Coffee, Tea, Spirits, and Cats


Cats have been a strong part of Japan’s culture. Japan even has shrines devoted to cats—Nambujinja  in Nagaoka (Niigata Prefecture), Konoshimajinja in Kyotango City (Kyoto), and Neko jinja in Tashirojima (Miyagi Prefecture), also known as Cat Island, a small fishing village with about 100 residents. Local cats outnumber the people four to one. Meanwhile, in Japan’s capital, Tokyo, […]

Shogi: Japanese Chess


Shogi (将棋), also known as the Generals’ Game, is a two-player strategy board game, probably the most popular native variant of chess in Japan. The Japanese city, Tendo, is known for producing shogi pieces since the Edo period—this is the traditional local craft in the area. The Ningen shogi or human shogi is a popular spring event when […]

Bonsai: An Elevated Art Form


The art form of bonsai (盆栽) has been a Japanese tradition for centuries. It originated from the Chinese tradition known as penjing (miniature landscapes of trees and rocks). The word bonsai was derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese term for the art, penzai. Bon is a tray-like pot typically used for bonsai culture and sai means […]

The Story Behind the Tanabata Festival


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


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


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


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


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


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


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) […]