Giving gifts is a common Japanese custom. Different types of gifts are given depending on the occasion. A lot of attention is also given to the wrapping of presents. Fukusa is a Japanese textile used for gift-wrapping and also used in Japanese tea ceremony.
Fukusa in a Japanese tea ceremony can refer to several types of silk cloth such as tsukai fukusa which are usually squares of silk used to ritually purify tea utensils during tea-making, ko-bukusa which are small squares of brocaded silk used by hosts and guests to handle tea bowls, and dashi fukusa which are larger squares of silk also used for handling tea bowls.
Fukusa cloth. |Christian Kaden
In Japan, gifts were traditionally placed in a wooden box or lacquer tray, and a fukusa was draped over it. The design of the fukusa was chosen depending on the occasion. This was an important part of the Japanese gift-giving ritual. Using a fukusa became a widespread practice during the Edo or Tokugawa period (1615-1867).
The motif or scene depicted on a fukusa indicates the occasion, and the more elaborate the design the wealthier the giver. After the wrappings are admired by the recipient, the fukusa along with the box and tray, are returned to the giver. When the gift is presented to a high official, the fukusa is not always returned. This was a means to subtly control the wealth of lords and samurai.
During the 18th century, the art of the fukusa reflected the aristocratic minority of Japan such as the daimyo and samurai. The designs of the cloth held very subtle cultural references that were recognized only by the educated members of society. The members of these classes usually resided within the cities of Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto as well as the surrounding areas.
Fukusa. |Christian Kaden
During the 19th century, the merchant class moved up the social ladder and began following the same customs of the aristocracy, including the use of fukusa. Family crests were added to the lining of the gift covers and tassels were placed at each corner so the gift cover can be picked up without touching the fabric.
Artists were commissioned to design textiles for fukusa and each work was an original creation. Satin silk was the fabric preferred for embroidery with gold-and-silver-wrapped thread as well as yuzen (dyed cloth), chirimen (crepe silk), and Tsuzure-ori (nail weaving).
Nowadays, fukusa are rarely used, and when they are, it is mostly within Tokyo and Kyoto for presents for couples getting married.
Take a look at this YouTube video by usagiicecream on how to fold the fukusa in a tea ceremony:
Click image or here: https://youtu.be/Yyj_brd3OgA
*Furoshiki is another type of cloth used for gift giving in Japan. It comes in all kinds of sizes, fabrics, and designs.
Hambagu (ハンバーグ), or Japanese hamburger steak, is a popular dish in Japan. It is a fusion food of Japanese and Western cooking techniques. Hambagu is similar to a Western burger, although it is most often served with rice. Ingredients are also different, making the hambagu unique with its own Asian twist. The usual ingredients include a mixture of ground pork and beef which adds flavor, richness, and soft texture. It is a healthy, quick, easy recipe that the whole family will enjoy. Typical sauce for hambagu is tonkatsu sauce which makes it a Japanese staple.
Hambagu by KCP Fall 2015 students. | KCP Flickr
Differences between hambagu and a typical Western burger are pretty obvious. It isn’t served on a bun. While Western burgers are commonly eaten with bread, hambagu is paired with rice. The mixture of meat is also a glaring difference. This has a big effect on taste and texture. Hambagu is still a versatile dish that can be enjoyed anyway you like, either on a bun or with rice and with an array of your favorite side dishes!
Try this easy hambagu recipe!
3/4 pound ground beef
1/4 pound ground pork
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 medium onion
1/2 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon milk
Tonkatsu sauce for drizzling (ketchup, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, sherry, sugar, garlic powder, and ginger)
KCP Fall 2016 cooking class. | KCP Flickr
- Chop onions and cook in a pan over medium heat with oil until translucent. Allow to cool.
- Combine all other ingredients in a bowl. Divide into patties of desired size, or about 6 patties for this recipe.
- Heat pan over medium high heat. Cook patties until done at the bottom, then flip. Cover the pan and cook until the other side is done.
Tokyo is one of the most exciting (and expensive) cities in the world. It is also Japan’s capital city and the most populous metropolis on Earth. Tokyo, formerly known as Edo, was a small castle town during the 16th century. When Tokugawa Ieyasu established his feudal government in Edo, it quickly became the one of the largest cities in the country.
The Meiji restoration of 1868 saw the move of the capital city to Edo as well as the emperor establishing his permanent residence in the city and was henceforth renamed Tokyo (Eastern Capital).
Odaiba sunset.| Emily Cole at KCP Flickr
Today, Tokyo is a favorite tourist destination and a prominent financial, shopping, and entertainment hub. It is also a haven for Japanese history and tradition.
Even if Tokyo is an expensive city, you can still experience so many of what it has to offer on a tight budget. Here are a few places to visit for free when travelling to Japan:
Get lost in the Imperial Palace gardens. The outer gardens are open to the public for most of the year. The East Garden is probably the most popular with its little bridges, grassy knolls, ponds, and flowering trees. Its gorgeous landscape reflects Japanese aesthetics. Most of the Palace’s administrative offices are located here, including the Imperial Tokagakudo Music Hall, the Archives, Mausolea Department Imperial Household Agency, and the Museum of the Imperial Collections.
Imperial Palace East Gardens. | Matthias Catón
Be enchanted in Harajuku. Harajuku is the Kawaii capital of Japan, is the center of Japanese fashion and youth culture where you can get unique shopping finds and have a great dining experience. Harajuku in Tokyo is the best place to see extreme Japanese pop culture come alive, as well as to appreciate some of the country’s historic sights, all in one place.
Explore Odaiba. Odaiba started out as six artificial fort islands made during the Edo period to protect Tokyo from sea attacks. Tokyo Governor Shun’ichi Suzuki began developing the islands, spending around 1 trillion yen. But it wouldn’t bear fruit until the late 1990s, when it became a leisure and tourist spot as well. By the 20th century, the fort islands had been expanded so that they could be used as a commercial and residential area.
Walk along Tokyo’s Sumida River. The Sumida branches out from the Arakawa River at Iwabuchi and flows directly into Tokyo Bay. It passes through the Tokyo wards of Kita, Adachi, Arakawa, Sumida, Taito, Koto, and Chuo. The river meanders for 27 kilometers and runs under 26 bridges which are spaced about a kilometer per bridge.
There are so many more things to see and do in Japan for free for any frugal traveller!
Sumida River.| Emily Cole at KCP Flickr
The Edo-Tokyo Museum is situated in the heart of the bustling city of Tokyo. It gives visitors a glimpse of early life in the ancient city and envisions what the future has in store for the modern metropolis. The museum opened its doors in 1993 in a one-of-a-kind building modeled after an elevated-floor warehouse. It is a popular landmark and favorite destination of visitors of Japan.
Join KCP Fall 2016 students as they experience the history and culture of Japan and its people at the Edo-Tokyo Museum!
Edo-Tokyo Musem, KCP Fall 2016 students. |All photos at KCP Flickr.
One of the most popular dishes in Japan is hambagu (ハンバーグ), or Japanese hamburger steak. It’s a quick, delicious, and easy meal to prepare at home and is even readily available at many Yoshoku (Western Japanese) restaurants. It is similar to a Western burger, although it is most often served with rice. Ingredients are also different, making the hambagu unique with its own Asian twist. The usual ingredients include a mixture of ground pork and beef which adds flavor, richness, and soft texture. Typical sauce for hambagu is tonkatsu sauce which makes it a Japanese staple. You can be creative and top it with your favorite cheese and serve it with all the sidings imaginable like steamed vegetable, french fries, mashed potatoes, rice, and whatever your heart desires.
Check out our KCP Fall 2016 students as they try their hand at cooking hambagu!
All photos, KCP Fall 2016 cooking class.| KCP Flickr.
Majoring in Japanese? Graduating this spring? Read on!
KCP’s Fall Extended 2017 term application deadline is on February 8 and you wouldn’t want to miss it. Here are some highlights of the Fall Extended Program:
- You get to spend more time in Japan than when in a regular semester program
- Earn over 2 years of Japanese language academic credit
- Experience the culture through our Japanese Culture and Civilization course
- Passionate and enthusiastic teachers are readily willing to spend individual time to help students
- Have good time management skills— consider working half time to help supplement costs
- Financial aid may be available even to graduates
- Teachers will help with resumes and/or job interviews
- Enough time to network and explore potential employment in Tokyo
- Experience the stunning beauty of Japan’s changing seasons
The Fall Extended Program is ideal for students or recent college graduates who want to achieve higher levels of Japanese proficiency for educational or career reasons.
Students commit to a Fall Extended program with a long-term student visa. You can make the decision to extend your study in Japan without having to leave Japan. You can stay up to as long as the visa will allow, usually 1.5 years or 2 years.
Read about our students’ experiences with KCP and Japan:
“With some additional study at KCP, my near-perfect proficiency opened up many new doors for me and made me much more employable in Japan. KCP’s encouragement is the most significant turning point in my recent life. Without it I can easily say that I wouldn’t be in Tokyo right now or have a job at a prestigious IT company.” – Brian Bergquist, Western Washington University
“It can be intimidating at first to pursue a program like this, especially for long-term study. But while I’ve been studying at KCP I’ve never felt like I couldn’t overcome challenges I was faced with; the quality of the school and instructors is top-notch.” – Adam Clay, Auburn University
“I picked this program because it is intense and I need to be challenged in order to make progress. Also it’s one of the few programs that actually gives college credit. I truly enjoyed my first semester teachers and overall experience in Japan. I learned so much and improved so much that I would love to continue with this program.” – Amanda Curry, Broome Community College
“Since KCP, I have graduated from my U.S. university and am now living and working in Japan at the JET Program. I’m working towards a career in International Education. The possibilities are endless if you pursue your goals and dreams with passion.” – Hector Santiago, Brookdale Community College
Interested? Visit our website at kcpinternational.com for more details on how to apply.
Yamanashi is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Japan. It is landlocked, making it easy to reach via train from Tokyo. Yamanshi Prefecture prides itself on its fertile central valley, the Kōfu Basin, with the prefecture’s capital being the city of Kōfu. Surrounded by many of the highest mountains in Japan, it offers some of the best sights including the majestic Mount Fuji.
Yamanashi has a colorful history beginning with a prehistoric society that progressed through the hunting, fishing, and gathering stages during the Jōmon period. During the Sengku period in the 16th century, the daimyo of the land, Takeda Shingen, known to have attempted to unify and control Japan, also built two prominent historic sites, the Tsuzuji Mansion and the Yōgai Castle in Kōfu.
During World War II, Kōfu suffered extensive damage. From the end of the war onwards, as part of Japan’s economic initiatives, the government introduced agricultural land reforms which significantly increased the number of individual farms and promoted fruit farming and viticulture throughout the prefecture.
Join KCP Fall 2016 students as they experience and discover Yamanashi!
All photos, KCP Fall 2016 Yamanashi overnight excursion. | KCP Flickr
Japanese craft (工芸 kōgei) has a long and proud tradition and includes hand crafts made by an individual or a group. The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of Japan has stated that crafts (工芸技術 Kōgei Gijutsu), are divided into eight categories: papermaking, woodworking, dollmaking, metalworking, lacquerware, textiles, pottery, and other. The categories are further subdivided into more specific subcategories.
Kokeshi Dolls. | Alex Watson
Many other variations are officially recognized and protected by the government. Craftsmen are eligible for recognition either as an individual (Individual Certification) or as part of a group (Preservation Group Certification), into the list of Living National Treasures of Japan (crafts).
Some crafts are awarded the status of meibutsu, or regional specialties. Each type of Japanese craft takes time to learn. It demands a set of specialized skills that have been passed on for many generations. Japanese craft works are designed to serve a specific functional or utilitarian purpose, making them beautiful and useful at the same time.
History tells us that Japanese craft dates back to the time humans settled on the Japanese islands. Handcrafting had roots in the rural crafts (traditional crafts production that is carried on, simply for everyday practical use, in the agricultural countryside). Traditionally, handcrafters made use of natural, indigenous materials, even today. Traditional Japanese craft distinguishes itself from decorative arts and fine arts, as being created to be used. Crafts were needed by all levels of Japanese society. The execution and design of each type became increasingly sophisticated over time.
Japanese crafts were developed and taught to succeeding generations. This was known as dentō (伝 統), where systems of Japanese traditions were passed down within a teacher-student relationship (shitei 師弟). It included a strict system of rules to enable learning and teaching of a way (dō 道). It was a common tradition that mastery of certain crafts was passed down within the family for many generations, establishing dynasties. The established master’s name was then assumed instead of the personal one. If there is no male heir, a relative or a student could be adopted to continue the line.
Sake bottle. | Ashley Van Haeften
Some Japanese handicrafts include Kutani ware, from Ishikawa, a style of Japanese Gotō Saijirō porcelain known for its colorful, vibrant painted designs. Kutani ware was established by Gotō Saijirō of the Maeda Clan. Another popular craft is Kokeshi dolls, from Miyagi. They are traditional hand-crafted Japanese wooden dolls with origins traceable to northern Japan. And a final example is Bizen ware. It is characteristically reddish-brown in color. It is known for being hard as iron, and it isn’t glazed like other types of pottery. It has distinct markings from the wood-burning kiln (an insulated chamber or oven with controlled temperature used for hardening or drying earthenware) firing.
In our increasing technologically savvy world, it would be difficult to live without a mobile phone. Travelling abroad would simply be unthinkable without it. Cell phones are considered a must-have when traveling to any part of the globe. They keep us connected to friends, loved ones, and colleagues.
It’s important to know some basic facts about cell phone use and how to stay connected when in Japan.
There are some useful apps that can also help in your transition and adjustment phase when abroad. Here are the top ones:
iPhone. | Toshiyuki IMAI
Tabimori is considered the ultimate travel guide to Japan, containing a transfer guide, a guide to Wifi facilities and hotspots, currency converter, flight information, speech translation, weather, life & culture, and access to japan-guide.com information. Many of its functions can be used offline too.
Hyperdia is a must have app for train travel in Japan. It tells you when to leave, which trains to take, and your estimated arrival time. It gives you the name of the train, where it’s headed, and which stops it’s going to make. For JR Pass holders, you can simply un-tap the ‘Nozomi/Mizuno’ option to see only the relevant trains valid on your pass.
The Google Translate app has a number of special features that you can use. You can even translate a recording of your own voice, or even scan some text to translate. You can then listen to your own translations spoken out loud or run through your translation history while offline.
Yanaka Ginza. | Emily Cole at KCP Flickr
A language-learning app that can help you to learn simple vocabulary and grammar using interactive flashcards and games.
Sushi Dictionary gives you tips on where to get the best sushi at any level: the uber expensive kind, the common conveyor-belt sushi, and the delicious tiny sushi restaurants off the beaten path. You can even find translations on different types of fish. This app helps you become a regular sushi connoisseur.
Tokyo Handy Guide
This all-in-one app will help you navigate your way around Tokyo. It shows you maps of the city and transportation guides that are available offline. Its ‘spot nearby’ feature allows you to find any sight- seeing location near where you are that’s worth a visit.
Kamakura trip. | KCP Flickr
Bicycling is a common mode of transportation in Japan. It’s a great way to get to school, to work, and to the train station. A bicycle is also a fine way to exercise and stay fit, and it helps reduce global warming because it emits no fossil fuels. A bike requires less energy to produce: unlike a car, it doesn’t need a lot of metal; it can use smaller roads to travel on; and it takes up less space for parking. Most of all, it is convenient and inexpensive when you need a quick ride to get around in one of the most expensive and populated cities in the world, Tokyo.
There are many things to discover in Tokyo aside from the usual tourist attractions. Some local neighborhoods hold the best treasures to be found in such a bustling yet quaint metropolis as Tokyo, and they’re right within a few kilometers of where you’re staying. There are many other unnoticed places only the locals know of, such as restaurants, shops, temples, and parks hiding in the backstreets that are just a short bicycle ride away.
Before hopping on a bike and searching for places off the beaten path, here are a few things to not to do on a bicycle in Japan:
Don’t ignore traffic signals – be aware of the traffic signs. Like anywhere around the world, red means stop and green means go. Don’t let all the beautiful sights distracts your attention to the traffic signs.
Bikes in Shinjuku. | Andrea Schaffer
Don’t ride in prohibited areas – stay off footpaths, pedestrian roads, and private property. Bicycles are considered small vehicles and by law must be ridden on the road.
Ride your bike on the correct side of the road – always keep in mind the flow of traffic in Japan is opposite of the U.S. where it is right-hand traffic (RHT). In Japan, the rule of the road is left-hand traffic (LHT), so when moving forward, stay to the left side of the road.
Avoid obstructing pedestrians – always remember to yield to pedestrians and give them the right of way. Remember to maintain a safe and slow speed when sharing the road with pedestrians.
Stop, Look and Listen – Before crossing through an active railroad crossing, make sure there are no lights flashing and the guard rails are up.
Joyride with pets in Japan. | m-louis
Observe intersection safety – look at both directions of traffic before crossing, and check to see who has the right of way.
Do not obstruct an intersection – a right turn is equivalent to a left turn in Japan. Also remember to let the drivers behind know if you’re making a turn by using hand signals.
You can also check local cycling rules and regulations in Japan to familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of cycling. Enjoy and have a safe ride!
Rustic Japan scene. | Iñaki Pérez de Albéniz