Hassaku Matsuri is a festival in Japan reserved for asking the gods for a bountiful harvest and happy life. It occurs every year during the first day of the eighth lunar month, usually falling during the beginning of September. Just as dialects and traditional foods vary depending on the region, Hassaku Matsuri is celebrated in vastly contrasting ways, especially in Kumamoto, Fukui, and Ibaraki prefectures. From intricate structures made of natural materials to an extremely inappropriate goblin, join us as we explore a few of the many Hassaku traditions in Japan.
Jul 14, 2014
The cleaning crews who maintain Japan’s high-speed bullet trains have a mere seven minutes to make the interior of the train spotlessly clean for its next journey. Those seven minutes are carefully divided into different tasks to make sure everything gets done in the allotted time.
Another curious detail people often notice about these cleaners is the way they bow as trains are entering and exiting the station. While this act is generally thought to be a respectful gesture, the intended recipient of the bowing seems to be a matter of great debate, with plenty of conflicting opinions out there, even among the Japanese!
If you imagine a Japanese room, chances are you think of something like the picture above: a simply furnished room with sliding shōji doors, a tokonoma with a hanging scroll, and a tatami mat floor. These are examples of the virtues of traditional Japan that many foreigners often hear extolled (along with futon, sushi and judo). When they occupy such an important part of Japanese identity, you wouldn’t think they would be in danger of disappearing anytime soon.
However, the demand for tatami mats has gone down by one third in the last 20 years and many artisans are worried the trade will soon be lost, as more and more of them find themselves rapidly aging with no successors to continue the business. Why is it that tatami floors are becoming rare now, after enduring for so long?
Japan is home to an enormous number of famous ruins and castles, with fascinating histories that transport us back to an era of clan warfare and old allegiances which remain at the heart of local tales today. As strongholds for the Lords and clans of old Japan, many castles have a commanding view of surrounding lands but none more so than this spectacular castle in Hyogo Prefecture. Often referred to as the Machu Picchu of Japan, and looking every bit like Ghibli’s famous floating castle from the animated movie Castle in the Sky, these ruins are expecting an unprecedented number of visitors this year. And with photos as stunning as these, it’s easy to see why.
Feb 10, 2014
There’s a lot of art enmeshed in everyday Japanese life. From the pictographs of the kanji writing system to the aesthetics of traditional practices, it’s easy to take for granted the visual symbolism on which a lot of the culture is based. One of the most striking examples of Japanese design is the kamon, or family crest, used for centuries to signify a family name or clan and often seen on the sleeves of formal kimonos and ceramic roof tiles of traditional homes. It’s estimated that there are as many as 30,000 family crests in Japan, and while many Japanese would struggle to identify a large number of them, some crests, such as the chrysanthemum Imperial crest and the Tokugawa shogunate hollyhock design, are easy to identify.
Artists are now using the digital medium to create a number of new kamon to the delight of netizens nationwide. What makes these unique is the fact that the images inside the crest are not flowers or scenes of nature but more modern logos and tools familiar to us through advertising and the digital age. The crest above, for example, might look like a cross design made up of four stylised rectangles, but if you look closely you’ll see something more commonly used in digital cameras: SD memory cards. Featuring everything from Twitter logos to Febreeze bottles, these unique crests are perfect for the tribes of today.
When you really think about them, even the traditions and practices that we each grew up with and seem perfectly normal are kind of odd. Easter, once solely the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, now sees us telling children that a benevolent rabbit came in the night to leave them chocolate eggs. Christmas takes us even further into the world of fantasy as kids grow up thinking that a magical man who lives in the North Pole works a team of elves all year round to make presents for them, delivering said gifts across the world in a single night via flying woodland beasts, despite the man himself likely having respiratory problems owing to his XXL frame.
Although Japan doesn’t really do Christmas, it does have a plenty of its own traditions and yearly celebrations, and it just so happens that today is one of them. Setsubun, or the spring bean-throwing festival, sees children yelling at and peppering fictional demons with handfuls of roasted beans, and families sitting down to eat enormous pieces of maki, or roll, sushi, often adhering to peculiar local traditions as they do.
With Christmas being just a regular day and the exchanging of gifts something of a rarity, we often feel that kids in Japan are missing out somewhat. Of course, not every Westerner is fortunate enough to know the joy of waking up on December 25 and finding presents–brought by a benevolent bearded man, no less–under the Christmas tree or at the foot of their bed, but those who are would most likely agree that it’s a pretty spectacular feeling for a kid to have.
But while the rest of the world is coming to realise that the toys they asked for aren’t quite as cool as they’d expected and dreading going back to school or work, kids in Japan are making out like bandits and getting not presents but cold, hard cash on New Year’s Day in the form of otoshidama.
One of the best things about being in Japan at this time of year is the festive atmosphere that extends from Christmas all the way into the first few days of January. With so many unique traditions surrounding preparations for the New Year festival, it’s a fascinating experience but it’s also easy to feel lost when it comes to joining in with the celebrations. We’ve got a handy six-point check-list to help you with the run-down to the main event on January 1. If you want to celebrate a Japanese New Year, these are the essentials you’ll need to know.
Dec 30, 2013
For people in Japan, the most important event on the calendar is the New Year festival. With its focus on family and tradition, many Japanese take the first three days of the year off work to travel back to their hometowns and take part in festivities embedded in centuries of culture and meaning.
Come with us now as we take a look at some of the popular Japanese New Year traditions and reveal the spiritual symbolism and superstitions behind them.
Dec 25, 2013
According to many people, Japan doesn’t celebrate Christmas the “right” way. We’re not sure what that means exactly, but even Japanese folks seem to agree that a Christmas in the Land of the Rising Sun isn’t quite what you might expect to find in most other countries. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course! Who can complain about adding a new spin on some old fun, right?
But just how strange is a Japanese Christmas? Well, it’s no little green men from Mars, but we have four words for you: Potato Salad Christmas Tree.
Japanese food, called washoku in Japan, has just been registered as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage, but you didn’t need an official declaration to know that sushi and tempura are absolutely delicious. But while enjoying Japanese food, have you ever mixed wasabi and soy sauce as a dip for your sushi? Or how about using your bowl as a chopstick rest? If so, you’ve committed an etiquette faux pas. Take a look at our list of 10 little-known rules for eating Japanese food and save yourself some embarrassment while enjoying a traditional Japanese meal.
Dec 11, 2013
Cormorant fishing on China’s Li River is all but dying out.
Fisherman set out with domesticated cormorants, a seabird, on bamboo rafts before sunrise and often in the early evening. These birds prey on fish. But the fishermen tie threads around the necks of the cormorants to prevent them from swallowing the fish they catch.
There are thousands of interesting shops selling traditional goods in Kyoto. But now there are a few that are standing head and shoulders above the rest, offering unique goods that even Japanese customers can’t wait to get their hands on. By combining traditional techniques with modern, contemporary designs, these businesses represent the best of the changing face of Kyoto, a vibrant city in the traditional capital.
In this article, we take a look at ten unique stores and their adorable products. The only trouble will be deciding what to buy!
Nov 15, 2013
Given Mercedes Benz’s reputation for luxury, it’s tempting to dismiss the automaker’s cars as being strictly for trust fund sorority girls or high-flying lawyers who just made partner.
Mercedes does have quite a bit of performance cred too, though, particularly for its extra-sporty cars that bear the mark of AMG, the company’s in-house tuning and motorsports division. But while you can find plenty of driving enthusiasts who get excited by the cars coming out of Stuttgart, in a new video Mercedes tries to stir the hearts of a new demographic: Zen monks.
Aug 15, 2013
As we’ve previously mentioned, it’s Obon this week in Japan, and that means festivals, dancing, and ancestral spirits galore! Far from being the terrifying ghosts that you might find lurking in your closest in a horror film like Juon, however, these are spirits that Japanese people are happy to welcome into their houses. In addition to ohakamairi, or visiting graves, Japanese people also offer symbolic sacrifices at their home alters.
Some of the more interesting traditional sacrificial items are the cucumber horses (kyuri uma) and eggplant cows (nasu ushi) meant to carry the ancestors’ spirits to and from our earthly realm, but here’s one designer’s awesome, modern take on this ancient custom!
In Japan, there’s a saying that goes: “Japanese people are born into Shintoism, get married as Christians and die as Buddhists.” Usually it’s meant to be a comment on Japan’s laissez-faire attitude towards religion. However, having experienced all three of these life events in Japan, it’s a surprisingly accurate aphorism.
In the case of birth, after one month it’s common practice in Japan to take the baby a Shinto shrine for its Hatsumiyamairi (literally “first shrine visit”) often shortened to Omiyamairi. Like weddings and funerals, these ceremonies can differ greatly depending on the region, so I thought I’d share my own recent experience at an Omiyamairi to shed some light on this lesser-known Japanese tradition.
Nov 13, 2012
Tori no Ichi is an open-air market festival held in Japan on the day of the Rooster in November, as determined by the Chinese calendar. At the festivals, markets are set up in front of or near to Shinto shrines, and charms- most often decorated bamboo rakes called kumade- that are said to bring the owner good fortune in the coming year are sold to visitors.
Kumade literally means “bear hand”, since, when you think about them, rakes are shaped rather like a large hand with claws. Rakes were chosen generations ago as a sign of good luck since they can be used to draw things– in this case wealth and good fortune– towards us, and the practice of buying ornamental rakes has been common in Japan since the Edo period (1600-1867).
Wanting to check out the lively festival and ask for continued success for the website next year, our reporter Mr. Sato headed over to the famous Hanazono shrine in Shinjuku to purchase a kumade on behalf of RocketNews24.
However, having never purchased one of the charms before, he discovered that he had more than a couple of things to learn…
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- Video of guy giving pandas medicine is insanely cute, unless you’re the guy
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