Category Archive: Japanese Culture
Japan is said to have the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world. The Chrysanthemum Throne is a term used to embody the Japanese monarchy and the legal authority for the existence of the Japanese government. Japanese legends say that the monarchy of Japan was founded by Emperor Jimmu in 660 BC, though extant historical records go only as far back as the early 4th century when Emperor Ojin ruled Japan. The Chrysanthemum Throne can also rhetorically refer to the head of state as well as the institution of the Japanese monarchy. The 16-floret chrysanthemum flower variety (Ichimonjiginu) is the crest and official seal of the Emperor.
Chrysanthemum Seal on a Japanese passport cover. | Muttley
The Imperial throne of Japan is similar to the rule of agnatic seniority, a patrilineal principle of inheriting the throne where a monarch’s children can only succeed when males of the older generation have already been exhausted. In theory, any male or female with patrilineal lineage to previous Japanese monarchs who are descendants in a direct male line of the very first Emperor Jimmu Tenno can inherit the Chrysanthemum Throne. But in practice, succession to the throne was given to the first-born male offspring of a preceding male monarch, followed by his brothers, sons, and other males of the immediate male-line family, and ultimately representatives of the Shinnoke (four cadet branches of the Imperial Household) houses.
Woodblock print of the first Emperor Jimmu by Ginko Adachi.
The Prussian model of imperial succession was adapted by the Japanese after the Meiji restoration period. This principle clearly excluded Imperial females from the claim to succession of the Chrysanthemum Throne. In an effort to modernize Japan, polygamy was banned in securing the throne. Further restrictions were also imposed after World War II where only the closest relatives of the then Emperor Hirohito (children and descendants, siblings and their descendants) could be part of the official Imperial family and have a claim to succession. Emperor Akihito is currently Japan’s emperor. His sons are Crown Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino. Aunt to the current Emperor Akihito, the late Princess Takamatsu, was a strong advocate of implementing the indigenous customs of succession where females can succeed to the throne as long as she holds precedence in seniority or proximity within the patrilineal kinship. This change could mean that a new dynasty could take over the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Emperor Akihito. | Shawnc
Jika-tabi is traditional Japanese footwear that seemed on its way to obscurity. Only recently with pro-golfer Ai Miyazato and the boxer Daiki Kameda sporting jika-tabi is it fast gaining popularity again. Scientists who specialize in motion dynamics have noted the key benefits of jika-tabi, and its unique design is starting to reshape the footwear industry.
Jika-tabi (地下足袋) was invented by Tokujirō Ishibashi, the brother of the founder of the Bridgestone Corporation, a popular tire manufacturing company. They were popularized in the 1920s by the Asahi Corporation. Jika-tabi resemble boots and are considered heavy-duty. What makes the footwear unique is its characteristic divided toe area. It was created this way so that people could wear their slip-on thonged footwear inside the jika-tabi. During World War II, Japanese soldiers started wearing jika-tabi. After the war, Western shoes entered the Japanese market and pushed jika-tabi in the background.
Jika-tabi shoes. | istolethetv
Jika-tabi shoes are often made with rubber soles and tough material that is able to withstand the rigors of heavy work. They are the preferred footwear of many rickshaw-pullers, construction workers, farmers, gardeners, and other types of laborers. Jika-tabi is slowly being replaced by steel-toed shoes that offer more protection for the feet from falls and sharp objects. But there are other people who still choose to wear the comfortable jika-tabi because of its flexibility. It allows the wearer to grip the ground more and doesn’t restrict their feet as much compared to other types of shoes. Construction workers find it easier to balance on girders and beams, and it gives carpenters and gardeners more mobility. There is an all rubber, knee-high jika-tabi specially made for farmers who work the wet, muddy fields.
Recently, jika-tabi manufacturers Marugo and Rikio came up with the “steel toe” and “hard resin” jika-tabi that is now approved by the Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC).
People who practice martial arts or certain kinds of exercise such as trail-running, climbing and walking also prefer using the jika-tabi. In fact,they are known as the ninja shoes in the Western world even if ninjas are said to never have worn them. The big toe plays an important part in balancing and walking. With the jika-tabi design, the feet have more freedom of movement.
Jika-tabi for sale. | Yuya Tamai
Over the years, Kale has gained popularity in the United States and has become a common vegetable served at many dinner tables and restaurants. Kale is a green super food and can be eaten raw or cooked. Numerous celebrity chefs and food magazines have come up with easy, delicious ways to prepare this healthy vegetable, and the rest of the world is starting to ride the kale bandwagon.
Kale is said to originate in Europe where the curly and flat-leafed varieties already existed in Greece in the 4th century B.C.E. Romans referred to these as Sabellian kale which later on evolved into modern kale. It was later brought into Canada and the United States by the Russians in the 19th century. Since kale was easy to grow and provided important nutrients, its production was encouraged during World War II when food rationing was rampant.
Kale leaves. | Tuscanycious
Kale is more commonly known as a leafy, dark green vegetable, although it may also come in a variety of colors like white, purple, and pink. It belongs to the cabbage family, but it does not grow in a tight bound head–rather, in fibrous stalks from the center. Kale can easily flourish even in cold temperatures, hence its growing popularity around the world. In Japan, kale was initially used for ornamentation. If the English recognized the value of the nutritional benefits of kale as a viand during World War II, the Japanese popularized it as a drink called aojiru.
Flowering kale. | terren in Virginia
Aojiru (青汁) is commonly known as green juice and is made primarily of kale. It was developed in 1943 by Dr. Niro Endo, an army doctor who experimented with juice from discarded leaves of different types of vegetables in an attempt to supplement his family’s dietary needs during WWII. He believed his son was cured from pneumonia and his wife from nephritis by aojiru. In 1983, Q’SAI began marketing 100% kale aojiru in powdered form as a dietary supplement.
Some of the benefits of kale are that it contains high concentrations of calcium, sulphur-containing phytonutrients, antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K, eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds, copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus and, when eaten raw, kale binds bile acids, helps lower blood cholesterol levels, and reduces the risk of heart disease.
Kale juice. | Nemo’s great uncle
Japanese mythology embodies Shinto and Buddhist traditions and local folk religion. Japan has several gods or spirits known as “kami” in Japanese. Many Japanese myths are based on ancient texts such as the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki. Japanese deities are mainly from Shinto (indigenous spirituality of Japan) and Buddhism beliefs that were integrated into Japanese folk tales. Amaterasu is the goddess of the sun, in popular Shinto belief. She is supposedly a direct descendant of the Imperial Household of Japan.
Depiction of Amatersau.
Amaterasu (天照), also known as Amaterasu-ōmikami or Ōhirume-no-muchi-no-kami, is considered the primary god of Shinto because of her close ties to the Imperial family. The story of Amaterasu can be traced all the way to the oldest known records of Japan’s history in the Kojiki (680 AD) and the Nihon Shoki (720 AD). Amaterasu is the sister of Susanoo (the god of storms and sea) and Tsukuyom (god of the moon). The three siblings are believed to have painted the landscape that formed ancient Japan. Amaterasu, Susanoo, and Tsukuyomi are the children of Izanagi, a deity born of the seven divine generations. Izanagi, along with his sister and wife, Izanami (goddess of creation and death) gave birth to the many islands of Japan and numerous deities of Shintoism.
The three siblings were born when Izanagi was purifying himself after entering Yomi (the underworld). Tsukuyomi was was born when Izanagi washed his right eye, Susanoo was from the washing of the nose, and Ameterasu was from the washing of his left eye. Ameterasu shared ruling over the sun and the heavens with her brother and husband Tsukuyomi until he angered Ameterasu when he killed Uke Mochi (goddess of food). Thus, Ameterasu labeled Tsukuyomi an evil god and left him. This caused the separation between night from day.
Ancient texts also speak of Ameterasu and Susanoo’s bitter rivalry. Izanagi had ordered Susanoo to leave Heaven. Susanoo went to bid his sister goodbye but Ameterasu questioned his sincerity. This resulted in a challenge where each took an item from the other. Amaterasu chose a sword from Susanoo, while he chose Ameterasu’s necklace. From the sword were born three women; from the necklace, five men. Ameterasu was declared the winner, and Susanoo wreaked havoc. Their conflict ended when Susanoo ceded Ameterasu his sword, the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi (Grass Cutting Sword), in reconciliation.
Artist’s rendition of the Imperial Regalia.
According to legend, Amaterasu birthed descendants to whom she bequeathed some of her magical items. Among the descendants who received items from Ameterasu are Ninigi, who received the sacred mirror; Yata-no- Kagami, the jewel; and Kusanagi-noTsurugi, the sword of Susanoo. All three sacred items collectively became the Imperial Regalia of Japan.
Over the years, the modern world has become digitalized. We rely more and more on gadgets in our daily lives. It is almost unthinkable to do school or office work without a computer, drive on unfamiliar roads without a GPS, go a day without a smart phone, iPad, or television. Almost all our creature comforts are digitalized, including our books.
An electronic book, digital book, or e-book is a book- length publication in digital form. Various magazines, newspapers, comic books, and manga and anime books are available as e-books and in several languages all around the world. And some commercially available materials are dedicated for e-book readers (not available in printed form). The very first e-book, prepared by Robert Busa, was the Index Thomisticus, a heavily annotated index of the works of Thomas Aquinas.
An e-book reader literally allows you to carry an entire library, thousands of books, in the palm of your hand. Electronic tablets such as iPads can also display e-books.
E-books. | Maria Elena
Japan has a large market of readers, and the publishing industry has been enjoying high sales over the past years. Although Japan is known to be a forerunner in the electronics industry, its consumers have resisted embracing the new mode . . . until recently. There has been a significant rise in sales of e-book readers among Japanese consumers. Amazon Japan and Rakuten have e-books and e-book readers that are cheaper than those usually available in stores. This has greatly reduced the business of many bookstores and other smaller retailers. Thirty-four percent of bookstores have closed in Japan since 2000.
Click image or here: http://youtu.be/mkKDbyj_ve4
There are several advantages and disadvantages to e-books and e-book readers. The good: you can hold hundreds and thousands of books in just one device; you need very little physical space for all those books (just storage space in your e-reader)’ e-books are cheaper than printed books; you can make a purchase and receive it almost immediately; on colored tablets, manga and anime art and photo colors are vivid; and most of all, you save trees.
The bad: having to charge your device regularly; the initial investment for an e-book reader can be quite costly; on some gadgets, you have to deal with glare when reading under direct sunlight; lending an e-book may be difficult since it is in your device; and for some hard core book lovers, there is the lack of the aesthetic feel and smell of a good old book. Which one do you prefer?
Japan is known for anime and manga, as the leader in creating some of the best games and gaming consoles we love so much, and as a robotics pioneer. But further, Japan has many other mind blowing ideas and inventions that have become part of the Japanese way of life but still never cease to amaze us. Here are just a few of the awesome things in Japan.
Taxis. Perhaps most amazing about taxis in Japan is the doors that open automatically for passengers, so convenient and helpful when you are laden with packages or luggage and are unable to open the door. Although taxis in Japan are not the cheapest way to get around, sometimes it can all be worth it.
Taxi in Japan. | Rafiq Mirza
Vending machines. Japan has the highest number of vending machines in the world. There is practically a vending machine for anything imaginable, from the typical hot and cold beverages, bottled liquor, sandwiches, and ramen to the more unusual offerings of fresh meat, eggs, potted plants, live lobsters, and iPods. The packaged food you can get from vending machines is said to be delicious, fresh, and affordable. Newer machines have a modern touch-screen with animated images of the available options.
Egg vending machine. | antjeverena
Uniquely Japanese canned drinks. Japanese beer cans have imprinted Braille for people who are visually impaired to choose the brew they want. This system was developed by Japanese government and industry to make products and services more accessible to people with various disabilities. Another invention is the small groove behind the pull tab of canned beverages, making it easier for the finger to hook the pull tab when opening the can.
Braille marks on a beer can. | Paul
Japanese mayonnaise. Kewpie (named after the kewpie doll) is arguably the most popular brand of Japanese mayonnaise. Japanese mayonnaise is slightly thicker, sweeter, and richer than Western mayonnaise. Western mayonnaise uses distilled vinegar, while the Japanese version uses apple or rice vinegar. Also, only egg yolks are used in Japanese mayo (not whole eggs.)
Kewpie mayonnaise. | phozographer
The Nunchaku (ヌンチャク), also known as “nunchuk”, “nunchuck”, or “chainstick”, is a traditional Japanese weapon originally developed in Okinawa. The Nunchaku consists of two sticks linked together by a short chain or rope. In more modern times, the nunchaku was popularized by the martial arts icon Bruce Lee. It is widely used in karate and the Okinawan kobudō martial arts. Nunchaku is considered a great training weapon that develops quicker movements and improves posture.
The term nunchaku is from the Japanese Ryukyuan languages. The word itself was derived from a short Southeast Asian agricultural tool used for threshing rice or soybeans. When Japanese warlords invaded Okinawa, they banned the use other conventional weapons. As a result, Okinawans learned kobudo and karate. Kobudo weaponry were farming tools that farmers converted into things they could use to defend themselves. Another belief is that the nunchaku was from the wooden clapper called hyoshiki. It was made of two blocks of wood joined by a cord and used by village watchmen. It was used to make noises to warn villagers of impending fires and other dangers. It is also said that nunchuks were developed from bits used for Okinawan horses.
Varieties of nunchaku.
There are many varieties of nunchakus but they are primarily made of two sections of wood connected by either a chain (kusari) or a cord (himo). Okinawan nunchakus have an octagonal cross-section that increases the force of contact on one end of the weapon, while the Chinese version is more rounded. Ideally, the pieces of wood should be long enough to protect the forearm when the nunchucks are held high at the top of the shaft. There are asymmetrical nunchuks, but typically both sticks should be of the same length. The chain or rope holding the two sticks together should be long enough to allow the user to lay the weapon over the palm of the hand with both sticks perpendicular to the ground and hanging comfortably. The pieces of wood should be perfectly balanced to be able to execute the techniques used with the nunchaku.
Click image or here: http://youtu.be/bYIGKeOoSeo
For the budget conscious traveler, capsule hotels may be the best answer for clean and affordable lodging while in Japan. A capsule hotel (カプセルホテル kapuseru hoteru) is a popular type of affordable accommodation in Japan for the weary traveler who may have had a bit too much to drink, missed the last train home, or needs a place to sleep for the night that has basic amenities without the services offered by other regular hotels.
A typical capsule is made of fiberglass a little over 6 ft. long and 4 ft. wide. It has enough room for you to sleep comfortably in (provided you’re not over 6 ft. tall), and some capsules are big enough for you to sit upright. Most pods are equipped with a small television, wireless internet connection, small console, dimmable lighting, and wall-mounted alarm clock. To ensure your privacy, the capsules have curtains and a door at one end. The pods are stacked side by side, two units high. There are communal washrooms for men and women, locker rooms for your belongings, and restaurants or vending machines for food and drink. Some capsule hotels have pools and other entertainment facilities. Smoking and eating are not allowed inside the capsule. An overnight stay in your very own pod can cost about 3,500 Yen (about $36).
Capsule hotel. | Kojach
The famous Japanese architect Kisho Kurosawa designed the very first capsule hotel, Capsule Inn Osaka, in 1979. The concept of an efficient, affordable place to stay for the night quickly caught on for busy Japanese yuppies. Soon, more hotels offering the same type of service sprouted all around Japan. Capsule hotels are even a convenient place to stay for jobless people, who rent pods by the month.
Capsule interior. | Kojach
Staying at a capsule hotel may not be for someone who is claustrophobic. Personally, I can’t even compare it to a coffin because it is much too big and comfortable. Capsule hotels are uniquely Japanese, truly one of the must-try things when visiting Japan.
I don’t really consider myself superstitious. But it’s funny that I have favorite numbers when I occasionally try my luck at the lottery. I am careful if it happens to be Friday the 13th (okay, admittedly I am extra careful to lock doors on this particular night in case “Jason” decides to pay me a visit). And when I turn a certain age, unless it’s one of those significant birthdays such as turning 40, 50, 90 and so on, I don’t make such a big fuss about it. The Japanese have a unique tradition known as yakudoshi, a belief that turning a certain age is unlucky or, to be blunt, you’re jinxed for the whole year. You should refrain from any big steps like marriage, taking out a loan, or starting a business.
Yakudoshi chart. | Jennifer Murawski
Yakudoshi (厄年) is a set of numbers thought to be unlucky ages in Japanese belief. It is not a scientific fact and its validity is debatable but it still is a custom resolutely observed in Japan. History indicates that the belief originated from onmyōdō (Japanese cosmology), based on the Chinese belief in ‘The Way of Yin and Yang’. According to source materials, the set of unlucky numbers changes over the years -Yakudoshi years during the Heian period were 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 73, 85, 97, in the Kamakura period these were 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 73, 99, in the 16th century they were 13, 25, 37, 49, 61, 85, 99, and Buddhist teachings state that 7, 13, 33, 37, 42, 49, 52, 61, 73, 85, 97, 105 are considered unlucky ages. The most important idea to this belief is the Yin and Yang theory of the existence of an opposite in everything.
Men and women have different unlucky years. Examples of yakudoshi ages for men are 25, 42, and 61 with 42 being the unluckiest. For women they are 19, 33 and 37, 33 being the unluckiest. Great misfortune is said to befall men and women in the year they turn the unlucky ages, so it is important to make necessary preparations. In addition, there is an unlucky period from midnight until noon of the New Year in an unlucky year, the day before the birthday, and the year before and after a yakudoshi birthday are also said to be unlucky. The year prior to yakudoshi is called “Maeyaku”, a year that shall bring an omen.
Ways to avoid misfortune brought about by yakudoshi include praying in shrines, donating to temples, and buying temple charms and then setting them on fire to keep bad luck away.
Japan has many traditional festive occasions. One of them honors the Ikegami Honmonji O-Eshiki (お会式) every October.
Ikegami Honmon-ji (池上本門寺) is a temple located in south Tokyo. It was erected to honor the place of death of Nichiren (considered to be the founder of the Buddhist Nichiren Sect). The temple grounds also include the administrative headquarters of Nichiren Shū, a confederation of the original Nichiren Buddhist Schools dating back to Nichiren’s original disciples. A number of buildings within the temple’s complex were reconstructed after the WWII bombings, such as the historic five-story pagoda built in 1608, the repository of religious writings (kyōzō (経蔵)) built in 1784, and the hōtō that was built in 1781 where Nichiren was cremated.
Ikegami Honmonji Temple. | etrepum
Around 700 years ago, the high priest Nichiren left his residence at Mt. Minobusan to recover from his illness. As it turned out, he fell short of his destination and died in Ikegami, now known as Ota-ku, Tokyo. Ikegami Honmonji O-Eshiki is held every year from October 11th to the 13th. O-eshiki refers to a Buddhist service that commemorates a death. Thousands of worshipers flock to the temple to pay homage to Nichiren.
One of the attractions includes an elaborate lantern stand called a mandō (万灯). On the evening of the 12th, there is the Mando Kuyo Parade, whose two-kilometer pathway is adorned by a hundred lanterns. The parade runs from Ikegami Station to Ikegami Honmon Temple . “Kuyo” means to make offerings for the repose of the soul of the dead. Thousands of followers chant the prayer of the seven letters of ‘na-mu-myo-ho-ren-ge-kyo’ as drums and flutes play in the background. The festival culminates with the the Rinmetsudoji Hoyo on the 13th, where the head priest solemnly pounds a gong just as was done at the moment of the high priest Nichiren’s death.
Oeshiki at Honmon-ji. | tak1701d
Ikegami Honmonji Temple is a short walk from Ikegami Station (Tōkyū Ikegami Line) or Nishi-Magome Station (Toei Asakusa Line).