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Japanese Culture Archive

Hinamatsuri, Girls’ Festival

hinamatsuri

On March 3rd, a festival called Hinamatsuri (???腑???) is held.? Hinamatsuri is a festival for girls, and is celebrated by displaying a set of dolls, Hinaningyo?(???篋阪就)

The custom of displaying dolls began during the Heian period.? People believed the dolls possessed the power to?trap bad spirits into itself.
Hinamatsuri originates?in an ancient Japanese custom called Hina-nagashi (???羌????), literally ‘doll flowing’, in which straw or paper?Hinaningyo,?believed to take away bad spirits with them,?are set afloat on a boat and sent down a river to the sea.

hinamatsuri

Today, in most homes, the dolls are not flowed, but just displayed.? The dolls are?representing the Emperor, Empress, and their merry men, dressed in Kimono of the Heian Period (794-1185).

The arrangement of the doll differ by area, but the popular way of setting the dolls are to place them on a stair-shaped stage.
On the top stair is placed the Emperor and Empress.? On the next is the three court ladies.
With the dolls, many instruments used in the palace life, such as drawers and oxcarts,?are usually displayed.

Families generally start to display the dolls around mid-February and take down the platforms immediately after the festival. Superstition says that leaving the dolls out past March 4 will result in a late marriage for the daughter!

hinamatsuriThere is a?customary drink for the festival?called Shirozake (??初??), a sake made from fermented rice.? There are also customary foods, Hinaarare (????????????),?a colored , bite-sized rice crackers flavored with sugar or soy sauce, and Hishimochi (?偓??), a diamond-shaped colored rice cake. ?Chirashizushi (??<?????絲水??), Sushi rice flavored with sugar, vinegar, topped with?eggs, shrimp,?and a variety of ingredients, is often eaten. ?A salt-based soup called Ushiojiru (?????????羆?) containing clams still in the shell is also served. ?Clam shells in food are?a symbol of a united and peaceful couple, because a pair of clam shells fits perfectly, and no pair but the original pair can do so.

Chirashizushi and Ushiojiru are usually made in each family, but are purchasable at supermarkets.? Hinaarare and Hichimochi are in supermarkets as well.? Hinaningyo are quite expensive, but paper dalls or fabric dolls are available at reasonable price.? If you have a girl, why not celebrate Hinamatsuri starting this year :)


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Experience Japanese Culture - Tea Ceremony, Kimono, Making Sushi

experience

Though?many explanations are made in foreign languages, it is difficult to actually experience Japanese culture.? However, there is a NPO which helps you do so.? This NPO, Institute for Japanese Cultural Exchange and Experience, holds various programs for foreigners, where you can expereince the traditon of Japan, with a multilingual Japanese instructor.? There are guides in several languages, such as English, Chinese, and French.

experience

One popular?program is Kimono dressing.
In this program, you can actually wear Kimono.? If weather permits, participants may walk in a nearby park to fully experience life wearing a Kimono.
Before wearing Kimono, participants would?explore many aspects of the Kimono,?for example,?the traditional skills of ?Japanese dyeing and weaving. Participants will also understand the versatility and specific features of the Kimono. Even if one’s shape changes (or a Kimono is given to another person), the same Kimono can be worn with just some minor adjustments.

experience

Another?program is making Sushi.
In this program, participants will learn to make various types of Sushi: Maki Sushi (rolled Sushi), Gunkan Maki (rice wrapped with a strip of seaweed and topped with?ingredients), and Nigiri Sushi (rice topped with a slice of raw fish).? This program will be held at the participant’s home, as Sushi is a typical diet often made in?Japanese homes.

There are more unique programs, such as experiencing tea ceremony, calligraphy, Origami (paper folding), and a tour watching the morning training of Sumo wrestlers.
For more information, visit the website below!

Institute for Japanese Cultural Exchange and Experience
http://www.ijcee.com/e.html (Eng)


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Hanami - Bloom Gazing

hanami

Hanami (??沿??, viewing the flowers) of cherry blossoms is a major spring event in Japan.? Many people gather around cherry blossom trees and admire the fragile flowers, which will be in bloom for only about a week.

Cherry blossoms are not the only flowers to be the subject of Hanami.? Japanese apricot (罌?, Ume)?isalso a beautiful flower of the springtime in Japan.

hanami

The best time to view Japanese apricots in Tokyo is from mid February to early March, about a month earlier than that of cherry blossoms.? The best time of Japanese apricots lasts for about 3 weeks.
The old Japanese name of the flower is Harutsugegusa (??ュ?????), literally meaning ‘plant that announces spring’.? Japanese apricots were admired by the Japanese people as the first flower to show the arrival of spring.? Actually, Japanese apricot was the favorite spring flower of the Japanese, especially the nobles,?until around the 12th century, when cherry blossoms gained much popularity.? Cherry blossoms were?loved by?the Samurai?class, who?started to gain power at this age.? They thought?of cherry blossoms, whose life is brief and?falls beautifully, as the idol image of high-souled?Samurais.? There is a word ‘hana wa sakuragi, hito wa bushi (??宴?????????篋冴???紕?)’ which means ‘the best of flowers is the cherry blossom, and the best of humans is the Samurai’.


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Japanese New Year’s Sport - Hanetsuki

hanetsuki

A popular sport to do in the new year in Japan is Hanetsuki (臂醇?合?????).
Hanetsuki is like badminton without a net, played with a square-shaped wooden racket and a birdie made with Sapindaceae seed.? Two players continue a rally, and the one who fails to hit back loses.? The winner can draw paintings on the losers face with Sumi (紜?, Japanese ink used for calligraphy)

Actually, Hanetsuki is not as popular as it used to be, alike many other traditions.? However,?the wooden racket, Hagoita (臂遵?????), is still popular for displaying?at home.
Hagoita is usually decorated beautifully.? Most of them are painted with lacqer, and some have steric silk collages (these tend to be expensive, so probably no one will use it for playing Hanetsuki).

Hagoita are generally sold at?Hagoita-ichi (臂遵????水??, Hagoita fair),? in December. In?Tokyo, Sensoji (羌????絲?) is famous for its Hagoita-ichi, which had been held every year since the Edo period.

hanetsuki

If you are interested in the history of Hagoita, there is a small museum in Tokyo, which displays Hagoita from the Edo, Meiji, Taisho, Showa period.

Hagoita Shiryokan (臂遵????粋?????蕕?)
Address: 25-43-5, Mukojima, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Open: 10:00-17:00 on Thur., Fri., Sat. (Closed period Oct.1-Jan.20)


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New Year in Japan 4 - Hatsu-hinode

On New Year’s Day, many people go to see the sunrise.
The sunrise on New Year’s Day is called Hatsu-hinode (?????ャ????), literally ‘first sunrise’.
In Japan, Hatsu-hinode is thought to be very auspicious, as it is the first dawn in the year.
This custom is actually not very old.? It is said that seeing Hatsu-hinode was spread in the Meiji period (1868-1912), and the origin?was the New Year’s ceremony by the Emperor.

new-year

There are many spots famous around Japan, for seeing the beautiful Hatsu-hinode.? Some people climb Mt. Fuji and see Hatsu-hinode from the mountaintop.
There are Hatsu-hinode seeing events in Tokyo, and the observation decks of tall buildings such as Roppongi Hills, Sunshine City, and Tokyo Tower, are open early in the morning for this.


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New Year in Japan 3 - Hatsumode

new-year

Very strangely, and typically Japanese at the same time, many Japanese go to a Shinto Shrine on New Year’s day, a few hours (or sometimes minutes) lator from visiting a Temple.? Though Shinto and Buddhism is a different religion, well, few Japanese mind that.

Visiting the Shinto Shrine on New Year’s Day is called Hatsumode (???荅?).? This means ‘visiting the Shinto Shrine (荅?) for the first time (???)’.
Until the 19th century, it was normal to visit the local Shinto Shrine which proteced the family, called Ujigami (羂霛?), but nowadays it is normal to visit a famous, powerful Shinto Shrine.? Some Shinto Shrines, for example Meiji Jingu, have millions of visitors over the three days.
During Hatsumode, it is common to wear Kimono, and buy a written oracle called Omikuji (?????帥?????).? If your Omikuji predicts bad luck (???), you can tie it onto a tree on the shrine grounds, in the hope that its prediction will not come true.? Omikuji goes into detail, and tells you how you will do in various areas in your life, such and business and love, for that year.

new-year

People will also often buy an amulet called Omamori (???絎????).? There are various kinds of them, which gives you good luck in studying, health, love, etc.
Another custom is to make a wish on a wooden plaque, called Ema (腟級Μ).? Ema are hanged up at the Shrine, where the spirits or gods receive them.? They have various pictures, often of animals on it.? In ancient times people would donate horses to the shrines for good favor, over time this was transferred to a wooden plaque with a picture (腟?) of a horse (薤?).


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New Year in Japan 2 - Kohaku & Joya-no-kane

Another regular feature of Ohmisoka is watching Kohaku Uta Gassen (膣???醇????????), a TV program by NHK, starting at 19:30.? Though this custom is getting weaker, especially among younger people, the program is still one of the most popular in Japan.

new-year

The title of the program means ’song festival between Red team and White team’.? Popular singers are split into two teams by gender, women in the red team and men in the white, and sing by turn.? After the final singer finished at around 23:30, the audience and a panel of judges cast their votes to decide which team sang better.? The winning team gets a trophy and the winners’ flag.? The program ends at about 23:45.? Programming then switches to coverage of midnight celebrations around the country.

Usually, people either watch these TV programs at home, or visit a temple to ring the bells of New Year’s Eve.
This bell is nothing like the small handbells used in the choirs.? It is the large bell hang up in the site, which you might have seen if you’ve visited a temple.

new-year

The bell of New Year’s Eve is called Joya-no-kane (??ゅ???????).? New Year’s Eve is the night of removing from the present year, so it is called Jo (???, remove) Ya (紊?, night)-no-Kane (???, bell).
The bell will be rang for 108 times.? 107 in the going year, and the last one in the coming year.? In Buddhism, 108 is the number of earthly desires.? Ringing the bell has the meaning of relieving people from suffering these desires.

However, listening to Joya-no-kane isn’t the only way to spend the last hours of the passing year nowadays.
Count down events are held in various places in Tokyo, such as Roppongi Hills, and Sunshine City.


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New Year in Japan 1 - Cleaning & Toshikoshi Soba

Merry Christmas!
…and the next thing to think about is the coming year :)

new-year

In Japanese, New Year’s Eve is called Ohmisoka (紊ф????).
Misoka (?????) means ‘last day of the month’, and New Year’ Eve is the most important month-end, so it is called Oh(紊?, big)-misoka.

People tend to be very busy on Ohmisoka, because they have much to do to prepare for the new year, and New Year’s Day in particular.
Through cleaning is usually done in spring in the West, as there is a term ’spring cleaning’, but in Japan, it is often done on the last few days of the year.??In Japanese style houses, this cleaning?involves changing the paper on?Shoji (???絖?)?doors and setting?Tatami (???)?mats out to air in the sun.? The purpose doing this in the cold winter?is to get ready to welcome in the new year with everything?including people’s minds and bodies?in a fresh, clean state.

new-year

After cleaning and all, it is time for supper.
Around 23:00 on Ohmisoka, people often gather?at home?to have a bowl of Soba.? This Soba eaten in Ohmisoka is called Toshikoshi Soba (綛頑???????????, year-crossing noodles).? This tradition?has the meaning of a wish to be able to live a very long (like Soba) life.


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Seasons Greetings in Japan - Nengajo

Christmas cards are not so popular in Japan, but there is an equivalent tradition.? Japanese people give greetings on New Year’s Day.? The postcard which is sent for this is?called Nengajo (綛頑?????).
Unlike Christmas cards, nengajo shouldn’t arrive before New Year’s Day.? The post office stocks Nengajo in late December, and delivers them on January 1st all at once.? You should send Nengajo to the post office by Christmas, to have it delivered on the correct day.? This New Year’s card postal system was set up as early as 1899.

nenga nenga

Many people use not normal postcards, but special Nengajo with lottery numbers (???綛雁??篁????綛頑??????????otoshidama-tsuki nenga hagaki) issued by the Post and Telecommunication Ministry. ?On January 15th, the winning numbers are picked and the results are announced the following day on television and in newspapers.? The holders of winning numbers receive prizes.

Usually on Nengajo,a motif of the?present year’s Eto (綛我??, zodiacal animal) is used.???The animal of?2011 is the?rabbit (???).? These?Nengajo with Eto motifs can be purchased at the post office, or you can download the designs on the Internet.? Of course, you can design your original Nengajo too.


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Osechi - New Years Feast in Japan

It may be strange to think about new years day when it’s not even Christmas yet.? But not if you are making reservation for Osechi (???膀?).

osechi

Osechi is a traditional Japanese New Year feast. The tradition started in the Heian Period (綛喝?????篁?, 794-1185).
Osechi?is?usually put into?special boxes called Jubako (???膊?), which resemble?bento boxes, only more flamboyant. Like bento boxes, jubako are often kept stacked before and after use.

The dishes that make up Osechi each have a special meaning celebrating the New Year.
Some examples are:

Kazunoko (??違????)
Herring roe.? Kazu (???)?means “number” and ko (絖?) means “child”. ?It symbolizes a wish to be gifted with numerous children in the?coming year.

Kuro-mame (藥?莟?)
Black soybeans. ?Mame (莟?, beans) also means “health”, symbolizing a wish for health.

Tazukuri (??遺?????)
Dried sardines cooked in soy sauce.? The literal meaning of the kanji in tazukuri is “rice?field maker”, as the fish were used historically to fertilize rice fields. The symbolism is of an abundant harvest.

The above three are called Iwai-zakana Sanshu (腑??????岩??腮?, three celebrational dishes).? Without these three, the new years feast would not be complete.
Iwai-zakana Sanshu differs by regions.? The above are the Kanto (including Tokyo) style.

Osechi

Traditionally, Osechi is made in each house, but it can be purchased at department stores, and even on the internet.
At the department stores, for example Mitsukoshi or Takashimaya, you can buy Osechi from famous Ryotei (exclusive restaurants).
The deadline of reservation is around Christmas, or some times the 20th of December.? Some are in a limited quantity so it finishes even earlier!? If you are interested, an early reservation is recommended.


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