Category Archive: Japanese Culture
Shogi, or the “General’s Game, a two-player strategy board game, is the most popular native variant of chess in Japan. From the Song Dynasty through the Ming Dynasty in China, there are stories that numerous trade convoys travelled along the southern islands and all around the Indian Ocean. The Chinese traded with the Japanese and other Southern Asian countries. This could have influenced the development of shogi. The oldest documents mentioning the existence of shogi are found in the seven-volume writings of Fujiwara Yukinari (972 – 1027), the Kirinshō.
Human Shogi at Mt. Maizuru in Tendo, Yamagata. | foooomio
The Japanese city of Tendo in Yamagata Prefecture is known since the Edo period for the traditional craft of producing shogi pieces. Tendo Sakura Matsuri Festival is an event, usually in April of each year, that celebrates the arrival of spring. The festival is a fun-filled event that hosts a variety of attractions such as traditional dances, a parade with people joining in carrying portable shrines—one of the most anticipated events, the Ningen Shogi.
Red Army in Human Shogi. | foooomio
Blue Army in Human Shogi. | foooomio
The Ningen Shogi or human shogi is a popular spring event where armored or kimono-clad people act as shogi pieces. The game is much like chess. Players (called Kishi) battle by moving pieces of different roles in order to capture the king. The Ningen Shogi is set in a time 400 years ago during the warring states period. The human shogi has people dressed up as warriors in full armor who represent the game pieces. The game of professional Kishi is recreated on a 16m-long (52ft), 14m-wide (46ft) gigantic board. With the crown cheering them on, the game brings a lively atmosphere and is a sight to behold.
Watch the Ningon Shogi in action in this YouTube video by yamagata tabibito:
Click image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihREJp91pOI
Halloween is just around the corner and Japan has caught up with the spooky craze! Over the years, Halloween has become the second favorite foreign holiday after Christmas. The country is no stranger to playing dress-up, as it popularized cosplay, performance art, and wearing costumes and fashion accessories to look like a particular character. Japan is a natural at celebrating Halloween with plenty of pomp and pageantry.
Japan has its own fair share of local ghoulish monsters, creepy legends, and ghost stories throughout history, but mainstream Japan only began celebrating Halloween at the start of the 21st century. The golden age of Japan’s bubble economy, an unprecedented era of affluence and internationalism in the 1980s, popularized a few Western holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and of course, Halloween.
Kawasaki Halloween Parade. | Danny Choo
Halloween didn’t take off as quickly as the other two holidays, because it was initially perceived to have a dark side to it. To add more controversy to the darkness of Halloween, there was an incident involving the teenage Japanese exchange student Yoshihiro Hattori, who in 1992 was killed on his way to a Halloween party. All throughout the 1990s until the early 2000s, Hattori’s death was the first thing that entered the minds of many Japanese when Halloween came around.
Halloween candy in Japan. | Hideya HAMANO
Over time, Hattori’s unfortunate death was not considered a direct result of Halloween. In 1999, Tokyo Disneyland played a major role in creating a different mindset about Halloween and at the same time testing the general reception of the occasion by holding a one-day Halloween event. It proved an instant success that eventually grew to become a two-month series of parades and shows held throughout September and October at the theme park. In line with the warm acceptance of Halloween in Japan, the city of Kawasaki in the Tokyo area held its first Halloween costume parade. The parade is a major event today and draws in a number of attendees garbed in elaborate costumes.
Halloween decor at Tokyo Disneyland. | Hideya HAMANO
Halloween in Japan is probably one of the best ways to spend the much anticipated event via the Japanese kawaii culture and cosplay. Truly, it may just be one of the scariest and cutest Halloweens ever!
The anime industry in Japan is fueled by more than 400 production studios in the country alone, and it has continued to gain significant international success over the years.
Here’s what’s happening with the Fall 2016 anime lineup.
Bungo Stray Dogs – Season 2
Bungo Stray Dogs (文豪ストレイドッグス Bungō Sutorei Doggusu), is a Japanese manga series written by Kafka Asagiri and illustrated by Sango Harukawa. A television anime adaptation by Bones recently came out last April of this year and the second part premiered in October.
The story mainly follows the members of the Armed Detective Agency and their everyday lives. The plot of Bungo Stray Dogs centers on characters that are gifted with supernatural powers. The main characters use their powers to solve mysteries and carry out missions that are assigned to them by the mafia as well as for their everyday needs.
Bungo Stray Dogs. | Screengrab from YouTube video by Crunchyroll
Keijo!!!!!!!! (競女!!!!!!!!, Competitive Girl) , also known as Hip Whip Girl, is a Japanese sports manga series by Daichi Sorayomi with an anime television series produced by Xebec which aired October 6.
The anime series is set in an alternate reality where a new, women-only, gambling sport known as Keijo has risen in popularity since its introduction in the dawn of the 21st century. Keijo matches are held atop floating platforms in large water-filled stadiums where bikini-clad players fight to incapacitate their opponents or push them out to the water, but they can only hit each other using particular body parts.
Drifters (ドリフターズ Dorifutazu) is an alternate history Japanese manga by Kouta Hirano. The story of the popular manga series centers on various historical figures summoned to an unknown world where their skills and techniques are needed by magicians in order to save their world from total destruction. A television anime version started airing October 7.
Drifters. | Screengrab from YouTube video by Crunchyroll
Shūmatsu no Izetta
Izetta: The Last Witch (終末のイゼッタ Shūmatsu no Izetta) is an anime series that aired early October. The anime is produced by Ajia-do Animation Works and directed by Masaya Fujimori. The story is set in an alternate universe on the eve of World War II. The main character, Izetta, is the last surviving member of a clan of witches who possess the ability to manipulate any object they touch using magic. Izetta promises to devote her gift to protect Princess Fine and the tiny Alpine Kingdom of Eylstadt from invasion by the imperialistic forces of Germania.
Shūmatsu no Izetta. | Screengrab from YouTube video by Harem King
Aside from all the latest anime this fall, there are also some all time favorite anime characters. Which one is your favorite?
Japan is a beautiful island nation consisting of almost 7,000 islands. Rich in many natural resources, over 70% of the country is mountainous, and there are over 200 volcanoes in the Japanese jurisdiction. As a volcanically active nation, Japan has literally thousands of hot spring resorts or onsen.
Hot springs are waters heated by geothermal energy. Japan has an abundant source of these natural wonders. There are about 2,500 hot springs all around the country with their own unique attributes that draw loyal patrons.
Nyuto onsen. | Isriya Paireepairit
Hot springs are naturally clear, hot, and rich with minerals that confer several health benefits. Also, the mineral composition of each onsen has elements that have been claimed to enhance beauty.
One particular onsen is called Ryujin (literally, Dragon God), also known as “bijin no yu” or “the beautiful women hot spring.” For hundreds of years, people who have bathed in Ryujin claim that its waters make them more beautiful. People say its mineral content enhances beauty by moisturizing the skin, making it feel smoother.
Ryujin onsen. | cotaro70s
Hot springs are especially inviting during the cold winter months. Some hot springs even have regular native residents: Japanese macaques. The Japanese macaque is known as saru (monkey) in Japanese but to distinguish it from other primates of the world, it is called Nihonsaru (Nihon means Japan in Japanese). The Nihonsaru are Old World monkeys, a group of primates that fall under the superfamily Cercopithecoidea and are indigenous to Japan.
Japanese macaque. | Beyond Neon
Hell’s Valley (Jigokudani) is one of the places best known for its bathing monkeys. About 250 Japanese macaques bathe in the steaming waters; the hot springs even have their own live camera site. These unique monkeys have been featured on Japanese stamps and are a popular sight among visitors wanting to share a hot dip with them.
Enjoying a luxurious dip in a Japanese hot spring is a wonderful way to immerse yourself in the unique beauty and culture of Japan!
Karaoke is the best way to either shine or embarrass yourself in front of an audience. For anyone who wants to belt out a tune with a full accompaniment (as opposed to a cappella), karaoke is the answer to your prayers!
Karaoke is a popular pastime for singing enthusiasts all around the world. The word karaoke (カラオケ) is from the Japanese kara ( 空 ) which means “empty,” and ōkesutora (オーケストラ) which means “orchestra.” Karaoke is a form of entertainment where aspiring singers can sing along with their favorite music using a microphone, a public address system, and a TV monitor that displays the songs’ lyrics as a guide.
Karaoke hall. | tetsuo shimizu
The concept of actually creating studio recordings without any lead vocals is just as old as the recording industry itself. Many singers, amateur or professional, perform using “karaoke” recording because there are times when using a full band or orchestra is not practical.
Karaoke is hugely popular in Japan because of its appeal to a large number of people who love to sing, whether or not they can actually carry a tune. It is also a great way for many fans of pop idols and singers who want to imitate them. Karaoke, moreover, encourages groups of people to get together and socialize in a lively and entertaining atmosphere. Karaoke is a wonderful way to enjoy and relax after a stressful work day.
Lyrics on screen. | Derek Holtham
With Japan’s advanced technological prowess, imagine the possibilities of karaoke! The concept used to be a straightforward way to sing along to your favorite songs. Then there were private, cozy spaces called a “karaoke box.” Here people could sing songs along with videos that show the lyrics in subtitles on the screen.
Hanging out in a karaoke box. | Cloganese
Soon, high-tech remote controls in multiple languages were used to replace printed songbooks. The remote controls can sometimes be used to order food and drinks. There are also a variety of private party or function rooms for a group of people to enjoy.
Whenever in Japan, don’t forget to try one of the country’s most popular pastime, karaoke. A wonderful way to experience the unique Japanese culture!
Matcha is a finely ground powder of specially processed and grown green tea. Matcha was developed by a Chinese monk from the tea plant camellia sinensis. It is a popular flavor in Japan and is used in traditional Japanese cuisine, drinks, and snacks. Matcha is also used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony that centers on the preparing, serving, and drinking of green tea.
The Japanese tea ceremony, or chanoyu (“hot water for tea”), is an elaborate ritual of serving green tea, matcha, along with some sweets. Each gesture and act is deliberate. The whole process is not only about drinking tea; it is meant to leave a lasting impression of serving the best bowl of tea from the host. Each minute detail in the tea ceremony is given great attention to ensure that the guests, shokyaku, are pleased with the whole experience.
The chanoyu is a way to relieve the stress of everyday life, even for just a short while, by immersing in the Zen aesthetics of serenity and peace.
Our Summer term KCP students recently became acquainted with the Japanese tea ceremony. Check out our photos!
For more photos of the tea ceremony, visit our Flickr album.
Check out more KCP alumni in their own tea ceremonies!
KCP Winter 2016 Students Experience the Japanese Tea Ceremony
KCP Spring 2016 Students Experience Chanoyu
Traditional Japanese cuisine uses staple foods available in the region. For thousands of years, Japanese food has had strong influences from Korea and China. It was only in the last few hundred years that foreign trade and religion made an impact on traditional Japanese fare and developed it to what we now know it to be.
Sampling the various local dishes gives us a wonderful way to experience the unique tastes and culture of Japan. Here are some of Japan’s traditional foods to try:
Sashimi – consists of extremely fresh raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces. The main ingredient is usually served with a garnish such as shredded daikon, white raddish, or shiso leaves (a herb from the mint family). Sashimi is served with a dipping sauce (soy sauce and wasabi paste).
Sashimi. | Jessica and Lon Binder
Sushi – usually consists of cooked rice mixed with vinegar and sweet sake, raw or cooked seafood, seaweed, and vegetables. The ingredients and presentation vary but sushi always contains rice. Raw fish or other types of meat that is sliced and served without rice is called sashimi. Sushi is often served with a daikon garnish, wasabi, soy sauce, and shredded ginger.
Kaiseki Ryori – a traditional Japanese multi-course dinner. The modern form of kaiseki is considered more traditional Japanese haute cuisine. The basic structure of kaiseki cuisine includes “One Soup and Three Dishes” (1 soup dish, 1 main dish, 2 side dishes) referred to as a setto, “set”).
Tonkatsu – breaded, deep fried pork cutlet often served with shredded cabbage. It is usually eaten with a thick sauce that tastes similar to Worcestershire sauce. Mustard (karashi) and a slice of lemon can also be used as sauce. Tonkatsu can also be served with grated daikon instead of tonkatsu sauce.
Tonkatsu set. | zezebono from Tonkatsu Wako Restaurant in Sapporo, Hokkaido
Shabu-shabu – a Japanese version of a hot pot is a delightful assortment of meats and vegetables. Meats may include beef, crab, duck, fish balls, or lobster. Vegetables may include Chinese cabbage (hakusai), nori (seaweed), chrysanthemum leaves, welsh onions, green onions, garlic, mizuna, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, bean noodles, or lotus root.
Shabu-shabu. | imissdaisydog
Udon – the thickest of Japanese noodles. White in color and made from wheat, they can be served either hot or chilled with dipping sauces, in broth, or in an array of other hot dishes. Udon is usually topped with various ingredients like mixed tempura fritters (kakiage), deep fried tofu pockets (aburaage), tempura, or prawn.
Udon. | Toshiyuki IMAI
Japanese sculpture epitomizes the long history and culture of Japan. Many modern day artists make use of natural objects of stone, wood, bamboo, and even paper to express their art. Early Japanese sculptures started from clay figures. The craft was influenced by the Silk Road culture in the 5th century and by Chinese sculpture. Western influence on Japanese sculpture came about during the Meiji era.
Most Japanese sculptures were derived from idol worship in animalistic rites of Shinto deity or Buddhism. Sculpture in all the arts is usually centered on Buddhism. Traditional materials included metal such as bronze, but wood—brightly painted, lacquered or gilded—was more commonly used. Some notable Japanese sculptors include:
Tori Busshi – a sculptor during the 6th and early 7th century, from the Kuratsukuri (鞍作, “saddle-maker”) clan. His full title was Shiba no Kuratsukuri-be no Obito Tori Busshi (meaning “the maker of Buddhist images”). He was the favorite sculptor of Soga no Umako (a member of the powerful Soga clan) and Prince Shōtoku (a semi-legendary regent and a politician of the Asuka period). Many of the Asakusa period sculptures in gilt bronze are credited to Tori Busshi and his workshop. His works are characterized by solid geometric figures in front-oriented, characteristic poses.
Asuka dera daibutsu by Tori Busshi. | Chris 73 / Wikimedia Commons
Jōchō Busshi (died in 1057 CE) – a sculptor of the Heian period. He popularized the yosegi technique of sculpting a single figure using many pieces of wood. Jōchō is also credited for redefining the canon (a rule of proportions to produce a harmoniously formed figure) to create Buddhist images. His influence spread all across Japan and defined the style of Japanese sculpting for the next 150 years. Jōchō is considered to be one of the most innovative Japanese artists and “the first of a new kind of master sculptor.”
Amida Nyorai by Jōchō Busshi.
Hidari Jingorō – a famous sculptor and carpenter of the early Edo period (1596-1644). He is believed to have created many famous deity sculptures all around Japan; many legends circulat about him, including the question of his actual existence. Jingorō was an apprentice for the chief Architect Hokyo Yoheiji Yusa of the Imperial Court in Kyoto. After losing his right hand, he taught himself to use his left hand hand and became known as Hidari Jingorou (Hidari means “left”). Among his more famous works is the nemuri-neko (“sleeping cat”) carving located above the Kuguri-mon Gate by the sacred mountain shrines and temples of Nikkō, Japan.
Nemuri-neko carving by Hidari Jingorō.
Miso is a traditional Japanese seasoning made by fermenting soybeans with the fungus kōjikin (Aspergillus oryzae), salt, and other ingredients like barley and rice. The outcome of the fermentation process is usually a thick paste used for sauces and spreads for traditional Japanese culinary fare. It is a delicious Japanese staple that is fast catching the attention of the world, not just for its delicious taste but also for its amazing health benefits!
The origin of miso is not clear but it can be traced back to Japan’s Neolithical era (Jōmon period 14,000 to 300 BCE). Miso was used for grain and fish and was called “Jōmon miso.” It was similar to the early fish and soy-based sauces used throughout East Asia. Other types of fermented soy-based food was introduced to Japan at the same time as Buddhism from China. During the Muromachi era (1337 to 1573), Buddhist monks discovered that soybeans can be ground to make a paste which created the cooking methods using miso to flavor other foods.
Miso soup. | www.bluewaikiki.com
Some of the amazing health benefits of miso:
- Miso contains essential amino acids to make it a complete protein.
- Miso stimulates secretion of digestive fluids in the stomach.
- Miso restores probiotics in the intestines.
- Miso contains isoflavones that inhibit the development of breast cancer in women.
- Nutrients in miso are vitamin E, vitamin B2, Vitamin K, potassium, lecithin, choline, calcium, and iron.
- Miso contains linoleic acid, which helps keep the skin soft and supple.
- Miso is a good source of antioxidants and eliminates free radicals from the body.
Check out our photos of KCP Spring 2016 students as they learn to make miso soup in cooking class.
More photos of the cooking session here.
Udon (饂飩) is the thickest of Japanese noodles. White in color and made from wheat, they can be served either hot or chilled with dipping sauces, in broth, or in an array of other hot dishes. Udon is usually topped with various ingredients like mixed tempura fritters (kakiage), deep fried tofu pockets (aburaage), tempura, or prawn. Some examples of udon dishes include curry udon, kitsune udon, and yakii udon. A thin slice of fish cake (kamaboko) usually completes the dish.
Flavors of the broth used for udon dishes usually vary from region to region. A type of dark brown broth made from soy sauce (koikuchi shōyu) is used usually in eastern Japan and a lighter broth made from light soy sauce (usukuchi shōyu), is used in the western areas.
Udon noodles. | Yuya Tamai
There are many tales about the origins of udon. One is that in 1241 CE, a Rinzai monk named Enni introduced the technology of flour milling to Japan. Flour was turned into many forms that can be used in Japanese cuisine. Flour products such as noodles like soba and udon as well as pancakes were popular among the locals. Flour milling techniques spread across the country, and by the Edo period, the thicker wheat noodles came to be called udon. It was served with a hot broth called nurumugi and the chilled variety was called hiyamugi.
Another story tells us that during the Nara period, a Japanese envoy was introduced to 14 different kinds of confections while he was in China. One of them was called sakube, also known as muginawa according to the ancient dictionary, the Shinsen Jikyō. Muginawa is the origin of many Japanese noodles. But the muginawa mentioned in the Shinsen Jikyō was made with both wheat and rice flour.
Making udon. | Ken FUNAKOSHI
Udon are versatile noodles. The are usually served chilled during the summer and hot in the winter. Ingredients are based on what’s available: almost anything goes great with udon. Although udon is usually prepared with broth, it can also be stir fried. The latest udon craze is from the newest product of the snack and dessert company Bourbon. Their creation is crunchy flavored udon noodles. The flavor is a concoction of seven spices known as “shichimi” and is something amazingly different for udon lovers.
Kinubiki-udon. | Hideya HAMANO
Noodles are a delicious staple in Japan and there are a variety of noodles to choose from that would surely satisfy your hankering for Japanese cuisine. Oishi!