”

The kitchen building is a three-story cooking complex with some interesting features. There is a shrine dedicated to swiftness and protection from fire. Praying here will give you the strength to deliver meals quickly and to warn everyone in case of fire…which hopefully won’t happen if you prayed hard enough. The nearby wooden pillar is as old as the temple itself and it’s said that if you rub it three times you become better at cooking. Rub it six times to become better at flattering.
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Holy places

Every hall, room and space in Eiheiji is a place of worship. Even when going to the bathroom one has to respect the rules written in the Senjo, a special chapter in the Soto Zen book stipulating rules for going to the toilet. Some of the other important places include the official entryway with statues of the Four Heavenly Kings who protect the Buddha (sadly, no direct photos allowed of the deities), the main temple called “Hatto” and the mausoleum of the founder Dogen Zenji. This mausoleum is officially called “Joyoden” and not only houses the ashes of Dogen Zenji but also the ashes of several of his successors. They are respected as if they were living teachers. There are living quarters near the mausloeum for the priests who are assigned to maintain this holy area. The framed kanji character means “shouyou”, roughly translates to “receiving the sun”, and was written by the Emperor Meiji.

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Stay overnight

If you want to experience Eiheiji life or start a training like Steve Jobs wanted to do, you can! You can do short overnight stays but if you want to sign up for the real deal you have to be affiliated with the Soto Zen Sect or prove your conviction. Of course there are also day courses to practice zazen Eiheiji style. If you’re interested you can read all about it here.
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Information

Hours:4am – 5pm (5:30am – 4:30pm during winter)
Admission: 500yen
Location: near Fukui City
Access: Timetable for Eiheiji Liner bus
Address: 5-15 Shihi, Eiheiji, Yoshida District, Fukui Prefecture 910-1228
TEL:0776-63-3102
URL: https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/shritemp/eiheiji.html

Ichijodani Asakura Ruins, remnants of a powerful clan

The Asakura clan (朝倉氏) was one of the most powerful clans in Fukui during the Sengoku period (1467 – 1603). Ichijodani is the name of the city they built. At its height, Ichijodani had over 10,000 residents and an advanced culture.

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Background History

The Sengoku period was a time of civil war in all of Japan. The last ruler of Ichijodani, Asakura Yoshikage, was an adept ruler who kept peace in the city. Because of this, Ichijodani became a refuge for people fleeing unstable areas in conflict. Warlord Oda Nobunaga seeked to unify Japan and captured Kyoto (then the capital) in an attempt to rule the country (1568). The Asakura clan was called upon to drive Nobunaga from Kyoto, thus creating a conflict. Oda Nobunaga’s answer was a siege on the Asakura domain and in 1573 he burned down the whole city.

Luckily, in 1967, Ichijodani’s secrets were revealed during a large scale excavation. The city turned out to be much grander than anyone ever expected and is one of the only ruins in Japan with this much detail. You can visit the site and see a reconstruction of the village houses.

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guideThe Asakura Ruins offer a very handy virtual guide that shows you how the original buildings would have looked by using a real time camera. Just point the guide to a location and a virtual reconstruction will begin. This guide costs 500yen and is available in both English and Japanese. This is very useful as most of the area is barren and you need a lot of imagination to picture the buildings.

You can also choose to have a real guide tell you all the stories of Ichijodani. I would suggest to take both the virtual guide for the experience and the real guide for the secret stories and enthusiasm.

Ichijodani Asakura Ruins, remnants of a powerful clan

The City

There are many interesting things to see in the reconstruction of the Ichijodani. Actors walk around in historical costumes and mannequins are set up inside the homes to reenact historical scenarios.
For safety reasons, the Asakura family built the city in a very interesting and unique way. The streets have a slight curve, making it possible to see every enemy no matter where you are standing in the street. The same principle is applied in Narai Juku, Matsumoto.

City Streets

You can see that the city has a built-in waterway that serves as a sewage system and to keep the area cool during summer. The walls are fortified with big rocks, protecting against floods and invaders. When you walk around the ruins it’s difficult to imagine the grand buildings that once housed powerful samurai and lords.

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The Karamon gate is the entrance to the ruins of Yoshikage’s house and used to be the entrance gate to a temple. Thanks to the good condition of the ruins an accurate image of the villa could be created.

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The Karamon gate is still in good condition because it was built after the destruction of the Asakura clan and again reconstructed during the Edo period. If you look closely, the gate bears both the mark of the Asakura clan and of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. In 1570 during the Battle of Anegawa Hideyoshi fought in defense for the Asakura clan against Oda Nobunaga. This gate is thus dedicated to Asakura Yoshikage.

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There are several gardens in Ichijodani and some are still waiting to be discovered. You can easily spend a full day in the area as it’s surrounded by beautiful nature and there’s so much history to absord.

Something the guide was really proud about is that telecom operator Softbank chose to do a commercial series in Ichijodani. Their trademark white shiba inu named “Otousan” (“father” in Japanese) has been around since 2007 and is the head of the Shirato family. According to the commercial series his hometown is Ichijodani.

Information

Hours: 9am – 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm) / Closed Dec. 28 – Jan. 4
Admission: 210yen (500yen for the virtual guide)
Location: Ichijodani Asakura Family Ruins
Address: 910-2153 Fukui-ken, Fukui-shi, Kidonouchichō
Access: From Fukui JR Station go to Ichijodani Station on the JR Kuzuryu Line (15min) and walk for 25min / Take a bus from JR Fukui Station to Jokyouji and get off at Bukeyashiki-mae (35min) / 30min by car from central Fukui.
URL: http://www3.fctv.ne.jp/~asakura/ (Japanese only)

Modern kimono styling

The kimono is a timeless garment that can be passed down from generation to generation. While there are many different types of kimono styles have changed over the years. The traditional During the early 20th century the kimono got funkier patterns and became more modern. Nowadays mainstream fashion takes inspiration from kimono and even Harajuku fashion uses some traditional Japanese spirit.

Combine kimono with boots instead of sandals
Combine kimono with boots instead of sandals

What’s happened for sure is that kimono styling became more free. People aren’t afraid to wear patterns that are out of season and will mix and match their traditional style with modern accessories. Wattention reports some of the creative ways kimono lovers have made the traditional garment their own.

Artists always say “you have to know the rules of anatomy before you can break them”. The same can be said for kimono. Once you know what parts make a kimono you can replace them with parts of your own.

 

Be Cute

Obi have received an upgrade and come in different styles, such as this adorable cat obi. On her obijime (obi belt) she attached a brooch accompanied by a cute Nyanko Sensei strap, a character from the manga “Natsume’s book of friends”. Her zori are quite traditional but the Miffy tabi socks make them modern for a stylish cute look.

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Be Creative

Just like with any outfit, you can mix and match freely with the kimono. “Objime are so expensive” this girl said, “so I replaced it with a cute ribbon I found.” Another creative example is the use of a simple lace scarf to add just that bit of artistic flair to your kimono. One thing’s for sure, creativity stands out. And in the world of kimono, everything is possible!

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Be Cool

This men’s yukata has a unique look with Nekomata (demon cat) embroidery. On the front the Nekomata is doing its signature dance and is relaxing with a pipe on the back. It’s difficult to find unique yukata like this so many people have them custom embroidered. If you’re good with a needle you could try embroidery yourself or attach some cool patches. The kimono is your canvas.

Nekomata

Be Fun

Because we were near the area of Ueno Zoo, famous for its giant panda, this girl said she decided to wear her panda obi. Matching the kimono to an event or location you’re going to can be interpreted as part of the “seasonal” rule, where you have to match your colours to the seasons. The inside of the obi is a popular place to store your cellphone, so she made sure her cellphone strap was visible to complement the obi.

Panda

Have Fun

Your kimono can say anything you want it to say and can be worn whenever you want. Don’t be afraid to have fun with it!

Bracer by yoroikatchu.com
Bracer by yoroikatchu.com

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

Tokyo Edo Week : Wattention reports

 

Last week Tokyo organized a new event called the Tokyo Edo Week to promote traditional Japanese dress. There were definitely more people out in kimono than usual and Wattention was there to catch them all on photo.

The stands were laid out like a traditional festival with places to sit in the middle. There were kimono shops, kimono photo studios (even a samurai one) and accessory shops. The highlight of the event was the main stage where performers showed tricks and kimono makers showed their latest creations.

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The workshops were given in both English and Japanese, making it easy for foreigners to participate. With easy to understand instructions everyone was able to create a beautiful souvenir to take home. The ladies here are using traditional materials to make beautiful hairpins.

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sake2Guests in kimono received one of these traditional sake cups made from cypress wood. The smell of the wood was amazing and it makes for a beautiful souvenir. You could use the cup to try some of the vintage sake brought all the way from Nara. This sake is brewed with a traditional recipe, ensuring that you could drink the same sake as they did during the Edo period.

After having drunk sake from the cypress wooden cup, the smell became even stronger and sweeter.

Sake

On the main stage there was a kimono show, the miss Tokyo Edo beauty peageant and a sword demonstration. All three events were very entertaining to watch. It was very interesting to see furisode (long sleeve kimono) in one single color.

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The sword show was a mix between modern dance and acted fights. It all seemed very serious at first but at the end everyone broke down in a synchronized dance. The actors looked like they were having a lot of fun on stage.

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Our last stop before it became completely dark was the Kabuki experience stand. There were various masks on display showcasing all the different types of makeup a Kabuki actor can use. The choice depends on the type of role and character.

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The Tokyo Edo Week was a great event to revive traditional Japanese culture. I was happy to see many happy foreigners at the event who enjoyed the food, workshops and shows. Here’s to hoping they organize a second edition next year.

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7 Japanese autumn activities

 

Every country has its own quirks regarding the seasons, Japan is no exception. Here are some activities that almost every Japanese person loves to do when the leaves turn color.

 

1 ) Tsukimi (moon viewing)

Dating back to the Heian era (794 – 1185), the concept of moon-viewing has evolved with time and adapted to modern customs. Instead of lavish banquets people love to gaze at the moon with a small snack. Officially Tsukimi is somewhere around mid-September, but you can celebrate the full moon on your own anytime you like. Read our article about how to celebrate Tsukimi for more information.

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2 ) Gathering Chestnuts

Go wherever the chestnuts may fall and, if allowed, bring a portable barbeque. The smell of roasted chestnuts on an open fire immediately means autumn. Invite some friends for a chestnut hunt and share the delicious harvest. Semboku city in Akita prefecture has the largest breed of chestnuts in all of Japan. One of its annual champion chestnuts weighed an impressive 66gr!

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3 ) Harvest Rice

Now is the time for to come off the fields. Whether its done manually or by machine, rice harvesting is hard labour requiring lots of man-hours. If you live in the countryside and see someone with a rice field, just ask if you can help them. They will be very grateful and you can get one step closer to understanding Japanese rice culture. Read more about traditional rice harvesting in our article here.

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4 ) Grill some Sanma

Sanma or “Pacific Saury” is a typical autumn fish. In early autumn this fish is at its most delicious and is often grilled until crisp on a small fire. At one point this fish smelled so good that it caught the emperor’s attention.

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5 ) Take an autumn walk

Nothing beats admiring the falling leaves than doing so up close. Japanese people are very active and love taking walks in parks or the countryside. Instead of a regular walk, why not go autumn leaf hunting? The creative Japanese loves crafts and will gather the most beautiful fallen leaves to press and conserve. If you need inspiration, here are Wattention’s top 3 leaf viewing spots in Japan.

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6 ) Eat some Satsuma Imo (roasted sweet potato)

It may sound like a simple sweet, but roasted sweet potato can be a godsend on a cold day. You can find potato sellers with their carts near parks, outside the city and even in your regular convenience store. Holding this steamy snack will warm up your hands and your body.

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7 ) Attend a school’s sports festival

Chances are you’re over the age to participate in one, but those still attending school have their annual sports festival this season. Many parents go see their children compete in various events and love to film it to preserve for future generations.

Most festivals usually start around 8:30 am with a parade showing all the different participating teams divided by either neighbourhood, class, geographical area, or school. It’s basically like a mini-Olympics.

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Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art Part2

A Great Escape

Visiting a museum is a great way to appreciate art, culture and history, but let’s not forget that it also gives us the wonderful opportunity to relax and escape from our busy everyday lives.

The Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art is just the right place to do so. Located in the Chiba prefecture, the museum boasts not only the world’s greatest art collection, but also the prefecture’s natural surroundings.

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We had the privilege of visiting the museum on a steamy summer day. Though it was excruciatingly hot, thanks to the surrounding forest, as soon as we stepped into the museum’s vicinity, the air was much cooler and refreshing. Unlike many museums in the city, Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art offers an abundance of natural settings for us to explore.

A winding trail that goes through the forest provides some much needed foliage to protect us from the harsh sunlight and blazing heat. Walking along the path was such a nice treat for both our feet and our soul.

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Inspired by Monet’s paintings, the water lily pond is a favorite spot for many visitors. Flowers open in the early morning and close in the late afternoon, these short-lived white flowers are a must-see in the early summer. Several benches around the pond offer comfortable seating for those who want to appreciate the beautiful scenery.

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Behind the pond is a path that is adorned by a Weeping Cherry and Magnolias in the spring and is a popular spot to enjoy flower viewing. In fact, every April, it is packed with people who love to capture the perfect Sakura photos.

⑮Weeping cherry

“Some come here to take photos and others visit here to sketch the authentic beauty of nature. I’ve seen families having a picnic here as well,” said Ms. Hayashi, the PR manager at the museum. The museum is an oasis for over 500 plants and flowers, for a wide variety of wild birds and insects, and for visitors to come back to again and again.

Wisterias in May, Hydrangeas in June, autumn leaves in the fall and a silvery sky in the winter. Nature always shows us the best side of the season and never fails to give us great joy throughout the year.

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People visit museums for different reasons. Some go there to admire the infamous art collection, others visit there to reflect on their own thoughts. This museum offers both and even more.

Forget about the hustle and bustle of the city and immerse yourself in nature. Enjoy the great escape from your everyday lives. Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art is a perfect place to rejuvenate.

Read other articles in this series: Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art Part1

Information
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
Address: Sakado 631, Sakura, Chiba
From Tokyo Station: 67 minutes expressway bus ride or 60 minutes train ride (JR Sobu Line) to JR Sakura Station and 20 minutes (free shuttle bus) to the museum.
From Narita Airport: 30 minutes train ride (Keisei Line Limited Express) to Keisei Sakura Station and 30 minutes (free shuttle bus) to the museum.
Hours: 9:30am ~ 5pm (Last entry 4:30pm)
Closed: Mon (except for national holidays, then closed the following non-holiday), New Year’s holiday, during exhibit changes
Admission: 1,000 yen (Adults), 800 yen (College students and people over 65 with ID), 600 yen (Elementary, middle and high school students)
Admission varies depending on the exhibition.
URL: http://kawamura-museum.dic.co.jp/en/

Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art Part1

The Perfect Harmony of Art, Architecture and Nature

The world is full of visual clutter and sometimes we get overwhelmed by information overload. It is only in an ideal environment one can appreciate the true color of what they are looking at.

①Exterior picture

Only about an hour train ride from the Narita Airport and Tokyo Station stands a hidden oasis that houses the private collection of the DIC corporation. Known as the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art, this is a perfect place to immerse yourself in impressive artwork, beautifully designed architecture and Chiba prefecture’s natural settings.

Undeniable Artistic Insight

An array of paintings by Rothko. An immense room adorned with a Frank Stella collection. These are just a few of the world-famous works of art at the Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art. Established as a manufacturer of printing ink in 1908, DIC has cultivated numerous materials and finished products that bring “color” and “comfort” to people’s lives. The selected works here are a true reflection of DIC’s sophisticated taste.

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Take the time to embrace your natural reactions as each of the art pieces carries a different meaning and message. “Depending on the time of day, season, and even your mood, the artwork looks totally different,” says Ms. Hayashi, a PR manager at the museum. Besides their impressive permanent collections, special exhibitions are held throughout the year. So make sure to check what they are showing before you visit.

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In the Best Possible Light

543_RThe artworks are displayed with meticulous care, as each exhibition space is designed with a particular piece in mind. Room sizes, ceiling heights, wall colors, lighting and even the floor materials change to complement the art in the most compelling way. DIC knows that how people perceive art is at least as important as the art itself.

A great example of a remarkable blend of art and architecture is at the entrance, where an open atrium beautifully frames the statue of Venus by Aristide Maillol. Natural light through the mosaic glasses and the soft light from the ceiling creates a feeling of grandeur, giving the best first impression to visitors.

Spectacular Surroundings

Within its sprawling 10 hectares, there is a crescent-shaped pond that is home to white swans and a nature trail that winds through Chiba Prefecture’s indigenous green forest. The plants and flowers, even the outdoor furniture have been carefully chosen so that you can appreciate nature’s expansive palette throughout the year.

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Inside the museum both the restaurant and tea room offer spectacular views of the surrounding nature. The restaurant “Belvedere”, which means beautiful view in Italian, serves casual Italian cuisine while the tea room provides Yamamotoyama Matcha, a premium green tea brand from Nihonbashi, and seasonal Japanese sweets made by a well-established Japanese confectionery store in Kanazawa.

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Yes, this is a museum, but Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art is more than just a place to appreciate art. In the next article, we will explain why this place made a lasting impression on us.

Read also about their current special exhibition: Léonard Foujita and His Models

Information
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
Address: Sakado 631, Sakura, Chiba
From Tokyo Station: 67 minutes expressway bus ride or 60 minutes train ride (JR Sobu Line) to JR Sakura Station and 20 minutes (free shuttle bus) to the museum.
From Narita Airport: 30 minutes train ride (Keisei Line Limited Express) to Keisei Sakura Station and 30 minutes (free shuttle bus) to the museum.
Hours: 9:30am – 5pm (Last entry 4:30pm)
Closed: Mon (except for national holidays, then closed the following non-holiday), New Year’s holiday, during exhibit changes
Admission: 1,000 yen (Adults), 800 yen (College students and people over 65 with ID), 600 yen (Elementary, middle and high school students)
Admission varies depending on the exhibition.
URL: http://kawamura-museum.dic.co.jp/en/

Tokyo Yosakoi

Before Halloween, Ikebukuro has another big event coming up the Tokyo Yosakoi contest.More than a Matsuri, it’s a big dance competition.

Yosakoi is the name of the modernized Awa Odori, traditional summer dance. Thanks to the popularity of Yosakoi traditional Japanese dance is practiced by young and old all over the country. Most university and college students have a team with their own unique costumes and choreography. Every year the Tokyo Yosakoi contest in Ikebukuro attracts about a hundred teams.

History of Yosakoi

yosakoiThe Yasukoi dance is not as old as many other Japanese matsuri. It all started in the city of Kochi with the idea to reform traditional Japanese dance and to boost economic growth after the second World War. Yasukoi literally means “come at night” in the local dialect of Kochi prefecture.
The original Yosakoi song was written by Takemasa Eisuka who gave the rights to the public. This song combines a yosakoi melody, children’s song and a folk song from Kochi. Yosakoi dance teams are free to compose their own music but it must contain these elements but swapped with a folk song from your area. This music is either live or prerecorded and plays from a jikatasha, a colorful truck with speakers or a stage for musicians.

clapperAnother requirement is that the dancers must use a naruko, small wooden clappers that make noise when the dancer moves. Almost every competition has this requirement. Traditionally they are black and yellow but nowadays teams paint them in their own colors.

Costumes don’t have to be based on traditional Japanese clothing, as long as they have a connection with folk culture.

Examples of dances

Participants of last year’s Yosakoi competition in Ikebukuro

Yosakoi competition in Ikebukuro

The dancers will compete on nine venues around Toshima: the main site in front of Ikebukuro Station’s west exit, Ikebukuro Nishiguchi Park, Mizuki Street, Azeria Street, Yonshotengai, Sunshine Street on the east exit side, the plazas in front of Mejiro and Sugamo Stations, and Otsuka Station’s north exit area.

Dates: Oct. 8 – Oct. 9, 2016
Hours: dancers start around 11am
Location: around Ikebukuro
URL: https://www.yosakoitokyo.gr.jp/ (Japanese only)

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History of Halloween in Japan

 

Those who have been living in Japan for a long time know that Halloween is a fairly new holiday. In fact, it’s not an official holiday at all. The first ever Halloween event was held in the year 2000 at Tokyo Disneyland. Japan imported the concept from America and made it their own in a very grand way with large scale Halloween parades and flash mobs. Japanese love scary stories, so why did it take so long for Halloween to set ground?

It all started in…

the year 2000. Tokyo Disneyland made its first Halloween event in order to attract more visitors during the autumn season. The concept was taken from the other Disneyland parks worldwide that already had a Halloween event. Soon Universal studios in Osaka followed and every year the events grew. Before theme parks started these events Halloween was mostly celebrated by foreigners only. After all, Japan already has August as “scary month” when they celebrate O-bon.

The West celebrates Halloween because on October 31st the barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead is at its thinnest. People wear masks to scare the bad ghosts and eat pumpkins as a symbol of good harvest. In Japan there is a similar story regarding the barrier between the two worlds but, in contrast to the West that wants to scare away the ghosts, Japan welcomes their ancestral spirits. So before Tokyo Disneyland started Halloween, Japanese felt no need to celebrate the dead outside of O-bon season.
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Then came the merchandising

When big stores saw that Halloween was rising in popularity at the theme parks, they quickly jumped on with a line of Halloween goodies of their own. Pumpkin keychains, plushies and snacks made their way to stores. It’s no surprise that Japan, the country that brought us cosplay, was quick to embrace the dress up aspect of Halloween. Premade costumes were being sold and cosplayers got one more big day to show off their talents. From grand scale events such as the annual flash mob in Shibuya to small local parties, Halloween had made its way into the hearts of Japanese.
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Not so scary

At its core, Halloween isn’t that scary of a holiday for the Japanese. The real scary ghosts come out during O-bon, making Halloween more of a “kiddie version” haunted event. Of course now there are big zombie themed events and truly scary experiences. But at its core, Halloween is an imported holiday from America meant to entertain. Just like Valentine’s Day Japan took something from abroad and made it their own. However, no one can argue that Japan might be the best at throwing big Halloween parties.

 

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

Sakura – Japan in the Box : Fantastical Show in a 140-year-old Theater

The Meijiza Theater, one of the oldest theaters in Tokyo, is showing a new night-program that lets you enjoy cherry blossoms outside of spring time. Follow the fantastical adventures of a young high-school girl called Sakura as she journeys through the seasons. Look through her eyes as you experience Japan’s complex and multilayered beauty expressed by modern pop culture, including anime and pop-music, as well as traditional arts like dances, instruments and music performances. Don´t worry about your Japanese language proficiency, since the show is designed to be understandable to everyone.

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As expected of a theater house with a 140 year long tradition, the performances are top-notch professional. While the use state-of-the-art technology harmonized nicely with the traditional elements of the performance, drawing you in to an amazingly immersive experience.

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For foreign guests, you can also download a special app for your smartphone that is designed to synchronize and explain the meanings and messages of the story and figures of the show. The translation is in English and the app can be downloaded here for free.

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Information

“Sakura – Japan in the Box” Meijiza Theater
Address: 2-31-1 Nihombashi, Hama-cho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
Dates: Sept. 7, 2016 – Mar. 31, 2017
Website: http://sakura-meijiza.com/en/

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Tokyo Edo Week

 

The kimono is making a comeback with a modern twist and both young and old are wearing it more than ever. Tokyo wants to encourage you to try this timeless garment by organizing the Tokyo Edo Week during September 22nd~25th at Ueno Park.

Edo currency-Image edited from: edoweek.com
Edo currency-Image edited from: edoweek.com

The goal of this event is to show Japanese culture to the world in preparation for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The whole venue will be modeled after a street from the Edo period (1603-1868) and you can even pay in traditional Edo currency. If you don`t have a kimono to show off , you can rent one at the event. Everyone who comes dressed in kimono will get a free limited gift at almost every stand. If you bought a kimono or yukata but don’t know how to put it on, use this tutorial made by Tokyo Edo Week.

Tokyo Edo Week is the world`s biggest festival that celebrates traditional Japanese culture. Here are some of the festival`s highlights!

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Go Kimono Shopping

Various kimono designers from all over Japan will be displaying their latest creations as well as recycle shops with unique vintage kimono. If you would like to know more about kitsuke (着付け), the art of kimono dressing, you can see a demonstration by one of the attending kimono schools.

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Kimono Exhibition

If you`re not into trying a kimono yourself, you can visit one of the antique kimono exhibitions or the unique Kabuki exhibition. This interactive ICT event will be open for free to the public for the first time.

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Amazing Crafts

Now that you’ve completely immersed yourself in the world of kimono, it’s time to admire some traditional crafts. The Edo period was an amazing time for craftsmen as they enjoyed a relative nationwide peace at the start and were influenced by foreign crafts at the end. The result of years of perfection can be seen in crafts such as glassware, hairpins, kokeshi dolls, traditional dyeing techniques and more. Why not take home a piece of Edo?

Crafts
Image Courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

Meet Miss Sake Tokyo

The Tokyo Edo Week includes a special appearance by none other than the real Miss Sake. Ando Yumi proved she can be  Japan’s sake ambassador with both brains and beauty. Who knows, this might be the only time in your life that you get to meet a real Miss.

See Japanese Sword Arts and Plays

To top it all off, there are many amazing performers coming from all over Japan to show their talents. For those who like excitement there are samurai sword performances, a ninja show and even a DJ. If you like to have a more relaxed atmosphere, attend one of the traditional plays or comedy shows.

 

Enjoy Edo-style food with top class entertainment

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Image courtesy of Tokyo Edo Week

The food stands are well equipped to give every visitor a taste of historical Japan. Try some Edo classics and Western-inspired food while listening to a shamisen, classic Japanese three-stringed instrument, performance.

Not only food, but also sake is available at the Tokyo Edo Week. Micro breweries and local sake brewers worked hard to bring you the best they have to offer.


 

It would take a while to sum up all of the amazing activities the Tokyo Edo Week has to offer, but we hope these highlights convinced you to visit. Check out the Edo Week website for more information.

Event Information
Date: Sep 22 – 25, 2016
Hours: 11am – 8pm (22nd to 24th, last entry 7:30pm), 11am – 6pm (25th, last entry 5pm)
Where: Ueno Park Takenodai Square
Admission: Free (but you need to buy tickets for the food stands and the kimono exhibition).
URL: https://edoweek.com

The life of a Harajuku Shop Girl – Choom

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I’ve been an obsessive follower of Japanese street fashion for many years now so when I was given the opportunity to work at 6%DokiDoki, one of the most established brands in Harajuku and adored by fans worldwide, I jumped at the opportunity.

I am currently studying Japanese at university and an integral part of that is the year abroad in Japan. I chose to go to Tokyo because for me, it’s the only choice if you want to be a part of the fashion scene. The opportunity came about suddenly and quite randomly, first I was chosen to be a part of their show at the Moshi Moshi Nippon Festival then all of a sudden I was asked to be a Shop Girl. I was so thrilled!

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After a shaky start I quickly fell into step with my co-workers. Not only was this my first real job (I know, I know) but speaking the language was definitely tricky at first. After a few shifts and a lot of patience on behalf of my co-workers (thank you!!) I could communicate so easily with them and customers.
So a typical day at work would start not on the day of my shift, but actually the day before. I would message my manager and we would discuss what I would wear so then I could plan my accessories, foot wear and make up. The next day I would arrive about 30 minutes prior to when my shift would start. I was lucky to have lived about 15 minutes from Harajuku by train so the commute was never too bad. The only issue I would ever encounter would be tourists staring and shoving cameras in my face, so if you’re ever in Harajuku don’t be that person! You might be met with a very irritated shop staff! Once I arrived, I would finish my make up and put any final touches on my outfit.

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We have a schedule of things to do during our shift aside from helping customers and it always starts with taking pictures to post on social media and writing a bit about what we were doing and wearing. I didn’t know what I should say most of the time so I usually wrote about the weather, how very British of me! Other tasks on our schedule were cleaning the shop and restocking items that had been sold, so normal things any shop staff does. The only difference would be I’d be teetering over in my sky high platforms while sweeping up. I think a lot of people found it amusing for us to be cleaning up in over the top outfits and often took pictures of us outside the shop. I’m so worried somewhere on the internet someone has captioned a photo of me as ‘pink platform wearing cleaning lady in Harajuku.’

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Our customers were people of all ages, backgrounds and interests. I talked to both Japanese and non-Japanese customers and they all loved the bold, over the top cuteness of 6%DokiDoki. You could always tell when a new customer came in because they always exclaimed, ‘this is crazy’ or ‘this is amazing’ as soon as they walked through the door. There were always those that said they ‘could never wear something like that’ and asked me if I wore this kind of clothing every day. Sometimes I managed to coerce them into trying out some clothes and accessories by explaining how it could work with a simple, not very alternative outfit. I think it’s nice adding a little kawaii into people’s everyday lives!

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Obviously being a ShopGirl had its perks! Aside from the usual things like assisting customers we sometimes had photoshoots for both TV and magazines in the shop. Since 6%DokiDoki is so famous for its consistently outlandish and typically ‘Harajuku style’ it was a hotspot of interest to others. The shop also had diehard fans who loved everything about the fashion and the staff! It would be so lovely to turn up for work to find someone had left a gift for the staff. It really helped me to understand how much people appreciate the effort we went through to maintain the shop’s ‘sensational lovely’ image and the looks we created to promote the brand. I remember one day in particular when a customer came to the shop wearing a look I had done in my previous shift and I was so overwhelmed! Not only are we shop staff but people saw us as fashion inspiration too which is so cool!

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The experience I had as a Shop Girl was one to remember. My time both in and out of the shop was so fun and it made my year abroad memorable!

6 Things You Need to Know About Izakaya

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An izakaya is a Japanese-style pub. This means you’ll have alcohol as well as food, but instead of everyone receiving their own main dish, the standard procedure is for everyone to order lots of small, typically inexpensive dishes that are shared by everyone around the table, ordering subsequent rounds along with accompanying drinks.

6. Izakaya Meaning
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The word izakaya is made up of the kanji 居酒屋, meaning “stay,” “alcohol,” and “room” or “shop.” So an izakaya is, in the most literal sense, “a shop for people to stay with alcohol.”

5. Getting a Table
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When you enter an izakaya, you’ll first be asked how many people are in your party. If you don’t speak Japanese, just showing the number with your fingers is fine, and even a common practice among Japanese people. If it’s a big number—and izakaya are much more fun with more people—just say the number slowly in English, and be ready to reinforce by counting up on your fingers if necessary. Pretty much every Japanese person is comfortable with numbers one through 10 in English, but any higher and it depends on how much they enjoyed English in school.

Depending on the style of izakaya—or simply where you’re placed—you may be seated at a regular table, at a bar, or on straw tatami mats. If you’ve got tatami, you’ll have to take off your shoes before stepping on the mats (some places will give you a little locker for your shoes; keep the little tab in your pocket to retrieve them later). Most tatami rooms will have a hole in the floor under the table, so you’ll still have a place to put your legs.

If you’re in a truly classic tatami room, you may find no hole in the floor, and you’ll have sit cross-legged or kneel in seiza! This is pretty rare nowadays, but it can happen from time to time (as you can see in the photo above). After a while, most people will stretch out, so just put up with your cramped legs for a few minutes, then ask if it’s okay to extend your legs (just indicate your legs and say, “Ii desu ka?,” which means, “Is it okay?” Everyone will know what you mean).

4. Oshibori & Otoshi
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You’ll probably be given an oshibori (wet towel) upon sitting down, which you should use to clean your hands. A nice oshibori will be refreshingly cool in the summer and satisfyingly warm in the winter, though cheap spots may just give you one made of paper.

You’ll also probably receive a very small appetizer called an otoshi (or possibly tsukidashi if you’re in the Kansai area). This will be charged to your table, so don’t be surprised at the end! (And no, you don’t have a choice.)

3. Ordering

So, how do you order all those rounds of drinks and food? You just need one word: Sumimasen! This literally means “Excuse me,” and is the standard for getting staff attention (more on this incredibly useful word here).

While chain shops will often have buzzers on the tables for summoning staff, a classic izakaya will be a big, noisy room, and nobody has any compunctions about hollering “Sumimasen!” over the din to secure the next round. The key to sounding friendly is to draw out the last eh sound; if you just clip it off at the end, you sound pretty grumpy. Once you get accustomed to it, it’s lots of fun to call out, “SU-mi-ma-SEHHHHHN!”

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Most chain izakaya will have a pictographic menu, so if you don’t read Japanese, just point and use extremely simple English (“This, two,” “This, one,” etc.). If you’ve wandered into a spot with no images and you’re stuck, just ask, “O-susume wa?” (“What’s your recommendation?”). Otherwise, pointing at random also works!

Typical dishes will include a selection of yakitori (grilled meat on sticks), kara-age (fried chicken pieces), tamagoyaki (sushi-style omelette blocks), sashimi, grilled fish, small meat dishes, tofu and salads—and you’ll pretty often find French fries as well (just as for “potato” or “potato fry”)! The standard appetizer is, of course, edamame.

“Beer” is biiru in Japanese, so you can get one of those pretty easily (just say “Beer” and hold up the number for the table with your fingers). Another common word is nama, which means “draft,” as in “draft beer,” and can be used interchangeably with biiru.

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You won’t find Western-style cocktails on most menus, but you’ll have lots of choices of umeshu (plum wine), shochu (distilled liquor akin to light vodka), sake (which you can also order hot as atsukan), “sour” drinks (or sawaa, basically shochu combined with soda and various kinds of fruit juice; grapefruit sour is the standard), and very basic whisky (usually a single brand on the rocks or with soda).

Non-drinkers will also be able to get soft drinks and green tea. When everyone gets their drinks, remember the Japanese word for cheers: Kanpai!

2. Nomihodai
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One of the most important things to decide when starting out at an izakaya is whether or not to get nomihodai—all-you-can-drink. While you probably won’t be able to get nomihodai at a small, local shop, most chains will offer a 90-minute or two-hour deal for about the price of three or four beers—though there are discount shops with cheap nomihodai deals as well! However, either everyone at the table gets nomihodai, or nobody gets it. Three people can’t get all-you-can-drink while a fourth sips on water: it’s all in or all out.

Be aware that the nomihodai deal usually won’t be for everything on the drinks menu, either. You’re typically limited to a much smaller selection of alcohol that will mostly focus on beer and sours.

1. Paying
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To get the bill, you can either pull a “Sumimasen!” and cross your index fingers, or simply stand up slowly and head toward the door, where the bill will be waiting for you.

While most restaurants in Japan are great at divvying up the bill betsu-betsu (individually by person), this is simply not possible at an izakaya, where everybody has been sharing multiple rounds of dishes. You’ll just have to split the total evenly between the members of your group.

If you’re in a large group, you’re definitely going to want to sort out the bill at the table—because there’s always one person who showed up late or had only one beer and doesn’t want to pay the same amount as everyone else, and nobody ever has exact change. If you’re in charge of collecting the money, be aware that it always seems to end up that at least half of one person’s contribution is missing, and since nobody can ever figure out who paid too little, you’ll either have to appeal to the group to cough up some extra or cover the gap yourself.

Between the shared dishes and the need to collaborate on your next order, izakaya are great for encouraging people to interact, which may be the key to their overwhelming popularity for groups of friends heading out in Japan!


Read the original article on All About Japan: 6 Things You Need to Know About Izakaya

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Japan’s 8 Best-Preserved Castle Towns

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Original surviving Japanese castles are a rarity. Only a dozen retain their original keeps, though there are many more that lie in ruins or have been reconstructed. Beyond the castles, however, many historic castle towns are extremely well preserved, and we’ve gathered eight of the best!

8. Tsuwano (Shimane Prefecture)
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Surrounded by verdant mountains, Tsuwano, often called “Little Kyoto,” is one of Japan’s most beautiful historic castle towns. Visitors can stroll down Tsuwano’s streets visiting traditional sweets shops, sake distilleries, and samurai residences. The streets in the Tono-machi neighborhood are even lined with canals filled with brightly colored koi fish!

www.jnto.go.jp

7. Izushi (Hyogo Prefecture)
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Izushi Castle was partly reconstructed in 1979, combining with the extant ruins to give a fine impression of what this impressive hilltop structure would have looked like hundreds of years ago. Its surrounding town is now part of Toyooka City, but reminders of Izushi’s historic past remain. Visitors will notice the striking Shinkoro Tower that watches over the traditional city streets. You’ll also be able to try the town’s specialty cuisine—Izushi soba noodles.

www.izushi.co.jp

6. Iwamura (Gifu Prefecture)
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The ruins of Iwamura Castle, the highest castle in Japan, overlook the surviving town from atop a mountain. After an invigorating hike, visitors can stroll through the thoughtfully preserved streets. All electrical wires now run underground, truly transporting guests back to the Edo Period (1603-1868).

www.mustlovejapan.com

5. Omihachiman (Shiga Prefecture)
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An easy day trip from Kyoto, Omihachiman has a lot to offer. with its serene location along Lake Biwa, its reed-laden canals and dazzling whitewashed 19th century houses. Visitors can take a lazy boat ride through the city’s meandering waterways, catching glimpses of Edo Period warehouses and shops. Omihachiman boasts intense natural beauty too, and is considered to be Japan’s first Important Cultural Landscape.

www.jnto.go.jp

4. Kawagoe (Saitama Prefecture)
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A short distance from Tokyo, visiting Kawagoe is a great way to escape the rush of metropolitan life and travel back in time. During the Edo Period, Kawagoe was an important trade town, supplying Tokyo (which was then called Edo) with much-needed resources. The town’s characteristic clay-walled warehouses are a keen reminder of Kawagoe’s commercial past.

allabout-japan.com

3. Hagi (Yamaguchi Prefecture)
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Hagi Castle only stands in ruins today, but the surrounding city streets still carry strong reminders of the town’s long history. The town is home to luxurious feudal mansions and samurai residences, as well as thriving merchant districts. Visitors to Hagi can even explore some of these fine houses along with the town’s many temples and museums.

www.japan-guide.com

2. Kakunodate (Akita Prefecture)
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Not only a prime spot for cherry blossom viewing, Kakunodate is also steeped in history. It’s one of the best places to experience what a true Japanese castle town might have been like. Descendants of Kakunodate’s samurai still live in and own the town’s historic residences, and some are open for public tours.

www.jnto.go.jp

1. Kanazawa (Ishikawa Prefecture)
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Kanazawa was a prominent Edo Period city and home of the influential Maeda Clan. Like Kyoto, Kanazawa was mostly spared the destruction wrought by World War II, meaning many of its historic buildings and shopping districts are well preserved to this day. Kanazawa is known almost as much for its Edo Period residences as it is for Kenrokuen, one Japan’s top three landscaped gardens.

allabout-japan.com


Read the original article on All About Japan: Japan’s 8 Best-Preserved Castle Towns

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Special exhibition: Léonard Foujita and His Models @ Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art

Tsuguharu Foujita in his studio by Jean Agélou (1878–1921), French photographer

From September 17, 2016 to January 15, 2017, selected works of Léonard Foujita will be on display at Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art in Sakura City, Chiba.

As one of the most successful artists working in the West during the 20th century, the Japanese-born French artist is best known for his paintings with “milk white” backgrounds.

Portrait of Anna de Noailles, 1926. Oil on canvas, 167.1 x 108.4cm.
Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
© Fondation Foujita / ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2016 G0445
Self Portrait, 1936. Oil on canvas, 127.7×191.9cm
Hirano Masakichi Museum of Fine Art
© Fondation Foujita / ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2016 G0505
The special exhibition will focus on the models in his works to reveal a new aspect of the painter’s unique art style. In addition to the exhibition, the museum has a permanent collection ranging from impressionists such as Monet and Renoir to modern artists such as Picasso and Chagall, and the 20th century American art.
Portrait of Jean Rostand, 1955. Oil on canvas, 100.0×81.0cm
Carnavalet Museum
© Musée Carnavalet / Roger – Viollet
© Fondation Foujita / ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2016 G0505
Kakuryoku, 1934. Watercolor on paper, 169.0×82.0cm.
Hirano Masakichi Museum of Fine Art
© Fondation Foujita / ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2016 G0505

Information

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Kawamura Memorial DIC Museum of Art
Léonard Foujita and His Models

Dates: Sep. 17, 2016 – Jan. 15, 2017
Address: 631 Sakado, Sakura, Chiba Prefecture
Hours: 9:30am – 5pm (last admission 4:30pm)
Access: 20-min free shuttle bus ride from JR Sakura Station
URL: http://kawamura-museum.dic.co.jp/en/

How to celebrate Tsukimi in Japan

Like with hanami (flower-viewing) and yukimi onsen (snow-viewing in a hot spring) the Japanese make it a habit to sit down together and marvel at the signs of passing seasons. However, unlike hanami that can turn rather boisterous with much drinking and celebrating, tsukimi (moon-viewing) is a solemn and quiet affair. Perhaps it’s the chill of the night wind, colder now as summer dissolves into autumn. Or perhaps it’s that deep, inexplicable feeling of longing that people get while gazing at the moon’s achingly beautiful glow. Whatever the reason, enjoying the Tsukimi Festival in Japan is a wonderfully poetic experience that shouldn’t be missed!

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The festival’s tradition in Japan dates back to the Heian era where it became a tradition for court nobles to celebrate tsukimi by throwing lavish banquets on boats or nearby a pond that reflects the moonlight with music performances and poem recitals dedicated to the moon. Rabbits are also a recurring theme because when Japanese people see the face of the moon, they see the shape of a rabbit pounding mochi, thus rabbits are believed to be inhabitants of the moon.

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Nowadays, in most Japanese homes, people would put susuki (pampas grass) and seasonal produce, such as persimmons, chestnuts, as well as tsukimi dango (rice dumplings) in a place where the moon can be seen, as an offering to the moon as well as a sign of gratitude for a good autumn harvest.

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Traditionally celebrated on the 15th of the 8th month of the old calendar, in 2016 this Jugoya (fifteenth night) falls on September 15th. This year, you will also be able to celebrate it the Heian way, with musical performances under the moonlight in Sankeien Garden in Yokohama. From gagaku (ancient imperial court music and dances), to koto performances, to piano and saxophone renditions of Japanese songs, this event is sure to delight every artistic soul.

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Not all tsukimi traditions are as serious and solemn, though. Many food joints including fast food chains and udon shops provide special tsukimi menu items which are often just their regular fare with an added egg on top as the yolk resembles the shape of a full moon.

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And as expected for the land of kawaii, the Japanese will pounce on any excuse to prettify their food with cute bunnies.

Morozoff O-tsukimi Cream Cheesecake
Morozoff O-tsukimi Cream Cheesecake

Consider us moonstruck!

Event Information

Sankei-en Garden Moon-viewing Event
Dates: Sep. 15 – 19, 2016
Hours: 6:15 – 8:15pm
Location: 58-1, Honmoku Sannotani, Naka-ku, Yokohama
Access: 10-min bus ride from JR Negishi Station
URL: http://www.sankeien.or.jp/en-about/index.html

Moshi Moshi Kimono Salon produced by Yumenoya in Harajuku!

Starting Saturday, September 10th, the new Kimono Salon located on the 2nd floor of the “Moshi Moshi Harajuku Tourist Information Center” opened its doors to provide a unique and unforgettable experience to their customers!

Immerse yourself in the world of Harajuku and as you try out fancifully designed kimono. The kimono that they provide feature the traditional Japanese design of the Taisho Period (1912 – 1926), as well as elements from the current trendy Harajuku fashion style! You can choose between different style-options, for example the gothic-lolita kimono, the sweet-lolita kimono, the super colorful kimono, the princess kimono, the classic traditional one and many more!

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The up-coming fashion designer Yuka (有伽), who is also in charge of the costumes for the popular Japanese Wagakki-Band, created these fancy kimono designs.
Get your picture taken in the appointed photo studio which includes a colorful sliding paper door as a photo-background. It was created by art director Sebastian Masuda, the owner of the brand 6% DOKIDOKI who was also the main designer for Harajuku idol Kyary Pamyu Pamyu’s music video “PONPONPON” (2011).

The Moshi Moshi Kimono Salon is the only place in Japan where you can have such a unique experience.

There are 4 different course options available:

The basic course includes the dressing of the kimono and the photo shooting. You will receive a CD with all your photos.

The next course is based on the basic course but includes a full make-up and hair styling make over (different types of wigs are also available).

If you choose the full course, an additional photo album and one edited photo will be included. You can receive your specially made photo album on the following day.

There’s also the full course including an outdoor photo shooting, where you can spend 30 min in full kimono regalia in the streets of Harajuku. Get the J-fashion star treatment as you capture the real Harajuku atmosphere in your pictures along with your eye-catching kimono outfit.

Wattention visited the Salon already last Friday, September 9th, and had the chance to wear one of these magical Harajuku Kimono!

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The models who welcomed us at the entrance looked fabulous and everyone was really friendly.

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Don´t miss this experience during your adventures in Harajuku!

Information

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Moshi Moshi Kimono Salon produced by Yumenoya
Hours: 10am – 6pm
Tel: 03-5770-5131
Access: 5min walk from Harajuku Station (JR Yamanote Line) – Takeshita Street Exit; 9min walk from Meiji-Jingu Mae Station (Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line); 13min walk from Omotesando Station (Tokyo Metro Ginza Line・Hanzomon Line・Chiyoda Line)
Address: Moshi Moshi Box – Harajuku Tourist Information 2F, Jingumae 3-23-5, Shibuya-ku, 150-0001 Tokyo
URL: http://www.tokyo-samurai.com/blank

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Winning Flavors: 5 Lucky Japanese Food Items

From lucky-sounding snacks to food that was shared with the gods, the Japanese believe some foods can ward off failure and ensure success. Lucky or not, these food items are delicious and comforting, so try and eat them when you’re studying for an exam or preparing for a big game. Who knows, you might just get a little extra luck!

1. Katsudon

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Comforting and filling, the hearty katsudon has been the classic “winning” food in Japan for decades. The reason why it’s considered lucky is straightforward – “katsu (カツ)” as in “cutlet” is pronounced the same way as “katsu (勝つ)” as in “win”.

2. Omusubi

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The humble Japanese rice ball is said to be especially auspicious, originating from farmers who sought the favor of the mountain gods. The farmers would form the rice in the shape of a mountain and would bring them on their journeys to the mountains to share with the deities.

3. Pasta

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Comparatively new and hip on our lucky food list is pasta. The shape is fortuitously long like soba, but most importantly, pasta sounds like pass-da!, as in “I passed the exam”!

4. Slimy textured food

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Perhaps slightly harder to stomach for foreigners, this food group includes the infamous natto (fermented soybeans), tororo (grated mountain yam), and okra. Supposedly filled with health benefits, they’re considered lucky because the onomatopoetic Japanese word for slimy is “neba-neba”, which sounds a lot like “never, never (give up)”.

5. Kit Kats

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Pronounced “kitto katto” or “kitto katsu”, it means “sure to win” in Japanese. A lot of people swear on the lucky powers of Japan’s many-flavored Kit Kats, but look out for the special “exam season” version, which would usually be on sale in January and February with messages on them in Japanese to cheer you on.

Honorable Mention: Koala no March

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The Japanese word for falling can also mean failing, and since koalas don’t fall off their trees even when they sleep, these adorable cookie puffs featuring koalas with delicious chocolate filling should give you a steadfast grip on your dreams!

Ninja ID: ururumeru


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Melissa Wullur
I’m an amateur writer and avid reader who’s been living in Japan since 2007. I enjoy reading and writing about food, travel, and quirky trivia. I treat 100 yen shopping as therapy.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Visit the Origin of Ninja (1) : Togakushi Shrine

Togakushi Shrine

After taking an approx. 1,5 hour trip by Shinkansen from Tokyo, we arrived at Nagano Station. This time our destination is Togakushi which is located in the northern part of Nagano Prefecture. Togakushi is the birthplace of the mysterious Togakushi Ninja. Our first stop was Togakushi Shrine which is mainly related to the sun goddess Amaterasu in Japan mythology. The shrine consits of 5 shrines called Okusha, Chusha, Houkousha, Kuzuryusha, Hinomikosha. However, this time we focused only on Chusha, Okusha and Kuzuryusha.

 

Chusha Shrine
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The first thing we saw in front of Chusha Shrine was a gigantic Torii, a traditional Japanese gate which can commonly found in front of shrines. Moreover, there are 3 enormous trees that made us feel like we received power from nature as we drew close. Following Japanese traditional etiquette when visiting shrines, we washed our hands with the crystal clear water from the pond. This is a symbol of cleaning up body and mind before entering a spiritual place like the shrine.

 
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The most impressive thing about this shrine was Omikuji (fortune draw) which normally shows good or bad luck. Omikuji is usually just numbers written on a paper, but this shrine gives your fortune in the form of a letter. After telling our age to the shrine, we got a specially selected Omikuji, a letter that was supposedly given by the deity of the shrine. Usually, people should draw this omikuji only once a year and carefully keep it and refer to it throughout the year as a letter from the god.

 

Special Omikuji of Togakushi Shrine
Special Omikuji of Togakushi Shrine
In the main hall of Chusha, there was another must-see spot, which is the painting of the great dragon, one of the deities worshiped there. Apart from that, we also enjoyed seeing pure water fall in a well-known nature power spot for monks to make their physical and mental training and for normal people to escape from their busy daily lives.

 

Okusha Shrine

The next stop for training our mind as a ninja was Okusha. The approach to Okusha is around 2 kilometers from the entrance. In the past, no matter they were great people or farmers, everyone had to leave their horses near the entrance and walk step by step to the spiritual shrine as equals. On both sides of the path, you can enjoy ancient cedar trees that have been standing for more than 400 years to welcome visitors and clear your mind as you walk down the green pathway.
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Afterwards, we arrived at the red Zuijinmon. In winter the ground will be covered by white snow, providing a gorgeous contrast to the color of the gate. We passed through this historical gate to enter another natural pathway ringed with cedar forest.
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Finally we saw Okusha up on the hill with the scenery of Togakushi Mountain as its backdrop. Some folktales said that Amaterasu, mighty goddess of the sun hid her body in the cave on this location so other gods and people held the celebration to bring her out. Since the god of this shrine, Amaterasu, is known as the major deity and the goddess of agriculture as well, the symbol of the shrine is crossed sickles which represents the relation between the shrine and agricultural life of the people throughout its long history.

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A short distance from Okusha, there is Kuzuryusha built for the nine-headed dragon deity Kuzuryu, where people commonly pray about the weather. Furthermore, the deity is also believed to be the god of teeth and the god of love. Even now, people still offer food and fruits to the Dragon God in the forest.

Read other articles in the series:
Visit the Origin of Ninja (2) : Museums and a Ninja Trick House
Visit the Origin of Ninja (3) : Ninja Soba
Visit the Origin of Ninja (4) : Kids’ Ninja Village

Information

Access: From Tokyo to Nagano: Shinkansen Hokuriku Line, Bus
Chusha: Bus Togakushi line (via Birdline) from bus stop no.7 (in front of Nagano Station) to Togakushi-Chusha
Okusha: Bus Togakushi line (via Birdline) to Togakushi-Okusha
*In the winter during ski season, the bus will not stop at Togakushi-Okusha

URL: http://www.togakushi-jinja.jp/

 

 

Japan’s Wild Side : Japan’s Interesting Wildlife

Tourists flock to Japan year after year for its deeply-rooted traditions, exquisite cuisine, and vibrant popular cultures. However, nature lovers can also indulge in the rich biodiversity that Japan offers. Its vast mountains and forests, coupled with snowy Hokkaido in the north and tropical Okinawa in the south, is home to many interesting and unusual wildlife, as well as their associated cultures.

Here are some unique ones:

Tanuki ( Raccoon dogs)

Often depicted in anime, tanuki can be found throughout Japan, even in the suburb of Tokyo. They were thought to be able to change into human form or into objects, and were mischievous but untrustworthy creatures. However, many temples and noodle shops have tanuki statues for good luck!

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How they really look like | Photo source

There are 8 traits to note:

  1. A hat for protection against trouble or bad weather
  2. Big eyes to analyse the environment and help make good decisions
  3. A sake bottle that represents virtue
  4. A big tail that provides steadiness and strength until success is achieved
  5. Over-sized testicles that symbolise financial luck
  6. A promissory note that represents trust or confidence
  7. A big belly that represents bold and calm decisiveness
  8. A friendly smile

“Have you seen me before?” | Photo source

Nihonzaru (ニホンザル Japanese macaques)

I’m sure most of you have seen photographs of “snow monkeys” enjoying a hot spring bath. These Japanese macaques are native to Japan and are excellent swimmers. In winter, their fur increases in thickness to keep them warm in temperatures as low as -20° C (-4° F). A popular tourist attraction, Jigokudani Monkey Park (Nagano Prefecture) features hundreds of these monkeys playing in the snow.

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Who says hot springs are only for humans? | Photo source

Toki (トキ Japanese crested ibis)

With a scientific name as patriotic as Nipponia nippon, the toki deserves our attention. Extensively hunted until 1908, the last wild-born toki died in 2003. Fortunately, captive breeding efforts has successfully reintroduced several of these beautiful birds in Sado Island (Niigata Prefecture), which is one of Japan’s most rice-productive areas.


A toki in flight | Photo source

The toki depends on the rice paddy fields to find their prey such as loaches, frogs, snails and more. Visit Sado toki-no-mori Park to catch a glimpse of this rare bird!

Tsushima yamaneko (対馬山猫 Tsushima leopard cat)

As the name suggests, this critically endangered species can only be found on Tsushima Island (Nagasaki Prefecture). They face threats such as road kills, diseases transmitted from domestic cats and habitat loss.


That’s one chill kitty! | Photo source

Although similar in appearance to domestic cats, they can be distinguished by a white spot behind each ear. Those who wish to see them can visit Fukuoka city zoological garden, Inokashira park zoo, Zoorasia Yokohama zoological garden, Toyama family park zoo, or Ishidake zoological garden.

Esayari (餌やり Feeding wild animals)


Feeding carps in the ponds is a common sight | Photo source

Touted as a national pastime, many Japanese love to feed the animals, from the usual cats and dogs to tanuki, bears, fishes, monkeys and a whole variety of other wildlife. Even tourists, hikers and photographers know to attract these fearless animals with food, so that they can get close for photographs or for pleasure. It is not unusual to see animal feed being sold in temples, shrines, parks and other recreational spots such as “wild monkey parks”.

Why is this so popular? Some of the possible reasons include taking pity on the animal and wanting to “tame” it, especially when it begs for food.

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Sometimes these animals may attack humans! | Photo source

However, we need to note that esayari is actually NOT ENCOURAGED! Feeding the wild animals allows them to become overly familiar with humans and acquire a taste for human foods, which can result in them raiding our crops. Several Japanese prefectures have taken action against feeding the wildlife through slogans such as:

“Wild animals are not pets.”

“For the sake of coexistence with humans, stop feeding pigeons.”

“Wild monkeys come down to the village and cause a nuisance. Please don’t feed them.”

“To protect their way of life, please do not feed the deer.”

“Food is something we [animals] will find for ourselves.”

“Offering food is not the same thing as love.”

In order to prevent unnecessary killing of wild animals due to human-wildlife conflicts, we should not be feeding them!

What do you think?

For more exciting adventures, interesting places to go, good foods to eat, follow us on Instagram, like us on Facebook or read an issue of our magazine.

Read the original article on WAttention Singapore.

A Day Trip from Tokyo: Chichibu

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Speaking of tourist destinations on the Seibu Railway network, Chichibu and Kawagoe are by far the most well known. In particular, Chichibu has been gaining popularity in recent years on the back of traditional and social media exposure. In this series of articles we will show you how we explored Chichibu by following Seibu Railway’s suggested itinerary. Join us and discover Chichibu!

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Our first stop was “Chichibu Meisen Exhibition Hall”. The building used to be an industrial site and is now a museum for “Chichibu Meisen”, a high quality silk fabric known for its daring designs and brilliant colors. The textile is officially designated as a Japanese traditional craft and yet it’s quite practical and modern fashionable. Here you can pose for a memorable picture wearing beautiful Meisen textile, or try your hands on silk dyeing. (Reservation required)

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Chichibu Meisen Exhibition Hall
Hours: 9:00-16:00
Admission: 200 yen
Website: http://www.meisenkan.com/ (Japanese only)

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It’s about time for lunch, and let’s try the local specialty soba noodles! We had pork soba and sesame dip soba at “Maruta”, a soba restaurant right across the street from Chichibu Meisen Exhibition Hall. Do ask for the free soba soup after you finished the noodle. You can drink it as served or mix it with the dip sauce. I was told it’s good for the skin!

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Maruta
Hours: 11:30-17:00
Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sobadokoromaruta/

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The historic Chichibu Shrine is the main venue for Chichibu’s Kawase Festival and Night Festival. The shrine is characterized with many colorful decorative sculptures, including the “three monkeys” that reminds people of its famous counterpart in Nikko Toshogu Shrine. Moreover, make sure to check out those creative anime “Emas” (small wooden plaque on which worshippers write their wishes) inspired by the animation film “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day” and “The Anthem of the Heart”.

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Chichibu Shrine
Website: http://www.chichibu-jinja.or.jp (Japanese only)

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Chichibu’s summer festival (Kawase Festival) and winter festival (Night Festival) takes place in July and December respectively. For those who missed the festive seasons, visit Chichibu Festival Museum and experience the charm of the festival through various interactive exhibits. Best of all, the video clips shown on the second floor are available in Japanese, Chinese, English, and Korean. It was so impressive that I bet whoever has watched it would make up his or her mind to come back again and experience the festival first hand!

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Chichibu Festival Museum
Hours: 9:00~17:00 (April~November); 10:00~17:00 (December~March)
Admission: 410 yen
Website: http://www.chichibu-matsuri.jp (Japanese only)

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Making good Japanese Sake requires high quality water. Blessed with the clear subterranean water flowing from nearby mountains, “Bukou Brewing” boasts an extensive lineup of sake products and offers tax-free shopping for foreign tourists. If you understand some Japanese language at least, do make a reservation for a free sake tasting and brewery tour.

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Bukou Brewing
Hours: 8:00-17:30
Website: http://www.bukou.co.jp/ (Japanese only)

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It’s about time to go back to Tokyo and we started to walk toward Seibu Chichibu Station through the Banba Street in front of Chichibu Shrine. Among the many stylish cafes and household zakka shops we discovered along the retro feeling kinda street, we were most impressed with the collaboration between a modern bagel bakery and an old shop called Yasudaya.

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Get a minced pork cutlet at Yasudaya and bring it to the bakery to make it a bagel sandwich. Yummy and innovative! It is such tiny creative stuff that brings vigor and tourists to town!

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Last but not least, shibazakura (moss phlox) bloom from mid April to early May in Chichibu. So why not visit Chichibu for a casual flower viewing trip if you’re visiting in Tokyo in spring!

The Art and Culture of Kanazawa

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Kanazawa has been the economic and cultural center of the Hokuriku region since the Edo period, during which the feudal lords supported and encouraged the development of culture and handicrafts. Fortunately Kanazawa escaped destruction during World War Two, so parts of the old town remain in good condition today.

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Since the old days, traditional Japanese culture has been very much a part of daily life in Kanazawa and Ishikawa Prefecture. Fine arts such as Noh, the tea ceremony, dyeing and gold leaf are handed down to current generations and continue to dazzle.

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Noh
Designated as a World Intangible Cultural Heritage, Noh is a classical performing art which originated in the Japanese middle ages. A Noh play is far more about conceptualization than many other forms of theatrical art and thus takes some prep-work to understand it.

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Kanazawa Noh Museum is a great place to start. Here you can even put on a Noh mask and costume. Noh wonder!

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Kanazawa Noh Museum
Hours: 10:00-18:00, closed on Mondays
Admission: 300 yen
Address: 1-2-25 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
URL: http://www.kanazawa-noh-museum.gr.jp

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Kanazawa Gold Leaf
The making of gold leaf is another flourishing Kanazawa tradition. 99% of Japan’s gold leaf is produced in Kanazawa. At ‘Kanawana Katani’, you can try your hand at gold leaf decoration.

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One session lasts about 60 minutes. Price depends on your choice of creation and starts from 900 yen. You get to take your handiwork home of course!

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Kanazawa Katani
Hours: 9:00-17:00
Address: 6-33 Shimoshin-cho, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
URL: http://www.k-katani.com

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Contemporary Art
In Kanazawa you can immerse yourself not only in traditional Japanese culture but also modern art from around the world. Opened in 2004, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is a great example of Kanazawa’s flourishing art and culture. The architecture itself is a breath of fresh air and its collection of modern artworks promises to give you a new perspective on Kanazawa’s rich cultural landscape.

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21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art
Hours: 10:00~18:00, closed on Mondays
Admission: 350 yen for permanent exhibitions
Address: 1-2-1 Hirosaka, Kanazawa, Ishikawa
URL: http://www.kanazawa21.jp

Winter Activities in Tohoku : World’s Best Sake!

Vital elements to making great sake include fresh water, clean rice, fermentation starter and proper temperature. The Tohoku region, characterized by harsh winters, unpolluted water and dry air, is known across Japan for having the ideal sake-making conditions. Thanks to the dedication of toji (experienced brew masters), Tohoku sake has a time-honored place deep in the heart of sake enthusiasts. Several breweries offer tours from November to March, the best season for sake brewing.

Urakasumi Sake Brewery

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Founded in 1724, this brewery has been tickling the taste buds of sake connoisseurs for nearly 300 years. The establishment offers a wide range of products, including classic sakes, seasonal specialties, plum wine and tasting accessories. Visitors can also enjoy a tour of the brewery, which is followed by a fascinating tutored tasting session.

Information
Hours: Tour starts at 11am & 2pm (15 minutes long)
Access: 7-min walk from Honshiogama Station (JR Senseki Line)
Address: 2-19 Motomachi Shiogama-shi, Miyagi
*Reservation is required.

Dewazakura Sake Brewery

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Dewazakura Brewery is a fantastic place to be if you’re a sake lover. The brewery, based in Tendo in Yamagata Prefecture, proved itself worthy of global praise by winning the numerous top prize in its category at the International Wine Challenge, one of the world’s largest wine competitions. Dewazakura sake is refreshingly light, slightly sweet and deliciously drinkable—even for sake non- aficionados!

Information
Hours: 9am – 3pm
Closed: Sat, Sun and Holidays
Access: 15-min walk from JR Tendo Station (Yamagata Shinkansen & Ou Main Line)
Address: 1-4-6 Hitoichimachi Tendo-shi, Yamagata
*Reservation is required.

Other Recommended Sake Brewery Tours

Ryozeki Sake Brewery:
Hours: 9am – 11am or 1:30pm – 3:30pm
Access: 20-min walk from JR Yuzawa Station
Address: 4-3-18 Maemori, Yuzawa-shi, Akita
*Reservation is required at least 3 days prior to the tour date.

Suehiro Sake Brewery:
Hours: 9am – 5pm (Last entry 4:30pm)
Access: Take a bus from JR Aizuwakamatsu Station and get off at Yamatomachi Bus Stop. 1-min walk from the but stop.
Address: 12−38 Nisshin-machi, Aizuwakamatsu-shi, Fukushima
*Reservation is required at least 3 days prior to the tour date.

Tohoku Meijo Sake Brewery:
Hours: 10am –4:30pm
Closed: Mon, New Year’s Holidays
Access: 20-min walk from JR Yuzawa Station
Address: 125 Higashiyama, Jurizukaji-mura, Sakata-shi, Yamagata
*Reservation is required.

August 2016 Fireworks Festivals Schedule – In & Around Tokyo

Here comes the second part of our Fireworks Festivals Schedule! All big Events In & Around Tokyo for August are featured in this article.  Get your Yukata ready!

Tokyo

The 34th Koto Fireworks Festival

Date: August 1st (Monday), 7:30pm – 8:30pm
This fireworks display will be held along the Arakawa River. In case of light rain, the event takes place. In case of stormy weather, the fireworks display moves to the next day, August 2nd (Tuesday).
Visitors last year: 350,000 people
Number of fireworks: 4,000
Access: Tokyo Metro Tozai Line –> Minami-Sunamachi Station, Exit No. 2A or 3 (15min walk)
Address: Arakawa・Sunamachi Mizube Koen, 8-22 Higashi Suna, Koto-ku

63rd Todabashi & 57th Itabashi Fireworks Festival

DSC_0486Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks festival features two festivals which are very close to each other and count as one. The Arakawa river separates those both places, Toda City belongs to Saitama Prefecture and Itabashi belongs to Tokyo. Therefore you can enjoy the festival from both sides of the river. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: Itabashi Area 520,000 / Todabashi Area 420,000
Number of fireworks:  12,000
Access & Address:
① Todabashi Fireworks Festival (Arakawa Kasenshiki, Todabashi Joryu, Japan National Route 17, Toda-shi, Saitama)
JR Saikyo Line -> Toda Koen Station (20min walk)
② Itabashi Fireworks Festival (Arakawa Kasenshiki, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo)
JR Saikyo Line -> Ukima Funado Station / Toei Mita Line -> Takashimadaira Station・Nishidai Station・Hasune Station (20min walk)

41st Edogawa-ku Fireworks Festival & 32nd Ichikawa Summer Nights Fireworks Festival

DSC_0487Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:15pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks festival features two festivals which are very close to each other and count as one. It is located at the border of Tokyo and Chiba Prefecture. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 1,390,000 (Edogawa-ku 900,000 / Ichikawa-shi 490,000)
Number of fireworks:  14,000
Access & Address:
① Edogawa-ku Fireworks Festival (Edogawa Kasenshiki, Toritsu Shinozaki Koen, Kamishinozaki 1-25, Edogawa-ku)
Toei Shinjuku Line -> Shinozaki Station (15min walk); JR Sobu Line -> Koiwa Sation/ Keisei Line -> Edogawa Station (25min walk)
② Ichikawa Summer Nights Fireworks Festival (Ozu 3, Ichikawa-shi, Chiba )
JR Soba Line -> Ichikawa Station (15min walk); JR Sobu Line -> Motoyawata Station (30min walk) , Keisei Line -> Konodai Station (20min walk)

Jingu Gaien Fireworks Festival

DSC_0193Date: August 20th (Saturday), 7:30pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks festival acts as a charity at the same time, concentrating on the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Kumamoto Earthquake. Popular artists will perform as well. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, August 21st (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 1,000,000 people
Number of fireworks:  12,000
Access: JR Sobu Line -> Sendagaya Station・Shinanomachi Station・Yoyogi Station; Tokyo Metro Lines -> Gaienmae Station・Aoyama-Itchome Station・Omotesando Station・Kitasando station; Toei Oedo Line -> Kokuritsu-Kyogijo
Address: Meiji Jingu Gaien, Minato-ku, Shibuya-ku, Shinjuku-ku

Movie City Chofu – Summer Fireworks Festival (34th Chofu Fireworks Festival)

DSC_0464Date: August 21st (Sunday), 6:50pm – 7:50pm (*Paid seats are available)
Since Chofu is the movie city of Tokyo (many movie production companies are located in this area) the fireworks festival comes along with music out of popular movies.
In case of stormy weather, the event will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 380,000 people
Number of fireworks:  8,000
Access: Fuda Area: Keio Line -> Chofu Station (25min), Keio Tamagawa Area: Keio Line -> Keio Tamagawa Station (10min walk)

Kanagawa

2016 Yokosuka Fireworks Festival

DSC_0151Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:15pm – 7:45pm
150 booths are set up to enjoy local food. In case of stormy weather, the event will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 223,000 people
Number of fireworks:  5,000
Access: Keikyu Line -> Yokosuka Chuo Station (25min walk)
Address: Umikaze Koen, Mikasa Koen, Yokosuka-shi

70th Atsugi Ayu Summer and Fireworks Festival

Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7pm ~
In the end of the Ayu Summer Festival, about 10,000 fireworks will turn the sky into a mood-enhancing play of lights and colors.  While watching the fireworks you can taste local dishes which are prepared by the 400 booths which are set up around the area. In case of stormy weather, the event will be postponed.
Visitors last year: 180,000 people
Number of fireworks: 10,000
Access: Odakyu Odawara Line –> Hon-Atsugi Station – North Exit (15min walk)
Address: Sagamigawa Kasenshiki Sansen Goryuten, Atsugi-shi

42nd Southern Beach Chigasaki Fireworks Festival

DSC_1129Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:30pm – 8:20pm
Booths are set up to try local food while watching the fireworks display. In case of stormy weather, the event will move to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 80,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: JR Tokaido Main Line・Sagami Line –> Chigasaki Station – South Exit (20min walk)
Address: Southern Beach Chigasaki, Chigasaki Kaisuiyokujo, Nakakaigan 4-12986, Chigasaki-shi

36th Miura Kaigan Summer Nights Fireworks Festival

Date: August 9th (Tuesday), 7:30pm – 8:15pm
The fireworks will be set off from the sea and you can enjoy the view while sitting on the beach. 90 booths selling local food are prepared. In case of rainy or stormy weather, the event will move to the next day, August 10th (Saturday).
Visitors last year: 105,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: Keihin Kyuko Kurihama Line –>Miurakaigan Station (3min walk)
Address: Sagamigawa Kasenshiki Sansen Goryuten, Atsugi-shi

75th Tamagawa Fireworks Festival

Date: August 20th (Saturday), 6:30pm – 8pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and will be held along the Tama River. 200 booths are set up to enjoy local food. In case of stormy weather, the event will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 308,000 people
Number of fireworks:  6,000
Access: Tokyu Den’entoshi Line -> Futako-Shinchi Station (15min walk – Kawasaki Area), Oimachi Line -> Kaminoge Station (8min Tokyo Area)
Address: Tamagawa Kasenshiki, Futakobashi  ~ Daisan Keihin Doro, Takatsu-ku, Kawasaki-shi

66th Shonan Hiratsuka Fireworks Festival

Date: Friday August 26th (Friday), 7pm – 8pm
In the end of the Ayu Summer Festival, about 10,000 fireworks will turn the sky into a mood-enhancing play of lights and colors.  While watching the fireworks you can taste local dishes which are prepared among the 400 booths which are set up around the area. In case of stormy weather, the event will be postponed.
Visitors last year: 140,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: JR Tokaido Main Line –> Hiratsuka Station – South Exit -> 10min Bus ride into Sukaminato direction until the last stop (5min walk)
Address: Sagamigawa Kako, Shonan Itako, Hiratsuka-shi

42nd Kanazawa Fireworks Festival

Date: August 27th (Saturday), 7pm – 8pm
This fireworks display will be held in front of Tokyo Bay. About 20 booths are set up to enjoy local food while watching the fireworks display. In case of rain, the event takes place. In case of stormy weather, the fireworks display will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 280,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,500
Access: Kanazawa Seaside Line –> Uminokoen-Minamiguchi Station・Uminokoen-Shibaguchi Station (right in front); Keikyu Main Line -> Kanazawa-Bunko Station (20min walk)
Address: Kanazawa-ku Uminokoen, Uminokoen 10, Kanazawa-ku, Yokohama-shi

45th Sagamihara Summer Nights Fireworks Festival

Date: August 27th (Saturday), 6:45pm – 8:15pm (*Paid seats are available)
About 200 booths are set up to enjoy local food while watching the fireworks display. In case of stormy weather, or floodwater of Sagami-river, the event moves to the next day, August 28th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 200,000 people
Number of fireworks:
8,000
Access: JR Yokohama Line –> Sagamihara Station – South Exit -> Bus No. 17 into Suigotana direction via Tana Bus Terminal until the last stop (5min walk)
Address: Sagamigawa Takatabashi Joryu, Suigotana, Chuo-ku, Sagamihara-shi

Chiba

Teganuma Fireworks Festival 2016

DSC_1196Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
The fireworks will be set off at three different areas which are located close to each other. For example, the first venue features characters loved by kids, and the second one shows a fantastic fireworks display set off on water. Booths are set up at the Akibo area to enjoy local food. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 410,000 people
Number of fireworks: 13,500
Address & Access:
① Kashiwa Spot 1 (Teganuma Shizen Fureai Ryokudo・Kita-Chiba Dosui Visitor Center  Area)
Access: JR Joban Line –> Kita-Kashiwa Station (25min walk); Kashiwa Station – East Exit (40min walk)
② Kashiwa Spot 2 (Teganuma Shizen Fureai Ryokudo・Michi no Eki  Area)
Access: JR Joban Line -> Kashiwa Station – East Exit -> Bus Platform No.5 -> Tobu Bus into Shonan direction -> 20min ride until Oi (20min walk)
③ Abiko Spot (Teganuma Koen  Area)
Access: JR Joban Line -> Abiko Station – South exit (10min walk)

The 890th Anniversary of the foundation of Chiba-City
Makuhari Beach Fireworks Festival 2016 (38th Chiba Fireworks Festival)

Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:30pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and it is popular for reading special messages like marriage and birthday slogans while setting up the fireworks. Booths are set up to enjoy delicious festival food during the event. In case of stormy weather the fireworks festival will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 300,000 people
Number of fireworks: 15,000
Access: JR Keiyo Line –> Kaihin-Makuhari Station (15min walk)
Address: Makuhari Kaihin Koen, Mihama 1, Mihama-ku, Chiba-shi

56th Sakura Fireworks Festival

Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and will be set off from the water. Booths selling local food are set up. In case of stormy weather the fireworks festival will move to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 160,000 people
Number of fireworks: 16,000
Access: Keisei Main Line –> Keisei-Usui Station (30min walk)
Address: Sakura Furusato Hiroba (Inbanuma Kohan), Usuita 2714, Sakura-shi

40th Nagareyama Fireworks Festival

Date: August 20th (Saturday), 7pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
This fireworks display combines fireworks with music and is also called “Nagareyama Sky Musical”. Booths selling local food are set up. In case of stormy weather the fireworks festival will move to August 26th (Friday).
Visitors last year: 165,000 people
Number of fireworks: 10,000
Access: Ryutetsu Nagareyama Line –> Nagareyama Station・Heiwadai Station (5min walk); Tsukuba Express -> Nagareyama Central Park Station -> Free Shuttle Bus until Ryutetsu Nagareyama Line –  Nagareyama Station
Address: Edogawa Tsutsumi, Nagareyama 1~3, Nagareyama-shi

69th Kisarazu Port and Fireworks Festival

Date: August 15th (Monday), 7:15pm – 8:30pm (*Paid seats are available)
The fireworks display will be the highlight of the Kisarazu Port Festival. 500 booths are set up to enjoy typical festival food, as well as playing festival games. In case of rainy weather the fireworks festival will move to the next day, August 16th (Tuesday).
Visitors last year: 120,000 people
Number of fireworks: 10,000
Access: JR Uchibo Line –> Kisarazu Station (15min walk)
Address: Kisarazu-Ko Naiko, Naka no Shima, Kisarazu-shi

Saitama

33rd Asaka Festival (Saika-Festival)

DSC_0471Date: August 6th (Saturday), 7:15pm – 8:15pm (*Paid seats are available)
The fireworks display will be the highlight of the Asaka Saikasai, which takes place from Friday August 5th until Sunday August 7th. 300 booths are set up to enjoy typical festival food and playing festival games. In case of stormy weather the fireworks festival will move to the next day, August 7th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 280,000 people
Number of fireworks: 9,000
Access: Tobu Tojo Line –> Asaka Station (5min walk)
Address: Camp Asaka Atochi, Asaka-shi

38th Tatara Festival & Fireworks Festival

Date: August 7th (Sunday), 7:45pm – 8:30pm
The highlight of the Tatara Festival will be the fireworks display. 160 booths are set up to enjoy typical festival food, as well as playing festival games. In case of rain, the fireworks festival will be cancelled.
Visitors last year: 160,000 people
Number of fireworks: 3,000
Access: Saitama Rapid Railway Line –> Minami-Hatogaya Station (15min walk)
Address: Kawaguchi Autorace, Aoki 5-21-1, Kawaguchi-shi

Higashi Matsuyama Fireworks Festival

Date: August 27th (Saturday); 7pm – 9pm
30 booths are set up to enjoy typical festival food. In case of light rain, the fireworks festival takes place. In case of storm and rain, the event moves to August 28th (Sunday).
Visitors last year: 90,000 people
Number of fireworks: 5,000
Access: Tobu Tojo Line –> Takasaka Station (15min walk)
Address: Tokigawa  Riverside Park, Ooaza Takasaka 700-1, Higashi-Matsuyama-shi

Saitama City Fireworks Festival 2016 (Higashi-Urawa Omagikoen)

Date: August 11th (Thursday); 7:30pm ~
The light up of the garden due to the fireworks offers a beautiful sight. 250 booths are set up to enjoy local dishes. In case of light rain, the fireworks festival takes place. In case of stormy weather, the event moves to August 12th (Friday).
Visitors last year: 80,000 people
Number of fireworks: 5,000
Access: JR Musashino Line –> Higashi-Urawa Station (20min walk)
Address: Omagikoen Area, Midori-ku, Saitama-shi

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Feudal Lord’s Treasure: Zuigan-ji Temple

© Zuigan-ji Temple
© Zuigan-ji Temple

Zuigan-ji Temple, designated as a Japanese National Treasure, was originally established in the year 828 by the noted Buddhist monk, Jikaku Daishi. Later, the famed feudal lord Date Masamune rebuilt it as his family temple in 1609. In order to replicate the robust, opulent Momoyama architectural style of the late 16th century, Masamune gathered 130 master craftsmen nationwide for the reconstruction. Today, Zuigan-ji stands as an idyllic reflection of Matsushima’s majestic natural beauty. With the main hall reopened to the public in 2016 – surrounded by dense, picturesque cedar trees on all sides – it houses a vast array of past treasures that nobody should miss!
© Zuigan-ji Temple
© Zuigan-ji Temple
Access: 5-min walk from JR Matsushima-Kaigan Station
Hours: 8am – 3:30pm (Jan. Dec.), 8am – 4pm (Feb. Nov.), 8am – 4:30pm (Mar. Oct.), 8am – 5pm (Apr. to Sep.)
Admission: 700 yen (Adult and high school students), 400 yen (Middle and elementary school students)

In Harmony with the Seasons: Festivals

text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
In Japan, various shrines and temples hold summer festivals during the months of July and August. The origins of these festivals stem from a way to soothe the tired souls from farming labor, and to pray for protection from illness, as well as a ceremony to remember the deceased.
One of the joys of the summer season is visiting the temple and shrine grounds during these festive days when rows of shops would be lined up. Many of these shop owners were traveling businessmen who used to be called “Jusanyashi” and moved
between various prefectures selling their wares. The items sold include medicine, tobacco, toothpaste and other rare items that came from overseas. In the olden days, there were known to be 13 such items, hence the naming of “Jusanyashi”, referring to this number. There would also be manzai comedians or singers selling their acts to entertain the crowds at the festival. Before the days of newspapers and mass communication, these people were the main source of news for the locals, who head to the festival to fulfill their curiosity.

Now, this custom remains in form with different goods being sold, leaving some stalls such as goldfish fishing, mask shops and candied fruits that still continue to delight the children.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently, teaches at Tama Art University.

The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery

The history of Suntory

Unbenannt-2Shinjiro Torii (1879-1962), a lover of wine and scotch whiskey had a vision to establish the production of those beverages in Japan as well.

In February 1899 he set up his own business called “Torii Shoten” and started the production and sale of wine. His concept was to create western-style liquors that would match Japanese standards.

 

 

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Eight years later, the “Akadama Port Wine” was launched with big success and acted as the foundation stone of Suntory. In 1922, the wine was promoted by the first nude-poster in Japan featuring model Emiko Matsushima, which even ranked first place during the World’s Poster Contest held in Germany.

 

 

 

 

Due to this positive feedback he started to turn his dream of creating original Japanese whisky into reality and invested all his assets to build the first whisky distillery in Japan.
The first malt whisky distillery called Yamazaki, opened in 1923 between Osaka and Kyoto, an area with the most clean water resources in Japan. The Katsura -, Uji – and Kizu river confluence created a misty climate, as well as especially soft water. The variety of temperatures and humidity in this area offer the perfect conditions for the characteristic “Suntory barrel aging” process.

In April 1929 the first Japanese whisky “Suntory Shirofuda (white label)” was launched, but unfortunately flopped. The name “Suntory” was introduced together with the first product and combines the meaning of Akadama (Port Wine) which means red ball and resembles the “sun”, as well as the surname “Torii”.

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Finally, in 1937 the “Suntory Whisky Kakubin (square bottle)” led to success and is to date the top-selling whisky in the whole country.

 

 

 

Suntory Hakushu Distillery

In lieu of the 50th anniversary of Japanese whisky in 1973, the Hakushu Distillery was established. The distillery is located on the foothills of Mt. Kaikomagatake in Japan’s Southern Alps. Fresh and clear water flowing through a rich green environment offers the best conditions for whisky production.

The Hakushu Distillery is open for guided group tours where you have access to the historical museum, the distillery, the whisky aging area and the souvenir shop. The tour provides also an exclusive whisky tasting experience.

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The museum offers language guides in English, French and Chinese. The observation deck on top of the museum provides a beautiful view into Japan´s Southern Alps and its rich green forest.

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After leaving the museum, a short walk leads you to the distillery which gives you a peek into the process of the whisky production.

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Parts of the malting and mashing tank area, the fermentation area and the distillation area are open for curious visitors.

After leaving the distillery, a shuttle bus will bring you to the whisky aging building which is home to hundreds of barrels of different production years. The strong aroma of whiskey fills the whole room and a few minutes are necessary to get used to the strong smell.

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The light red whisky on the left side was produced 4 years ago and the one on the right side is already 12 years old. Within one year the whisky decreases by 1-2% (known as the “angels’ share”) and the color turns darker.

We went back to the main building for the tasting session. Three types of whiskies were prepared in front of each seat.

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Each of them was different in taste and color. The highlight was to create a Highball, a mix of whisky, sparkling water, a lot of ice, and some mint.

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Since the beginning of the 1970´s, mixing whisky with water got very popular, since it matches the traditional Japanese dishes very well.

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The flagship product of the Hakushu distillery, the Hakushu Single Malt Whisky in its green bottle, symbolizes the rich green environment of the area.

The souvenir shop offers a lot of limited products, like special designed glasses, pens and even snacks.

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Suntory is not only selling alcoholic beverages; soft drinks, water and even flowers or health products are in the range of products.

 

Information

Guided Tour (distillery, whisky aging area, the souvenir shop, tasting experience)
Hours: Weekday 10:30/11:30/12:30/13:30/14:30; Holiday 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, 13:30, 14:30
A reservation is necessary: Telephone 0551-35-2211 (9:30-16:30); Online LINK
Age limit: 20~
Fee: 1,000 yen (tax included)

Historical Museum and souvenir shop
Hours: 9:30-10:30, 10:30-11:30, 11:30-12:30. 12:30-13:30, 13:30-14:30, 14:30-15:30, 15:30-16:00 (16:00-17:00)
A reservation is necessary: Telephone 0551-35-2211 (9:30-16:30); Online LINK
Fee: free

Access: About 10 minutes by taxi from Kobuchizawa Station (JR Chuo Line)
Address: 2913-1 Torihara, Hakushu-cho, Hokuto-shi, 408-0316 Yamanashi
URL: http://whisky.suntory.com/

Read the rest of the series:
The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots
The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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 Story Behind Japanese Manhole Covers

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Japan has no shortage of beautiful and cute things. From face packs to sweets and stationary supplies, Japan takes great care in designing everything to be visually attractive.

Another thing that Japan is famous for is their artistically designed manhole covers. Municipalities strive to outdo each other in designing the best cover, all while showing off the character of their city. These beauties have captured the eyes of many people, both in Japan and overseas and it has already spawned a cult of its own. Photobooks and websites dedicated to chronicling the many designs and the places to find them can be found online.

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Why does Japan put so much effort in designing their manhole covers?

According to some sources, in the late 1980s, there was a Construction Specialist from the Public Sewer Division, Ministry of Construction who advocated the use original designs for each municipality in the hope that it would improve the image of the sewage industry and make it more appealing to the general community. Everyone seemed to think that that’s a great idea. Almost every year competitions are held for the best manhole covers. Municipalities and their organizations have been competing with each other since then to design the best manhole covers. And now you have one more thing to look out for when you come to Japan!

Uncovering their history

Here are the top 3 manhole covers with the most interesting backstories:

momotaroOkayama City
This cover depicts Momotaro, the popular hero of a Japanese folklore that is said to have originated from Okayama Prefecture. In the legend, he was born from a giant peach and journeyed with 3 animal companions to defeat an evil ogre. It is thought that this story started as a legend about Kibitsu-hiko-no-mikoto, a legendary prince who slayed the ogre, Ura. The prince is enshrined as a deity in several shrines within the prefecture.
phoenix (2)Fukui City
This cover shows two phoenixes. One theory states that the city chose that as their symbol due to their history of having “risen from the ashes” multiple times after being hit by air raids, floods, and earthquakes. Another theory states that it stems from the city’s history of recovering from an earthquake only to again be hit by a big fire and the two phoenixes symbolizes the two-fold recovery.
B86C3EE5-9C47-4CB8-B6A3-F18230FD854COsaka City
Elaborate water and sewage systems existed in Osaka since centuries ago. They were constructed by Toyotomi Hideyoshi along with Osaka Castle, and some are even still in use today. This cover was created to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the modern sewage system. It depicts water, the city’s flower – sakura, and Osaka Castle which can be considered the origin point of today’s sewage system.

Also read about our own personal favorite, the manhole cover that has a hidden Hachiko in it.

Ninja ID: ururumeru


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

Melissa Wullur
I’m an amateur writer and avid reader who’s been living in Japan since 2007. I enjoy reading and writing about food, travel, and quirky trivia. I treat 100 yen shopping as therapy.

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

A Glorious Golden Age: Hiraizumi & Chuson-ji Temple Konjikido

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Hiraizumi consists of temples, gardens and more than 3,000 national treasures and important cultural properties that date back to the 11th and 12th centuries. The entire expanse, impressive and dazzling in appearance, was originally built by the Ohsu Fujiwara warrior clan to commemorate all who lost their lives in warfare, friend and foe alike. When the site was developed, the area was rich in gold production and a large amount of gold was used to decorate temples and statues. Nowadays, they provide visitors with a spiritual hideaway and are ideal locations for a quiet stroll

Ravishingly Beautiful

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A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a journey is worth more than a thousand pictures, especially when it comes to the spiritual eminence and artistic achievement of Chuson-ji. The temple’s main hall, Konjikido, is gorgeously decorated with gold, silver and jewels from floor to ceiling.
Konjikido, a gold-covered hall rivaling Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, received its name long ago because it was garnished with golden leaf inside and out.
The interior of Konjikido is decorated with luxury goods from the Silk Road, such as green turban snail shells, ivory pieces, precious stones and exotic jewels.
Marco Polo was so inspired by Konjikido’s radiance that he introduced Japan as “The Land of Gold” in his book The Travels of Marco Polo.

Access: 25-min walk from JR Hiraizumi Station
Hours: 8:30am – 5pm (Mar.1 to Nov.3), 8:30am – 4:30pm (Nov.4 to End of Feb.)
Admission: 800 yen (Adults), 500 yen (High school students), 300 yen (Middle school students) and 200 yen (Elementary school students)

The Charm of Hokuto (2) : Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum

The Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum is located in the highlands of Hokuto, Yamanashi overlooking Mt. Fuji and the mountains of Yatsugatake. This beautiful and serene backdrop befits the collection of works and art that is housed within the museum, comprised of drawings and paintings by esteemed artist of Nihon-ga (the traditional Japanese style of painting), Hirayama Ikuo and an assortment of art collected by him and his wife from the Silk Road.

Born on a peaceful island in the Seto Inland Sea on June 15, 1930, Hirayama loved painting since his early childhood. As fate would have it, 15-year-old Hirayama was in Hiroshima when the atomic bomb was dropped. He escaped with his life, but he would continue to suffer the after effects of the radiation. Instead of bitterness or anger, this experience led him to a lifelong mission promoting peace through art and protecting the cultural heritage of the world. His efforts in places such as China, Cambodia, North Korea, and Bamjyan (Afghanistan) was held in high regard both domestically and internationally.

In this museum, you can see pieces collected and donated by Hirayama and his wife to increase awareness about the cultural heritages and the need for their protection.

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There are also numerous artworks made by Hirayama himself. The first floor houses his early sketches, paintings depicting the introduction of Buddhism to Japan, and his masterpieces depicting Japanese landscapes.

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The second floor houses his most well-known work, the Grand Silk Road Series. The enormous vibrant blue and burnt sienna paintings seem to draw you into a different place and time. But look closely at this foreign landscape and you can see familiar flecks of gold leaf, a traditional Japanese technique commonly applied in Nihonga.

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The pigment used in his paintings is called iwa-enogu which is made from grinding natural minerals and is used in traditional Japanese painting.

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There is also a display of Hirayama’s atelier, showing what would have been his final masterpiece, now left unfinished by his death in 2009.

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Just like the Silk Road, Hirayama’s life work strove to bring people together, linking the East to the West, and wishing peace and prosperity to all cultures.

Information

Hirayama Ikuo Silk Road Museum
Access: The museum is located right beside JR Kai-Koizumi Station
Hours: 10am – 5pm, (Last entry by 4:30pm) closed on Tuesdays (except if Tuesday falls on a national holiday) and during the new year (usually from Dec. 29 – Jan. 3)
Admission: 1,200 yen (Adult), 800 yen (University or high school students), FREE (Middle or primary school children)
URL: http://www.silkroad-museum.jp/english/

Read the rest of the series:
The Charm of Hokuto (1) : Oasis of the Highlands
The Charm of Hokuto (3) : Suntory Hakushu Distillery
The Charm of Hokuto (4) : Inn Blue in Green
The Charm of Hokuto (5): Top 5 Photogenic Nature Spots
The Charm of Hokuto (6): Moegi no Mura
Restaurant Review: Soba Restaurant Sanbuichi

God’s Creation Wonders : 4 Divine Spots in Tohoku

Here are four amazing places that will captivate not only the eyes but most importantly the heart and soul. For the locals, the grandeur of these majestic, centuries-old attractions continues to serve as a reminder of God’s omnipresence.

Hayachine Kagura

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Hayachine Kagura is a traditional folk performance that features a series of 40 masked dances with live music that originated from Mount Hayachine, the highest mountain in the Kitakami Range. Originally a ritual to worship gods 500 years ago, the dance is now performed by locals who take pride in showing their rich cultural heritage.

Hanamaki City Ohasama Exchange Vitalization Center
Hours: 11am-3pm, second Sunday of every month (except Aug, Dec and Jan) Access: 30 minutes from Shin-Hanamaki Station by car
Admission: 800 yen presale, 1,000 yen at the door

Tonohetsuri Cliff

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A popular scenic spot in Fukushima, the gigantic multi- layered rock was shaped by wind erosion over millions of years. Tonoheturi, meaning tower cli in Japanese, got its name because of its tower-like appearance.

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Take in the amazing suspension bridge, be mesmerized by nature’s breathtaking palette of autumn colors and enjoy a moment of peace at one of the temples nearby.

Access: 3-min walk from Tonohetsuri Station on Aizu Railway

Shirakami Sanchi

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A vast wilderness area stretching from Aomori to Akita Prefecture, Shirakami Sanchi has the largest remaining virgin beech forest in East Asia. The main attractions of this UNESCO World Heritage Site are the various hiking trails that lead to extraordinary panoramic views of waterfalls and peaceful solitude.

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Besides hiking, visitors are encouraged to spend the day shing, boating and camping around Juniko, an area to the northwest of Shirakami Sanchi.

Access: 55 minutes from JR Hirosaki Station by bus

Dragon Legends: Lake Tazawa and Lake Towada

Autumn foliage at Lake Towada
Autumn foliage at Lake Towada
Legends always add a touch of mystical, romantic appeal to travel destinations. Lake Tazawa, the deepest lake in Japan, and Lake Towada, the largest crater lake in Honshu, are two excellent examples. According to locals, Lady Tatsuko became a dragon after wishing for eternal beauty at Lake Tazawa.
Lake Tazawa
Lake Tazawa
Meanwhile, a boy named Hachirotaro was magically transformed into a huge dragon after drinking water from mountain streams in Towada.
Lake Towada
Lake Towada

The popularity of these legends sheds valuable light on the historic importance of water to the entire Tohoku region.

Lake Tazawa Access: 15 minutes from JR Tazawako Station by bus
Lake Towada Access: 2hr 15 minutes from JR Hachinohe Station by bus

Teru Teru Bōzu

 

A てるてる坊主 (teru teru bōzu) is a small doll used to pray for good weather.  Teru (てる) means “shine” as in sunshine, while bōzu (坊主) refers to a Buddhist priest. It is believed that when you hang these dolls facing outside you will get good weather the next day. Teru teru bōzu became popular in the Edo era (1603-1868) and are used by children the day before important events or festivities.

There is a custom that if it doesn’t rain the next day after hanging the teru teru bōzu its head is washed with sacred sake and the doll is sent into a river to be washed away. Rivers are believed to connect to the afterlife, so sending the teru teru bōzu down the river is similar to candles and lanterns floating down the rivers during Obon. This way the doll is guided back home and the spirit is laid to rest.

Let’s make a teru teru bōzu together so you can avoid rain on that important day. You will need: tissue, pens and glue or tape.

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After making the doll, you can sing the teru teru bōzu song to add more power to your prayer.

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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

Youkai Manual – Bakeneko & Nekomata

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Youkai are creatures from Japanese folklore and myths. They have existed for hundreds of years and continue to live on in popular culture. Friendly and evil, youkai come in many forms.

In this article we will talk about the Bakeneko and its grown up and more powerful version, the Nekomata. Cats have always walked the fine thread between good and evil all over the world. This might be because their glowing eyes, nocturnal lifestyle and attitude have a flair of the supernatural.

Bakeneko (化け猫)

The origin story of the Bakeneko is a sad one. According to old beliefs in ancient Japan a cat older than seven years would attempt to kill its owner. As cats became more and more domesticated the decision of how long a cat was allowed to live came along with the decision of a possible adoption. It is said that bakeneko are vengeful cats that came back from the dead, cursing their owner.

Bakeneko looked like regular cats but had the ability to shapeshift into humans, dance and speak the common tongue. Their favorite food is poison and lamp oil. Drinking lamp oil might have seemed strange to the people at the time but you can’t blame the cat as the oil used for the lamps was fish oil. During the Edo period (1603 – 1886) people believed that cats with long tails could bewitch humans so they decided to crop them. Age is also important for a Bakeneko, the older the cat the more powerful it is.

In general, Bakeneko are always up to no good. However, there have been encounters of Bakeneko getting along with their human family if their transition to a Bakeneko was peaceful.

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Nekomata (猫又)

Also known as the “forked cat”, they are a variety of the Bakeneko but far more powerful and evil. Once a Bakeneko gets an extremely long tail and reaches an old age the tail will split in two and a Nekomata is born. They start to walk on two legs and speak the human tongue. Even though they imitate humans, Nekomata feel superior in every way. They find great pleasure in tormenting humans and creating chaos wherever they go. Their powers include creating fire, controlling the dead and shape shifting.

The City Nekomata are evolved versions of domesticated cats. Because of this they have better knowledge of humans and know what tricks to use on them. For a long time some courtesans were believed to be Nekomata in disguise because of their bewitching looks. They used this beautiful human form to lure victims to their deaths. Today, in modern Japan, cat-like features are still associated with a mysterious type of beauty.

The Mountain Nekomata first appeared during the Kamakura period (1185 – 1333), much earlier than their city counterparts. Nekomata were creatures that lived deep in the mountains and would feed on humans. They were described to be the size of a big dog with piercing eyes and long sharp claws. There is fossil evidence of a prehistoric form of tiger having lived in ancient Japan, so maybe the mountain Nekomata is not a creature of legend.

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Demons cats during the Edo period

During the mid-Edo period many stories about Nekomata and Bakeneko were published in newspapers. A famous story is that of a samurai family in 1708. Their house was taken over by an evil spirit and the haunting only stopped when the family’s cat was killed. Looking at the cat they saw it had two tails. Because the Edo period was the peak of ghost stories, people stayed away from mountains because they already had plenty of ghost stories surrounding them. This made the belief that cats could turn into demons popular again. It seems that people of the Edo period preferred scary stories.

Nekomata art became popular. With the connection between Nekomata and courtesans, some portraits of cats wearing beautiful kimonos spread in the form of prints. Other drawings were published in the “Hyakkai Zukan” (The Illustrated Volume of a Hundred Demons) created by artist Sawaki Suushi.

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Neko Musume (猫娘)

Neko Musume roughly translates to “cat girl” or “cat daughter”. Although they have no connection to Bakeneko or Nekomata they are considered to be supernatural beings. They are believed to be half-cats or humans possessed by a cat. During the 1850’s a story of a Neko Musume became popular. The girl was named Matsu and she was frequently spotted running on all fours. She would move like a cat and wash herself like a cat. Later more stories of human-animal hybrids spread but the Neko Musume was the first of its genre.

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In popular culture

In modern times the Nekomata and Bakeneko changed into cuter versions of their old evil selves. The legend of demon cats still lives on with manga, anime, movies and books. There is even a mountain in Toyama prefecture called Nekomata Mountain and a Nekomata Peak in Fukushima prefecture. Probably the most famous depiction of a Neko Musume is in the manga “Gegege no Kitaro”. But she is not the only popular character that borrows powers from a cat. I’m sure you can think of many examples of fictional characters with cat-like abilities.

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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

Looks Great, Tastes Even Better: Kozuyu Soup, Fukushima Prefecture

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Originally developed for the samurai class, kozuyu later spread among the common people and has become a must for festivals, celebrations and momentous occasions in Aizu. In the past, fresh seafood was hard to come by in the landlocked region, so dried scallops and bonito were used to add flavor to the soup, which contains taro potatoes, carrots, shiitake mushrooms and tiny balls of wheat gluten called mamefu.

What’s up with Watermelon

 

Watermelon (Suika スイカ) and Japanese summer go together like fireworks and yukata. This refreshing fruit is in season from June to August and is best eaten during beach parties or while relaxing on your porch at home. But no matter where you decide to eat it, its taste means summer.

A fancy gift

Fruit in Japan is very expensive and the watermelon is no exception. Some of the most famous watermelons auction for 350,000 yen a piece during the first days of harvest. And then there’s a special type of black watermelon grown in Hokkaido that retails for around 5,000 yen apiece. But why is fruit so expensive?

Unlike the West, fruit is not an everyday item in Japan and therefore it is considered a luxury product. Gift giving is a Japanese tradition and is meant to show appreciation or build a relationship. The importance of gifts is not to be taken lightly and there are luxury stores dedicated to fruit gifts. Combined with the fact that Japanese farmers only want the best fruit, removing the bad or misshapen fruits from the general market. This means fewer fruits actually make it to the store and this increases the price.

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You want it round or square?

Japan gained international watermelon fame with the introduction of the square watermelon. The reason why farmers decide to grow their fruits in square glass boxes is so that it would fit better in refrigerators. This type of watermelon quickly became a product of luxury instead of a product of convenience. Nowadays you can also find watermelons in heart shapes, with a face printed on them or even in the shape of a human face! A square watermelon is not a common sight in supermarkets, so be prepared to pay at least 10,000 yen for a regular sized one.

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Suikawari (スイカ割り) – the art of smashing watermelons

If you want to eat your watermelon in an original and destructive way, look no further. Suikawari is a summer game where a blindfolded person attempts to smash a watermelon with a stick. Everyone takes turns and the first person to crack the watermelon open wins. Usually a sheet or piece of cardboard is placed under the watermelon so the smashed pieces are kept safe from the ground.

Suikawari is so popular that in 1991 the “Japan Suika-Wari Association (JSWA)” established a set of written rules for the game. The association no longer exists but it is pretty amazing that it even did. Some of the rules concerned the distance between the watermelon and the player, the type of stick to be used and JSWA-recognized blindfolds were to be used. Judges at the competition were required to have eaten at least ten watermelons in the current year. It makes you wonder how they were even able to check all these rules.

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You want some salt with that melon?

Japanese fruits is generally sweeter than the fruit most people are used to. But this is not the reason you will sometimes see Japanese add salt to their watermelon. There are three possible reasons for adding salt to a watermelon. Firstly, it is used to increase the already sweet taste of the fruit. Apparently adding salt to something sweet increases your taste buds’ reception to any sweet flavor. Secondly, summer is a very hot and humid season in Japan and your body craves salt because of excessive sweating. The warmth actually makes you crave salt and the addition of a cool watermelon makes it all the more refreshing. And finally, watermelons in Japan are almost always iced or cooled making them nice and refreshing. However, the cold temperature removes some of the sweet flavor and it can only be resurrected by using some salt.

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We hope you get to enjoy many watermelons during your summer in Japan!

Youkai Manual – Yuki Onna

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Youkai are creatures from Japanese folklore and myths. They have existed for hundreds of years and continue to live on in popular culture. Friendly and evil, youkai come in many forms.

To cool down from the summer heat there is no story better than that of Yuki Onna (雪女). There are many variations and stories of this snow woman but she’s almost always a peaceful creature. She usually wears a snow white kimono and can be found in snowy areas. Yuki Onna are always beautiful, attracting many men with their supernatural looks. Her hair is the blackest of black and their skin the whitest of white. When she walks in the snow she leaves no footprints.

Here are some of the most popular Yuki Onna stories;

 

The first Yuki Onna

A monk first wrote about the Yuki Onna during the Muromachi period (1333 – 1573). He wrote of his travels in what now is Niigata prefecture and his encounter with the snow woman. He left his house on a snowy morning and saw a beautiful woman with a supernatural air. She was very tall with white skin and her long black hair fell from her shoulders. Before the monk could say a word to her she vanished. Later he was told this was the region’s “Snow Spirit”.

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An unusual love story

During a blizzard, a young woodcutter met Yuki Onna in the woods. He thought she would take his life, but instead, Yuki Onnna spared his life because he was young and beautiful. She made him promise never to speak of her and told him If he breaks his promise, she will kill him. Some years later, he met a girl named Oyuki (snow), they were happily married and had many children. However, Oyuki never seemed to age. One night, the husband spoke to Oyuki and told her that she reminded him of a young girl he met in a blizzard many years ago. Just then, Oyuki revealed that she was the Yuki Onna he met in the woods. Enraged that he broke his promise, Oyuki tried to kill her husband but gave up because she loves him and he is the father of their children. She melted and disappeared before the man’s eyes.

There is another story about a man married to a Yuki Onna. On a cold night the husband proposes his wife to enjoy a hot bath to warm up. His wife refuses many times but eventually she becomes unable to refuse. The man lets his wife enjoy her bath and does some work around the house. Hours later his wife still hasn’t left the bath and he goes to check on her only to find the bathtub filled with icicle shards that are slowly melting.

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Not all Yuki Onna are friendly, proven by many stories from different Japanese prefectures. Parents warn their children not to go outside during heavy snow or they will be eaten by the snow woman. First she freezes her victims and then sucks out their souls.

In some legends she actively hunts and terrorizes humans, blowing down their homes with icy winds and blizzards. In other stories she tricks humans to come close to her and strikes.

 

Neutral Yuki Onna

There are Yuki Onna who simply meet up with travelers and love to hear their stories. In Niigata prefecture there is the story about an inn where a young and beautiful woman with black hair and a white kimono stopped for a rest. The innkeeper refused to let her go back outside in the cold weather and offered to give her a bed for the night. As he tried to pull her back in her touch immediately froze the man’s body and she fled through the chimney.

 

In popular culture

Yuki Onna and their powers are frequently used in manga, anime and movies. Just like the legends they are young and beautiful women but their attire is often changed to a more modern version. If you ever read about a supernatural woman with ice powers, you now know her origin.

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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

Salmon Harvest: Delicacies Abound, Niigata Prefecture

Murakami, dubbed “the Salmon City,” has a long history of catching and processing salmon. Over the centuries, the area has accumulated hundreds of homemade recipes that range from fermented, salted and sake-marinated salmon to salmon simmered in miso broth. When preparing fi sh, the locals make sure nothing is wasted: heads, bones and entrails are used either as main ingredients for stock or grilled to the perfect texture. During New Year’s season, many households hang rows of salmon upside down from the ceiling to dry; it’s a truly unique spectacle well worth seeing!

“Hizu Namasu” pickled salmon head with radish and salmon roe
“Hizu Namasu” pickled salmon head with radish and salmon roe
“Shake no Sakebitashi” sake-marinated salmon
“Shake no Sakebitashi” sake-marinated salmon

Summer and Ghost Stories

All over the world people tell ghost stories. Some are famous worldwide and others are only famous within the country. But why do Japanese people love telling ghost stories during summer? Some have speculated that it is because ghost stories “send shivers down your spine” and make you cool down. However, the real reason is very different.

Ghost season peaks during the summer because Japanese celebrate the “Obon Festival” in the month of August or July (depending on the region). During Obon the Japanese believe that their ancestral spirits return to visit their descendants. The spirits are not here to cause mischief but to celebrate with their family. With so many ghosts visiting from the afterlife there can be no better time to tell some good ghost stories.

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What’s so special about Japanese ghosts?

There is a big difference between Western ghosts and Japanese ghosts. For starters, Japanese people believe that not all ghosts are evil and some can even bring good luck. This is because the Japanese word for ghost, “yuurei (幽霊)” , can also be translated into “specter”, giving it a more neutral meaning. During the 10th century, seeing a yuurei was even considered to be a good omen.

Because of these beliefs, anyone who died could become a yuurei and wander around bringing good luck to people. This changed when Buddhism became more prevalent in Japan and now yuurei could also become malevolent beings. According to Buddhist beliefs, when a person dies he or she has to wait for a proper funeral to be guided into the afterlife. If a person dies peacefully their yuurei becomes a protector for the house, but if they die a sudden and unnatural death the yuurei becomes evil.

 

The Golden Age of ghost stories

403046During the Edo period (1603-1868), ghost stories flourished due to it being an age of creativity and relative peace. These old Japanese folktales were called “kaidan (怪談).” Nowadays people simply use the word “kowai hanashi(怖い話)” or “scary stories.”

The old kaidan almost always contain the following elements; the concept of Karma, vengeance for misdeeds and ghosts of women and servants. Vengeful spirits were much stronger than regular spirits and humans. This gave birth to the many youkai (妖怪), “demon”, stories. These stories served a didactic purpose and gave birth to the image of the “Japanese Ghost” as we know it today; black hair, white funeral clothes and floating bodies.

 

Popular ghosts

Rokurokubi (ろくろっく首). You will most likely encounter this ghost in a traditional Japanese haunted house. They can appear as regular humans, almost always as women, but can stretch their necks to abnormal lengths. At night, the head extends or leaves the body to scare animals, humans and feed on their blood. This creature can also appear as a “youkai”, Japanese creature of folklore, but because it is a vengeful spirit it is mostly seen as a yuurei. 

The Black Hair (黒髪). This is one of the most popular stories in the kaidan.  It tells the story of a samurai who abandons his wife to go on a quest for his master and takes another lover with him. When he returns home after years of absence he goes home to embrace his wife and promises to never leave her again and that he made a mistake. When he wakes up the next morning he discovers his wife had died years ago from sorrow.

Teke-Teke. This is an urban legend, but still considered a ghost. One day a girl fell from the train platform and was cut in half. Now her upper body roams the night.

Sadako (貞子). When talking about popular Japanese ghosts Sadako can’t be left out. The famous ghost from the Ring franchise is based on an old Japanese ghost story about a girl who died in a well. She was pushed down by the suitor she turned down many times.

Kayako (伽椰子). Another popular vengeful spirit from a movie franchise. Kayako first made her appearance in the movie Ju-On and has continued to stay alive in popular culture.

 

Exorcising evil spirits

208702With so many ghosts around, there must be some sort of professional to help the people in need. If you ever encounter a Japanese ghost remember that your holy water, crucifix or spellbooks are useless. Yuurei are vulnerable to a different type of object and that is…paper!  These strips of paper are inscribed with Buddhist sutras and called ofuda (御札). If this doesn’t work you can go to a Shinto shrine where they will perform a purification ritual.

 

Ghost Hunting

Ghost Hunting is also best done during the summer when Obon comes around. But if you want to be 100% sure you will encounter a ghost you can visit a haunted house or take a “trial of courage”. In both cases it won’t be real ghosts but dressed up actors. But be honest, it’s a better way to cool down with those chills down your spine than to be haunted by a vengeful yuurei.

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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

Disappearing Treasures: Fujino-yu in Yoga

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Not to be confused with the popular cardio exercise or spiritual practice from India, Yoga is an upscale residential district in the Setagaya ward. Tucked away in the backstreets is the Fujino-yu bathhouse which has been in operation for over 50 years. Its old-fashioned exterior is more than enough reason to stop and take a look. Just in the few minutes I was waiting outside I saw curious couples, amused passersby, and inquisitive students who came over to take a closer look.

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Welcome to a one-of-a-kind wooden bathhouse
“Back when public bathhouses were experiencing a boom, many building owners built cookie-cutter public baths on the first floor. But I wanted to create something different, something unique” says the owner Mr. yamaguchi, who has a keen eye for art and design. He used to create woodblock art, some of which you can see on the walls of the bathhouse. It is because of his unique vision and sense of design, this one-of-a-kind wooden bathhouse came into existence.

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Unlike other polished tile bathhouses, Fujino-yu has a warm and nostalgic atmosphere. Everything from the front counter, shoe boxes, lockers, doors and lounge chairs are all made out of wood.

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The wood theme continues in the wet area, where a Cypress wood bath and a unique wood pavilion become the focal point of the bathhouse.

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Another notable interior decoration are the ceramic tiles with Iris paintings. A Japanese bathhouse typically has a grand painting of Mt. Fuji on the wall, but here, an elegant drawing of Irises welcomes you at the jet baths. On May 5th (Children’s day), many people take Shobu-yu, an Iris bath to wish for longevity and good health. At Fujino-yu, everyday is a Shobu-yu day!

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Mr. Yamaguchi says that though the number of people who frequent Sento bathhouses has significantly declined, more and more young families and students are trying out Sento and enjoying the experience.

However, with this shift in demographics came a new dilemma.

Sento is a place to learn how to share and respect
Since we live in the era of abundance and cheap disposable items, we rarely have an opportunity to share things with others. But at a Sento bathhouse, we not only share the facilities, but we also share the water and even the atmosphere. Visiting a Sento bathhouse is a prime opportunity to learn how to share and respect each other.

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“When it comes to sharing, a little foresight and empathy goes a long way,” says the owner. For example, you don’t want to disturb the water, let alone swim in the water, because people are here to relax. You don’t want to get the floor soapy because other people have to walk on it. What’s normal in your household might not be the norm in a public area. You are here to witness and respect subtle and often unspoken social rules at Sento.

With that said, don’t hesitate to fully enjoy the Sento experience. If you have a question ask the person behind the counter or one of the regulars. More often than not, they are willing to answer any questions you might have and strike up a friendly conversation. What better way to learn about Japanese customs and values than to share stories and quality time together.

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The owner’s art works are on display in the lounge area.
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There are many owl ornaments and decorations.

Our lifestyles have been modernized and our mindset has changed. But at Fujino-yu, things have remained the same for a long time. Inside those well maintained wooden baths sits the chance to teach great values and subtle etiquette to a new generation of Sento guests.

Information

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Address: Tamagawadai 2-1-16, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Access: 7-min walk from Yoga Station (Tokyu Denentoshi Line)
Hours: 3:30pm – 11pm
Closed: Friday
Admission: 460 yen

Read Also:
Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse
Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers
Disappearing Treasures: Tsukimi-yu in Shimotakaido

Heart Warming, Soul Lifting: Imoni and Konnyaku, Yamagata Prefecture

Imoni

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Imo, or tubers in Japanese, are traditionally a staple food in Tohoku. It is dense in nutrients and an ideal source of carbohydrates. The root vegetable is often cooked with meat and served in a thick soup for visitors, family and friends. In autumn, locals often gather near a river and enjoy imoni together, a tradition called imonikai.

Konnyaku

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Konnyaku has been known as a “miracle food” in Japan since about 1,200 years ago. The jelly-like substance is said to have many significant benefits, such as detoxification and beauty enhancement, and is loved by all generations. In Yamagata, people like to have their konnyaku in a round shape and skewered on a bamboo stick. The savory snack is an essential part of festive activities in Yamagata.

Photos provided by Miyagi Prefecture Tourism Division

Scrumptious Winter: Iburigakko & Kiritanpo Hot Pot, Akita Prefecture

Kiritanpo

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Kiritanpo, mashed, steamed rice in the shape of a cylinder, is a specialty that is welded strongly on the identity of Akita Prefecture. In the past, kiritanpo was an easy-to-carry preserved food used primarily by hunters. Today, however, the delicacy is cut into bitesized pieces and served in a hot pot with chicken and a variety of vegetables.

Traditionally, kiritanpo is grilled over an open hearth.

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Iburigakko

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Iburigakko, smoked radish, is one of the most famous pickled vegetables in Tohoku. Smoked with cherry blossom wood then preserved with salt and malted rice, the appetizer gives off a fabulous aroma and goes perfectly with any variety of sake.

Visit the Glorious Past: Merchant Houses in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture

Sakata, with its ideal geographic location, flourished as a trade center and major port from which goods were shipped from Tohoku to Kyoto and Tokyo in the Edo Period (1603-1867).

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Traces of the port’s glorious past are still clear in the present: in Sankyo Soko, a storehouse for rice built in 1893; a villa of the wealthy Honma family; and Soumaro, one of the most prominent Japanese restaurants in Sakata during the Edo Period.

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Beside its well preserved architecture, you can also enjoy a dance performance by Maiko (Geisha apprentices).

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Soumaro
Hours: 10am – 5pm
Access: 20-min walk from Sakata Station (Uetsu Honsen Line & Rikuu Saisen Line)

Step Back in Time: Kakunodate’s Samurai Residences, Akita Prefecture

Take a relaxing stroll around Kakunodate to immerse yourself in history.

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While many traditional Japanese buildings have been lost due to fire, weather and deterioration from age, the houses along Samurai Street have stood undamaged for over 300 years. Known as the “Little Kyoto of Tohoku,” the town maintains the refined, elegant atmosphere of old Japan.

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Hiburi-Kamakura is a one-of-a-kind traditional event held in February. People swing a bale of burning straw to wish for safety in the coming year.

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Kakunodate
Hours: 9am – 5pm (Varies depending on the residence)
Access: 20-min walk from JR Kakunodate Station (Akita Shinkansen), or 60-min bus ride (Airport Liner) from Akita Airport.
Admission: Varies depending on the residence

Pictures © Kakunodate Tourist Association

In Harmony with the Seasons : Natsu no Doyo

The eel is rich in protein and Vitamin A, all essential elements for a healthy constitution.text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
The eel is rich in protein and Vitamin A, all essential elements for a healthy constitution.
text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
The word “doyo” refers to the 18 days before the end of a season, and occurs four times a year. Within that period, the natsu no doyo no ushi no hi – which occurs before the beginning of Autumn – is a day the Japanese associate with the eating of eel, or unagi. But this tradition is actually not that old. One version of its origin is that Hiraga Gennai, a multi-talented scientist, inventor, author etc. from the Edo era in the 18th century, started this trend.
Apparently this idea for a doyo no ushi no hi came about after an enterprising owner of an unagi restaurant approached Hiraga for help to create some publicity for his shop. Hiraga, who was known to have restored a static electricity generator from the West, was interested in electricity and studying electric eels at the time. According to ancient Eastern divination, summer was thought to be related to the “fire” element which is countered by water. In the same way, water is represented by the color black. Hence it was thought that
black objects could counter the element of fire. The word “doyo” in the phrase doyo no ushi means water. So came the belief that on the day of the ushi, black objects are eaten to ward away evil. This was the basis on which eating black eel on a hot summer’s day would help to counter fatigue in the summer.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

Revisiting Traditional Architectural Wisdom: Thatching

Thatching is the traditional Japanese craft of building a roof with dry vegetation like straw to achieve warmth and sustainability while also saving energy. In Tohoku, there remain many thatched roof houses that resemble a poetic retreat from the modern day. With stunning mountains as backdrops and beautiful creeks gently flowing, this is the ultimate destination for meditation and relaxation.


Tono Furusato Village

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Often used as a shooting location for movies, the nostalgic looking village also doubles as a tourist attraction where visitors can experience traditional Japanese craftwork like bamboo art and pottery making. The outgoing and friendly staff is dedicated to helping everyone get the most out of their visit.

You can sample home-made sake known as Doburoku at a traditional winter festival, Dobekko Festival.

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Instructors at Furusato Village are known as “Maburitto members,” or “protectors” in the Iwate dialect.

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Cultural Experience Activities at Tono Furusato Village
Village Hours: 9am-5pm (Mar. to Oct.), 9am-4pm (Nov. to Feb)
Access: 25 minutes from JR Tono Station by bus
Admission: 540 yen (Adults), 320 yen (Children)

Pictures © Tono Tourism Association Tono Furusato Village


Denshoen Park

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Traditional farming, authentic culture and local wisdom are carefully preserved at these charming thatched roof houses. Here, you can listen to Japanese folklore, try your hand at making Japanese crafts and savor local specialties.

Oshira-sama is a household deity unique to the Tohoku region. Made with 30 cm long mulberry sticks, Oshira-sama statues usually come in pairs, with the male figure representing a horse and the female a human.

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Cultural Experience Activities at Denshoen Park
Hours: 9am-5pm (Last entry at 4:30pm)
Access: 25 minutes from JR Tono Station by bus
Admission: 320 yen (Adults), 220 yen (Children)

Pictures © Tono Tourism Association Denshoen Park

In Harmony with the Seasons : Obon

This dish is soba noodles and a variety of gourds seasoned with soy sauce and rapeseed oil, with a generous portion of hemp seeds scattered around. Soba has the power to cool your body, and hemp seeds to warm your body, it is said.text & coordination / Rieko Ido, photo / Hajime Watanabe
This dish is soba noodles and a variety of gourds seasoned with soy sauce and rapeseed oil, with a generous portion of hemp seeds scattered around. Soba has the power to cool your body, and hemp seeds to warm your body, it is said.
text & coordination / Rieko Ido, photo / Hajime Watanabe
As the height of the summer approaches, Obon season gets underway. Large and small fireworks, Tanabata festivals, Shoro-nagashi festivals, and numerous folk dance gatherings… crowds in Yukata (casual Kimono) flock to shrines and temples to enjoy summer funfairs. Street stalls offer games like ‘catch the goldfish’. Old-fashioned penny candies glimmer magically under the flickering lights of the stalls.
Obon is the week when the souls
passed away are supposed to come back to spend time with their family or descendants. The festival takes many forms – there is even a masquerade dance which carries on till dawn.
Vegetables with stick legs are prepared for the souls to ride on between worlds. Cucumber is prepared for the arrival trip, and eggplant is for returning to heaven, loaded with souvenirs. The sticks are made of hemp stalk core, which is also used as candlewick.
Seasonal dishes will be prepared in welcome. Strong smelling herbs like garlic are avoided as they deter the spirits, just as in the story of Dracula.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

In Harmony with the Seasons : Tanabata

Traditional delicacies of the summer: “Somen (fine noodles)”were originally intended as a treat, dedicated to deceased children so that they wouldn’t feel neglected. The paper mulberry leaves were used to write wishes on, later replaced by the colorful strips of paper used for Tanabata decorations. text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
Traditional delicacies of the summer: “Somen (fine noodles)”were originally intended as a treat, dedicated to deceased children so that they wouldn’t feel neglected. The paper mulberry leaves were used to write wishes on, later replaced by the colorful strips of paper used for Tanabata decorations.
text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
Japan has four distinct seasons and there is a strong tradition of rituals and festivals closely connected to each season. Two of the major festivals of the summer are “Tanabata” and “Obon”. The actual dates of these events varies depending on the region, but both are festivals of remembrance, for literally ’communing’ with the souls of people passed away, including ancestors. The “Mukaebi (welcoming torch)”
and the “Okuribi (farewell torch)” are lit at each end of the Obon period to help souls navigate between worlds. Food also plays an important part in Japanese rituals. Pictured above are the seasonal delicacies of summer, such as chilled watermelon, somen (fine noodles usually eaten cold), edamame (young soya beans in the pod), azuki bean jelly,pickles… they all have significance. The origin of the 5 colored cloth and paper mulberry leaves
lies in the tradition of animism: they are used to thank mother nature and pray for a good harvest. This is a picturesque, traditional summer table.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

Disappearing Treasures: Tsukimi-yu in Shimotakaido

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It’s 3pm on a Sunday afternoon and the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse doesn’t open for another half an hour. Yet, there’s already a few people waiting outside to be the first ones into the hot fresh water tubs.

“This is quite typical. The regulars want to be the first ones in, especially on weekends.” The proprietor Mr. Kondo, a third generation Sento owner says as he opens the shutter door a little early. Even before stepping inside this bathhouse, I could tell that this is a place adored by the locals.

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Tucked away in a quiet residential area in Setagaya-ku, the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse has been welcoming the locals for more than 50 years. Despite its humble exterior, the bathhouse offers a wide range of baths: the onsen (hot spring), jet baths, a charcoal bath, water bath, standing showers, a sauna, and last but not least, the electricity bath.

2_shimotakaido_sento_008_RThe interior is clean and bright and the high ceiling lets in alot of air and light. Both the male and female locker areas have plenty of space to relax (there’s even an outdoor sitting area for the guys!). Not only that, they have a massage chair, coin operated hair dryer and refrigerators full of beverages. With all these amenities available for you to pamper yourself, it’s no wonder people line up outside before the doors open.

The hot spring bath is everybody’s first choice since it’s at 39 degrees (102.2℉), not too hot nor too cold, just a nice comfortable temperature. Regulars tend to congregate in this bath and chit-chat. But my favorite is the jet bath which has multiple jets aimed right at the common sore muscle areas: shoulders, backs and feets. Then there’s the mysterious and most shocking one of all,the electricity bath, with its low level of electric current running through the water. When you go in, you feel a little tingling on your skin. Some people might find it relaxing, I on the other hand, am not so sure about it…

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You can try an old-fashioned scale and hair-salon-style hair dryer.

2_shimotakaido_sento_019_RWith all the different pools, you can spend quite a long time in the bath. But the reason people keep coming back to Tsukimi-yu is not only the facilities, but also the sense of connection they get. Most of the early sento-goers are well over 70 years old. They talk, they care and they even wash each others backs. Back in the lobby, everybody gathers around a short table near an old TV like one big family.

It reminds me of the Japanese phrase “Hadaka no Tsukiai (socializing naked)” which literally means a relationship with nothing to hide. The sento culture embodies this sentiment and brings people closer together.

Even a new sento goer like myself was immediately welcomed and I felt right at home at the Tsukimi-yu bathhouse.

 

Information

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Address: Akatsutsumi 5-36-16, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo
Access: 6-min walk from Shimotakaido Station (Keio Line, Tokyu Setagaya Line)
Hours: 3:30pm – 12am
Closed: Tuesday
Admission: 460 yen

 

Read Also:
Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse
Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers

The Matsuri Manual : 8 types of fireworks you need to know

One of the highlights of Japanese summer are the fireworks. There is just something about going to a fireworks festival (hanabi taikai) and seeing the summer night sky being lit up with breathtaking patterns that makes your summer experience in Japan feel complete. And these fireworks will definitely not disappoint! Here we will introduce the types of fireworks that you can look forward to in seeing. See if you can find your favorite!

Chrysanthemum・ 菊先

A spherical explosion of coloured stars with a short burn time, followed by crackling.

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Willow・ 柳

Similar to the chrysanthemum but the flame trails extinguish gradually, creating a willow tree-like effect.

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Bee・ 蜂

Emits a high-pitched sound while twirling in random directions for a truly attention-grabbing display.

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Thousand Wheel・ 千輪

An explosion comprising many small spherical fireworks bursting into a collage of colours and hues.

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UFO / Saturn・ 土星

A combination of hanabi that form the shape of planet Saturn before slowly dissipating.

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Smile・ スマイル

A combination of fireworks that form a smiley face – always a great hit with children!

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Niagara・ ナイアガラ

Long, flowing, brilliantly illuminated fireworks that resemble the Niagara Falls in America.

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Starmine・ スターマイン

A continuous firing of hanabi in a collage of shapes and colours to create patterns.

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Have you read the other articles in this series?
The Matsuri Manual : Festival Style Guide
The Matsuri Manual : Festival Food Guide
The Matsuri Manual : Matsuri Games

The story of Tanabata

July brings Tanabata, one of Japan’s most well-known festivals. Many people recognize the pieces of paper with wishes hanging from a bamboo tree. But do you know why this “star festival” is celebrated and why we write on colorful pieces of paper? The origin of this summer tradition can be traced back to the story of two (literally) star-crossed lovers.

Once upon a time…

There was a princess named Orihime. She was a weaver who made beautiful pieces of cloth by the heavenly river, also known as the Milky Way. Because Orihime spent most of her time weaving, she became very sad and felt that she would never find love. Her father, who was God of the Heavens, knew of a good young man who lived just across the Milky Way. His name was Hikoboshi, a cow herder. The two fell in love instantly. But their love for each other was so deep that they neglected their duties. Orihime stopped weaving and Hikoboshi’s cows wandered the heavens.

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The God of the Heavens became very angry and forbade the two lovers to be together. But he was also the father of Orihime and loved her deeply, so he arranged that they could meet up once a year if Orihime returned to her weaving. This day became the 7th day of the 7th month.

Finally, the long-awaited day arrived, but the Milky Way was too difficult for both of them to cross. A flock of magpies saw Orihime’s sadness and made a bridge for her so she could cross and reunited with her lover. It is said that when it rains on Tanabata, the magpies do not come and the lovers have to wait another year.

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Why Paper Wishes?

When Tanabata first arrived in Japan from China in the Heian period (794 – 1185), aristocrats in the imperial court would write poetry while gazing at the stars to celebrate the lovers. It wasn’t until the Edo period (1603–1868) that Tanabata was celebrated by all the people of Japan. It was during this period that the tradition of writing wishes on tanzaku, brightly colored pieces of paper, and hanging them from branches of bamboo became part of the celebration.

People started using a tall and straight bamboo to hang the strips of paper with their wishes, hoping that their hopes and dreams would be sent to the heavens.

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Disappearing Treasures: Sento Etiquette, What Not To Do Around Naked Strangers

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In my previous article, I pointed out the struggles and hardships that Sento bathhouses face. Sadly, many of them cannot figure their way out of their predicament and are forced to close their decades-long business. There’s no quick fix to this problem, but I believe the best way to help them out is to simply go and enjoy the bath and be a good patron. So here is how to do it.

What to Bring
Though many bathhouses offer towels and shampoo for an extra charge, we all have our own favorite brands when it comes to washing ourselves. Bring along your toiletries, a wash cloth, a bath towel, change of clothes and enough money.

Check List
□ Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner and soap)
□ Wash cloth and bath towel
□ Hair tie (for long hair)
□ Plastic bag (for putting a wet towel and laundry in)
□ Money (460 yen plus little extra for refreshments)

Many of the Sento bathhouses open around 3 in the afternoon. I like to go there right after it opens so that I can be in fresh and clean water.

1 Keep Your Shoes at the Entrance
Just like in most Japanese houses, you take your shoes off at the entrance. Place your shoes in an open shoe box and lock it by pulling out the wooden key.

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2 Pay the Admission Fee
460 yen is the standard rate for Sento around Tokyo. Some bathhouses offer a steamy hot sauna service for an extra charge. Facilities are separated by gender, make sure to go to the appropriate side: 男 for Male and 女 for Female.

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3 Strip Down
After taking off your clothes, put them and other belongings in the locker. The locker key usually comes with a water resistant wristband so you can wear it while taking a bath. Now let’s go into the bath area.

4 Clean yourself
Grab a stool and a basin and find a spot where you want to wash yourself. Japanese people usually wash themselves while sitting on a stool. But if you prefer standing, some facilities offer shower rooms.

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Once you’re clean, rinse the stool and the basin well and put them back to where you found them. Check the water temperature before you go in, since it can be very hot sometimes. Keep your towel and hair out of the water to show that you wanna keep the water clean.

6. Warm Up and Unwind
From a jacuzzi to a water bath, some facilities offer a wide variety of baths. It’s fun to try them all, but be aware that taking a bath can be very exhausting. Don’t force yourself to stay in the water too long.

7. Get Dressed and Cool Off
When you’re ready to get out, wipe your body with your wash cloth so as not to get the locker room wet. Get dressed and cool off. Bathhouses usually have a lobby area where you can get drinks and icecream. Take your time and relax, even mingle with the locals.

 

So, it’s not that dissimilar to your normal shower, right? Aside from that there are bunch of naked strangers around, the only difference is that the bath is bigger and fancier. Once you try it you’ll get used to it, and perhaps, you will become fond of the Sento experience.

In the next article, I will introduce my local Sento, Tsukimi-yu.

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 17: Scenes From Wonder Festival 2016 Winter

[WAttention X FIELDS Research Institute] 
Explore the fascinating world of Japan’s subcultures with insights from the inside

An Otaku dream come true

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In most countries, figurines and plastic toys are for kids, but not in Japan, where it’s serious adult business.

On February 7, WAttention attended Wonder Festival 2016 Winter, an event at which both amateur and professional creators showcase their self-produced figurines. Eight halls of Makuhari Messe – Chiba’s largest convention center – were filled with figurines from Japanese anime, manga and video games, and for each model on display, at least 10 otaku could be seen examining these figurines so precious to them.

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Nowhere else in the world do you see this many adults queue for a manga or anime figurines, and that is what makes Japan fascinating and special. Even if figurines or plastic models aren’t quite your thing, a peak at this show will have you respect Japan’s dedication and love towards craftsmanship, a national trait that lives on today even if the focus is shifting from traditional crafts to otaku goods.

Without any further ado, let’s have a look around at this overwhelming event!

 

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This impressive Godzilla model takes over Wonder Festival…and your wallet if you plan to buy it!

 

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As you can see, Godzilla was not the only scary thing at Wonder Festival.
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Look, even the dealer at this booth…!

 

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OK, let’s get back to kawaii. How about these Japanese “idolls”?
チャイナドレス
Anime figurines in flamboyant Chinese dresses

 

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Russian president in judo wear…also cute?

 

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Alice from Alice in Wonderland, but anime style. Of course, with a shotgun in her hands.

 

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Some figurines from video games you might know. From left to right: Kizuki Kokone from Phoenix Wright: Attorney Ace, Solaire of Astora from Dark Souls, and Megaman, or Rockman as he is known in Japan from the Megaman series.

 

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Let’s end this article with a cosplay girl buying a giant purple-haired head…

This article was written with the assistance of Fields Research Institute, which conducts research in entertainment.

Disappearing Treasures: Sento, a Public Bathhouse

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I know that many travelers come to Japan hoping to have an authentic Onsen (hot spring) experience, soaking in soothing hot water is truly relaxing and rejuvenating. It’s true, an Onsen is a blissful joy and you should definitely try it at least once, but there’s an alternative. For many busy Japanese people and travelers, there is an easier way to get a similar hot bath experience.

Sento, a local public bathhouse.

A true local experience
In the olden days, many Japanese apartments didn’t come with a private bath. Tenants often had to go to a nearby Sento bathhouse not only to get clean but also to socialize with neighbors. The Sento was and still is a social hub where different generations come together and talk about their everyday lives. Though most modern apartments and houses now come with a private bath, there is something special about going to the local Sento, seeing your neighbors and being part of the community.

On a verge of extinction
Unfortunately, Sento bathhouses are on a sharp decline. During the past few decades, the number of Sento baths around Tokyo has dropped from over 2500 to around 600. There are many factors for this decline but a few major reasons are a) there are less people using a public bath, b) facilities are deteriorating rapidly and the renovation cost is enormous, c) utility costs (water and gas) are getting more expensive and d) owners are getting old and they don’t have a successor who can take over the management.

Number of Sento Bathhouses
Statistics by Tokyo Metropolitan Government and other resources

Preserving by taking a dip
You might say this is just part of economic progress, an evolution from a poorer time, and that change is inevitable and necessary. But as one of many naive Sento enthusiasts, I would like to do something about it.

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So here’s the deal, I’ll highlight these one-of-a-kind bathhouses before they disappear. Hopefully I can shine some light on the realities and struggles they face and introduce some of the innovative solutions they’ve come up with. And you can try them out, give them a reason to stay around.

So be willing to expose yourself to a cultural experience and in the process bear witness to the naked truth. If we don’t contribute to keeping these landmarks relevant they will disappear and the stories of everyday life will wash away down the drain of history.

In the next article, I will explain the rules and proper etiquette of the Sento bathhouses, such as what you should bring and how you should act around naked strangers. So stay tuned.

Picturesque Matsumoto (5) – Ukiyo-e Museum –

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Ukiyo-e, also known as Japanese woodblock prints, became a cultural phenomenon during the Edo era (1603-1868). But now they are admired around the world and many Ukiyo-e enthusiasts spend time and money to collect as many as they can to get their hands on.

One of the passionate collectors was Mr. Sakai, the second richest merchant in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture. His extensive collection included paintings, scrolls and art books. But among which were about 100,000 of pristine Ukiyo-e prints. Thanks to the family’s generosity, the prints have been made available to the general public and the Ukiyo-e Museum was established in 1982 in the city of Matsumoto. There, you can admire and learn everything about Ukiyo-e: from their sense of design to delicate colors, and of course, how they are made.

So, how are Ukiyo-e made? 
The Ukiyo-e prints are the results of a collaborative effort of three artisans; an artist, a woodblock cutter and a printer. Unlike the modern machine-made prints, these prints require several woodblocks, sometimes dozens of blocks to produce. So, let’s look at the process of making an Ukiyo-e print step by step.

Tools
First the artist draws his picture onto a piece of paper, this is later traced to a thin and partially transparent piece of mulberry paper. The picture is then transferred to a piece of cherry wood so the outlines are visible. A carver, called a horishi, uses different tools to cut out the image from the woodblock. This takes special skill and years of training as some lines are very small and intricate. The woodblock cutter also has to make sure he does not break the piece of wood, or he has to start all over again. First, he makes one woodblock to print the outline of the picture in black.
Colors
Ukiyo-e used to be full-black pictures. It is only during the early 18th century that colors were added. This made the process longer and more complicated, but the effects are stunning! Brushes to apply the ink to the woodblock are made from horsehair and smoothed using shark skin. The Baren is a unique tool specially invented for woodblock printing. It is made with thin bamboo ropes and multiple layers of papers sheathed in a bamboo leaf.

applying color layer by layerDifferent colorsLayer by layer
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For a picture with many colors, separate woodblocks have to be made for each color used. Once the blocks were made, the printer had a lot of flexibility in changing and choosing colors. Of course the artist designed a main image with specific colors in mind, but now new colors could also be used.

The paper is aligned on the block and the printing happens color by color and block by block. The principle in Ukiyo-e is that you start from the lightest colors and finish with the darkest. However, the outline is always done first.

The print always needs to be aligned perfectly on the block and the printer has to adjust the positioning many times. If the alignment is wrong and the colors are not inside the black outline, then the print needs to be made all over again.

Using the Baren, the printer adjusts the pressure and decides just how much of the color he wants transferred. This results in a gradation effect or lighter imprints of the colors. It’s truly a craft on its own and groundbreaking prints were always collaboration between the artist and the printer.

Ukiyo-e Oiran

These prints were made by the hundreds and were very popular among the general populace of old Japan. Looking at Ukiyo-e prints with many colors, you can really admire the effort and craftsmanship that went into producing these pieces of art.

At the Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto you can take a closer look at the process and the tools used to make Ukiyo-e. And of course, don’t forget to admire all the prints, which give you a glimpse of daily life during the Edo period.

Museum Inside

Information

Address: Shinkiri 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, Nagano
Access: A 15-min walk from Matsumoto Railway Kamikochi line Ohniwa station or a 7-min taxi ride from Matsumoto Station (JR line)
Hours: 10am – 5pm, closed on Mondays (open on National Holiday-Mondays, closed on the following Tuesdays)
Admission: 1,050 yen (Adults) / 530 yen (Elementary School to High School students)

The Museum is located beside the Japanese Court and Open Air Architectural Museum (Rekishi-no-sato). 

Experience the world of Shakuhachi

Despite its simple structure, Shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute, conveys the full range of tones, melodies and emotion. The following event is a rare opportunity to listen to the Shakuhachi virtuoso, Akikazu Nakamura.

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Akikazu Nakamura’s Seventeenth Recital
The world of the komuso shakuhachi
―The Myoan Shinpo school, the evolution of Sanya―

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Akikazu Nakamura’s shakuhachi performance is highly praised not only in traditional Japanese music komuso shakuhachi, but also in jazz and rock. Its musicality is also well-recognized among artistic scenes of contemporary improvisation.

Komuso (monks of nothingness) pertains to the order of monks who were known to travel throughout Japan while practicing meditation through the playing of shakuhachi. They are characterized by their unique head covers that resemble an overturned basket, said to be a sign of suppression of self ego that also helps focus the attention of the listener away from the player’s emotions and desires, towards the enchanting tune of the shakuhachi.

Now you can enjoy the same meditative and calming effects through this recital of shakuhachi zen music on Tuesday, July 5, 2016. It will be performed by Akikazu Nakamura who is considered the leading musician for circular breathing, multiple stopping, overtones, and the ancient Japanese breathing technique Missoku. He has performed in 40 different countries, 150 different cities, and continues to play around the world.

In this concert, the shakuhachi virtuoso will bring back to life the ancient and mysterious music of Komuso and its mystical world. Enjoy the fascinating play of tones and silences by Akikazu Nakamura.

Information

Akikazu Nakamura Disc
Date: Tuesday, July 5th
Time: 7pm(doors open at 6:30pm)
Location: Yomiuri Otemachi Hall
Access: Otemachi station Exit C3 – Toei Subway Mita Line
Tickets: 4,000 yen (Presale), 4,500 yen (At the door)

For presales or inquiries, feel free to contact Office Sound Pot by email at [email protected] or by telephone at 03-5374-8373 (domestic) or 81-5374-8373 (international).

In Harmony with the Seasons : Kashou Day

The blessings may have been believed to be greater with sweets that depicted the beauty of nature. These customs were introduced to the Imperial Court after the Muromachi period.text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
The blessings may have been believed to be greater with sweets that depicted the beauty of nature. These customs were introduced to the Imperial Court after the Muromachi period.
text & coordination/ Rieko Ido, photo/ Hajime Watanabe
Prior to the Meiji period, a custom had been observed in Japan to eat sweets on the day marking Kashou. Legend has it that the custom originated with the backdrop of an epidemic that had been going around in 848 during the Heian era. Emperor Ninmyo had renamed the period Kashou and performed a ritual with an offering of 16 pieces of beautiful sweets as he prayed for the good health of his people on the 16th day of June.
While there seem to be various views on where this number 16
came from, the 16th of June in the old lunar calendar seems to fall under a full moon, or the sixteenth day of a lunar month during the peak heat of summer. Perhaps the people at the time offered prayer on the night that was brightly lit by the moon when the world was believed to be linked with the other universe, offering delectable sweets to try to ward off evil that would come from the sixteen directions of the worlds. Confectionaries had been believed to soothe the violent souls of beings from the other world.
These types of festivals were conducted in all parts of Japan during those ancient periods when the curses of vengeful spirits had been believed to cause an illness or a disaster.


Rieko Ido
A graduate of Kokugakuin University, researcher of ancient Japanese customs and knowledge, conducting technical analysis on findings to apply them to modern lifestyles. Currently teaches at Tama Art University.

Nihonbashi or Nihombashi? Why we used two different spellings

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In the articles within our website, you will see two different spellings for Nihonbashi.

Typically, Japanese words are spelled out phonetically, but the letter “ ん” is spelled with either an “n” or “m”, depending on how you want to pronounce it. In fact, these mixed spellings can be seen on the streets of Nihonbashi and other areas as well.

In regards to this variation in spelling, we have established our own set of rules.

We’ve decided to adhere to the brand identities, by using Nihombashi for the names of certain stores and facilities.

Articles using the spelling Nihombashi include:

For others, we used Nihonbashi which is now the standard for addresses and road signs.

Articles using the spelling Nihonbashi include:

We hope you understand our intention and the nuances of Japanese linguistics.

The Nostalgic Charm of Nihombashi

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“Hiroshige Toto Meisho” Utagawa, Hiroshige. Edo era – from Japan National Diet Library

Heart of Edo

The phrase “hi sen ryo,” or a thousand gold pieces a day, was used to describe the streets of Nihombashi – or the amount of money that changed hands each day in this flourishing merchant district in the Edo era.
As the nexus for the Edo Five Routes that connected to all the major areas of Japan, traders, artisans and samurai from various parts of Japan gathered here to exchange goods and ideas.

The streets were vibrant with refined craftsmen selling their wares, major retailers, restaurants and a fish market, and culture thrived along with the booming economy that was driven by the influx of transient workers who created a demand for various services and goods.

"Nihonbashi bridge in Edo" Katsushika, Hokusai 1831 - 1835
“Nihonbashi bridge in Edo” Katsushika, Hokusai 1831 – 1835

Ms. Miki Sakai, Editor-in-chief of Monthly Nihombashi told WAttention this spirit of abundance and enjoyment of high culture continues in Nihombashi till this day.
She added that, “Over the past 10 years with the advent of an ‘Edo Boom,’ interest in Nihombashi has revived.”

Boom Town

With around 80 shops selling goods and services in the Nihombashi area spanning over 100 years old, whiffs of the Edo era can still be experienced when walking along the streets.

And new developments such as COREDO Muromachi and late night dining options have also given Nihombashi a new lease of life at night.
“The area is now really packed on weekends, whereas it used to be quiet before,” said Ms. Sakai.

The concept of eating out has its roots in the Edo era. As many single men had come to Edo to find work, they would eat out, and the fish market at Nihombashi became the gourmet hub for the locals, who enjoyed various Edo era fast foods such as sushi, soba, tempura and eel.

Today, locals and tourists alike head to Nihombashi for a taste of authentic Japanese cuisine, seasoned with a dash of nostalgia.

Ms. Miki Sakai

Editor-in-chief of Monthly Nihombashi, a monthly community magazine focusing on Nihombashi history and culture, in circulation since 1979
Ms. Miki Sakai
Editor-in-chief of Monthly Nihombashi, a monthly community magazine focusing on Nihombashi history and culture, in circulation since 1979

Monthly Nihombashi Editor’s Pick!

Tokyo Bay Cruising Nihombashi Cruise
The Nihombashi river cruise goes right through the Nihombashi district. Offering rare opportunities to go under the many bridges and peek into deeper allyways, this is a pleasant way to discover the different side of Nihombashi not possible on the main street.

[ Information ]
Access: A 3-min walk from Mitsukoshimae Station (Ginza Line and Hanzomon Line), a 5-min walk from Nihombashi Station (Tozai Line and Toei Asakusa Line)
Price: 1,500 yen (45 min), 2,000 yen (60 min)
Hours: Departure time varies depending on the route and date.
URL: http://ss3.jp/nihonbashi-cruise/index.html (Japanese)
*Reservation is required

Sailor Moon Exhibition at Roppongi Hills

The exhibition is open until June 19th.
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The “Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon” exhibition is being held at the 52nd floor (Tokyo City View observation deck) of Mori Tower in Roppongi, Tokyo.

This popular Manga series which got first published in 1992 and was written and illustrated by Naoko Takeuchi, gained worldwide success due to what was then considered a fresh new story, and acted as the forerunner for the now ubiquitous mahoshojo (magical girl) stories. The whole series sold more than 35 million copies worldwide and stands as one of the most influential manga titles, raising the popularity of Japanese animation in Western culture.

“Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon” features the adventures of a middle school girl, Usagi Tsukino. She transforms into Sailor Moon and has to find a princess, and an artifact called “Legendary Silver Crystal.” Usagi becomes the leader of the Sailor Guardians, which is a group of girls around her age, fighting against villains who are trying to destroy the solar system and want to steal the Silver Crystal.

The manga has been adapted into an anime series, consisting of several seasons. For the 20th anniversary of Sailor Moon, a new anime series, “Sailor Moon Crystal” premiered on July 5th 2014.

WAttention staff checked out the exhibition last Saturday, and was totally impressed by this accurate and carefully made event. Even if you are not a fan of this manga series, you will probably feel nostalgic for the 1990´s!

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We received our ticket, went up to the 52nd floor and entered the exhibition room.

The entrance area is designed to look like the Moon Castle of the lunar royal family.
The window area is covered with huge wallpapers featuring the Sailor Guardians in the latest artwork design. In front of that, a photo spot is set up to take a picture with the five Guardians, which you can purchase for 1,300 yen.

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Around the photo spot, there were magazines, video games, action figures, pens, plush toys, and a lot more merchandise on display to get you into the right mood. We already could hear all the joyful laughter and stories of the visitors reminiscing about some of the merchandise that they owned as a child.

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In front of the windows and near the photo spot, Sailor Moon´s weapons and transformation items are shown.

On the way to the next room, you will pass a wall demonstrating the chronological order of all the seasons of the Anime series, featuring the different characters and their relationships, as well as the various stories. Walking through the next room which shows a short movie out of Manga pages, you will enter a new spot decorated with huge colored Manga pages to understand the beginning of the story, as well as cover pages of the magazine “Nakayoshi” from 1992, in which Sailor Moon was published.

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On the way to the next corner, you can discover another photo spot with life-size figures of Neo Queen Serenity and King Endymion.

The next section of the exhibition features rare merchandise items from the 1990´s, such as the transformation items of Sailor Moon, figures and dolls, sweets, a bicycle, a game console, cosplay outfits, card games, and much more.

The following room features the original artworks of the cover pages of “Nakayoshi” and the Manga books. It is amazing how you can see which material, colors, and technique was used.

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For souvenirs you can visit the merchandise shop which sells limited items. The highlight between all those goods is a marriage certificate which comes in four different designs. We spotted some couples choosing their favorite layout. Even Japanese people were surprised about this item, and girls bought it “just in case” for their future plans.

After our visit at the exhibition we decided to have lunch at the “Chibiusa Café,” which is located on the same floor. Since it was a Saturday we had to wait in line for 2 hours to get a seat. Thanks to the food samples located near the entrance of the café, we could imagine how the real dish will look like.

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We decided to try the “Sailor Moon Special Burger” which comes in the shape of the Crystal Star compact (1,600 yen including tax), as well as the “3 different kind of Talisman Curry” in shape of the talismans carried by Sailor Uranus, Neptune and Pluto (1,450 yen including tax).

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The recommended beverage called “Beauty Boost Juice x Chocola BB of the 5 Sailor Guardians.” It is a mix of juice, or ginger ale and the popular Chocola BB drink, which is meant to be good for your skin. The different colors of the drinks represent the colors of the Sailor Guardians. We tried the drink of Sailor Mars, mixed with grapefruit juice (850 yen including tax).

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As a dessert we shared “Heaven’s Miracle Romance Parfait”, a parfait out of different flavored jellies, ice cream and chocolate. (1,250 yen including tax)

The food was very delicious and when you are lucky you will even get a window seat to enjoy the amazing view of Tokyo as well!
In conclusion it was a great exhibition. We recommend going there, even if you are not a fan of this series. The artwork is beautiful and it takes you on a time-travel back to the 1990’s.

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Details:
Exhibition: Roppongi Hills Observation Deck  Tokyo City View  Sky Gallery,
Address: Roppongi Hills Mori Tower 52F, 6-10-1 Roppongi, Minato
Website: Sailor Moon Exhibition

Chibiusa Café: Roppongi Hills Mori Tower 52F
Hours: 11am – 10pm (L.O. Food 9pm, Drink 9:30pm)
Website: Chibiusa Café

Access:
Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line “Roppongi Station”, Exit 1C
Toei subway Oedo Line “Roppongi Station”, Exit 3, 4min walk
Tokyo Metro Nanboku Line “Azabu Juban” Station, Exit 4, 8min walk
Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line “Nogizaka” Station, Exit 5, 10min walk

Ninja ID: nene16


WATTENTION WRITER PROFILE

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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

Birthplace of the Mibu Wolves

In central Kyoto is a small temple called Mibu Dera with a somewhat special link to Nishi-Honganji. During the late 19th century both places housed, for a short time, the now famous special police force of Kyoto, the Shinsengumi. Many people come to see the special Mibu Kyogen (comedy plays), designated as one of the National Important Intangible Folk Cultural Properties. They attract a big audience during Golden Week, Setsubun and a special weekend in October. But the real majority comes to visit the birth-and final resting place of this band of samurai.

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Mibu Dera

According to the stories, Mibu Dera Temple was established by the order of Emperor Shomu(r. 724-749) but the actual founder was Kaieken, a monk of another temple in the Mibu district in 991. This makes Mibu Dera one of the oldest temples in Kyoto. The entire temple was destroyed by fire in 1788 and while rebuilding they turned the stage for the Mibu Kyogen performances into separate structure.

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The Shinsengumi

People often call the Shinsengumi a group of samurais, but in actuality most of its members were not part of the samurai class. During Edo period Japan you were either born a samurai or earned this status through vigorous efforts. After coming from Edo(now Tokyo) the Shinsengumi settled in Mibu to protect Kyoto, which was the capital of Japan at the time. They did this on a voluntary basis to serve the Shogun, then ruler of Japan, who they revered. This seems noble, but most inhabitants of Kyoto can only remember the Shinsengumi as a violent troupe, causing trouble wherever they went. Due to this behaviour they earned the nickname “Wolves of Mibu”. In modern Japan the Shinsengumi is heavily romanticized in novels, manga and Tv-series because of their loyalty to the way of the samurai and an old system that was facing extinction due to a forced Western influence.

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On the temple grounds there is a small garden area with a commemorative stone and plaque, honoring the members of the Shinsengumi. In this same area is a bust of their commander Kondo Isami, who was beheaded on suspicion of assassinating Sakamoto Ryouma, an important Japanese reformer who changed Japan’s government to a more Western model. In reality, they still don’t know who was actually responsible for the murder.

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Fans leave beautifully decorated plaques near the graves of the Shinsengumi

Yagi-Kei

Right next door of Mibu Dera is the old house of the Yagi family. This is where the Shinsengumi’s core members met and made plans. The entrance to the house has a white and blue banner. This was the color of the Shinsengumi’s uniform and it was considered very flashy during their time period. The kanji on their signature red banner flag is the same as on the back of their haori (kimono jacket), 誠 (makoto), which is short for 誠忠 (seichuu) meaning “loyalty”.

Unfortunately you are not allowed to take photos inside the house but it is a very interesting visit. Inside, the guide will show you katana marks on the ceiling and wooden beams from real sword fights by the Shinsengumi. You will also get a brief history of the group with details as to what rooms they used in the house.

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Whether you are already familiar with the Shinsengumi or not, the guide gives an amazing tour and it is the perfect opportunity to learn more about Kyoto during the time of the last samurais.

Information

Access: A 8-min walk from Hankyu Omiya Station and Shin Omiya Station (you will see signboards when leaving the station).
Hours: 8:30am-4:30pm
Mibu-dera Admission: Free
Yagi-Kei Admission: 1,000 yen including a cup of matcha and a traditional Japanese sweet.

Mythical Creature – Kitsune

 

In the Japanese language kitsune can mean both a regular fox, divine fox or demon fox. They can be found all over Japan and their history goes back to the beginning of Japan itself. But what is a Kitsune and how do you know if you are dealing with a good or a bad Kitsune.

 

Basic Kitsune abilities

Kitsune are shapeshifters, the older a Kitsune gets the more its abilities increase. It is said that when a Kitsune turns 100 years old it can turn into a human. Kitsune can be either male or female, and usually take the form of young Japanese girls, beautiful women and older men. One of the Kitsune’s most well-known abilities is Kitsune-bi (狐火) or fox-fire. This is a red flame produced by a Kitsune by either breathing or wagging its tail. They use this light to guide humans to a location of their choosing.

Kitsune can have as many as nine tails, When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold. To kill a Kitsune, you have to cut off all its tails.283442

Good Foxes (zenko 善狐)

These are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with the god Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes. Even if they do not have nine tails they are always depicted as being white of color. Inari Foxes are said to be particularly fond of fried sliced tofu called aburage. 

These foxes have the power to ward off evil and they sometimes serve as guardian spirits. Besides protecting Inari shrines, they also protect the local villages from the evil Kitsune.fox1

Evil Foxes (nogitsune 野狐)

These foxes are also part of the Youkai category, the demons of Japan. There are stories about Kitsune tricking people from all manners of life. They target the bad traits of men such as pride, greed and vanity. For their own entertainment they are able to bring down even the most devout priest. They rarely attack women but prefer to posses them instead. Then, using their fox fire, they lure unsuspecting men to their doom.

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Kitsune Romance

Not every non-divine Kitsune is a trickster. There are many stories of Kitsune falling in love with a human man and choosing to live out their lives in the human world. Most of the stories follow the same pattern: a young man falls in love with a beautiful fox lady and they marry, unknowing about the fox’s real identity. She proves to be a very loyal and good wife. But once the man discovers (mostly by accident) that his wife is a fox, she must flee in order to not be killed by the villagers. The most famous fox wife is Kuzunoha, the mother of strong magic user Abe no Seimei. When fox wives bear children, they receive a part of their mother’s supernatural abilities.208685

When rain is falling on a clear sky Japanese people say two Kitsune are getting married. This is considered to be a good omen.

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How to get rid of a Kitsune

Maybe the idea of having a Kitsune near you is not appealing at all or someone you know is possessed by a Kitsune. Here is a handy step-by-step guide to recognize and expell a Kitsune.

  • Check if your friend’s facial features resemble those of a fox. Are the eyes a different color or do they have whiskers?
  • Try to find the fox tail, if you find it the Kitsune wil be embarrassed and run away.
  • Take the person to a dog. Kitsune hate dogs and when they see one they will flee on sight.

If none of these steps seem to work, bring your friend to your local Inari shrine and they will take care of it. Unfortunately there are no tips to attract a Kitsune in case you wanted a devoted Kitsune wife. Maybe try leaving some fried tofu on your doorstep.

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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

Come on over to Komatsu (1) : The City of Kabuki

Believe it or not, Komatsu is a Kabuki City. But why? You might ask this question because when people think about attending a Kabuki play they think about the extravagant theaters in Tokyo and Kyoto. But Komatsu in Ishikawa prefecture has more Kabuki than you might expect.

Komatsu City is a castle town founded by Maeda Toshitsune, third lord of the Kaga clan. Toshitsune was knowledgeable about the arts such as the traditional tea ceremony and at the same time protected and promoted the industry. This made Komatsu flourish, both culturally and economically. A lot of this cultural knowledge was invested in children’s Kabuki plays that are still performed every year.

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Another very important reason is that Komatsu is the location of Japan’s most famous Kabuki scene from the beloved Kabuki play:Kanjincho. This treasured story is about two warriors, Yoshitsune and Benkei. Even though they are seen as legends now, these two people are actual historical figures who existed.

Yoshitsune was a fierce warrior trained by Tengu and Benkei was a warrior monk, said to have been the size of an ogre with equal strength. They became friends and traveled together.

Yoshitsune’s half-brother Yoritomo, who would become the first Shogun of Japan, started chasing the pair out of fear that Yoshitsune might take away his favorable position. Yoshitsune and Benkei disguised themselves as Buddhist monks and headed for the Ataka no Seki checkpoint, where they would be safe after making it through. Togashi, who was the head of the checkpoint did not believe they were monks and asked them to read from their donation scroll. Quick-witted Benkei started reading from a blank scroll and was able to fool Togashi into believing he had a real donation list. After all, Benkei was a real monk and could easily make up the names. But Togashi came closer and saw the blank list, and the truth was revealed. Luckily, he still praised Benkei’s smarts and let them pass.

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Ataka Barrier Ruin facing the Sea of Japan is the setting of this famous Kabuki scene and has statues of Yoshitsune, Benkei and Togashi. Standing in front of these figures really takes you back to the time when this scene actually took place.

The original weapons used by Benkei are kept in the shrine near Ataka, just a short walk from the statues.

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Everywhere in Komatsu you can find traces of Benkei and Togashi.

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Every year in May children perform Kabuki during the Otabi festival. Eight towns have special floats that look like mini-Kabuki stages. The children are in full makeup and are said to perform brilliantly.

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So when you’re in Komatsu, why not try to catch a children’s Kabuki play or visit the local museum about the famous Kabuki play “Kanjincho”.

Read Also:
Come on over to Komatsu (2) : The Forest of Wisdom
Come on over to Komatsu (3) : Craft Theme Park
Come on over to Komatsu (4) : Natadera, the temple in touch with Nature
Come on over to Komatsu (5) : 1300 year old Ryokan – Houshi
Come on over to Komatsu (6) : Rojo Park
Come on over to Komatsu (7) : The 7 wonders of Komatsu

UNESCO world heritage : Nishi-Honganji

Kyoto has many temples and shrines that are famous in Japan and all over the world. But there are many interesting temples that do not appear on the classic tourist routes because they are out of the way of the classic areas you would visit. One of these temples is Nishi-Honganji, the headquarters of one of the biggest Buddhist sects in Japan and a recognized UNESCO world heritage site.

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What makes this site so impressive is not only the size of the buildings but that it is the head temple of the Honganji faction of the Jodo-Shinshu sect. The name Honganji is a collective name for Shin Buddhism, the most widely practiced form of Buddhism in Japan with about 20% of the population identifying as active members. This temple has about 10,000 subtemples across Japan and 200 overseas temples.

The temple was built in 1591 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, after the sect’s former head temple in Osaka had been destroyed by Oda Nobunaga due to the temple’s interference in politics. In 1602, in order to diminish the power of the Jodo-Shinshu, Tokugawa Ieyasu split the main Honganji in Kyoto into two temples, Nishi Hongan-ji and Higashi Hongan-ji. 

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Nishi Honganji’s has two large structures, the Goeido Hall dedicated to the sect’s founder Shinran and the Amidado Hall dedicated to the Amida Buddha. Amida is the most important Buddha in Jodo-Shin Buddhism. The halls of the temple are beautifully decorated and there are even regular services in the temple. If you’re lucky, you can even sit in on one and get a unique Japanese experience.

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In 1865 Nishi-Honganji was also home to the special police force of Kyoto, the Shinsengumi. It did not please the priests at all that this violent group of samurai intimidated them and took up lodgings in the temple. While walking on the temple grounds you can imagine this spacious area being used for sword fighting practice.

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The temple grounds are free to enter for everyone and it is a nice place to relax and think about what you are going to visit next in Kyoto. The wooden structure is so beautiful and the high ceiling makes you feel all the more smaller. There couldn’t be a better place to properly meditate than here.

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Access

Free to enter, open every day

The Honganji temples are located a 10-15 minute walk north of Kyoto Station.

Hours:  5:30 to 17:30 (March, April, September, October)/ 15:30 to 18:00 May to August) / 15:30 to 17:00 (November to February)

 

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

Top 6 Must Try Unique Japanese Breads

Japan’s food culture might be best known for rice and noodles, but did you know that bread, or pan was already common in the early years of the Meiji era (1868 – 1912) ? So widespread is the love for bread, that even noodles are used as a filling for buns!
While first introduced by the Portuguese in the 16th century, bread did not become mainstream in Japan until the 19th century. Throughout the last 100 years, Japanese bread has evolved in its own way, with a great amount of unique types of buns and sandwiches that will surprise if you thought that Japanese food is only about sushi, tempura and ramen. Especially kashipan, or sweet buns, have truly become a distinct genre and could be considered by some as the best thing since, well, sliced bread!

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Here are 6 buns and sandwiches you won’t see back home (except at a Japanese bakery)!

1. Anpan
Anko, or red bean paste was already used in Japanese confectionery long before bread became mainstream. It is therefore no surprise that Japan’s first sweet bun was anpan, introduced by bakery Kimuraya in 1874. This is still a favorite among the locals.
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2. Melon Pan
Melon pan is a sweet bun made with a crispy cookie dough. Despite its name, it’s not melon flavored. It’s not certain why this bun is called a melon pan, but its similar appearance is pretty suspicious!
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3. Yakisoba Pan
Fried noodles in a hot-dog bun might sound weird to most cultures, but in Japan this is a classic. In the fifties, bakery Nozawaya sold hot-dog buns and yakisoba noodles separately until one of their customers asked to put the noodles inside the bun. The combination became an instant hit.
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4. Curry Pan
Curry pan was invented in the early 20th century as a combination between the two most popular western foods in Japan at the time, curry and fried pork cutlets. Curry is wrapped in a dough coated in bread crumbs, which is then deep fried like pork cutlets instead of being baked.
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5. Cornet
Cornet is a horn shaped bread with a hole in the middle which is filled mostly with custard cream or chocolate. The filling is only added after the Cornet is baked, which keeps the filling fresh.
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6. Katsu sandwich
Tonkatsu, or fried pork cutlets as a sandwich! In the thirties, Tonkatsu restaurant Isen came with the idea of putting their tonkatsu in sandwiches to prevent Geisha from getting their mouth dirty with crumbs or sauce.
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Meisen – The Funky Kimono

The “Meisen” style silk kimono was the most popular garment during the 1920’s and 1930’s when people still wore kimono daily. It is very different from all the other kimonos which always had a “classy” feel to them. Meisen kimonos were worn as every day wear at home and to do daily tasks. The main characteristic of Meisen is its pattern, made by pre-dyed threads. As the fabric is woven the surface decoration appears as a shimmering, soft-edged pattern. Because of the events such as World War I and the Kanto earthquake of 1923 the price of silk fell heavily and the production and popularity of meisen kimono was at its height. Meisen kimono were affordable, durable, smart attire for everyday wear. Their crazy patterns are very similar to current modern art paintings.

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Chichibu Meisen

In Chichibu city, Saitama prefecture, there is a special type of Meisen weaving called Chichibu Meisen. This technique involves first weaving the main color and then loosening the fabric to weave the pattern on top. They even have a museum dedicated to the craft where you can try your hands at this special weaving technique (http://www.meisenkan.com/). Because the fabric has same patterns and same looks on both sides, it can be turned inside out when one side becomes dirty.

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Wattention staff had the chance to try on real Meisen haori (kimono jacket) from the collection of Kimura Kazue, a cheery lady living in Chichibu city. Parts of her collection have been on display around the world and she has appeared in some kimono magazines. If you want to learn more about kimono and all the rules involved, Wattention has a handy five-part starter’s guide to kimono.

Access to Chichibu Station from Tokyo

80 minutes from Ikebukuro station with the Limited Express train to Chichibu station.

 

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

Benibana – Japanese Safflower

The Benibana is grown in Yamagata prefecture in Japan and this little flower can do more than you would think. The inhabitants used the flower’s potential to turn Yamagata prefecture into an important place for luxury goods. Back in the old days the flower was mainly used as dye but now they also turn it into food products. Geisha from Kyoto would paint their lips with Benibana and rich nobles wore kimono dyed with the flower.

With the development of synthetic dyes during the Meiji period the demand for Benibana declined and the industry became much smaller. However, the flower still grows in Yamagata prefecture and the traditional process of turning these flowers into beautiful dye is very interesting.

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How to use Benibana

The safflower is an annual (sometimes biennual) plant. They bloom during the summer and are a beautiful shade of yellow and red. After gathering all the flowers, they are locally processed into a pulpy state called Benibana mochi. From this product the treasured dye can be extracted. Benibana actually contains only 1% of red while the other 99% is yellow. To get the red from the Benimochi, you must boil it so that all the yellow parts can be removed. This Benimochi was also easier to transport than a finished product and it gave the buyer more freedom in what color to use.

The Benimochi was transported by land or shipped by river boat down the Mogami River to the port of Sakata near the Japanese sea. From here it was shipped to Kyoto where it was used in Nishijin textile making and the manufacturing of lipstick and cosmetics. The red part of the flower was the most valued color, so it comes to no surprise that with only 1% of it in the flower it was the most expensive. Today, rouge to paint only your lower lip in a flower shape would cost you 500 yen and a full lips cost about 2,000 yen. It was also possible to get a pink color from the Benimochi. In Heian period, a roll cloth of a deeper red dyeing was said to be equal to a residence of noble men. This tells us that clothes dyed with Benibana were priceless in the old days.

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photos from Marugotokan Beni No Kura

The ship you can see clearest on the picture bears the marking of an old Benibana store that still exists today. This shop is called Marugotokan Beni No Kura and now helps to promote the local products of Yamagata all over Japan. When the Marutani Hasegawa family still runned the shop as a Benibana storehouse it was the commercial hub for Yamagata-city.

Benibana & Hanagasa Matsuri

The Benibana Matsuri takes place in June or July, depending on the harvest of the Benibana. The collected flowers are processed during demonstrations and Benibana cuisine is served to visitors. Beautiful floats are paraded through the city of Yamagata. Try your hand at lip cream making or fabric dyeing with Benibana.

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The Yamagata Hanagasa Matsuri attracts more than 1 million spectators over three days in August and is now considered one of the major festivals of the Tohoku area in Japan. Dancers wearing the same outfit per group and holding hanagasa hats adorned with Yamagata Prefecture’s unique safflowers parade through the main street of Yamagata City. A total of 10,000 dancers participate in this dance every year. The parade is led by gorgeously decorated festival floats. The dancers shout ‘Yassho! Makkasho!’, this not only heightens the festival mood but it is also a phrase from a traditional Yamagata folk song.

The dancing has gradually changed over the years. In the past, dancers would mostly perform synchronized dance moves but today dance performances come in a wide variety, like twirling the hanagasa hats and other creative performances.

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Benibana today

The Benibana flowers serves as the symbol of Yamagata and is an important part of the prefecture’s culture. Students graduating from Elementary and Middle School make paper Benibana and wear them during the graduation ceremony. The dye is still used to make beautiful yellow, pink and red and now the locals even make soumen from the young leaves of the flower. Yamagata truly knows how to use the flower to its full potential, just like their ancestors before them.

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Local mascot Beni-chan
Local mascot Beni-chan

Yamagata Benibana Festival

Address: Shimo-Higashiyama 1360, Yamagata (Yamagata Takase Community Center)
Date: Mid July, 2016
Access: A 20-min walk from Takase Station (JR Senzan Line)

The White Heron Dance

In Japan, the white heron is seen as a special bird because it can move between three elements: air, earth, and water. The bird can also be seen as a sign of good luck and a bringer of good harvest.

Shirasagi-no Mai, which translates to “White Heron Dance,” is an ancient Japanese dance that almost died until its resurrection in November 1968 by the Asakusa Tourist Federation. They did this to celebrate Tokyo’s 100th year anniversary as the capital of Japan. (The previous capital being Kyoto.) The dancers make slow, graceful movements that reproduce the elegance of Heian manners (late 8th to 12th century Japan).

Shirasagi-no Mai is performed twice annually at Senso-ji, in Asakusa, on the 2nd Sunday of April and on November 3rd. The dance is usually performed twice. Once around 10:30am and a second time around 2pm.

The procession is made up of six dancers dressed as white herons, one baton twirler, one bird feeder, and one parasol carrier.


The dance starts really slow with short and strong movements. The music describes the movements and the dancer’s timing is impeccable, it is not difficult to imagine them as birds. During the dance, the bird feeder moves around and throws confetti at the dancers.

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After the dance. The audience hurries to the confetti to pick them up as good luck charms. Then the procession starts again and leaves the stage.

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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

New Year’s Day celebrations in Japan

After the New Year’s Eve celebrations, it’s the real deal. Japanese people go back to their family home during the holidays and spend time together eating and talking.

Enjoying company and food

You could say that New Year’s in Japan is like Christmas in Western countries. Most important is to get together with your family and enjoy a nice meal together.

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After returning from your first shrine visit people usually read their nengajo, New Year’s cards. If you are with family you get together to share your Osechi, New Year’s lunch box. If you are with friends or on your own you usually share a meal as well. Even if you don’t have a fancy osechi box, almost everyone eats ozoni. This is a soup with mochi and the preparation varies from every region and every family. Try this recipe to make your own ozoni.

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During the first seven days of the new year, there is a “cooking ban”. Traditionally this is to appease the fire god Kohji. This god would get upset if you made fire early in the year and cause natural disasters. Over time this became more of a “rest period” for housewives who worked so hard in preparation for the new year.

Gifts

Besides beautiful nengajo, delicious food and family reunions there are also gifts to be given. If you’re 22 years or younger you’re in luck, you get an otoshidama! This is money in a fancy envelope given by your parents and grandparents. The amount depends on the generosity of your family…and probably also if you’ve been a good kid the past year.

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For adults who no longer receive otoshidama there are fukubukuro. These lucky bags contain secret items worth at least twice the price of what you paid. Every shop makes a limited amount of fukubukuro so people often line up well in advance to get a deal at their favorite shop. If you’re lucky bag hunting, here’s a handy guide. During the fukubukuro period (1st – 2nd of January) you can also find winter sales in many shops. So try your New Year’s luck!

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 16 Takadanobaba Game Center Mikado: Tokyo’s Empire of Retro Video Games

[WAttention X FIELDS Research Institute] 
Explore the fascinating world of Japan’s subcultures with insights from the inside

Insert coin to relive childhood

outrunDue to its unassuming façade, Mikado could easily go unnoticed by even a seasoned gamer. This video game arcade, or ge-sen (an abbreviation of game center) in Japanese, is located not in the otaku heaven of Akihabara, but tucked on a small street of Takadanobaba, a student quarter in Shinjuku Ward along the Yamanote Line. Tourists won’t likely visit the area without a special reason, but for gamers there is plenty of reason as Mikado will be like a tour through their childhood.

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During the eighties and nineties, video game arcades were stuff of the future, but now with the advent of advanced home consoles they have become a phenomenon of the past. Outside of Japan, they are pretty much extinct, and even the ge-sen here are becoming an endangered species. The few major ones that are left, owe their life not to fighting and shooting games, but to the UFO catchers and purikura booths that attract families and couples.

“When I was young, video game arcades were dark, smoky halls where young guys would hang out after school to play the newest video games. Now, games are played on smartphone devices and arcades have become family entertainment” says Mikado owner Minoru Ikeda with a sad smile on his face.

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A quick look around at the two-story Mikado, which probably has the most CRT screens put together in one space in Tokyo, makes it easy to understand that it is a recreation of the video game arcades Ikeda remembers from his childhood. From SEGA’s 1985 classic shooting game Space Harrier to Capcom’s legendary fighter Street Fighter II that still has a following more than 20 years after its release, Mikado is like a museum that showcases the golden days of Japanese video games. With a total of more than 200 machines, even games that were quickly forgotten after their original release finally get their well-deserved lot here at Mikado.

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It is not just the nostalgia that brings gamers to Mikado. For many now forgotten games, Mikado is the only place where competitive players can still find a good opponent, which is why so many players from all over the world make their pilgrimage to this holy ground of vintage video games. The special events and tournaments held on daily basis keep things active, and make this recreation of an old-style video game arcade one that not only has the games of the good old days, but also captures the lively energy and tension that was present in video game arcades back then.

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“My next dream is to develop an original game for Mikado. By making it only playable here, it could become a new reason for people to visit.”

Ikeda’s plan would indeed make for an interesting type of exclusivity. Ideas like this add a layer of personality to Mikado that make it a very special place.
A visit will make you recall the fun and adrenalin rush of jostling elbows with your opponent seated next to you, rather than some faceless online game user on some other part of the planet.
Game Center Takadanobaba Mikado

Address: Takadanobaba 4-5-10, Shinjuku, Tokyo
Access: 1-min walk from Takadanobaba Station (JR Yamanote Line, Tozai Line, Seibu Shinjuku Line
Hours: 10am – 12am
URL: http://mi-ka-do.net/baba/ (Japanese)

This article was written with the assistance of Fields Research Institute, which conducts research in entertainment.

Geisha: Not only in Kyoto

When you think of Japanese Geisha, you probably think of Kyoto and the Gion district.  This is indeed the most famous place to find Geisha, but it is not the only one in Japan. These beautiful ambassadors of the traditional Japanese arts are very reclusive, but sometimes you are able to get a glimp of them. That is, if you know where to find them.

Let me introduce you to some Geisha districts outside of Kyoto.

Tokyo

The old capital of Kyoto has its fair share of geisha, but Tokyo also has a few famous Hanamachi, or Geisha districts. The most well known of these is Asakusa. With its Edo-period flair it is the oldest district still standing in Tokyo after frequent bombings during World War II. The street you have to look out for is Kannonura street, this is where all the Geisha tea houses are located. Just follow the street leading to the back of Senso-Ji temple. The best time to see a Geisha is between 6pm and 8pm when they leave for work to attend banquets.

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Maiko, Geisha in training, at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo

Yamagata

Just like Geisha in Kyoto have a different name (Geiko), Geisha from Yamagata are called “Geigi”. There used to be about 150 Geigi from the Taisho period towards the early Showa period. Today there are approximately a little over 10 Geigi working in Yamagata. During the Edo period, safflower from Yamagata was highyl valued and it was used to make lipstick or dye clothes. This turned Yamagata city into an area for culture and luxury goods.

Maiko service is available at restaurants or hotels in Yamagata city including Zao hot springs. You can meet Yamagata Maikos at events such as Kajou Kan-ou-kai (a cherry blossom viewing held at former Ka Castle) in April, Hanagasa Parade Festival in August, and Kaminoyama Float Parade in September.

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Maiko at Ka Castle

Niigata

The Furumachi district of Niigata is considered one of the three most prestigious areas in Japan for Geisha or Geigi, as they are called here. The tradition of Furumachi Geigi was born in the Edo period, when Niigata was the most frequented port near the Sea of Japan. Since Niigata was Japan’s top rice producer, many merchants came to the city. The Furumachi Hanamachi helped welcome  visitors, and it is said that at their peak, there were over 300 active Geisha in Niigata.

Geigi on their way to work

Kanazawa

Kanazawa is the capital of Ishikawa Prefecture. The Hanamachis here are called Higashi Chaya and Nishi Chaya, and they still look like they came right out of the 19th century. In these districts there are still regular Geisha performances and they are more accessible and affordable than the evenings in Kyoto. However, this does not mean that the Geisha are any less professional than their Kyoto counterparts. Kanazawa is actually considered to be the second biggest Geisha area next to Kyoto. A must visit in Higashi Chaya is the special teahouse with a room completely covered in gold leaf paper.

If you are interested in watching a Geisha performance in Kanazawa, you can book a seat on this website.

Kanazawa

 

Osaka

The Hanamachi of Osaka is called Shinmachi. In the old days there were more active Hanamachi in Osaka but currently there is only one. Many of Japan’s famous comedians come from Osaka, so it’s no surprise that the Geisha (or Geiko, as they are called) of Osaka have some special tricks up their sleeves.  The Herahera Odori is an acrobatic dance unique to the Geiko of Osaka and features acrobatic stunts such as handstands. You can still see these dances being performed at some Osaka festivals.

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Shizuoka

Shimoda city in Shizuoka prefecture used to have about 200 active Geisha less than 40 years ago. Now they are facing extinction with only five active Geisha left. In order to stop this decline, Shizuoka prefecture has decided to sponsor students willing to become Geisha and give the active Geisha a government pay. For Shizuoka and Shimoda city Geisha are an important cultural heritage and a symbol of the traditional arts of Japan. But they also hope that the new Geisha will draw more tourists to the city.

Another city in Shizuoka prefecture with Geisha is Atami. Well known as an Onsen town, it also has its own set of Geisha. The ladies working here were called “Onsen Geisha” and were seen as less classy by the Geisha from Kyoto. They are trained in the same arts as the high class Geisha but they serve less exclusive patrons and are cheaper to book for an evening.

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If you would like to know more about Geisha districts, be sure to read our article by the Australian geisha Sayuki. She will tell you more about Geisha makeup and Geisha games. And if you are interested in becoming a Geisha yourself, Sayuki accepts trainees from all over the world, as long as they have perfect Japanese and are willing to stay in Japan for a long time.

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

Ohara Museum

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The Ohara Museum of Art in Kurashiki City, Okayama Prefecture, was the very first museum in Japan that exhibited Western and modern art. It is a private museum founded by Ohara Magosaburo to commemorate Kojima Torajiro. Kojima was a talented western-style painter who dreamed to open a museum and to support young artists in Japan. Ohara became his patron and sponsored him to study in Europe. He collected art works for the museum from all over Europe, including the masterpieces of El Greco, Monet, Matisse, Cezanne, Gauguin, and Renoir, which are displayed in the Main Gallery of the Museum.

Kojima focused on the essence of art and he had a spirit typical of Meiji Era, struggling for a supreme ideology between western art and Japanese aesthetic sense. Kojima’s works can be seen in the Torajiro Kojima Memorial Hall. Other extended sections of the Ohara Museum are: the Annex, the Craft Art Gallery and the Asian Art Gallery. The Museum also organizes regular events including Art Lectures and Gallery Concerts by world-class artists and musicians.

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Traditional Rice Harvesting in Japan

Rice is a staple in Japan and has been cultivated for more than 3,000 years. In the Edo, period rice yields were a measurement of a lord’s wealth and when asked about your income you would usually say the amount of rice you receive each year.

To create quality rice, farmers first have to create quality soil. This process begins when the Sakura start blooming and ends when the soil is deemed ready. The rice is then planted and will be ready to harvest depending on the region. I visited a traditional rice farming area in Hyogo Prefecture called Kami-Cho. It has a terraced rice field that belongs to one of the top 100 most beautiful rice fields of Japan. The harvest for this particular rice field starts in early September.

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Before the rice can be harvested, the water has to be drained from the fields. The rice paddies stay very muddy so wearing boots is a must. There are two ways to harvest the rice; traditional by hand or using a machine. Some paddies are too small for the machine so they are always harvested by hand using a sickle. Before you cut the rice, the water has to be removed from the grains so the rice can dry more easily. This is done by “brushing” a stick over the rice. But be careful! If you do this too rough, the rice can fall from the plants and you will have less to harvest.

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In the end, your ricefield should look like this
In the end, your ricefield should look like this
Removing the water
Removing the water
Cutting the rice in bundles
Cutting the rice in bundles

The rice is then tightly bound using a piece of rope or a strong dried long leaf of the rice bundle. The bundles are then placed rice down so the remaining water can drip off onto the ground.

In the end, your ricefield should look like this
In the end, your rice field should look like this.

There are two ways to dry the rice. One is to run the rice through a drying machine and the other is to gradually let it dry in the sun. The second method has been proven to make the rice taste much better, but it’s a very risky procedure because it depends on the weather. If there are long periods with lots of rain, the drying process is affected. A drying machine is expensive, so many small rice farmers have no other option than to dry it the traditional way or to buy the expensive drying machine as a community.

To dry the rice, teamwork is needed. To reach the highest tier of the rice-drying rack one person has to climb up a ladder while the other person throws the bundles of rice. All bundles are hung upside down and then the sun will do its work.

The time it takes for the rice to dry depends on the type of rice and the farmer’s preference. But usually the rice stays on the drying racks longer than one week.

Traditional rice harvesting is really hard work, but it pays off to taste the rice your farmed yourself. Rice farmers are always looking for help, so why not volunteer the next time you see a rice field during Fall?

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

Japanese School lunch

April marks the beginning of the school year. New students with fresh uniforms head off to school with excitement and a little bit of nervousness on their faces. Seeing them reminds me of my school days and fond memories from the past: endless talks with my friends, exciting school trips, club activities, and last but not least, the school lunch.

Typical lunch meal includes, main dish, salad, soup, rice or bread, fruit, and milk.
Typical lunch meal includes, main dish, salad, soup, rice or bread, fruit, and milk.

For those who are not familiar with the Japanese school lunch program, here is a brief history and a quick rundown of what it entails.

In order to meet the increasing needs of growing children many of whom weren’t able to get nutritious meals at home, the Japanese school lunch program started more than 100 years ago. At the beginning, it was just a simple meal such as a couple of rice balls and pickled vegetables or soup. The services were limited to certain regions and were only available for impoverished or malnutrition children. Gradually, the idea of feeding children healthy and nutritious meals gained a support from the Ministry of Education, and so the School Lunch Law was enacted in 1954 and the school lunch service became its nationwide program.

Nowadays, the school lunch is a very important part of the school curriculum where they teach healthy eating habit, nutritious values, and food production and distribution (a.k.a. Shokuiku).

Each primary school has a nutritionist who decides what goes on the menu. Each meal is well balanced and proportioned. In fact, I receive a monthly menu from my daughter’s school which lists not only the meals, but also the ingredients and calorie intake (some schools list where they get the ingredients from).

A detailed menu listing for April. The ingredients are categorized by food groups.
A detailed menu listing for April. The ingredients are categorized by food groups.

Many times, meals are prepared at school and delivered to each class in pots and trays. One of the major differences between a Japanese school lunch and a Western one is that the students serve their own meals.

A group of students who are in charge of serving (they take turn), wear white caps, aprons and masks.
A group of students who are in charge of serving (they take turn), wear white caps, aprons and masks.

Once everybody has their own meal, they sit down and eat with their classmates. Even the teacher eats the same meal as the students. Sharing a meal definitely nurtures the bond between students and teachers and is a key part in building close relationships. You gain insight into other people’s personal lives: food preferences, favorite subjects, family matters, and secret crushes. For me, school lunches were always full of laughter, smiles and happy bellies.

Rules for eating school lunch: wear a hat, apron and mask when serving, wash your hands before, show gratitude for those who prepared the meal, don’t be picky, don’t eat one thing at a time, put back the empty plates and trays nicely.
Rules for eating school lunch: wear a hat, apron and mask when serving, wash your hands before, show gratitude for those who prepared the meal, don’t be picky, don’t eat one thing at a time, put back the empty plates and trays nicely.

People tend to remember the good old school days by their triumphant moments: winning a sports championship, passing exams, going to the prom or even their graduation ceremony. But I remember them by everyday, mundane, yet very special school lunches. Memories of eating my favorite school lunch (it’s a toss-up between curry rice and deep fried bread) in the classroom will remain in my heart for a long, long time.

I hope those new students find joy in their school lives. If not, well, at least a hot nutritious meal is waiting for them at lunch time.

The Myth of Tomorrow

This huge mural hangs at Shibuya station. Named “The Myth of Tomorrow”, it is made by the Japanese artist Taro Okamoto. It was painted in the late 1960’s in Mexico, but unveiled in Shibuya Station in 2008. The painting represents the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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The controversial Japanese art group Chim|Pom added a small painted piece about nuclear destruction eight weeks after the Great Tohoku Earthquake. It has now been removed and did no damage to the painting.

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Swashbuckling Samurai & Ninja Fun At Asakusa

Ninjas and samurai warriors show their fighting spirit!

Want to experience all the classic highlights of Japanese culture and history but only have around an hour to spare?

Then the Samurai & Ninja Show at the historical area of Asakusa is for you. This action-packed, interactive live show in English and Japanese has everything from samurai battles, ninja tricks, taiko drumming, geisha games and even soba making! You can also try on samurai armor or ninja outfits after the show.

activities

However, as the main stars – the Nagoya Omotenashi Bushotai (a popular samurai performing troupe made up of 6 army generals and 4 foot soldiers) – are usually based in Nagoya Castle and have a very busy schedule (and growing fan base!), the performance at Asakusa is only seasonal. WAttention caught the swashbuckling fun at its spring performance held over 3 days at the end of March and was bowled over by the realistic fighting sequences and hands-on fun.

Epic swordfight

Historical battles starting from the Warring States era leading into the Edo era are stylistically re-enacted, so you will see prominent 16th-century warlords Nobunaga Oda, Hideyoshi Toyotomi and Ieyasu Tokugawa taking to stage, with the actor playing Tokugawa providing most of the English lines.

Each section of the performance allows for audience participation and our Belgian intern, Ilse, tried her hand at slicing through a samurai with a katana (Japanese sword).

Get on stage and slice your foe

If you are the shy type, however, don’t worry as after the main show ends, there is a 30-minute hands-on session where you can try out the various activities at different stations set up on and around the stage.

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I would say this show is a foreigner- and family-friendly introduction to Japanese culture – even some Japanese were spotted in the audience trying their hands at the shuriken (ninja star) throwing – and well-worth the time and money. After all, it would cost more than 3,000 yen to go all the way to Nagoya to catch this strapping samurai troop!

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Watch out for their next Tokyo performance at the following websites:

http://www.samurai-ninja-show.com/
http://busho-tai.jp/schedule/ (Japanese)

What’s Up With Wabi Sabi?

In pursuit of Japanese Imperfection

Not to be confused with the tear-inducing Japanese mustard wasabi, wabi sabi is a Japanese term that encompasses a profound concept of beauty in imperfection. That doesn’t mean, though, that everything imperfect is beautiful. Simply explained, the imperfection has to reflect the transience of life, futility of mankind and suffering that comes with existence. In other words, a tear-inducing nature of a more poignant kind.

Wabi sabi stems from the Buddhist concept of impermanence, suffering and emptiness, and is evident in all aspects of Japanese aesthetics, from the tea ceremony to temples, art and architecture.

A famous example is the Kinkakuji (Golden Temple) and Ginkakuji (Silver Temple) in Kyoto. While the Kinkakuji is glorious in gold, the Ginkakuji is a subdued in hues of white and dark brown – a stark contrast to its glittering golden counterpart and resembling nothing like its name suggests. Both structures were originally built to serve as a place of peaceful retreat for the ruling shogun. It is said that Ashikaga Yoshimasa, the shogun for whom it was built, was deeply interested in Sado (or the Japanese Tea Ceremony) and Zen Buddhism and had no plans for the Kinkakuji to be plastered with silver leaves – unlike his grandfather, Ashikaga Yoshimitsu, who commissioned the Ginkakuji.

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The Kinkakuji, resplendent in gold, vs the Ginkakuji, subdued and dark brown.

The Kinkakuji is often cited as an example of wabi sabi in architecture, and in fact, people who subscribe to the belief of wabi sabi are likely to prefer to the understated elegance of the Kinkakuji to the grandiose Ginkakuji.

For something to be wabi sabi, it must evoke in the viewer a sense of sadness, loneliness, haplessness, regret etc. in response to the recognition of something looking decrepit, incomplete, forsaken or in a state of decline.

sakura

A good seasonal example would be the sakura. These beautiful delicate pink blossoms, said to represent the spirit of Japan, are a fine example of wabi sabi. While breathtakingly beautiful in full bloom, this prime period is extremely short-lived and a few gusts of spring winds can easily leave a tree bare by the end of the day. Yet, part of what makes the sakura special and so precious to the Japanese is its transience. The life of samurai in the past was likened to that of the sakura – to live and die in honor and glory, to value a life led to the full, brief as it may be. The carpet of scattered heart-shaped petals of the sakura on the roadsides or pathways was said to resemble the bodies of samurai who had given their lives in battle.

In fact, closely-linked to the life of the samurai is the tea ceremony, where people from all walks of life would gather in the same hut for a cup of tea. Sado is steeped in wabi sabi, from the plain and bare appearance of the tea hut, to the tea ceremony pottery, which always bears a mark of imperfection – such as a chip on the bottom or a bump on the side – and this is a crucial part of the appreciation in a tea ceremony.

chawan

 

And it is this appreciation of things as they are – as they are born, made or have come to be – that enables one to see beauty in imperfection, to take quiet joy in a withered tree, cloudy day or dry field.

So, next time try taking things with a swab of wabi-sabi and you may find your life richer for it.

 

 

 

 

Know Your Kimono (5) – Kimono Etiquette

You’re all dressed up in a beautiful kimono, you’re in touch with the seasons and you are wearing everything correctly. Time to make your kimono debut.

Wait! Do you know how to act while wearing a kimono? If not, read this short guide on the do’s and dont’s while wearing a kimono.

Good Posture

When standing, sitting or kneeling you need to keep good posture. But don’t worry, the obi will help you keep your back straight. Remember to make slow movements as to not displace any of the folds in the kimono. Depending on the type of knot in your obi, you also have to be careful with leaning back. The general rule is, don’t lean back! You will crush the knot you put so much effort into.

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Watch your sleeves

Kimono sleeves should reach just above the wrist, but never too high. To keep your sleeve from sliding up, don’t raise your arms or make wild movements. This means no holding on onto the handles on the train or bus and no waiving your arms. Phonecalls with your cellphone are also a no, unless you hold your raised arm’s sleeve with your other hand to keep it from sliding down. But watch that the other arm’s sleeve doesn’t move too much! Be sure to take extra care of these things when wearing a long-sleeve Furisode.

As you might have noticed, all of this requires some practice.

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Walk slowly

You will notice that when wearing a kimono, it is difficult to make big steps. This is good, because you need to avoid doing this anyway. If you would walk in big strides, your kimono would fly open and reveal your underkimono or even your bare legs. This may seem weird in a modern world where shorts skirts and shorts are an everyday thing. But in Old Japan showing your legs and wrists too much was very scandalous.

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While eating

Kimono are difficult to wash, but easy to get dirty. Be careful while eating and place a napkin over your obi or put it on your collar like in a restaurant.

Be yourself!

Although a certain degree of standard etiquette is required when wearing a kimono, it is also important to be yourself. Nowadays there are many creative kimono with modern patterns and the hairstyles aren’t that stiff anymore. Basically, you can do what you want as long as you know the basics.

Careful with those sleeves!
Careful with those sleeves!

 We hope you learned something new about kimonos, and that we inspired you to try one on yourself. The world of kimonos is wonderful and waiting for your creativity.

 

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

Know Your Kimono (4) – The Rules

Now that you know the basics to get dressed, you need to know the Kimono Rules. Yes, there is a list of rules concerning the kimono. But nowadays these rules are ignored to make way for creative freedom. If you do want to know and follow them you can study Kitsuke, the art of kimono dressing.

We won’t list all the rules, but here are a some useful pointers on how to wear the kimono correctly.

Left over Right

For both the nagajuban (kimono underwear) and the kimono there is one important rule. Always wear the left side over the right side. Only dead people have their kimono worn right over left. A good memory aid for this rule is the phrase “leftover rice”.

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She’s still in the land of the living

The position of the collar

The collar of your kimono needs to be firm and show the back of your neck. There should be an opening of about a fist-and-a-half in width. Young people are supposed to show of their neck and keep their collar in the front high and tight. Older women show less of their back and their front collar is lower and more rounded.

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Kimono are worn with an updo, so the neck is visible

Be Seasonal!

Japanese people are very much in touch with the seasons, and so is the kimono. Certain colors and patterns can only be worn during a specific time of the year. For example, any kimono or obi with a sakura tree on it can only be worn during the sakura blooming season. However, single sakura flowers without a tree are acceptable all year round. If you think about it it’s not difficult to keep your kimono in touch with the seasons. For autumn, leaves and colors such as brown, red and dark green are very fitting. For winter darker colors such as red and black, spring brings to mind pink and flowers and summer needs bright colors such as blue and yellow.

Kimonos

Keep it parallel to the ground

Kimonos are worn so that you have a tube-shaped body. If your body is not naturally like this, padding must be worn to change your shape. A kimono is a very symmetrical garment; the seams need to be aligned and the bottom of the kimono needs to be parallel to the ground. Doing this is more difficult than it sounds and it requires some dressing practice before getting it right.

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The kimono should cover the ankles

Formal and Casual

There are two ways to wear a kimono; formal and casual. This goes back to the kimono types where we’ve also looked at the formality of kimonos. A general rule of thumb is;

  • Does it have gold/embroidery/silk/shiny fabric? Is the pattern only visible on certain parts of the kimono? -> It’s probably a formal kimono.
  • Is the kimono made of cotton? Does the pattern repeat itself? Are there no embroidery or shiny parts? -> It’s probably a casual kimono.

casual and formal kimono

Always wear your obi on the back

This might seem like a basic rule but obis were worn on the front by women who worked in the red-light-district. So make sure to always wear your obi on your back!

Courtesans had heavy obi knots on their front
Courtesans had heavy obi knots on their front

Click here for the final part of the Kimono Series, where we will take a look at how to act while wearing a kimono.

 

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

Know Your Kimono (3): Footwear

Japanese traditional footwear was invented by the Chinese and then came over to Japan. Nowadays you won’t see many Japanese people with traditional footwear unless they’re wearing a kimono of course. Tabi (socks with the big toe separate) are worn to keep the feet warm and to prevent friction from the shoe strap.

Geta

These sandals are made from a flat piece of wood on two slats that raise the sole part off the ground. This is to keep the kimono from getting dirty. Geta can be very high or very low depending on the season and clothes worn. For example, high geta can keep your kimono safe from high snow and rain puddles. The strap on the geta is called hanao and it can be made with many sorts of fabric. But cotton with traditional Japanese patterns is a bestseller. The hanao is knotted in a special way on the geta so that it can be replaced when needed. The hanao is always tied in the middle of the geta to prevent the wearer from walking sideways on the geta.

Geta are quite informal footwear and are mostly worn with a yukata and without tabi in the summer.

Geta under a yukata
Geta under a yukata
Japanese patterns
Japanese patterns

Zori

The main difference between geta and zori is that zori are not made from wood. Compared to their clunky cousin, zori are elegant and formal.  They have a taller wedge-shaped heel that is covered in fabric. Never wear geta under a kimono, but always wear zori. Even if it’s a casual kimono.

Originally, the zori was made from straw and does not look anything like the zori we see with formal kimonos today. They evolved into a dress shoe that is often very expensive. When wearing a formal kimono, the color of your purse and zori matches. Of course this is always up to the individual’s taste.

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Okobo

Also referred to as pokkuri or bokkuri geta from the sound made when walking. Just try repearing “pokkuri bokkuri” a few times, you will noice it sounds like a clomping shoes. They are quite uncommon and only worn by apprentice Geishas called Maiko. The color of the strap indicates the Maiko’s ranking. When you see a red strap, you can be sure the Maiko has just begun her training. The height of these shoes not only insures that the expensive kimono doesn’t get dirty, but it also forces you to walk with small and slow steps.

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Boots

The only time when boots are acceptable to wear under a kimono is when wearing a hakama. And this privilege is given only to women. During graduation ceremonies young women often wear a hakama with furisode combination. The boots worn underneath the hakama are very stylish with a low heel.

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EXTRA: Tabi socks

Nowadays tabi exist in many different colors and designs. The age of all white is over. Tabi have also moved on from being kimono exclusive and are liked by Japanese for their comortable fit. If you’re wearing a casual kimono or just geta under jeans, these socks can make a statement.

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Click here for Part 4: The Rules of Wearing Kimono

 

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

Know Your Kimono (2): The Obi

Last time we talked about the different types of kimonos. Now we will look at how you tie them.

Just as with the kimono, there is an obi for every occasion. And every kimono needs a type of obi. We will take a look at the most common obis.

Obi Types

1) Tsuke Obi

Also known as the ‘easy obi’, it was invented to help older ladies dress themselves easier. Nowadays it is very popular because of that reason, it’s easy to tie! It can be any color and/or pattern but generally isn’t considered a formal obi. To make tying easier, seperate knots and bows can be purchased to avoid having to learn any tying techniques.

 

2) Nagoya Obi

Designed by a lady from Nagoya, this obi type was made to make tying the typical “Taiko Musubi” knot easier. It can be a formal or casual obi depending on the colors used. If there’s gold thread, the obi is almost always formal. Many Nagoya obi only have a design printed on the front and on the part where the taiko knot is visible. Since the Nagoya obi was originally used as everyday wear it can never be part of a truly ceremonial outfit.

Taiko knot
Taiko knot
Pattern on front of the obi
Pattern on front of the obi

3) Hanhaba Obi

An unlined and informal obi that is used with a yukata or an everyday kimono. Hanhaba obis are very popular these days for use with yukata. Since this is an informal obi it is sometimes worn in self-invented styles with decorative ribbons and charms. Because tying this obi is relatively easy many Japanese people wear it during festivals.

Simple knots
Simple knots
Bunko Musubi
Bunko Musubi

4) Fukuro Obi

This is the most formal obi used today. It can be tied in the Taiko knot but it is capable of many other styles as well. It is used used for ceremonial wear and celebration. A fukuro obi is often made so that the part that will not be visible when worn is of smooth, thinner and lighter silk. Obis of this level of formality can be worn with a Furisode. The knots are often very elaborate and big, making them elegant and feminine.

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Fukura Suzume Musubi
Fukura Suzume Musubi

5) Maru Obi

A Maru Obi is the most formal obi.  An ornate pattern runs along the entire length on both sides. Maru obis were at their most popular during the Taisho and Meiji-periods. Their bulk and weight makes maru obis difficult to handle and nowadays they are worn mostly by Geishas and Maikos. Another use for maru obi is as a part of a bride’s outfit or when bride-like formality is required. When a Maiko wears a Maru obi, the symbol of her Geisha house is visible on the bottom of the obi.

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EXTRA: Children’s Obi

Children wear either imitations of adult obis or softer versions. The knots can be simple or elaborate. Usually children’s kimonos and obis are more decorated and the hair decorations for girls are more playful.

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Click here for the next Kimono 101, where we talk about kimono footwear!

 

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

Know Your Kimono: 9 Different types of Kimono

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Kimono literally means “something that is worn” – but there are many types of kimono worn on different occasions.

The basis of the kimono is, of course, the kimono robe itself. There are various kimono patterns and colors to match the seasons, but there is also a stark difference in types of kimono. Impress the locals with your knowledge of kimono!

Furisode (振袖)

Let’s start with the most formal type of kimono, the furisode. The furisode is worn by unmarried women and has sleeves between 100cm- 107cm long. There are actually three different types of furisode with different sleeve lengths; the Kofurisode (小振袖) with short sleeves, the Chu-furisode (中振袖) with medium sleeves and the Ofurisode(大振袖) where the sleeves almost reach the ground. The most common furisode is the Ofurisode.

Kimono Furisode
Furisode Kimono

Hikizuri (引きずり)

Before the Meiji era, Hikizuri kimono was worn by affluent women of high rank. The chances you will see this kimono in public are very slim unless you are in Kyoto or the Asakusa area of Tokyo. Hikizuri means “trailing skirt” and the kimono got this name because of its length. Currently, this type of kimono is mainly worn by geisha, maiko or stage performers of traditional Japanese dance. With modern times, women had more opportunities to leave the house which resulted in the current style that requires folding the extra fabric around the waist.

Hikizuri Kimono
Hikizuri Kimono

Tomesode (留袖)

This is the most formal kimono worn by married women. The pattern of a Tomesode is always below the waist and has a beautiful design which sometimes includes gold. It has either 3 or 5 crests, the latter being more formal, and there are color or just black varieties. A Tomesode can be worn at formal events like weddings and tea ceremonies.

Tomesode Kimono
Tomesode Kimono

Houmongi (訪問着)

The literal meaning of Houmongi is “visiting wear”. These are semi-formal kimonos worn by both married and unmarried women. The pattern flows over the shoulder to the seams in the back and is visible on the sleeves and under the waist.

Houmongi-kimono
Houmongi-kimono-2

Iro Muji (色無地)

These kimonos have a plain color without any patterns. Their formality depends on the amount of crests on the kimono and there is even a specific kind of Iro Muji kimono for tea ceremonies.

Iromuji Kimono
Iromuji Kimono

Komon (小紋)

This kimono is also known as the casual kimono. They have a repeating pattern that often incorporates vertical stripes. Do not wear this kimono for a formal event! It is suited for a stroll around the town, or small celebrations. This was the most common way to dress before Western clothes became popular in Japan.

Komon Kimono
Komon Kimono

Yukata (浴衣)

This lightweight summer kimono is made of cotton and does not require any special kimono undergarment. It is the most informal but also the most popular kimono in Japan. The yukata is worn during festivals or on a hot day out. Geta, wooden shoes, are worn under this kimono and the obi is tied in a simple way.

Learn more about Yukata.

Yukata
Yukata

Wedding kimono

This is a pure white kimono worn by the bride. The official name for the dress is ‘Shiromuki’. The white color of the kimono dates back to the days of the samurai, when a woman would show her submission to the family she was marrying into. Being white, it meant she could easily blend into the family’s colors.

Wedding Kimono
Wedding Kimono

Men’s kimono

We’ve mainly talked about women’s kimono but of course, there are also kimono for men. In the old days men wore kimono every day but in modern times, men’s kimono are not as popular as women’s. Men’s kimono are simpler in construction and the colors are more subdued. The most formal men’s kimono is a combination of a hakama (kimono pants) and Haori (kimono jacket). The most common men’s kimono is simply worn with an obi belt tied around the waist and it is known as kinagashi.

Men`s Kimono
Men`s Kimono (hakama)

And many more…

Kimonos have evolved over time and the rules for wearing one became less strict. Young people make kimonos out of modern fabrics and mix flashy colors with unconventional accessories.

Click here for part 2, where we will take a look at all the different obi styles.

 

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

Wear A Kimono In Tokyo

Always wanted to wear a kimono but don’t know how or where to go?

Just make a booking with Japanese culture lecturer Shino Fukuyama who teaches Japanese and foreigners alike how to wear a kimono in her traditional Japanese home in Meguro, Tokyo. In just two or three lessons you will learn how to wear a kimono correctly. The fee is 3,000 yen per person for a private lesson, 2,000 yen per person per lesson for two to six people.

If you do not have a kimono, Shino will rent you one for 1,000 yen. You can also join one of her kimono tours in Asakusa and get information on all the shops. After your first class you will also receive information on where the best (and cheapest) shops are to buy your kimono.

Shino also offers sushi classes in her home. This class includes a morning visit to the fish market where you buy fresh fish for your sushi.

Visit Shino Fukuyama’s blog for more information (http://samuraigeisha.blogspot.jp/) or send her a mail at [email protected] to make an appointment.

 

kimono class
Source: Japan National Tourism Organization

Highlights of AnimeJapan 2016

For those of you anime fans who didn’t make it down to AnimeJapan 2016 at Tokyo’s Big Sight over the weekend, here’s a flashback of all the amazing anime events and goods that were on display!

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The Main Area

This is where all the dealers and important animation companies set up their booths with information and goodies. Japanese conventions are different from European and American conventions in that they are very organized. Dealers do not freely display their goods but hand out papers where you mark what item you want and then you pick it up from the booth.

All the displays are detailed and have mascots and/or cosplayers promoting them.

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What was most exciting is that the stages in the main area were very loud. The atmosphere was really like a concert, with everyone shouting for their favorite voice actor or designer. The free goodies you could get at almost every booth were very surprising. From blow up clinging dolls to big paper bags with flyers in them, they all looked very well-made and definitely collectors’ items. An interesting booths was the “Garo Museum”, where they displayed custumes and props from the Japanese tv-series “Garo”. Another interesting booth was “Studio Chizu”, the animation studio most known for animator Mamoru Hosoda and movies such as ‘The Girl Who Leapt Through Time’ and ‘Wolf Children, Ame and Yuki’. Here, they displayed real storyboards and rough drafts from their new movie, ‘The Boy and the Beast’. Sadly, we were not allowed to take photos in this area.

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Anime fashion was brought to life at the booth of  “Super Groupies”. This label makes high class anime and manga-inspired clothing and accessories for women. Their booth displayed a plethora of fashionable shoes based on characters from popular series.

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The Food Park

In our article “All about AnimeJapan 2016” we talked about the anime-inspired food that would be at the event. Of course we had to try these! The line at the food park was very long and just to get a slice of pizza or cup of oden, the waiting time was at least 40 minutes. We tried ‘Hachiken’s pizza’ from the manga (and anime) Silver Spoon and ‘Hokkaido cheese curry’ from the anime WORKING!!!. All this food was AnimeJapan 2016 exclusive and was actually very good! After finishing all the food it was easy to see why people would wait in line for so long. This was not your regular run-of-the-mill convention food.

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Children’s Area

Only people with children could enter this area, so parents would not have to worry about losing their children in a big crowd. Activities included coloring, origami, crafts and watching kid-friendly anime shows on a big screen. Everyone seemed very energetic and the staff made sure the parents could participate in the activities as well.

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The cosplayers

Of course one of the main attractions of every convention are the cosplayers. There was a special area set up outside so photographers could have better lighting. It was very windy and cold in the shade, but that didn’t stop the cosplayers from posing in character with the amazing Tokyo Bay as a backdrop.

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The best stop for everything Anime

If you haven’t realized by now, this is an anime fan’s paradise. If you are planning on visiting AnimeJapan next year, there are volunteer English guides who give information about all the booths, but remember to sign up early at the information desk. The whole event is very foreigner friendly, so do make plans to come over for the event next year!

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All about AnimeJapan 2016

This weekend is Anime Japan 2016, so here is a guide to introduce you to all the activities before you head to the Tokyo Big Sight.

What is Anime Japan?

AnimeJapan is not only an entertainment event but also an opportunity to connect with the Anime industry. Professionals from all corners of the animation world will give panels, host talk shows, provide workshops and will discuss your dream career plans. Why not bring your portfolio with you? This could be your big break!

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Navigating the exhibition halls

The area at Tokyo Big Sight is divided into different sections, each dedicated to an area of the anime industry.

Stages

There will be four stages; a red, green, blue and open stage. The colored stages host a variety of events such as panels, talk shows, news about series and cast appearances. However, these stages require a reservation and access is limited. The open stage is open to the public and free to enter. It will feature unique events, information about upcoming anime, talk shows and more.

Dealers

With more than 40 dealers selling unique merchandise, a fan is sure to find something to their liking. Big animation merchandise stores as well as smaller shops will sell and exhibit their goods. Definitely stop by the booth with Anime Japan 2016 exclusive merchandise and Premium Goods area.

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Food Park

Have you ever wanted to eat the food you saw on an anime? Now you can! Try the special Hokkaido pizza from agricultural hit manga Silver Spoon or other dishes such as Homemade Corn Soup from the adventure manga The Seven Deadlines Sins.

Creation Area

Anime Japan created a special area for all aspiring and professional animators. The Creation Stage will hold business seminars with lectures from creators about new developments in the industry. Experienced staff of professional schools will provide career counseling in a separate area and production works will be on display in the exhibition area.

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Business Area

This area is meant to provide business chances for both attendees and exhibitors in a comfortable environment. Be warned, students and people who are planning to start their own business are not allowed to enter the Business area. The area is strictly for business talks with exhibitors and to collect anime-related information for business.

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Children’s Area

For families with young visitors there is a special exhibition area with workshops and play corners.  Pose for a photo with popular manga characters such as Pikachu and Yokai Watch’s Jibanyan.

The festival goes on

After AnimeJapan closes, the party continues until late. On Friday and Saturday there will be a variety show and special event by Anison CLUB. Dance all night on Saturday at the AnimeJapan 2016 Night Festival, featuring some of the best DJ’s of Japan.

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With this much going on, there really should be no other way to spend your weekend than by going to AnimeJapan 2016. See you there!

Say It With Origami

Origami_envelopes

When spring arrives in Japan it means a new school year, gatherings with friends, and end of the business year. This provides lots of opportunities to show your gratitude and congratulations to those in your life that have achieved amazing things in the past year. A traditional way to show this appreciation is to tuck money or a nice note into a little decorated envelope. I came across a great origami solution from Paper Crane ORIGAMI that you can use to make your very own pocket of praise. This is how to make it.

Crane Envelope

Origami_process1

① Place the colored side up and make creases as shown.

② Fold both corners to the center mark.

③ Flip to the other side. Fold both edges to the centerline.

④ Unfold the right triangle.

⑤ Bring the edge of the triangle to the centerline.

⑥ Bring the edge to the crease line.

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⑦ Fold the upper layer to the right. Then bring the edge to the centerline.

⑧ Fold the tip in so that the zigzag line is prominent.

⑨ Repeat step 4 to 8 on the other side.

⑩ Fold the bottom up.

⑪ Make creases as shown.

⑫ Fold along the creases so that the bottom is pointing up.

Origami_process3

⑬ Fold the bottom to the side.

⑭ Open the bottom and flatten it.

⑮ Make creases as shown.

⑯ Lift the bottom tip of the square and fold along the creases.

⑰ Fold right flap to the left.

⑱ Fold the tip to create the head of a crane. Insert a little note and fold back the top.

*Originally created by Susumu Nakajima

You can also use decorative paper or Japanese washi paper to make this envelope. This simple yet elegant envelope is a perfect little addition for showing your gratitude for someone special.

We live in a digital age and it’s a lot quicker to send a text or email if you want to say something. But there is something special about giving and receiving a letter or even a small note. The time and thought people put into a handwritten, or in this case, a handmade envelope is so apparent that it carries a deeper and stronger meaning.

You don’t have to be a master at origami to make this. All you need is a little bit of time and willingness. A small envelope goes a long way to make a lasting impression on somebody.

Let’s Talk Subculture Vol. 14 Yoshitaka Amano Exhibition in Tokyo

[WAttention X FIELDS Research Institute] 
Explore the fascinating world of Japan’s subcultures with insights from the inside

From fine art to Final Fantasy

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Video game and anime illustrations as well as fine art by Yoshitaka Amano are exhibited at “A Yoshitaka Amano Exhibition – the fantasy evolves” at the Yurakucho Asahi Gallery in Tokyo until March 8.

Yoshitaka Amano (March 26, 1952) is a worldwide acclaimed Japanese artist that started his career as an illustrator at animation studio Tatsunoko Production at the age of 15 in 1967. Abroad, he is best known for the character design and package illustrations of Square Enix’s popular RPG series Final Fantasy.

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Other famous works Amano was involved in include anime series Sience Ninja Team Gachaman and Time Bokan as well as book illustrations for Japanese best sellers as The Guin Saga and Vampire Hunter D. His fine art, like the colorful pop art style Candy Girls for example – paintings of android girls based on Tokyo’s youth Amano sees on the street – have received great reactions at exhibitions in both New York and Paris.

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From January 29 to March 8, more than 100 works by Amano are exhibited at the Yurakucho Asahi Gallery in Tokyo. The exhibition is titled “A Yoshitaka Amano Exhibition – the fantasy evolves”, and is mainly focused on his video game and anime works. Final Fantasy fans will be able to enjoy a great amount of illustrations of the series as well as all the franchise’s package designs showcased in chronological order. Illustrations by Amano on music legend David Bowie are also exhibited for the first time in Japan.

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As there are still a few days left, those interested are highly recommended to come and visit this remarkable exhibition by one of Japan’s greatest illustrators of all time!

A Yoshitaka Amano Exhibition – the fantasy evolves
Venue: Yurakucho 2-5-1 Yurakucho Marion 11F Yurakucho Asahi Gallery
Period: January 29 – March 8
Price: 1,000 yen for adults, 900 yen for students, 800 yen for high school students and adults above 65 years old, free for junior high-school students and below
URL: http://www.amano-exhibition.jp/ (Japanese)

This article was written with the assistance of Fields Research Institute, which conducts research in entertainment.

About Girl’s Day And Hina Dolls

Hina Doll_1

Here in Japan, we are about to celebrate the girl’s day known as Hina-Matsuri on March 3rd. Families with daughters usually display decorative “Hina” dolls in their homes as a way of wishing for good health.

Hina dolls come in a variety of sizes, kimonos and accessories. Some are just Emperor and Empress dolls in a glass case, others include the entire imperial family along with their belongings on a seven tiered alter.

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I remember staring at these dolls for a long time and soaking in every little detail when I was little. I was mesmerized by their intricate kimonos and decorations, and their quiet and calm expressions. Interestingly enough it never occur to me that these dolls look nothing like us.

For instance, they tend to have exceptionally fair skin, ghostly white to be quite honest. The empress’ lush black hair is tied back in a way that is bigger than her face. The crimson red lipstick and high eyebrows are something you never see in everyday life. Their cheeks are so full they could be considered chubby. And if you take a really close look at her face, you’ll see she has black teeth! Slightly different from what we now consider beautiful isn’t it?

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It is said that these features are the beauty standards of the Heian period (794 to 1185). In the Heian period food was scarce and a plump face was a clear indication of wealth and plenty, and usually meant a healthy and fertile body. Slit eyes helped to emphasize plump faces and long lush hair symbolized maturity. It seems strange to us today but blackened teeth were a popular cosmetic trend at that time. (There might have been some hygienic purpose for it.) I guess as we progress in time our needs and wants change and so does what we consider beautiful.

So what are the beauty standards of today? Maybe modern dolls can give us some answers.Two popular dolls come to my mind; Licca-chan and Blythe. (Of course, Disney princesses and Barbie dolls also have a strong fanbase in Japan, but I will stick to the Japanese products.) They both have big sparkling eyes with long eyelashes. Their rosy cheeks tell us they are young and healthy. Their faces are round but not overly plump. Oh did I mention they both have blonde hair?

After WWII, Japan was enormously influenced by the US and our aesthetic standards changed dramatically. Bigger eyes, a tall nose, slender bodies, and of course white teeth became a popular barometer for beauty among Japanese ladies. These trends are still strong nowadays. Make-up techniques that make the eyes appear bigger are in style among girls. Even plastic surgery is now well accepted. Bleached or dyed hair is everywhere. Being fat or even a little chubby is a big no-no, like in most places in the world, the skinnier the better.

Yet, even today, the Hina dolls express something beautiful and alluring. Despite the standards of aesthetics constantly changing and mass media telling young girls what they should look like, we can still appreciate the beauty of the Hina dolls.

Perhaps it’s their content expressions and century-old dignity that assure us there is something more important than looks. Confidence, kindness, wit, elegance, smarts, strength, health and a whole range of different qualities make people unique and beautiful.

The standards of beauty will evolve with time, what’s popular might change tomorrow. We sometimes get fixated with how we should look like, but as long as girls grow-up happy and healthy, and be able to define their own beauty, the dolls have achieved their purpose.