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Japanese Culture Archive

Creating Kimonos to Represent Different Nations

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Imagine kimonos that represent different countries in the world. The Imagine Oneworld Kimono Project seeks to create a collection of 196 kimono, each representing a different country. Currently, 55 have been completed, and the organization has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help secure the finances it needs for the remaining 141. The Kimono Project aims to showcase Japanese kimonos, which embody and which are designed in the Japanese spirit of wa, which means harmony.

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Kimono representing India

According to the organization, harmony is the foundation of friendship and goodwill among people. It aims to reach beyond borders and beyond racial, religious, and economic differences by promoting the idea of “living peacefully together,” and desires to convey this message of harmony among the nations through the beauty and art of the Japanese kimono. In the Kimono Project, prominent Japanese kimono craftsmen create kimonos that expressly reflect a country’s unique culture and characteristics.

The goal is to make 196 unique kimonos, each representing a different country participating in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

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Model wearing Jordan's version

For more information and more designs of the kimonos, follow this link: http://piow.chips.jp/piow/english/

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It’s Wisteria Time in Tokyo

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Until May 6th 2017, there is still some time to visit the wonderful Wisteria flower display at Kameido Tenjin Shrine in the Kinshicho area. The purple flowers begin blooming quite rapidly from late April until the beginning of May.

These lovely violet-colored flowers hang in several bunches like grapes. The Kameido Tenjin Shrine is well known for its wisterias. Beneath the wisteria trellises is a charming pond filled with carp and tortoises, creating the unique scenery of purple flowers reflected on the surface of the water. Going way back, these flowers were planted during the Edo period and are featured in many ukiyoe (color prints) and other works of art. For a modern touch, good views of Tokyo Sky Tree can be seen from the Shrine.

Follow this link for the Shrine’s official website (in Japanese): http://kameidotenjin.or.jp/ This separate website has detailed information on the Shrine: http://www.ukiyoe-gallery.com/kameido.htm

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Hina Matsuri: An Early Spring Tradition

19th century Ukiyoe by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japan, 1839-1892)

19th century Ukiyoe by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (Japan, 1839-1892)

Every year on March 3rd, Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Festival) is celebrated in Japan. As one of five major seasonal festivals in the country, ceremonies and special dishes are prepared to ensure good fortune. It is easy to spot any Hinamatsuri celebration since it involves the display of elaborately crafted dolls representing the Imperial Court. In the old days, there was a broader tradition that involved making simple paper dolls called hitogata for religious purposes. The hinamatsuri gradually became a time to give thanks for the health and development of young girls. Over time, the intricately crafted artisan dolls came into flavor.

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Creative Commons, Katorisi

Dolls in The Imperial Court

The most alluring aspect of the Hinamatsuri is, of course, the intricately crafted dolls (Hinakazari). These are displayed on a red-carpeted, platform called Hinadan, which represents the court of the Imperial household. The top level displays the Prince and Princess (this pair of dolls is the most basic of displays, called the Dairi Bina, which is often displayed inside a glass casing). In the full setting, the royalty are waited upon by the court ladies, musicians, and other attendants who sit on the lower levels along with decorations such as sake cups and elaborate chests of drawers.

From sometime in February, households with young daughters will display the ornately dressed figurines prominently, where they can be admired by family members and guests. However, once the festival is over the dolls and decorations are promptly packed away (superstition dictates that leaving them out too long will harm a daughter’s chances of marriage).

Creative Commons (flickr), Takashi .M

Creative Commons, Takashi .M

Families often buy a new set of dolls when the first daughter is born, while others pass down the Hinakazari from one generation to the next. In the past it was not uncommon for new brides to take their set with them when they married. Undoubtedly, the hinadan represented one of the most splendid and valuable possession in the home and was cherished not just by girls, but the entire household.

Events and Activities with Hina Matsuri

Creative Commons, Midori

Creative Commons, Midori

In the days leading up to March 3 it is common for children to celebrate hinamatsuri by holding parties and enjoying such treats as hina-arare (multi-colored sweets made from rice and sugar), chirashi-zushi, clam soup, and red and white rice cakes called hishi-mochi. Traditionally, sprigs of peach blossoms are displayed along with dolls at these gatherings.

There are also exhibitions held across Japan that showcase the Hina Matsuri dolls, many are antiques created and preserved as historical relics. In Tokyo, there are also many displays for Hina Matsuri, and there are a variety of exhibitions in town. Below we list a couple of major exhibitions that are held annually.

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Meguro Gajoen

At the Meguro Gajoen: this location in Meguro hosts a large, extensive display of Hina Matsuri dolls at its historically relevant and well preserved Hyakudan Kaidan (a series of seven extravagantly decorated rooms linked by a 99-step staircase that has great historical value, and is worth a visit in its own right). Throughout the year, the Hyakudan Kaidan hosts a number of exhibitions and events. The area would otherwise be closed to the public. For more info, visit: http://www.megurogajoen.co.jp/event/hinamaturi/

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Keio Plaza

At Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo: Every year, through February and March, the Keio Plaza Hotel Tokyo celebrates the Hina-matsuri festival. The main lobby, and other locations around the hotel, will showcase 6,500 handmade hanging silk dolls. In addition, a variety of bonsai are displayed to compliment the festival. For more info, visit: http://www.keioplaza.com/offers/events1601_01.html

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Creative Commons, S Kitahashi

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Famicon Stationery Coming Your Way this December

famicon-accessoriesFrom Spoon & Tamago: Famicon Stationery Lets Adult Gamers Relive Their Childhood

An interesting blog post from creative site Spoon & Tamago featuring another great Omiyage (souvenir) from Japan. I think this will appeal to adults in their forties as they relive this childhood icon through these super cute products.

Here is an excerpt. For the whole article, visit: http://www.spoon-tamago.com/2016/11/28/famicon-stationery-lets-adult-gamers-relive-their-childhood/#more-38889

famicon-accessories-3Stationary company, San-Ei is releasing a line of items inspired by the 1980s video game console, Famicon by Nintendo. San-Ei’s lineup of Famicon-inspired items includes pencils and pens, clear folders and memo pads that all can fit snug into the Famicon tote bag. There’s also a ringed notebook that’s designed to be the exact same length and width as the original. The items are set to go on sale December 23 but many of them are available for pre-order through Amazon.

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More on Omiyage (Souvenirs) from Japan

Following our last feature on Japanese souvenirs, here is a new list that is centered on bags and small accessories.

sushi-backpacks-turn-over-japanese-7The Sushi Backpack:

Created by bag maker, Turn Over, is the Sushi Backpack. There are three types of sushi featured: egg, prawn, and salmon, which sit on the main body of the bag that is made to resemble sushi rice. The backs include a lot of functionality with pockets for drink bottles, smartphones and other small accessories.

More info from Turn Over: http://turn-over.jp/detail.php?id=220

gamaguchi1The Literal Gamaguchi bag:

Gamaguchi is a metal clasp that fastens a bag or a purse, and often seen on coin purses. The name Gamaguchi translates to mean the mouth of a toad’s mouth, which resembles the metal clasp with its wide, thin lips. This frog-shaped backpack is a literal take on this wordplay.

Made by GymMaster, this is available from Rakuten: http://item.rakuten.co.jp/gymmaster/g321357/

mtfujionigiri1Mount Fuji Riceball holder:

What’s more authentic than a holder for one’s favorite onigiri? While there are countless products featuring Japan’s number one natural wonder, this one is too cute not to mention, and is made from silicon. A completely adequate way to pack your lunch or snack.

Comes in two colors (pink and blue) and is available from Amazon: click on this link.

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More Fujisan, you say!

Looking for something more traditional? Then how about a Mount Fuji tote by the king of all tote bag makers, Rootote, a Japan-grown maker of canvas totes.

Comes in two colors (red or blue), this is available from Amazon with this link.

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Cool Tokyo: The 100 Views of Tokyo By Shinji Tsuchimochi

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Today we highlight an interesting artist that has drawn one hundred hip illustrations of modern Tokyo.

The Tokyo 100 Views project was created by Shinji Tsuchimochi, a Japanese artist. The illustrations depict life in modern Tokyo revealing a surrealistic calm and tenderness with the hustle and bustle of city life, coupled with elements that are unique to Tokyo and Japanese culture.

Inspired by Edo-period Ukiyoe artwork, particularly Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, Tsuchimochi began illustrating the 100 views of Tokyo a few years ago, and has recently completed the 100th illustration.

Follow this link to see the artist’s website that showcases all the illustrations: https://www.behance.net/shinjitsuchimochi

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Japanese stationery now sprouts herbs in your garden with the Blooming Pencil

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Recently published in Rocket News24, is a writeup on the next generation in Japanese omiyage — a pencil that can be planted to create a small plant. Here is the article: the Blooming Pencil. An excerpt is reprinted below.

3Once its life as a pencil is over, this innovative piece of stationery will colour your garden by blooming into a variety of edible plants. From Minecraft erasers to iced tea-scented pens and pretty bow-trimmed rubber bands, Japanese stationery has always fascinated us with its unusual, innovative designs. Now it has a creative solution to the problem of pencil ends, which are usually discarded once they become too short to hold and use. Instead of letting them go to waste, there’s now a way to have them breathe life into something that’s both beautiful and edible at the same time.

8While the Blooming Pencil functions as an ordinary pencil, the coloured lead ends at the banded section, with the small remaining portion embedded with plant seeds. Each pencil comes with the name of the plant written on the pencil itself, along with the recommended months for planting. The red-coloured pencil blooms into lotus flower, or Chinese milk vetch, a perennial herb from the pea family that’s often used in Chinese medicine to boost the immune system. This pencil stub is recommended for planting in September or October.

In addition to the Chinese milk vetch plant, there are four other types of blooms available: mini tomato,  aalvia farinacea (mealy sage), white clover; and basil. Eating something grown from your pencil might be a strange concept, but it reflects an idea that’s close to home for the products’ distributors, who also run the Bunbougu Cafe in Tokyo’s trendy Omotesando district.

The cafe brings the joys of stationery to the world of dining, with paper tablecloths for customers to draw and scribble on, so the addition of pencil-grown herbs to the menu seems an organic next step. The pencils can be purchased from their online store for 340 yen (US$3.10) each.

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Plum Blossom Viewing in Tokyo

Photo by Kanegen via Creative Commons

Photo by Kanegen via Creative Commons

Plum (ume) blossoms usually bloom in late February to signal the start of spring. While hanami revellers focus on cherry blossoms, which tend to overshadow the former, plum blossom blooms should not be overlooked. Plum blossoms have red, pink, or white flowers and remain in bloom until early March and because they can start to bloom in the early part of Feb, sometimes they can be seen surrounded by snowfall. Given the timing, they provide a colorful and cheerful backdrop to the drabness of winter. The peak of the bloom usually starts from middle or late February until the beginning of March.

The main difference between plum and cherry blossoms is that a cluster of cherry blossoms bloom from one single bud and have a long stem, while there’s only one plum blossom per bud. Much like cherry blossoms, plum blossoms dot the city and can be found almost anywhere around town. Click here for a previous blog entry on cherry blossoms. In this article, we showcase five places where the plum blossoms are in concentration and where festivals may also be held celebrating them in Tokyo.

korakuenKoishikawa Korakuen Garden

One of Tokyo’s oldest landscape gardens, Koishikawa Korakuen Garden was founded in 1629 and located in a downtown part of Tokyo near Tokyo Dome. This charming private garden has a small grove of plum trees beautifully planted around the gardens that feature a pond. This garden features a central pond and hills, making it perfect for a stroll. Under the terms of the Law for Preservation of Cultural Assets, Koishikawa Korakuen has been designated an important historical asset and site of special historical significance. This garden impresses all year round.

Photo by Guilhem Vellut via Creative Commons

Photo by Guilhem Vellut via Creative Commons

Kyu Shiba Rikyu and Hamarikyu Gardens

With a modern city backdrop, Kyu Shiba Rikyu and Hamarikyu are great city parks. Kyu Shiba Rikyu is by Hamamatsucho station, while Hamarikyu Garden is located near Shinbashi and Shiodome stations. The two parks are within close range to one another. At Kyu Shiba Rikyu, plum trees spread out on the grounds amidst an attractive pond. Hamarikyu Garden, which has a plum tree grove on its premises sits by the waterfront and a pier with boats heading to Asakusa is beside it.

hanegi-parkHanegi Park

Hanegi Park is considered one of the best plum blossom spots nationwide. Located in Meidaimae, Setagaya Ward, the large park houses a playground, baseball field, tennis courts and a traditional tea house. The park holds an annual festival during the plum blossom bloom period, which features various musical performances, haiku classes, and outdoor tea ceremonies. The festival also has refreshment booths, horticulture and potted plant markets, and sales of plum-related foods.

yushimatemple2Yushima Seido Temple

The plum blossoms of Yushima Tenjin feature about 300 trees of 20 different varieties. Located in Bunkyo Ward, the Yushima Seido Temple holds a series of events such as taiko performances when the plum blossoms are in season. It is a Shinto shrine established in 458 A.D. to worship Ameno-tajikaraono-mikoto, one of deities that appears in Japanese myth.

kinutaKinuta Park

Kinuta Park is a large grassy park in Setagaya Ward, and the land  was a golf course before 1957. About 40 Japanese apricot trees relocated here in 1984 to form a dense plum tree forest, located near the athletic field and children’s forest. It is also a popular Hanami spot in Tokyo with over 900 cherry blossom trees on site.

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Cool off with Summer Festivals

tokyobay3-2By Richenda Elledge

Despite the sweltering heat, summer is an exciting season in Japan. From catching gigantic beetles and tuning in to the cicadas’ last song,  to relaxing on the beach digging into a kakigori (shaved ice flavored with syrup), it wouldn’t be a Japanese summer without watching a display of fireworks and attending a Tanabata Matsuri (Star Festival). What better way to cool off from a summer’s day of sticky, muggy heat than to attend these events in the cool evening. The listing is given in chronological order.

hiratsukatanabataTanabata Hiratsuka Festival, Jul 3-5

In its 65th year, Hiratsuka’s Tanabata is the biggest in the Kanto region. The colourful festivities will be centered around the shopping street on the north side of Hiratsuka station. The official event will continue until 9pm on Friday and Saturday and until 8pm on Sunday.

http://www.tanabata-hiratsuka.com/

mitamimatsuriMitama Matsuri at Yasukuni Shrine, Jul 13-16

The hottest months of summer are traditionally when Japanese commune with and honour the spirits of the dead. One such festival based around this idea is the Mitama Matsuri at the politically complex Yasukuni Shrine. Along the sando – the promenade leading to the main shrine – 30,000 lanterns are strung from towers of metal scaffolding to create a spectacular approach. As is typical with summer festivals, there is also plenty of food, beer and music. The festival runs for 4 days from Sunday, July 13th. The shrine is a 5 minute walk from Kudanshita Station on the Tokyo Metro Honzomon and Tozai Lines as well as the Toei Shinjuku Line. http://www.yasukuni.or.jp/schedule/mitama.html

adachifireworksAdachi Fireworks Festival, Jul 18

This year will be the 37th edition of the Annual Adachi Fireworks Festival, where 12,000 fireworks will go off from 7:30-8:30pm.

The festival will be held along the Arakawa River – 15 minutes from Kita-Senju Station. Pack a picnic and find a spot on the river banks – the display is visible from a variety of vantage points. The show lasts for an hour.

Please note the event will be postponed a day in the event of storms and cancelled if there are two days of storms. http://adachikanko.net/hanabi/index.html

kamakurafireworksKamakura Fireworks Festival, Jul 23

The 67th Kamakura Fireworks Festival takes place at Yuigahama on the coast of Kamakura City from 7:20pm-8:10pm on Thurs, Jul 23rd.

This would probably be a good finish to a day trip to the area to either enjoy the beach or visit the various historic temples and shrines in the area. In event of stormy weather, the event will be cancelled with no back-up day this year. http://www.kamakura-info.jp/topics/31395

showakinenfireworksShowa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival, Jul 25

The Tachikawa Showa Kinen Park Fireworks Festival will see 5,000 fireworks launched, making it a medium-sized festival by Tokyo standards. About 300 000 people attend. Expect lots of yukata and picnic baskets – it’s a nice idea to bring dinner and make an evening of it. Entrance to the park is entirely free after 6:00pm but if you paid the entrance fee to the park earlier in the day, you’d get a better viewing spot, the organisers say (over 15’s: 410 yen; under 15’s: 80 yen). Apparently it gets crowded around 5:00pm.

The nearest station is Nishi-Tachikawa or Tachikawa Station on the JR Line. http://www.tbt.gr.jp/hanabi/

sumidafireworksSumidagawa Fireworks Festival, Jul 25

This is the Motherload of all summer fireworks festivals and it takes place in Asakusa, Tokyo on Sat, Jul 25th. The fireworks kick off at 7:05pm and run for a full 90 minutes. This festival attracts massive crowds. If there is stormy weather the event will take place on the following day. http://sumidagawa-hanabi.com/index_eg.html

shinjukueisa2Shinjuku Eisa Festival 2015, Jul 25

Not really a typical summer matsuri or tanabata event, but very close — Saturday, the 25th of July sees the 43rd Shinjuku Eisa Festival. Eisa is a traditional dance originating in the Okinawan islands.  The traditional costumes, dancing and drumming are quite different to what you’re likely to see in other festivals in Japan. The organisers are only expecting about 1 million people to turn up to watch!  Mind you, this is Shinjuku so you probably won’t notice the difference. http://www.shinjuku-eisa.com/

tokyobay_picmonkeyedTokyo bay Fireworks, Aug 8

Not the most public-friendly of the fireworks display but definitely one of the most stunning given the attractive backdrop comprising of Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge. The event, which kicks off from 6:50 to 8:10pm on Sat, Aug 8th, launches 12,000 shells from a barge installed in the water near Harumifuto Park. The best views are from official spots at Harumifuto Park, a 15 minute walk from Toyosu Station. Some areas are free, but it is necessary to arrive early enough to secure them. http://www.city.chuo.lg.jp/bunka/event/toukyouwanndaihanabisaimeinn.html

Photo credits: direct from organiser’s website

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All About Ramen

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Ramen noodles, one of the main favorites in the Japanese diet, have become one of Japan’s most well known foods abroad. And while it is often thought of as a quick, go-to fast food meal, it can, as highlighted in the world-famous Itami Juzo film, Tampopo, also be savoured slowly by connoisseurs. The key feature about ramen is that it keeps renewing itself and is a cuisine that is often updated, reinvented and modernised. From the traditional chashu (roast pork loin) pork bone soup ramen, we now can find curry ramen, spicy garlic ramen, tomato and basil chicken ramen, and even lemon soup ramen.

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Kyoto Fiery Ramen by Jeffrey Friedl

Ramen are, generally, wheat-based noodles that are served in a meat, fish, soy, or miso-based broth with sliced meats and vegetables. Regional ramen dishes vary in their presentation, preparation, flavor, and ingredients. But in a nutshell, main differences are often the type of soup stock and shape of the noodles. For instance, Sapporo ramen is associated with a rich miso ramen, while Kitakata (northern Honshu) is known for its thick, flat curly noodles. Yokohama ramen called Ie-Kei consists of straight, thick noodles in a soy and pork bone broth similar to tonkotsu (pork bone) soup, while Hakata ramen (Fukuoka, Kyushu) is known for its milky, pork-bone broth.

regionalramenHere we highlight two well-written guides about the regional differences, as well as in depth description of the ingredients:

A Guide to the Regional Ramen of Japan by Nate Shockey and  The Serious Eats Guide to Ramen Styles by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.

Also, check out ANA’s popularity ranking here: https://www.ana-cooljapan.com/contents/ramen/ and incidentally, there is also a Ramen Museum in Shin-Yokohama: http://www.raumen.co.jp/english/

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