The Story Behind the Tanabata Festival

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Tanabata (七夕), Evening of the Seventh, also known as the star festival, is traditionally held on the 7th day of the 7th month of the year. The festival celebrates the meeting of the Japanese deities Orihime and Hikoboshi. Based on the lunar calendar, the 7th month of the year is August, while the Gregorian calendar has July […]

Dissecting Godzilla

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The 1954 Japanese monster classic Godzilla, created by the renowned Ishirō Honda, never fails to be a worldwide box office hit with each remake. The latest one, by Warner Bros., is a $160 million big budget movie dubbed “King of Monsters” and is scheduled to open in Japan next month. Godzilla (ゴジラ )  is a popular tokusatsu (live action […]

The Story of Kasajizo

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One of Japan’s many enchanting folktales is the story of Kasajizo (kasa: straw hat; jizo/jizou: bodhisattva), which goes like this. Once upon a time in a tiny village in Japan, there was a poor old couple who wove sedge hats for a living. One cold winter day close to the New Year, the old woman noticed that […]

Exciting Japanese Festivals in July

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Festivals in Japan have deep cultural ties and a long history. Witnessing the revelry and excitement of each gives us a deeper understanding of the country and its traditions. Here are just a few of the many festivities in the month of July. Hakata Gion Yamakasa Festival, Fukuoka –  celebrated from the 1st to the 15th of […]

The Mystery of the Takamatsuzuka Tomb

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Several ancient burial mounds exist in and near Asuka Historical National Government Park in Japan. The Takamatsuzuka Tomb (高松塚古墳), also known as the “Tall Pine Tree Ancient Burial Mound”, is one of the kofuns (tombs) in Akusa village, Nara prefecture. A farmer rediscovered the Takamatsuzuka Kofun in the early 1970s, and it wasn’t long before the Kashihara […]

The Intricate and Practical Inrō and Netsuke

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Traditional Japanese clothing, like the kimono and kosode, did not have any pockets for  personal belongings. So a sagemono, or hanging object attached to the obi (sash) of traditional Japanese clothing, was a useful way to carry things like money, pipes, tobacco, or a writing brush and ink. An inrō case, popular for holding small objects, […]

Majestic Japanese Castles

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Japanese castles served as military defenses and were strategically placed in trading routes, rivers, and roads. They were also the center of governance in Japanese states. When the central government’s authority began to weaken sometime in the 15th century, Japan entered the chaotic regime of the warring states. These independent states fought each other continuously. The ruling lord (daimyo) […]

The Legend of Ryūjin

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In Japanese folklore, Ryūgū-jō (竜宮城, 龍宮城, Dragon palace castle) is the underwater palace of the dragon god of the sea, Ryūjin. According to variations of the legend, the castle is made of solid crystal or red and white corals. Ryūjin’s family and loyal servants lived in the famous castle. Supposedly, its four corners have different seasons and a single […]

The Wonders of Seaweed

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On occasional trips to the beach, we sometimes notice seaweed along the shore or floating in the water.  Seaweed is algae (a type of organism), and edible types of seaweed are used in preparing some of our favorite foods (like sushi). Most marine forms of algae are edible, while fresh-water types are often toxic. Edible seaweed […]

Creatures of Japanese Folklore

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Folklore is a rich resource to understand a particular culture. It tells us the legends, popular beliefs, and traditions of a people. It also gives us an idea why certain cultures observe different customs. Japanese folklore  (minkan denshō (民間伝承) meaning “transmissions among the folk”)  and Japanese folktales have many stories of legendary creatures that date all the way back to the […]