Category Archive: Japanese Culture
Each month brings exciting festivals in Japan. These festivals are a wonderful way to get to know the Japanese culture and way of life.
Here are a few Japanese festivals in March:
Dai Himonjiyaki – a month-long fire festival held every March around the area of Mt. Aso in Kyushu. The most anticipated event of Dai Himonjiyaki takes place on the 2nd saturday of March on a mountain slope in Ojo-dake where giant Chinese characters (measuring about 350 meters) signifying “fire” are lit. Hifuri Shinji, a ceremony offered for a rich harvest, is the celebration of the union of the gods. Locals and visitors alike light pine torches and wave them in the air, creating rings of fire for a spectacular sight.
Aso fire festival. | Josh
The Yama-no-kami Matsuri (Mountain God Festival) is held at the end of March in the neighboring village, Nishihara. Part of the festival is the process called no-yak which involves setting fields around the area on fire to keep the grass in the pasture land in prime condition. You can try delicious delicacies such as the Aso beef barbeque in styles that vary by town and secret age-old family recipes. You can also visit Hana-Asobi (Aso Agri Square) near Aso Station, home to Japan’s only Tofu Museum.
Omizutori (お水取り) – an annual Japanese sacred water-drawing Buddhist festival that takes place in Nara. Omizutori is the final rite of a two-week long observance of the Shuni-e ceremony (Second-Month Service of the lunisolar calendar). The purpose of the festival is to cleanse the people of their sins and to usher in the new year. During the evening ceremony called Otaimatsu, monks wave burning torches and draw large fiery circles in the air. Local belief is that whoever witnesses the ceremony and is showered with sparks is protected from evil, harmful things.
Omizutori. | Realmonkey
Sagicho Matsuri – also known as Omihachiman no Hi-matsuri (Omihachiman Shrine fire festival), this event is held in Shiga, every mid-March. It was first celebrated in the 16th century when new settlers to the district organized a grander festival than the one being celebrated in April. Elaborately decorated Sagicho floats are gathered at Himure Hachimangu Shrine. These are made with pine torches woven from straw and topped with a long bamboo pole decorated with numerous strips of red paper. The center of each float is mounted with an animal representing the one for that particular Oriental Zodiac year. A poll is taken to determine the best float, after which they are paraded through town with people carrying mikoshi (portable shrines) shouting “Cho yare, yare yare!”
Red paper strips on a Sagicho float. | ORAZ Studio
Cats are often the stuff of legend–they embody mysticism. It is no wonder that cats have been culturally significant for many nations. Their relationship with and influence on humans is as old as civilization itself and can be traced back to over 9,500 years.
In Japan, cats are revered for giving good luck and other positive results. The popular Japanese cat figurine maneki-neko (招き猫, “beckoning cat”) is typically believed to bring such blessings. The figurine is often of a cat with its paw in an upright position as if beckoning. According to Japanese legend, a landlord witnessed a cat waving a paw at him. Intrigued by this gesture, he came close to the cat when suddenly a lightning bolt struck the exact place he was previously standing in. The landlord believed that his good fortune was because of the cat’s actions. Hence, the beckoning hand became a symbol of good luck. Maneki-neko are mostly found at the entrance of shops, restaurants, and other business establishments. They can serve as other more useful and portable things such as keychains and piggy banks.
Makeni-neko. | Sarah
Japan’s history indicates that cats have played an important role in Japanese culture and society, hence the number of shrines and temples dedicated to cats in the country. Here are some of them.
Nambujinja – located in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture, a mythical cat-like creature known in Japanese folktales is revered at this temple. Local residents are confident that cats will always keep harmful rodents away.
Konoshimajinja – in Kyotango City, Kyoto, a statue of a cat with its paw protectively on its kitten’s head greets people who enter the city. Kyoto, Japan’s former capital, originally was the center of high culture and aristocracy. The city was home to prominent silk producers who believed that cats kept the number of rats to a minimum and enabled them to work continuously to produce the finest silk possible.
Nekojinja – literally means Cat Shrine. Fishermen from the island of Tashirojima in Miyagi Prefecture are said to be able to predict how big a catch they would get from observing the behavior of the many cats on the island.
Cat shrine. | Mary-chan
I love Japanese and Mexican food. But I never thought of combining tacos and rice to create a delicious marriage of two of my culinary favorites and end up something so unique and delicious. Taco rice truly embodies fusion cuisine.
A taco is a traditional Mexican dish made from a wheat or corn tortilla that is either soft or crunchy, with fillings like chicken, beef, pork, seafood, vegetables, beans, and cheese. The tortilla is folded or rolled so as to eat it like a sandwich. Garnishes like avocado, salsa, cilantro, guacamole, lettuce, and onions add to the flavor and make the taco even more irresistible.
The taco predates the arrival of Europeans in Mexico. Anthropological evidence indicates that indigenous people who lived in the lake region of the Valley of Mexico already ate tacos filled with tiny fish.
Taco rice (タコライス takoraisu) is an Okinawan dish made of taco-flavored ground beef, and oftentimes, shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato and salsa, served on top of rice. Takoraisu is a favorite among many Okinawans and is often served for school lunches. Taco rice was created by Matsuzo Gibo in 1984 and was initially served at two of his cafes, King Tacos and Parlor Senri, located close to the main gate of Camp Hansen, the U.S. Marine Corps Base in Kin, Okinawa. Needless to say, takoraisu is a favorite dish among military personnel stationed in Okinawa. Taco rice is so popular that in 1996, KFC included it in their menu in all the branches in Japan. Yoshinoya, a popular Japanese gyudon fast food chain, also added taco rice to their menu in their branches in Okinawa since 2004.
Taco rice. | t-mizo
What makes taco rice Japanese is that, aside from the Tex-Mex flavor, mirin, sake, and soy sauce are added. This gives it the extra flavor that makes takoraisu even tastier. Sometimes it can be served with rice in a tortilla roll. Another variant of the dish is called “taco rice ball” where all the usual ingredients like meat, rice, and cheese are combined, dipped in batter, deep fried then served with salsa or tomato ketchup. Oishi!
Taco rice. | goodmami
Mermaids have long held mysticism and fascination for many. They are believed to be aquatic creatures with the upper body of a human female and a fish tail instead of legs. The first tales of mermaids can be traced back to ancient Assyria, where the goddess Atargatis was driven by remorse after she accidentally killed her human lover and then transformed herself into a mermaid. In Greek mythology, mermaids are considered the alluring sirens of the sea. Christopher Columbus also believed he had seen mermaids while exploring the Caribbean, and more sightings were reported in the 20th and 21st century from around the world.
Ama (海人, women; 海女, men 海士) are Japanese free divers known for collecting pearls. Most ama divers are women who seem to have lungs of steel. Ethno-historians believe that they initially traveled with the currents from continental Asia across to southern Japan where they were divided into two types of nomadic communities. One group traveled to the coast of the Pacific Ocean, and the other, to the north Japan Sea coast. According to legend, one group was carried away by a typhoon to the north and was shipwrecked on the shores of Noto Peninsula on the Japan Sea. Even today, descendants of the original women ama divers still practice the ancient tradition of free diving. They continue with the semi-nomadic customs in the village of Osatsu along the coast of the Ise-Shima region in Mie Prefecture. Pearls from oysters are no longer the prized catch for the modern day women ama divers. Rather these are snails, clams, local abalone, and sea urchins, depending on the season.
Ama at Mikimoto Pearl Island. | Shenghung Lin
Women divers were first mentioned on an ancient scroll from 927. The rich and colorful ama divers’ history is showcased at the Mikimoto Pearl Island Museum in Toba, which has a collection of ancient tools (like bone knives) found on the sea floor of the nearby areas that date back 3,000 years. Ama women divers do not need any modern day apparatus like what helps help deep sea divers breathe and stay longer underwater. With their graceful movements, and garbed in their traditional white uniform believed to keep sharks away, an ama diver can make any lonely sailor see a gorgeous mermaid emerging from the depths of the ocean.
Click image or here: http://youtu.be/H_NwUPd8Hhc
Many consider February the love month because of Valentine’s Day. Every 14th of February, the Feast of Saint Valentine is observed in many countries. It began as a liturgical celebration of Saint Valentine of Rome who was said to have been imprisoned for ministering to persecuted Christians and for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. Legend tells us that Saint Valentine was able to heal the sick daughter of his jailer.
Valentine’s Day was first associated with romance during the High Middle Ages when Geoffrey Chaucer made courtly love popular among his circle of friends. 18th century England saw Valentine’s Day as an occasion when lovers showed their love for each other by giving flowers, confectionery, and greeting cards known as valentines. The tradition of Valentine’s Day is still observed in very similar ways today.
Valentine chocolates. | Bert Kimura
Valentine’s Day in Japan is mostly observed by women who give presents to men, usually chocolates. But not all presents given on Valentine’s Day entail romance. “Giri-choko” (義理チョコ, courtesy chocolate) are chocolates given to men who are either friends, colleagues, or bosses, and these symbolize friendship or gratitude, while “honmei-choko” (本命チョコ, chocolates of love) are given to men when romantic interest is involved. Other popular restaurants and fast food chains are getting into the Valentine’s spirit. For example, Domino’s Japan is offering the “Happy Valentine’s Day Pizza” from February 7 -14. It is a cute heart-shaped pizza topped with tomato sauce, pepperoni, and mozzarella cheese.
Domino’s Valentine Pizza poster (cropped). | kristi-san
In 1977, the Ishimuramanseido confectionery company based in Fukuoka marketed marshmallows to men on March 14 and initially called it Marshmallow Day (マシュマロデー Mashumaro Dē). Several confectionery companies followed suit and began creating white chocolate specially made for March 14, which became known as White Day. This is a relatively young concept that started in Japan in 1978 by the National Confectionery Industry Association as an answer to Japan’s Valentine’s Day tradition. The idea was that on White Day, men who receive either the giri-choko or the honmei-choko on Valentine’s Day should return the favor to the women by also giving them gifts such as marshmallows, white lingerie, jewelry, cookies, and white and dark chocolate.
White Day gifts. | Danny Choo
Street food is easy for us to grab when we are on the go. Sold in streets and public places that have a lot of people traffic, these are mostly finger foods or easy to eat viands cheaper than most restaurant meals. Street food gives us a glimpse of the unique gastronomic delights of a particular country. It is a great way to get to know cultures and traditional tastes from all around the world.
Street food has been around for a very long time. During the excavation of the ancient Roman ruins of Pompeii, evidence of street food vendors was found–chickpea soup was a common meal. In ancient China, street food generally catered to the poor, but the wealthy usually sent their servants out to buy street food so they could enjoy it in their own homes. The Aztec marketplaces showed indications that vendors sold almost 50 kinds of tamales with a broad range of meats such as rabbit, gopher, fish, turkey, frog, and other ingredients such as maize flowers and eggs.
Food stall in Fukuoka. | Luc Byhet
Street food in Japan is a sight to behold, and if only taste buds could sing, they would belt out a tune of delight. Japanese street food is also known as yatai (屋台), the word for a small, mobile food stall. Fukuoka Street in Fukuoka Prefecture is considered Japan’s street food mecca. Over 150 food stalls riddle the area close to the water–a perfect place to enjoy all the delicious food.
Some of the more popular street food you can enjoy from Japan:
Oden – a Japanese hot pot, popular in winter. You can choose various ingredients such as daikon radishes, boiled eggs, fish cakes, yam cakes, and many more. The recipes, ingredients, sauces, and broths vary by region.
Takoyaki – octopus in a dumpling ball. They are usually made with pickled ginger, okonomiyake sauce, fish shavings, and rich and creamy Japanese mayonnaise.
Takoyaki. | SteFou!
Gyoza – popular in Japanese restaurants all around the world. They are fried dumplings filled with vegetables and meats with a tangy soy-vinegar dipping sauce.
Yakitori – bite sized pieces of chicken on bamboo skewers, barbecued over a hot charcoal grill.
Okonomiyaki – savory pancake made with a number of ingredients such as meat, flour, eggs, yam, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes even cheese. It is topped with Worcestershire sauce, seaweed flakes, pickled ginger, and Japanese mayonnaise.
Gyoza. | verygreen
The Nobel Prize is one of the world’s most prestigious annual international set of awards that can be bestowed on any person. Alfred Bernhard Nobel (October 21, 1833 – December 10, 1896), was a Swedish inventor whose will established the prizes in 1895. He owned Bofors, a Swedish company that formerly produced iron and steel but later became a major manufacturer of cannon and other types of armaments. Alfred Nobel held over 300 patents; dynamite was the most famous. His amassed fortune posthumously subsidizes the annual awarding of the Nobel Prize such as medals, diplomas, and money. The purse depends on the Nobel Foundations and what it can award each year. The purse has increased since the 1980s when the prize money was about U.S. $350,000 per prize. In 2009 it was around U.S. $1.4 million, and it decreased in June 2012 to less than $1.2 million.
The Swedish and Norwegian committees award prizes in several categories, namely: Chemistry, Physics, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, and Peace. The prizes for these categories were first awarded in 1901. The category for Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences was created in 1968. The Peace Price is awarded in Oslo, Norway, while the other prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden.
There have been nineteen Japanese Nobel Prize winners since 1949 beginning with Hideki Yukawa, to the most recent Japanese laureate from 2012, Shinya Yamanaka. Here are some more:
Hideki Yukawa (1907–1981)–a theoretical physicist and the first Japanese Nobel laureate in Physics in 1949 for his work in “his prediction of the existence of mesons on the basis of theoretical work on nuclear forces.” He published his theory of mesons (hadronic subatomic particles composed of one quark and one antiquark, bound together by the strong interaction). Yukawa’s theory explained the interaction between protons and neutrons, and it was a major influence on the research on elementary particles.
Eisaku Satō (1901–1975)–a Japanese politician considered thesecond longest serving Japanese prime minister in the history of Japan, having served a total of seven years, seven months, and 28 days. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974 with Seán MacBride. Satō introduced the Three Non-Nuclear Principles in 1967 which means non-production, non-possession, and non-introduction of nuclear weapons. He also later on suggested the “Four-Pillars Nuclear Policy” and while he was prime minister he entered the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) an international treaty that entered into force in 1970, whose objective is “to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament.”
Shinya Yamanaka (1962– )–a physician and researcher of adult stem cells, he is the most recent Japanese Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine in 2012 “for the discovery that mature cells can be reprogrammed to become pluripotent” and he shares his award with John B. Gurdon. He is currently the director of Center for iPS Cell Research and Application and a professor at the Institute for Frontier Medical Sciences at Kyoto University, a senior investigator at the UCSF-affiliated J. David Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, California, and a professor of anatomy at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
Flags play an important part in giving distinction to a country and its people. The colors and graphic designs used in flags are symbolic in some aspects of culture and are nationalistic in their representation. Initially, flags served to assist the military in battlefields, and standards or field signs were used in flags in warfare to enable people to distinguish friend from foe. Flags’ many uses have evolved throughout the course of history and nowadays, they are regarded as national symbols that are particularly inspirational and give people a sense of pride for their own country.
The national flag of Japan, more commonly known as Hinomaru (日の丸, “circle of the sun”), was promulgated on the 13th of August, 1999 after the signing of the Act on National Flag and National Anthem. Two previous proclamations were made for a provision for a design of the national flag during the Meiji Era. A sun-disc flag was adopted for Japanese merchant ships as well as the national flag used by the Japanese navy. The earliest records of the Japanese flag representing a sun can be traced back to Emperor Mommu in 701, and the oldest existing flag of Japan is preserved at Unpō-ji temple in Kōshū, Yamanashi. It is pre-16th century.
Flag of Japan. | Mj-bird
The exact origin of the Hinomaru is unknown but it seems to have some symbolic meaning since the 7th century . Japan is often referred to as “the land of the rising sun.” One particular legend relates the Japanese flag to the Buddhist priest Nichiren: during the 13th century Mongolian invasion of Japan, Nichiren gave a sun banner to the shogun to carry into battle. The Imperial throne is also said to have descended from the sun. Story has it that the Emperor of Japan is a descendant of the goddess Amaterasu who descended from the sun herself.
The red symbol (sun-disc or rising sun) on the Japanese flag became major symbols in the emerging Japanese empire during the Meiji Restoration. The Japanese decreed that citizens were required to display the Japanese flag during national holidays and other such occasions. Some interesting facts about the Japanese flag: the dimensions of the Japanese national flag are extremely specific. The length and height must be at a ratio of 3 to 2, and the red circle must be centered exactly and 3/5 the width of the flag. Also, the flag of Japan isn’t white and red; it is actually white and crimson.
Japan is known for its anime and manga creations that have gained a popular following in Japan and all around the world. Studio Ghibli, Inc. (株式会社スタジオジブリ Kabushiki-gaisha Sutajio Jiburi) is a famous Japanese animation film studio that produces some of the highest grossing films in the world. In 2002, Ghibli’s animated fantasy film Spirited Away, which tells the story of Chihiro Ogino (Hiiragi), a ten-year-old girl who enters the spirit world after moving to a new neighborhood, garnered worldwide acclaim by winning a Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Animated Feature.
Ghibli’s animated films are loved by people of all ages, and the anime/manga influence on the Japanese and on global culture can be seen in the growing demand for collectibles and other merchandise. Women in particular swoon over the male Ghibli male characters and think of them as the ideal leading men in real life.
Some of the characteristics that drive women gaga over the Ghibli men:
- They are well groomed and presentable.
- Most of the leading men have jobs and are hardworking.
- They tell women exactly what they feel about them. They don’t waste any time once they find “the one.”
- They are supportive and never jealous of the success of the women they are with.
- They know how to have fun.
- They are good listeners.
- They are calm and level-headed in dire situations.
- They are chivalrous and know how to treat women.
Studio Ghibli DVDs. | duncan c
Some of the popular Ghibli male characters include:
Tombo Kopoli – a character from “Kiki’s Delivery Service.” Tombo develops a crush on Kiki and perseveres in developing a good friendship with her.
Pazu – the lead character in “Castle in the Sky.” Pazu is a brown-haired and grey-eyed orphan who lives independently. He is dedicated to Sheeta, and the two characters go through adventures that continue to test their friendship and loyalty for each other.
Ashitaka – the main character in “Princess Mononoke.” This brown-haired, blue-eyed dynamo embodies determination and courage.
Seiji Amasawa – a character in “Whisper of the Heart.” He is the loyal boyfriend of Shizuku. His black hair and black eyes can make any woman swoon.
Prince Arren (Lebannen) – the lead character in “Tales from Earthsea.” Prince Arren is a dashing brown-haired character who shows us that men, although not as evocative with their feelings, can also struggle with their inner self and yet be every bit as sweet and caring.
Tales from EarthSea. | Amal FM
Howl Jenkins Pendragon – a character in “Howl’s Moving Castle.” His character was voiced by Cristian Bale in the English version of the film. He is a wizard who changes hair color several times from blone, to orange, then finally, black. He initially is portrayed as being vain but later reveals his good side.
Last summer, KCP Summer Japanese and Manga students had a memorable time as they visited Ghibli Museum in Tokyo which showcases animation works of Studio Ghibli. With gorgeous characters such as Ghibli’s male ensemble, it is no wonder women in Japan and perhaps all around the globe dream of being with their favorite leading man. Who is your favorite leading man?
Read more about KCP Summer Anime and Manga 2013 Students at Kotobukiya and Ghibli Museum.
Junkyo Ohishi is a testament to the courage and strength of people despite the adversities in their life. She is best known as the Mother of the Disabled and is famous for her mouth-drawing paintings. She is also known as the handless geisha. Junkyo Ohishi’s contributions to society have left a lasting legacy as a missionary, social worker, and talented artist.
Junkyo Ohishi was born on March 14, 1888 in Osaka, Japan, the eldest daughter of Chuzo and Iwa Ohishi. Her given name was Yone Ohishi. She grew up in a family of meager means who owned a sushi restaurant, Futaba-zusi. She showed talent in dancing at a young age, and this did not go unnoticed. Junkyo Ohishi was soon adopted by the master of a famous geisha dancing school. Thus began her initial training as a dancer and geisha under the stage name Tsumakichi. Just as Junkyo Ohishi’s life seemed to be looking up on the bright side, tragedy struck. When she was 17 years old, her foster father attacked her, cut both her arms, and murdered five other geishas.
With amazing resilience, Junkyo Ohishi continued with life and joined a touring theater and went on stage as a comic storyteller. When she was 19 years old, she observed how a bird used its beak to hold things. This gave her the inspiration to paint by holding a paintbrush with her mouth. She then arrived at a decision that would forever shape her life. Junkyo Ohishi left the theater and began taking lessons in calligraphy and painting. She soon married and had two children. At age 39 she divorced and, six month after, she heard the calling to become a Buddhist nun. In 1951 she founded the Bukkoin Temple in Kyoto. Junkyo Ohishi dedicated her life to printing, calligraphy, writing books, and helping the handicapped.
Junkyo Ohishi’s works are highly regarded by the Nitten (Japan Fine Arts Exhibition). She was recognized as a member of The Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists of the World. The Bukkoin Temple she founded continues to help the handicapped. Junkyo Ohishi passed away on April 21, 1968, at age 80. She left us with her enduring works of art. Still today, she continues to touch many lives with her talent, courage, and strength.
A painting by Junkyo Ohishi. | Screengrab from Bassia