Thanksgiving for food in Japanese Itadakimasu and Gochisousama

Thanksgiving For Food in Japanese

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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.

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.

Bonsai Master Kunio Kobayashi

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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/

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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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


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

Why are Japanese homes so cold during winter?

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

Japanese homes are built for summer

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

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One room at a Time

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

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

The idea of “Warm yourself first”

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

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

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Keeping the warmth

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

Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


WATTENTION NINJA WRITER PROFILE

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

MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA

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!

hatsumode

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.

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

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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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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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?

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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

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

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

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

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

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!

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