culture

Four awesomely beautiful shrines for your next trip through off-the-beaten-path Japan

Any proper itinerary for a trip across Japan should include stops in its three most famous Shinto shrines: Hiroshima’s Itsukushima Shrine, Kyoto’s Heian Shrine, and the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. Those, however, are just the tip of Japan’s iceberg of breathtaking sacred Shinto spots.

Even if you’ve got no pressing interest in Japan’s indigenous religion, its shrines are often sites of breathtaking natural and architectural beauty, and here are four that, while off the beaten path, are not to be missed.

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Designer makes daruma good enough to eat with sushi, parfait and fried pork

Japan is a country that really values tradition, but that doesn’t mean that traditional culture is completely sacrosanct either. Giving something old and iconic a tongue-in-cheek modern twist is a popular approach in art and commerce, with results at once familiar and jarring enough to be eye catching.

Like these daruma, spotted at Tokyo Design Week, with outrageous paint jobs and wearing some rather tasty-looking headgear.

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Breaking Fujoshi: Twitter user tries to unlock the code to girls who grow up “rotten”

The fujoshi  (“rotten girl”) subculture is well-established in Japan with its sizable population of girls and women who enjoy the past time of homoerotic fan art. Its members are often a contentious presence on the internet for their particular passion of sometimes corrupting young men’s adolescent heroes into love interests. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not to say Goku and Vegeta cuddling and making out itself isn’t right. It’s just not right for them.

Depending on your own parenting aims you may want to steer your young girl away from drawing pictures of unrealistically well-groomed samurai lying naked beneath the sheets together, or you may find it a relatively harmless pastime compared to something like airplane glue sniffing and thus want to encourage fujoshi tendencies in your young one.

Either way, one Twitter user claims to have unlocked the environmental conditions (seven in total) that make a young girl go fujoshi and presented it for peer evaluation on Twitter. But do they hold up to the scrutiny?

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Why does Japan love Halloween so much, and is it celebrating the holiday the right way?

As we’ve seen, Japan is really psyched about Halloween. The holiday has been steadily growing in popularity for the last decade, and with October 31 falling on a Saturday in 2015, this year’s celebration is likely to be Japan’s liveliest Halloween ever.

But how did Halloween become Japan’s second favorite foreign holiday, right after Christmas? And also, is Japan staying true to the spirit of the holiday, or is forcefully pressing it into its own domestic mold, as the country is wont to do with cultural imports?

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Talk with your hands — Mr Sato tests your knowledge of common Japanese hand gestures【Video】

For English speakers, the Japanese language can be difficult to master. The writing system is completely alien, sentences sound like something Yoda would say thanks to the order the words come in, and while it makes perfect sense once you get the hang of it, the Japanese’s habit of omitting pronouns can make conversations almost impossible to follow.

The good news is that for short visits to Japan you can usually get by with very little Japanese since people are usually extremely patient and accommodating. A bit of miming here and a “please” and a “thank you” there will get you a long way.

But if you’re not familiar with Japanese hand gestures, you may end up in a sticky—or at least rather embarrassing—situation…

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Meetings and more meetings: Foreigners list the pros and cons of working at a Japanese company

It’s no secret that Japan may be headed for a bit of a labor crunch, as the population ages and many older workers reach retirement age with fewer young up-and-comers to replace them. And, while the Japanese government seems reluctant to take measures to replenish the shrinking workforce with foreign laborers, non-Japanese workers are nevertheless entering Japanese corporations and workplaces in record numbers.

But Japanese offices are also notorious for their long hours, slow pace of advancement, and frequent, long meetings. Traditional Japanese companies seem stuck in an old-school work culture even as companies in the rest of the world offer increasingly progressive work-life balance programs, workplace perks, and office hours.

With this stark contrast in mind, our Japanese sister site tracked down seven non-Japanese workers to get their for-realsies impressions of what it’s actually like to work at a Japanese company.

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Rolling like a samurai – Japanese coachbuilder’s car features centuries-old woodcarving technique

Does Japan’s Mitsuoka Motors count as a carmaker? It’s debatable. Yes, the company does have its own dealers that sell Mitsuoka-branded cars. Almost all of them, though, are Nissans or Mazdas with extensive cosmetic modifications. Even the company’s Orochi coupe, which has its own dedicated body, uses an engine built by Toyota.

So let’s ask an easier question: Are Mitsuoka’s cars visually unique? Unquestionably. The company has always made aesthetics the number-one priority in all of its vehicles, and that tradition continues with woodcarving so exquisite it wouldn’t look at all out of place in a Japanese castle, but which instead graces this Mitsuoka sedan.

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Dine like a samurai on the night of the Ikedaya Incident at Kyoto-themed restaurant in Tokyo

If you’ve ever wanted to immerse yourself in the atmosphere of Kyomachi, the old streets of Kyoto, there’s a special dining establishment in Tokyo that will take you there. The Kyomachi Koishigure restaurant features private dining rooms, red bridges, bamboo corridors and a running stream so you can enjoy all the traditional beauty of Kyoto without having to leave the nation’s capital.

And now, for a limited time only, the restaurant will take you back in time to the late Edo period, with a special “fair” that recreates the infamous Ikedaya Incident, a significant moment in Japan’s history when a group of masterless samurai were ambushed at Kyoto’s Ikedaya Inn.

As part of the experience, diners can enjoy a specially designed menu inside a recreation of the inn, and staff dressed as members of a sword-wielding police force who “ambush” your private room every time you place an order.

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Survey reveals the top five times Japanese travelers realise just how Japanese they are

Whether we like to admit it or not, where we were brought up has a huge impact on the person we become. From our way of thinking to what foods we prefer, it’s hard to deny that our environment shapes our personal identity.

While some people come from nations that are veritable melting pots of backgrounds, languages, and cultures, others come from a country with much more homogeneity. Japan is one such country, and its people have a strong sense of identity—though they may not readily admit it.

But often during a trip to a foreign country, there comes a moment of self-realization where they become aware of just how Japanese they really are. A recent survey asked Japanese travelers to identify the five moments they felt most Japanese when abroad. The results are really quite telling.

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Japan’s all-female Takarazuka theater has enlightened 31.5:1 female to male bathroom stall ratio

In Japan, you’ll sometimes find extremely classy restrooms in surprising places, like sparkling-clean highway rest stops. But does that same metric apply to locations that you would expect to have swanky bathroom facilities?

It does in the case of the Takarazuka Grand Theater, home of the famous all-female Takarazuka Revue, which not only has an opulent restroom waiting for its guests, but also an extremely enlightened ratio of male to female bathroom stalls.

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Nobel Prize for Literature eludes Japan’s Haruki Murakami yet again, and he couldn’t care less

Winning a Nobel Prize is a pretty big deal, to put it lightly. Many people would even say that it is the most prestigious award out there. Knowing that, no one would ever call a Nobel Prize a nuisance, right? Well…

Haruki Murakami, one of the most famous authors to come out of Japan, is not really interested in winning a Nobel Prize and actually kind of wishes people would stop nominating him.

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Introducing the delightfully strange “Bakeneko Festival,” full of kitty cosplayers

The bakeneko (“monstrous cat”) is but one of the many, many yokai of Japanese folklore. For centuries, Japanese people suspected that cats held mystical powers – due, it appears, both to cats’ aloof behavior and to the animals’ yokai-like physical features, such as their slit eyes and ability to move around silently. Even today, some elderly Japanese folks still harbor superstitions about cats.

One ability of the bakeneko, legend has it, is the ability to walk around on two legs (which we’ve actually seen demonstrated in real-life), which makes the yokai a fairly easy choice for cosplay. In fact, there’s a whole festival dedicated to bakeneko celebration and cosplay! And, before you ask, yes, of course we’re going to it.

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We ask Japanese people about their favorite aspects of eight different cultures

We often hear about foreigners’ favorite parts of Japanese culture, like trains running on time and unparalleled customer service, but it’s not every day that we hear from Japanese people about their favorite parts of foreign cultures.

With that in mind, one of RocketNews24’s Japanese-language writers decided to interview a few well-traveled Japanese people and hear some of their favorite aspects of the different cultures they’ve experienced and how they compare to their own.

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Japan’s biggest Obon dance festival makes its international debut in Paris

There are many different reasons to visit Japan, but something that should be on everyone’s bucket list are the matsuri, or festivals. Summer is a big time for festivals, especially in August when the Obon festival is held, during which many people travel back to their hometowns in order to honor their family and ancestors. With so many families together in their hometowns, it is the perfect time for a matsuri full of songs, dancing, and long-standing traditions.

One of the biggest Obon celebrtions in all of Japan is the Awa Odori festival in Tokushima Prefecture, which over a million people attend each year. The dancers who are dressed in their traditional clothing and musicians that pound out the beat in tune with your heart are truly a sight to behold, but if you can’t experience the traditional festival in Japan, why not try to bring it to your country as one French journalist did?

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Japanese artisan keeps traditional culture of yabumi alive with this adorable arrow letter set

From carrier pigeons to messages in bottles, there’s something uniquely appealing about using the forces of nature to carry a passage of prose between two human beings. With Japan’s long history of archery, messages once travelled through the air in the form of yabumi (lit. arrow text), a folded letter attached to an arrow that acted as a speedy delivery service between individuals or warring clans.

Sadly, the culture of yabumi dwindled and gradually disappeared as we moved slowly towards the world of much less dangerous (though sometimes just as impactful) emails and instant messaging. One traditional artisan is keeping the culture alive though, with a new letter set that contains everything you need to create your own yabumi, this time with adorable, user-friendly arrows.

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Japanese man’s parents present Notice of Expiration of Child-Rearing Services on 20th birthday

Unlike in the U.S., legal adulthood in Japan doesn’t begin until the age of 20. But while that means an extra two years to enjoy the benefits and protection society affords to minors, everyone has to grow up sometime, and for one Japanese Twitter user the transition was especially abrupt.

On his 20th birthday as his parents presented him with a written notice congratulating him on graduating from childhood and celebrating his newfound freedoms, while spelling out exactly what they, and the world, now expected of him as an adult.

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Open stall indicators, fresh flowers, and the superb cleanliness of a Japanese highway restroom

On long car trips in the U.S., I didn’t really find the prospect of using a highway rest stop bathroom significantly more appealing than just holding it until I got to my destination, whether that meant waiting until the next city or the next state. Honestly, given how filthy a lot of the public toilets were, I was generally happier with a deserted stretch of road or a grove of trees I could pull over near.

In Japan, though, it’s a different story, as this video of a rest stop bathroom shows it to be cleaner and classier than the one in many people’s homes.

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In Japanese elementary schools, lunchtime means serving classmates, cleaning the school 【Video】

Last month, we took a look at how in Japan many children are expected to commute to school without their parents’ help starting in elementary school. That’s not the only amazing display of responsibility that’s part of everyday life for Japanese kids, though.

Not only do Japanese schools not have school busses, they also don’t have food-serving or cleaning staff. That means it’s the students themselves who’re responsible for distributing school lunches and keeping the building clean, and the diligence with which they go about their tasks would put many full-blown adults to shame, as shown in this video of all the things Japanese grade schoolers are expected to do during a typical school day in addition to studying.

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How do people in Japan feel about eating whale? We asked five people for their opinions

If you hail from one of the many developed nations that comprehensively frowns on the practice of whaling, you may have the image that an appalling number of people in Japan eat whale meat. And while that may be true in relative terms compared to extremely low number of people who regularly eat whale meat in several parts of North America and Europe, whaling can be a divisive topic even within Japan. Some Japanese have no problem with dining on whale from time to time, treating it like just a meatier, gamier fish. Others think eating whale is a custom that’s long past its time and needs to be rethought.

To get a preliminary understanding of some of the many different opinions on the issue that exist in the country, we interviewed a number of Japanese people and asked them whether they were in favor of or opposed to whaling and eating whale meat.

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Hotel offers guests the chance to experience the 1,000-year-old lifestyle of the Heian Period

Japanese history can be a lot of fun to explore, from the Sengoku era to the modernization of Japan in the Meiji Period. We’re sure everyone has their own favorite time period, but one that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves is the Heian Period. Lasting roughly from 794 to 1185, the period was a relatively peaceful time in Japan that saw a blossoming of culture in everything from literature to music.

Unfortunately, we can’t just hop on a plane and go back in time to see everything for ourselves. But there is a hotel in Shikoku where you can experience a bit of the Heian life for yourself complete with period costumes, games, and architecture! So whether you’re a history buff or just need a major change of scenery, you’ll want to check out Gosho Yashiro no Mori!
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