As if you need more reasons to love Japan, 100 Tokyo, an online “curated cultural guide,” recently supported a beautiful video that highlights the perfect blend of traditional culture and modern technology of Tokyo, which makes it one of the most unique and charming big cities out there.
Hina Matsuri, aka Girls’ Day or Doll’s Day, is a festival celebrated every March 3 in Japan. Families with girl children get together to eat special food, and elaborately dressed dolls are displayed on a special tiered platform known as a hina-dan.
But it’s not only kids and collectors who love dolls – cats can’t get enough of them, either! Even though the cats have only just had their own special day (Cats’ Day, or Nyan Nyan Nyan day, was on February 22), those fancy felines were muscling in on some of the Girls’ Day action by inserting themselves into the hina-dan displays.
A few weeks ago we introduced you to the world of traditional Japanese woodwork, a technique that uses no nails or hardware, just precise joints, to keep furniture and even buildings together. This technique is also used to create intricate, wooden, functional artwork, known as kumiko, which is used within Japanese style-rooms to create a stunning atmosphere.
The traditional handicraft has been passed down for centuries, however, the trade is sadly dying out. In response, artisans are taking the age-old concept and applying the designs to more modern-day household items, such as chairs and lampshades. The results are nothing short of exquisite!
New Year’s in Japan is a quiet affair. While the holiday period is usually spent with family, enjoying traditional food and activities, there’s one particular pastime that brings the family together in a special way every winter. To indulge in this very Japanese affair, you’ll need two of the items pictured in the image above. Can you guess what they are?
Nengajo, or New Year’s greeting cards, are a ubiquitous part of the end-of-year season in Japan. Much like Christmas cards in the west, nengajo are sent to family and friends to update them on what you’ve been up to that year. In fact, there are so many nengajo sent at the end of the year that post offices in Japan have to employ students as temporary staff to make sure they meet the delivery deadline of January 1. While there are plenty of preprinted cards available from stationery shops, many people opt to make their own, personalised cards. A nice touch, but results may vary depending on the artistic skills (and sense of humour) of the postcard sender! To show you what we mean, we’ve put together a little list of the best of this year’s nengajo. Some of them are genuinely impressive, while others would make us cringe if the neighbours saw ’em!
New Year’s in Japan is usually celebrated with family huddled under the kotatsu while munching on mikans, and sharing a dinner of traditional food, called osechi. Each component of the meal retains an auspicious meaning, granting the eater with good fortune, health, or fertility, among other things, during the coming year.
However, in recent years, an increasingly large population of Japan’s youth have chosen to forgo eating osechi. There are many reasons osechi has been disappearing from Japanese homes during New Year’s, but these changing tastes have given rise to a smorgasbord of strange, unique, and, frankly, comparatively tastier pre-made osechi meals. From cooked isopods to a box full of meat, let’s take a closer look at six modern day osechi.
There’s something deeply satisfying about watching someone do their job incredibly well. Whether it’s a master chef putting together a mouth-watering meal, a talented musician making an instrument come to life, or a pro athlete performing at the highest level of the sport, you find yourself unable to look away, both because of how soothing watching things go perfectly is, and also for fear of missing whatever amazing feat they’re going to pull off next.
So if you’re craving that special mixture of relaxation and inspiration, take a few minutes to watch this video of a master craftsman transforming two hunks of wood into a beautiful kokeshi doll with a literally unique twist.
There are several traditional crafts that Japan is known for, such as urushi lacquerware or Nishijin weaving. Perhaps not as widely known, but just as impressive, is the craft of yosegi, which uses woods of different color and texture to create exquisite patterns. In fact, the precision and skill involved is such that yosegi is not surprisingly, one of the crafts that has been featured in a series of videos uploaded by luxury fashion brand Gucci Japan on their YouTube channel dedicated to introducing the work of talented Japanese craftsmen, and the video has apparently been noticed around the world. Let’s take a look at a master artisan at work!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.