Category Archive: Japanese Culture
Japan has a long, proud history in its unique ancient culture and heritage that span centuries. Musical instruments have been an influential part of Japanese traditions as seen in the many festivals that are celebrated yearly. Some of these traditional Japanese instruments have withstood the test of time, notably the taiko drums, which have attracted quite a number of avid players.
Taiko drums are large percussion instruments that have been a part of Japanese culture for centuries. They were originally found in shrines and temples, and they were played during religious ceremonies and festivals. The rhythmic and booming beats of taiko drums can resonate to far distances. Taiko drums come in varieties and sizes. The huge ones are called ōdaiko, which include some of the largest drums in the world. The largest, which is housed at Takanosu Road Station, measures 3.71 meters in diameter and weighs 3 tons. That’s enormous!
Taiko drums. | Jim George
Over the last four decades, taiko drumming has become a performance art and is now growing in popularity as an exercise routine. Taiko exercise is the perfect ensemble-based, full mind, and body workout with the additional playing of a musical instrument. Taiko is often taught at martial arts studios because it shares much of the same philosophies of mind/body practice common in Eastern discipline studies such as tai chi, yoga, and martial arts.
Taiko offers a whole new experience even for seasoned drummers. You don’t have to be adept at playing the drums when introducing yourself to taiko exercises. The rhythms are simple enough and can be easily memorized after a few sessions by picking up the patterns and recognizing them through repetition since the rhythm does not correspond to contemporary music and there is no written music. The patterns are mostly played in a standing position, at times overhead, in a half squatting position and even running and jumping. It makes an ideal overall workout that tones most, if not all, the muscles of the body.
Taiko drummers. | Camille King
A study by neurologist Dr. Barry Bittman of the Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute on the drumming activity and its effect on increasing immune response over 10 years ago, shows that, “playing a musical instrument also helped prevent biological responses to stress that are closely associated with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and virus activity.” This is based on the fact that drum circles have been a part of healing rituals in many cultures.
Check out this taiko workout YouTube video by taikofit:
Click image or here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnOaExLJ1zY
Matcha is finely ground powder of specially processed and grown green tea. A popular flavor in Japan, matcha is also used in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony that centers on the preparing, serving, and drinking of green tea.
Matcha was discovered by a Chinese monk, from a tea plant called Camellia sinensis. The farming and processing of green tea involves two stages: harvesting and fermenting. The plant grows in shade for about three weeks before harvesting. The stems and veins are then removed. The leaves of the plant are fermented and dried to get the desired flavor and quality. This fermentation process is the key to achieving a particular type of tea. The tea leaves have polyphenols responsible for the creation of antioxidants in our bodies. The longer the fermentation process, the fewer polyphenols in the leaves.
Matcha green tea powder. | Mattie Hagedorn
Green tea fermentation involves first steaming the leaves, then fermenting them. This retains more of the polyphenols that offer so many health benefits. For example, one polyphenol is Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is responsible for repairing damaged cells of the body as well as fighting off harmful toxins.
Blends of matcha are given tea names or chamei by the plantation, by the store where matcha is sold, or by the grand master of a particular tea tradition. When a blend of green tea is named by a grand master, it becomes known as the master’s konomi or favored blend. Matcha is also often used to flavor and dye foods such as noodles, ice cream, and mochi. As of late, there are numerous green tea flavored products such as green tea KitKat chocolate bars, pizzas, drinks, and many more!
Matcha flavored ice cream (right). | jpellgen
Usually, all the popular products flavored with green tea start to come out during warmer months and the first tea harvests of the year. One particular store named Itohkyuemon tea store, in Kyoto’s highly regarded green tea-producing region of Uji, has been selling tea since 1832. Almost two centuries later, Itohkyuemon is introducing “vin au thé vert” (green tea wine) to the market as part of their “Yokan no Midori” (Midnight Green) range of alcoholic beverages. The versatility of matcha flavors as well as the many health benefits matcha offers are a wonderful way to enjoy the age old Japanese favorite.
Green tea KitKat. | Nestlé
Ueda Castle (上田城 Ueda-jō) plays an important part in Japanese history that exemplifies determination and courage. The castle was built in the late 16th century by the daimyo Sanada Masayuki who later became the governor. Sanada Masayuki was known for his resourcefulness and courage. He was skilled in war tactics and strategies and led his limited forces masterfully in bravely going against larger armies.
Ueda Castle. | Tomorobi
The Sanada clan defended the castle twice from Tokugawa for it rallied against its rule, in 1585 and then again in 1600. The Sanada clan put up an impressive stance against the Tokugawa armies both times. When Sanada Masayuki refused to relinquish hold over the Numata Castle to Tokugawa Ieyasu, it led eventually to the Battle of Kami River. While some of Sanada’s forces were busily engaged in battle, Ieyasu charged into Ueda Castle with a very large army. Masayuki had already readied his available forces with an ambush party. This surprise attack threw off the Tokugawa army, causing a great loss of life.
At the Battle of Sekigahara, Masayuki and his son, Sanada Yukimura, yet again faced the Tokugawa army. The Sanada forces announced their surrender as part of Masayuki’s plan to make the Tokugawa army think he was really surrendering. Instead, Masayuki was really preparing to defend Ueda Castle. When Tokugawa Hidetada was alerted of the Sanada clan’s plot, Hidetada began to move his troops. However, Masayuki was not to be outwitted and was already prepared to attack. Another ambush party was ready to attack: this time it was ordered to attack the Tokugawa’s main camp. Hidetada failed in his plan to seize Ueda Castle and was also kept from joining the field at Sekigahara.
Sanada Masayuki. | 不明。
When finally Sanada Masayuki succumbed to defeat, Ueda Castle was demolished. When the Tokugawa family established their reign over Japan, the castle was reconstructed by another daimyo. The donjon died during the reconstruction, leaving the castle mainly unfinished. Today, there are existing turrets that echo what Ueno castle once was, a place where so many lives were lost, a place that so many people fought for as a testament to their courage and beliefs.
Kamakura, one of Japan’s most popular destinations, has many historical Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, some of which are over a thousand years old. The Great Buddha of Kamakura located in Kōtoku-in (a Buddhist temple of the Jōdo-shū sect), Kamakura City, is one of the famous attractions that draws visitors every year. The Great Buddha of Kamakura is a bronze statue of Amida Buddha, said to date back to 1252. It measures a hefty 121 tonnes (267,000 pounds) with a height of 43.8 ft.
KCP Winter 2016 students by the Great Buddha. | KCP Flickr
Kamakura is also the home of the Five Great Zen Temples or the Kamakura Gozan. The architectural and historical heritage of Kamakura is a wonderful way to experience the Japanese culture. Although the city was heavily damaged during the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, the damaged centuries-old shrines and temples have since then been carefully restored.
Join KCP Winter 2016 students as they visit and explore Kamakura as part of their culture trip.
For more photos of the Kamakura excursion, visit KCP Flickr.
Ukai or cormorant fishing is a traditional fishing method using trained cormorants (from the family of Phalacrocoracidae consisting of about 40 kinds of species of aquatic birds) to fish in rivers. Fishermen tie a snare by the base of the bird’s throat, preventing them from swallowing the bigger fish they catch. The smaller fish can still be swallowed and eaten by the cormorants. Once a bird catches a fish, the fisherman brings it back to the boat and has it spit out the fish. Ukai was once a thriving industry. Though it is not as popular today, it is still being practiced and is a part of the unique Japanese culture and tradition.
Ukai has been around for about 1,300 years in Japan, predominantly along the Nagarawa River in Gifu City where master fishermen have official patronage from the emperor of Japan himself. History tells us that cormorant fishing has been practiced in China and Japan since 960 CE and even as far back as 636 CE according to the Book of Sui, the official history of the Sui Dynasty of China where it states that ukai was the fishing method used by ancient Japanese.
Cormorants catching fish. | Frans Schouwenburg
Cormorant fishing in Japan is practiced by master fishermen in long wooden boats with each fisherman leading about a dozen birds on leashes. The cormorants swim alongside the boat and dive underwater to catch fish by swallowing them whole. Cormorants have special pouches in their throats that can store the fish which can be easily retrieved by the fishermen. For night fishing, each boat has a large fire that is suspended from its bow to enable the fishermen and birds to see better.
Fishermen with cormorants. | Kentaro Ohno
Today, ukai takes place in the summer months in about a dozen rivers across Japan. The type of cormorants used in fishing depends on where the fishermen intend to fish. In China, Chinese fishermen often use great cormorants or black shag, Phalacrocorax carbo. And in Gifu, Japan, fishermen use the Japanese cormorant or Temminck’s cormorant, Phalacrocorax capillatus.
Some of the more popular locations include:
- Nagaragawa River, Gifu City, May 11 to October 15
- Hozu River, Arashiyama, Kyoto City, July to mid September (2015: 7/1 to 9/15)
- Uji River, Uji City, mid June to late September (2015: 6/13 to 9/23)
Cormorants. | Alexander Savin
Karaage chicken is popularly known as Japan’s version of fried chicken. What makes it different from other types of fried chicken is its size and seasoning. Chicken karaage is often served in boneless bite-sized pieces and is specially seasoned with a mouth-watering mix of popular Asian flavors such as ginger and sesame.
Karaage is a Japanese cooking technique used for many other types of food, not just chicken. Other types of meat and fish can also be used. The karaage cooking technique involves marinating the small pieces of meat in a sauce, then lightly coating it with seasoned flour or potato starch mixture and finally frying it in oil.
Chicken karaage. | Kirk K
Karaage is much loved in Japan; there is even a travelling Karaage Festival specifically dedicated to it. The next event is set to open at the start of April 2016 in Fukuoka City, at the southern island of Kyushu. Representatives from more than 24 karaage restaurants from all around the country come to the festival, all ready to cook up a storm with their own take on karaage.
For those with adventurous tastebuds, there are other things made with karaage that you can try at the karaage festival, like karaage ramen and even karaage ice cream! Karaage is a delicious addition to a recipe repertoire that anyone can enjoy again and again.
Octopus karaage. | june29
Here is a simple karaage recipe you can try.
4 pcs boneless chicken breast with or without skin
2 Tbsp sake
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp salt
1-2 tsp garlic, grated
1-2 tsp ginger, grated
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup corn starch
salt and pepper to taste
oil for deep frying
Karaage. | Lucas Richarz
Cut chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces. Mix sake, soy sauce, salt, garlic, and ginger with chicken in a bowl, cover the bowl with cling wrap. Let the chicken pieces sit in the marinade for 1/2-1 hour in the fridge. Mix flour, corn starch, and some salt and pepper in another bowl. Coat marinated chicken pieces with flour mixture. Heat oil at medium high heat ( about 350F). Deep fry chicken until cooked.
The biannual International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo is a thrilling event that showcases futuristic machines and realistic androids exhibiting a number of noteworthy advantages. The December 2015 exhibition focused on disaster relief to help aid Japan and its people in times of natural calamities.
The world of robotics has long been a subject of fascination for many. Japan has been a pioneer in the industry for many years and has produced variations of robots with unique characteristics. Some of these are androids, humanoid entertainment robots, animal robots, guard robots, and many more.
The robotics industry is an integral part of the Japanese economy, employing more than a quarter of a million industrial robot workers. It is projected that within the next 15 years, the number may go up to as much as a million with revenues in the industry to skyrocket to US$70 billion by the year 2025.
ASIMO by Honda. |Gnsin
During the Edo period (1603-1867), Takeda-za developed a mechanical puppet theater that was popular in Osaka’s Dotonbori district. These mechanical dolls or the karakuri ningyo (traditional Japanese mechanized puppets) were Japan’s oldest robots. The first idea of a robot was the cartoon character Astro Boy (鉄腕アトム Tetsuwan Atomu, “Mighty Atom,” lit. “Iron Arm Atom”). Astro Boy was introduced to the Japanese public as a manga series in 1952 and became a television program in 1963. Its creator Osamu Tezuka is considered to be the god of Manga in Japan. The standard plot of the Astro Boy series follows the adventures of the popular robot and how he tackles his adversaries with super robotic prowess.
Robot at the International Robot Exhibition. | Mary-chan
Kawasaki Robotics began commercial production of industrial robots over 40 years ago. Waseda University professor Ichiro Kato studied humanoid robots and created WABOT-1, a full scale humanoid robot in 1973. In 1996, Honda announced the p2 humanoid robot that paved the way for more companies and institutes to take interest and develop more advanced humanoid robots for varying purposes. About 700,000 industrial robots were used all around the globe in 1995, 500,000 in Japan. By 2012, over 1.2 million industrial robots were in use. The numbers continue to grow and technological advancements continuing to make milestone breakthroughs.
Watch robots come alive in NipponNewsNet’s YouTube video of the International Robot Exhibition 2015 event:
Click image or here: https://youtu.be/2oSkl9DbtJI
Japan is a country whose citizens live a long, full, and healthy life. In the World Health Statistics 2015 announced by the World Health Organization (WHO), Japan has the longest average lifespan in the entire world! Compared to other countries, the average lifespan of Japanese men and women combined is 84 years, Americans’ average is 79 years, and the Chinese average is 75 years. The secret to the longevity of the Japanese may be as simple as in the food they eat.
Japanese food was just recently added to UNESCO intangible cultural heritage in 2013 and has garnered even more worldwide attention. Japanese cuisine is prized for its freshness and delicate essence that brings out the original taste of each and every ingredient, enhancing the entire dish and coming together in a marriage of flavor. Japanese dishes are made with exquisite planning and care. The gorgeous presentation makes any meal an experience for the senses, and as much as possible represents the four seasons, especially in traditional Japanese meals enjoyed on special occasions. But the secret to longevity is not in the presentation or extensive preparation of the meal but in the ordinary daily diet of the Japanese.
Fresh nigirizushi. | Lorenia
Ichiju-sansai (一汁三菜), literally “one soup, three sides” can also mean a “well-balanced meal.” It is a phrase that represents the typical daily diet of many Japanese. The soup is commonly miso soup. The word sai (菜) simply means vegetable and may also mean any accompanying dish such as meat or fish. The word is closely related to the Japanese word for appetizer, zensai (前菜), while the main dish in Japanese is called shusai (主菜) or sōzai (惣菜).
During the Edo period (1603-1867), a luxurious Japanese meal consisted of two to three kinds of soup, but a typical meal of the Japanese commonpeople only had one soup. Hence, the idea of ichiju–sansai must have come from the wisdom of ordinary people. A truly well-balanced Japanese meal is complete when rice is added to ichiju-sansai. The freshness and quality of all the ingredients that come together to complete ichiju-sansai are the secrets to longevity.
Miso soup. | Prayitno
Spring has officially begun, which means sakura (cherry blossoms) will be in full bloom. Sakura is an iconic symbol of Japanese culture and history. Thousands of people, locals and visitors from all around the world, flock to see the beauty of the flowers in full bloom which last for only a few days.
Sakura flowers have a deep connection with the history and culture of Japan. They are full of symbolism, such as the Japanese aesthetics of wabi-sabi (a view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection) and their state of impermanence (blooms only last up to a week or two) which resonates with the samurai culture. The beautiful cherry blossoms also play a role in numerous Japanese artworks in the ancient and the modern eras. Sakura were initially used as offerings for the year’s harvest and marked the beginning of the rice-planting season.
Sakura. | Mattia Panciroli
Catching the sakura viewing season for the year needs some planning. It would be best to check on the location and previous year’s date of when the flowers were in full bloom. The start of sakura season varies in each area and is decided by a single tree signaling the start of the bloom in that area. The type of sakura tree used to tell the forecast is called somei yoshino, or the five-petaled flower.
KCP students by a sakura tree. | KCP Flickr
Hanami, or flower viewing, is the Japanese custom of enjoying the transient beauty of the sakura flowers (hana). The cherry blossom forecast (sakura-zensen) is announced by the Japan weather bureau and usually begins in early March to early May with schedules that vary depending on the area. At Hanami parties, people gather where the flowers are in bloom and hold feasts under the flowering trees. These parties sometimes last until late in the evening and are a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of the outdoors.
KCP students at a hanami party. | KCP Flickr
Always plan ahead and check on the sakura forecast for the year. The sakura viewing and hanami parties are ancient Japanese traditions that give you wonderful insights on Japan’s unique culture and way of life.
For more KCP photos of hanami, visit KCP Flickr.
Wasabi is a popular Japanese condiment similar to horseradish, most commonly used when eating sashimi and sushi. It has a unique sharp taste: you can feel your sinuses clear immediately after consuming it. Wasabi is widely served in Japan and the rest of world is fast getting to appreciate its addictive flavor.
Wasabi (わさび（山葵), a plant from the Brassicaceae family that includes mustard, horseradish, and cabbages, is also known as Japanese horseradish. Typically, the stem and root are grated and used as a condiment. It has a strong, pungent flavor closer mustard rather than to the capsaicin of chili peppers. Wasabi produces vapors that stimulate the nasal passages more than the tongue. The wasabi plant usually grows along stream beds in mountain rivers in Japan, and is largely produced in Nagano Shizuoka and Shimane Prefectures.
Wasabi plant. | Qwert1234
Wasabi has a long history documented in records written on wood that are said to date back to 685 CE. The use of wasabi initially spread as a medicinal herb but by the Kamakura period at the end of the 12th century to the 14th century, wasabi was widely used as a condiment.
Wasabi can be quite a challenge to cultivate, which makes it expensive. It can be very difficult to find real wasabi plants outside of Japan. A common alternative is horseradish, mustard starch, and green food coloring. Horseradish and wasabi have similar tastes but the distinct difference is the unique natural green color of the latter.
Wasabi for sale. | Antonio Rubio
The chemical in wasabi known as allyl isothiocyanate that is produced by hydrolisis of natural thioglucosides (conjugates of the sugar glucose, and sulfur-containing organic compounds) causes a reaction that allows the enzyme to be released when the cells rupture such as when the roots of the plant are grated. The same compound is responsible for the pungency found in horseradish and mustard.
Grated wasabi. | lazythunk
Wasabi is a delicious condiment that can enhance the flavors of any type of dish or snack whether Japanese or not. Oishi!