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Archive for the ‘Japanese Holidays’ Category

The Year in Review – 2016

In Japanese Holidays on January 9, 2017 at 3:18 am

めでてー!めでてー!
Medetē! Medetē! (“Happy happy! Joy joy!” in the Edo Dialect)
Congratulations!mochi

Happy New Year, everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve update JapanThis!. In fact, the last article was published on August 3rd, 2016. That’s almost a half year ago; that’s the longest time the site’s gone dark in a long, long time. In that time, I’ve heard from more than a few you of asking if everything is OK with my health or if I’d quit doing the site completely or what.

Well, thank you for all your concern, and I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with my health and I’m most definitely not quitting the site. The real cause for my silence was merely a technical issue. My computer died. With it I lost the research for the final articles for the Yamanote Line Series (and a lot of other stuff not JapanThis!-related). As a Christmas present to myself, I got me a new ‘puter and a new version of MS Office and now I’m back in action. Actually, getting MS Word is just as critical to writing as having a computer. I tried writing using Google Docs and some other options, and it’s just not the same[i]. What’s more, buying MS Word in Japan is like twice the cost of buying it in the US for some reason.

Anyhoo, everything is set up and good to go, so expect to see the site updated with new articles regularly.

ny

Happy Nude Year!

What Happened in 2016?

 

Long time readers know that I like to make my first post of the new year a retrospective. I try to round up all the place names we looked at this year and then I give you a few other updates and things to look forward to in the next year. This year is no exception.

First, you may have not noticed yet, but there was a major – yet subtle – change to the site that came this summer. If you look up in the browser address field you may notice that it no longer says markystar.wordpress.com. The site has an official domain name and that’s the way things will be from here on out[ii].

I’ve decided on a few stylistic changes that are very minor – and, honestly, they won’t be noticeable until well into the new year. These are boring things like, how pages are layed out. For example, until now, I’ve just been putting section headers in bold print, but from now on I’m going to format them as actual headers (a difference that mainly only matters when dealing with HTML). There aren’t many of these changes and they don’t really affect the reader, it’s just more silly stuff I hafta do behind the scenes to make the site look pretty and still be usable.

30005-1

Good luck in 2017!

Where Did We Go in 2016?

 

Well, since half the year was silent, we didn’t really have a lot of articles. That said, we still covered a lot of Edo-Tōkyō in a short time.

Early in 2016, we explored Kōnan and Ōsaki (two places we would revisit in our soon-to-be-completed Yamanote Line Series). I always love getting down to this area because it’s really water, both the rivers and the bay, that brought life to Edo-Tōkyō. While we were down here, we took a little time to explore Irugi Shrine – a shrine most would overlook, but actually has a great history. We also looked at Goten’yama, one of Edo’s most famous hanami spots, which is now just a shitamachi town in Shinagawa.

Then, we took an epic look at Shinjuku’s sordid past (and present) as well as Ōme, whose pre-modern highway passed through the area[iii]. It was nice to have the chance to re-do Shinjuku and give it the attention it deserved. And while way out, suburban Tachikawa wasn’t high on everyone’s To Do List, it was a reader request and so we took a quick look out that direction.

We also looked at some  areas that are synonymous with government, Nagata-chō and Kioi-chō. The latter of the two is no doubt of interest to fans of James Bond, as a few scenes from You Only Live Twice were shot in the area.

The last place name we visited in 2016 was Harajuku, one of Tōkyō’s many fashion districts. I was actually surprised I hadn’t covered it yet, but apparently, it was one of the few remaining “big names” in the metropolis that merely got mentioned here and there.

9784805313114__09290.1455208216.1280.1280

We reviewed two excellent books this year. First, there was Terry Bennet’s Photography in Japan: 1853-1912 which was published by Tuttle and is a great look at the evolution of this art and science in Japan. The other was Taschen’s lovely hardbound issue of Hiroshige: One Hundred Views of Edo the artist’s epic series on daily life in the shōgun’s capital.

The bulk of the year consisted of the series, Explore the Yamanote Line. This was meant to be a companion guide to the Explore the Ōedo Line series and, of course, was meant to be finished quickly. Unfortunately, when my computer died, the last 2-3 articles got put on hold indefinitely. I intended to finish those articles as soon as possible and put that project behind me. One cool thing about the Yamanote Line series, if you go back, there are now short videos for many of the station areas with their corresponding platform chimes produced by my friends over at Digital Hub.

av-kimura-tsuna2-1

Oh, and today is Cumming of Age Day.

Milestones in 2016

 

Despite leaving the blog to lie dormant for the last half of the year, we crossed a couple of amazing thresholds and grew quite a bit.

First, in the beginning of spring, just as the weather started getting nice again, I announced 5 or 6 super-geeky historical walking tours based on the history of Edo-Tōkyō. While people aren’t banging down my door every day to take these tours, quite a few groups and individuals did. We had a lot of fun on all the tours I’ve done so far and I look forward to doing some more in 2017. I’m going to add a few more possible courses to the existing ones and I hope to have those up in time for spring.

A big anniversary came in May of 2016. That was the 300th article posted on JapanThis! – a definite major achievement, if I do say so myself. The big thanks actually go to you the reader because you guys keep me going!

img_1514

And while I’m patting myself on the back, I might also add that sometime between Dec. 31st 2016 and Jan. 1st 2017, the number of my Twitter followers passed the 3,000 mark. The reason I bring this up is because I initially joined Twitter just to promote JapanThis!, and I remember very well how lonely it felt tweeting out to only 10 followers – most of whom were just friends and family showing their support[iv]. These days promoting the blog isn’t even 1/10th of what I tweet. I generally just use it to goof around with likeminded people, probably people like you.

Alright, that’s about all I have to wrap up this year. And if anyone’s interested, you can compare 2016 with past years and see how I did:

The Year in Review: 2015
The Year in Review: 2014

And on that note, Happy New Year to all of you. Thank you so much for reading, commenting, and encouraging me to keep on keepin’ on. Here’s to 2017, let it be a year that would make the 11th shōgun Ienari blush[v].

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Explore Edo-Tōkyō

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[i] For example, I need MS Word to get Word Press to play well with certain features of the JapanThis!, like the footnotes.
[ii] You don’t need to update your bookmarks or anything because the old address will just forward you to the new one.
[iii] That being, of course, the 青梅街道 Ōme Kaidō.
[iv] And probably counting down the days to when they could unfollow without me noticing lol.
[v] Longtime readers will remember that Tokugawa Ienari was my most favoritest shōgun ever.

The Year in Review

In Japanese History, Japanese Holidays on December 31, 2014 at 3:23 pm

めでてー!めでてー!
Medetē! Medetē! (“Happy happy! Joy joy!” In the Edo Dialect[i])

calligraphy

メリークリトリス! Merry Christmas, ハッピーヌードイヤー! Happy New Year, and ホッピーホリデーズ! Happy Holidays to all of you! I’m enjoying a long needed break. Hopefully all of you are, too. Safe and warm is where it’s at![ii]

If you’re reading this, it means 2015 has just begun as I’m publishing this article as soon the New Year begins. I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on the passing year. But before I do that, I want to thank each and every one of you for your support. I’ve always said that I’m running this blog just for fun. But I’ve also always said that it’s good to know I’m not shouting into a vacuum. Each article takes about 1-2 weeks of research, writing, editing, formatting, and finding pictures[iii]. It would be a shame if no one ever saw it. For taking the time to read, all I can say is 忝い katajikenai thank you[iv].

I’d also like to thank everyone who has commented, liked, shared, tweeted, and re-tweeted. That helps a lot! I have a very special 忝い katajikenai thank you with a profoundly deep 御辞儀 o-jigi bow to anyone who has supported the blog financially by donating to my Patreon page. I can count you on one hand, so it really means a lot to me that you appreciate my efforts that much. Thank you from the bottom of my heart[v].

katajikenai

The Year in Review

Where to start? 2014 was a pretty epic year for the blog in some ways. We started off the year with a tour of the 深川七福神 Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin 7 Gods of Good Luck of Fukagawa, a traditional New Year’s activity in Japan[vi]. If we’re in Tōkyō, Mrs. JapanThis and I always do this auspicious pilgrimage as there are many courses scattered throughout the city.

Last year's Shichi Fukujin stamp card.

Last year’s Shichi Fukujin stamp card.

For me, the best part of 2014 was the articles started out decent, but then got really deep. Maybe things got too long. And I’d really like your opinion on that. Sometimes I can just run with a subject because it’s interesting to me, but not other people. But for me, the research and the interconnectivity of places became more apparent to me. I also bit off more than I could chew a few times (Rivers of Edo-Tōkyō Series, I’m looking at you), but I think for anyone who’s a fan of JapanThis expects a little bit of obsessive focusing on a niche from time to time. Hopefully.

So where did we go in 2015? My god, we went all over the place! So many places are within walking distances. So many places are spread all across town. But that said, we hit the 23 Special Wards hard. So, let’s take a lot at the Edo-Tōkyō we explored in the last 365 days, shall we?

memory_lane_69

#TeamIenari

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In 2014 We Covered Some Really Interesting Parts of Edo-Tōkyō

Here we go, let’s go Edo-crazy!
All of the place names in this article are clickable. So please consider this a table of contents for 2015. If you missed an article, everything is here for the taking. Feel free to share with a friend. For better or for worse, I’ve tried to break things up by area.

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The Sumida River Area

We spent a lot of time in the areas near or along the Sumida River looking merchant and artisan districts. Some areas used to be for the samurai elite, but today they are considered part of the shitamachi (the low city). This area of Tōkyō was the 2nd most written about on JapanThis this year.

Bakuro-Yokoyama-chō
Kiyosumi-Shirakawa
Suitengūmae
Kappabashi
Morishita
Kuramae

Kiyosumi Garden

Kiyosumi Garden

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The Ueno Area

We also got into to some shitamachi areas near Ueno looking at some castle ruins that no one even knows about today. But this also took us into old samurai districts and modern Japan’s anime-fueled answer to Silicon Valley, so…

Dōkan’yama
Akihabara
Sendagi
Tabata

shitamachi

I love this shitamachi style

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Katsushika-Kasai Area

After that, we ventured out further east to Katsushika, an area I rarely go to so that was cool for me. I loved the folklore and folk culture in these neighborhoods. In this area I was really challenged by the rivers… something which would catch up with me sooner or later (wink wink).

Takaramachi
Ohanajaya
Hikifune
Kameari

I really fell in love with rivers while doing these places and found a special place in my heart for the area.

I really fell in love with rivers while doing these places and found a special place in my heart for the area.

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Tokyo Dome Area

Also, it was fun to spend some time in the former elite areas near Tōkyō Dome. What I love about these places is the contrast between flat low lands, hills, plateaus, and windy roads. More samurai than you can shake a stick at[vii].

Koishikawa
Myōgadani
Hakusan

The Kanda Aqueduct in Koishikawa

The Kanda Aqueduct in Koishikawa

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The Roppongi Area

At some points, we edged a little towards some yamanote areas near the bay area to look at where a few daimyō kept their most lavish estates. We also learned about a Meiji era goon[viii].

Keyakizaka
Roppongi
Hirō

View from top of Keyakizaka towards Tokyo Bay with winter illuminations.

View from top of Keyakizaka towards Tokyo Bay with winter illuminations.

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Tokyo Bay Area

We also went right up to the bay… and, yeah, we straight up went into the bay itself! To be honest, it looks like the bay area got the most attention in terms of the number of articles, and yet the lowest feedback. He we saw everything from lowly fishermen to daimyō and a seaside villa of the Tokugawa Shōguns themselves. We even saw the transformation of Shinagawa Station from seaside train station to inland station.

Hamamatsu-chō
Tamachi
Haneda
Samezu
Ōmori (also, Ōmori Kaizuka)
Tsukuda
Tsukiji
Tsukishima
Kachidoki
Toyomi
Harumi
Odaiba

One of the man-made islands built to defend Edo against foreigners.

One of the man-made islands built to defend Edo against foreigners. I’ll admit it, I’m a big of Edo Bay. It really is the heart and soul of the metropolis.

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And Then This Happened…

Cuz everybody’s got a random…[ix]

Sendagaya

glee-sexy-gwyneth-random.

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Other Highlights of the Year

At one point, a bunch of us had some fun on Twitter making jokes based on gags about “You know you’ve been in Japan too long when (insert Japanese habit you’ve picked up).” Of course, our version was cooler cuz it featured the hashtag #Edo. Everyone was so creative and knowledgeable that I had to compile them into a single post, lest they be lost to posterity.

You Know You’ve Been in Edo Too Long

We’ve gotta do that again!

Click the picture to find my Twitter account

Click the picture to find my Twitter account

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Rivers of Edo-Tōkyō

Finally, I have to acknowledge the series that almost killed me. I spent a lot of the beginning of the year lurking around rivers and canals. So I set about talking about the etymology and history of rivers in Edo-Tōkyō. Seemed liked a good idea at the time. But no sooner had I announced to the world that I would write 7 articles on the topic, I found myself bogged down in a quagmire of shifting goal posts that were literally shifting… or more often than not being shifted by the shōgunate. By the 2nd or 3rd article I had come to hate rivers.

Map of Edo-Tokyo in the paleolithic era. No wonder rivers are so crucial to the development of the city.

Map of Edo-Tokyo in the paleolithic era. No wonder rivers are so crucial to the development of the city.

When I was backing up 2014 files, I came across a folder called (in all caps) ”QUIT RIVER SERIES.” Inside the folder was a document I was planning to publish in which I admitted I was over my head and it wasn’t any fun anymore. I totally forgot about that. There was a point where I was going to tell everyone the river series was over. I just wanted to kill the river subject.

Wisely, I stepped away and took a month off and was able to regain my sanity and enthusiasm for the series. In the end, I completed my 7 part series with maps and pictures and… whatever. I finished it. I know way more about rivers than I ever wanted to know before. But the way I look at rivers, streams, and creeks has changed forever and so there wasn’t a moment of time wasted. It was an amazing insight into the nature of rivers and how traditional Japan (and the Tokugawa Shōgunate in particular) dealt with them.

I had to get this ground work out of the way...

I had to get this ground work out of the way…

So yeah, we looked at some rivers of Edo-Tōkyō.

The Tone River
The Arakawa River
The Sumida River
The Kanda River
The Tama River
The Edo River
The Meguro River

I’m so happy I stuck with the river topic. I can’t find anyone else providing this information in English for free on the internet, so it’s a source of pride. It’s also made the exploration of the city more fun!

For those of you who liked the river articles, thank you.  For those of you who hated them, I'm sorry.

For those of you who liked the river articles, thank you.
For those of you who hated them, I’m sorry.

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But This Year Wasn’t Perfect…

The blog underperformed as compared to last year. On the other hand, my Twitter account blew up (I thought 500 followers was impossible, but now I have 1000).  The Facebook Group has stayed in the same range for about 2 years. Also, I made a Flickr account this year so I could try my hand at photography. We’ll see what happens with that. lol.

History of JapanThis! (Does this downward step mean soon I'll be JapanThat?

History of JapanThis!
(Does this downward turn mean soon I’ll be JapanThat?)

2013 vs. 2014.  Views down.  Visitors down.  Likes and Comments waaaaaaaaay down.

2013 vs. 2014.
Views down.
Visitors down.
Likes and Comments waaaaaaaaay down.

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And so I really want your feedback.

First of all, as always, I’m taking requests for Tōkyō place names. If there’s a name or an area that you’d like me to cover, let me know. Also, if you have a minute, please fill out this 3 question survey about the blog. One of my goals for 2015 is to make the blog and Facebook group more interactive. Hopefully, your input will help me do that!

Thanks for reading the blog. Thanks for reading this article. Thanks for taking the survey. And just thanks in general. Y'all rock!

Thanks for reading the blog. Thanks for reading this article. Thanks for taking the survey.
And just thanks in general. Y’all rock!

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Oh! One Last Thing!

I have 2 articles cued up and ready to go. I’ll be looking at 2 bridges in Tōkyō that are named after shrines. I’m planning on releasing them in rapid succession so watch this space! Have a healthy, happy, and prosperous New Year!

Oh, also, please share and retweet so I can get a lot of feedback on my survey!!

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⇨ Click Here to Donate ⇦
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___________________
[i] めでてぇ medetē is the 下町言葉 shitamachi kotoba low city variant of めでたい medetai auspicious. Hopefully you recognize this as the root of the polite word おめでとう o-medetō in 明けましておめでとうございます akemashite o-medetō gozaimasu happy new year!
[ii] Unless you’re in Australia, in which case, fire up those BBQ’s or hie thee hence to a beach!
[iii] And apparently not a minute of proofreading. lol
[iv] Some of you will recognize this as so-called 武士語 bushigo samurai language. The word expresses humility, embarrassment, gratitude, and a sense of debt (also, I don’t know to what extent this word was really used, but it shows up in samurai movies a lot).
[v] And I’m thinking of ways to repay the favor, i.e.; special content for Patrons only. Contact me if you have an idea of what you’d like to see.
[vi] You may be getting another tour of a different course this year, too. TBD.
[vii] And believe me. I can shake a stick at a metric fuck ton of samurai without even breaking a sweat.
[viii] As if there were only one!
[ix] And this was one of the cutest randoms for sure!

Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin

In Japanese Holidays, Japanese Shrines & Temples on January 6, 2014 at 5:14 pm

深川七福神巡り
Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Meguri (Walking Tour of the Fukugawa 7 Gods of Good Luck)

The Fukagawa 7 Fukujin Course

The Fukagawa 7 Fukujin Course

I hope everyone had a safe and happy (and delicious) winter holiday. I’ve been out of the country and haven’t updated JapanThis! for a few weeks. Did you miss me?[i]

At the beginning of every new year, Mrs. JapanThis and I do a traditional walking tour of the 七福神 shichi fukujin the seven gods of good luck. There are shichi fukujin walks all over Japan. This kind of pilgrimage[ii] seems to have begun in the late Muromachi Period (1333-1573)[iii]. The practice was brought from Kansai to Kantō and grew in popularity during the Edo Period when most of the old temples and shrines associated with the 7 gods of good luck had become settled. Prior to the Edo Period, the exact set of deities wasn’t standardized. This lack of standardization has resulted in some shichi fukujin walks including an 8th deity of varying provenance. Occasionally, you’ll actually see a 八福神巡り hachi fukujin meguri walking tour of the 8 gods of good luck. But more often than not, these are a distinct set of 7 deities and when represented in a group, they should be immediately recognizable by any Japanese person[iv]. Anyways, as most of the shichi fukujin pilgrimages became settled in the Edo Period and the popularity of these walks during the new year holiday increased, it should be no surprise that most of these are found in the heart of Edo. There are more than 20 possible shichi fukujin walks in Tōkyō alone[v].

Tōkyōites walk a lot, but in the Edo Period, people walked everywhere and for much greater distances – even in the dead of winter. An average pilgrimage in Tōkyō will require anywhere from 2 to 3½ hours of walking. Every route is unique, but generally people do it from Jan. 1st to Jan. 6th[vi]. Each route is well-organized and you can buy 七福神色紙 shichi fukujin shikishi stamp board for about 1000 (roughly $10) and at each stop you can get a stamp for 100 or 200 (roughly $1 or $2). Temples and shrines that are not major destinations are usually closed except for special events, so the week or two after the new year is big business for them. That’s why the routes are well-marked with flags and there are maps available everywhere.

Shikishi are decorate pieces of cardboard used to collect signatures for special events. Here you can see the name of each shrine/temple in black and then a red ink stamp pressed over it confirming that you actually visited the temple/shrine. At the bottom, in gold, you can see the 7 gods of good luck riding on the the takarabune "treasure ship."  Awwwww yeah.

Shikishi are decorate pieces of cardboard used to collect signatures for special events.
Here you can see the name of each shrine/temple in black and then a red ink stamp pressed over it confirming that you actually visited the temple/shrine.
At the bottom, in gold, you can see the 7 gods of good luck riding on the the takarabune “treasure ship.”
Awwwww yeah.

Today is the first day that most Japanese companies started work after the holiday, so there were two kinds of people we mostly encountered: salarymen and old people. As it was the first day back at work for most Japanese companies, people are still feeling pretty lazy and any excuse to get out of the office and walk around is welcome and so groups of co-workers tend to be permitted to visit a shrine near the office to pray for success in business. I doubt they’re allowed to do the whole shichi fukujin meguri, but visiting a shrine dedicated to a god of good luck makes much more sense than visiting a shrine for, say, 安産 anzan safe delivery of babies. There are lots of old people because… well, they don’t have to work and Japan is just crawling with old people anyways.

I’m not going to go into detail about each of the 7 gods because you can look them up in Wikipedia or here is a nice description of them. But I am going to list each of the 7 gods and the shrine or temple with which they are affiliated. Now, I say affiliated because many times these gods are not the main deity venerated at a certain temple or shrine – they may be part of a small shrine attached to another larger religious structure[vii]. As it so happens, except for 1 structure, most of the sites of the shichi fukujin in Fukagawa are very minor, simple buildings. They’re probably only open a few days a year to perform certain religious duties and the rest of the year, the family who owns the property is engaged in other work that has nothing to do with the temple/shrine[viii]. Keep in mind that this list is for Fukagawa only, the names of the temples and shrines of another course will be totally different.

Name

Domain

Shrine/Temple Name

Description

寿老人
Jurō-jin
longevity 深川神明宮
Fukagawa

Shinmei-gū
I always think of this guy as the bearded old man with a big head. This shrine participates in the famous Fukagawa Mizukake Festival.
大黒天
Daikokuten
amassing wealth, good harvest 円珠
Enju-in
Daikoku is one of the more famous of the shichi fukujin, but the temple in Fukagawa is TINY. Daikoku is enshrined in what is essentially a round Buddhist style shack.
恵比須神
Ebisu-jin
love & respect; bountiful food 富岡八幡宮
Tomioka

Hachiman-gū
This is one of the most important shrines in Edo-Tōkyō. I mentioned it here. However, the small shrine to Ebisu seems like an add-on. It’s located on the left, back-side of the main hall. Read more about the Tōkyō place name, Ebisu, here and here. Also, if I’m not mistaken, Ebisu is the only of the 7 gods of good luck who is of native Japanese origin.
布袋尊
Hotei-son
selflessness & generosity 深川稲荷神社
Fukagawa

Inari Jinja
This shrine is tiny. I think I’ve mentioned Inari before. Inari is generally an auspicious kami and shrines to this deity are all over Japan. It’s my understanding that the cult of Inari spread under the sankin-kōtai system because this kami was popular with daimyō. In the Edo Period, Inari became popular with the common people too.
毘沙門天
Bishamonten
risk taking; gambling 龍光院
Ryūkō-in
This is a tiny temple in a residential area that almost blends into the background. It looks just like any other modern building on the block.
弁財天
Benzaiten
being rich & famous; the glamorous life 冬木弁天堂
Fuyuki

Benten-dō
Another small shrine, but this one has an older, traditional feel. The name of the shrine is interesting. It literally means “Fuyuki’s place to venerate Benzaiten.” Fuyuki was the name of a family of lumber workers who supposedly lived here and had a small shrine to Benzaiten. Benzaiten is sometimes depicted as a slutty, music playing, and jealous bitch. It’s often said if couples visit her shrines together, she’ll get jealous and the couple will break up.
福禄寿
Fukurokuju
popularity, happiness & prosperity 心行寺
Shingyō-ji
This temple is doing its own Buddhist thing, but has a small “shack” dedicated to the veneration of Fukurokuju. It seems like they only open it for viewing a few times a year, including the new year holiday.

So, as I said earlier, Mrs. JapanThis and I have done many shichi fukujin walks. This year we decided to do the Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Meguri. Fukagawa is a very shitamachi area and even boasts a fantastic museum called 深川江戸資料館 Fukagawa Edo Shiryōkan Fukagawa Edo Museum which reconstructs a block of Edo Period Fukagawa and brings a little bit of Edo to life – highly recommended. Because the area was in the heart of Edo, it wasn’t surprising to find out that it’s one of the easiest shichi fukujin courses. It took us no more than 2 hours to walk the whole thing. They started us at Monzen Nakachō Station[ix] and marked the entire path with flags so that we didn’t need any maps or any GPS (even if we did get lost, there were groups of old people being led by cute tour guides waving flags – they’re easy enough to follow).

Monzen-Nakacho

“Mon’naka” Station.
Every time I visit an area I’ve written about it’s like seeing an old friend.
Hello, old friend!

Then we entered Tomioka Hachiman-gū. At the entrance was a massive stone lantern. Its size reminded me of the Monster Lantern in Ueno Park – but the Monster Lantern is much bigger. Still, it’s pretty cool to see a stone lantern of this size. We ventured around to the left hand side of the 本殿 honden main hall of Tomioka Hachiman-gū and found a small grove with 3 stalls housing 3 kami, the middlemost kami was Ebisu.

The giant stone lantern at the entrance to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The giant stone lantern at the entrance to Tomioka Hachimangu.

The main hall of Tomioka Hachimangu!

The main hall of Tomioka Hachimangu!
Notice the group of salarymen walking together.

The torii that leads to the shrine dedicated to Ebisu.

The torii that leads to the shrine dedicated to Ebisu.

The actual shrine to Ebisu is basically a wooden shed behind Tomioka Hachimangu.

The actual shrine to Ebisu is basically a wooden shed behind Tomioka Hachimangu.

The next stop on the Fukagawa Shichi Fukujin Course is Fuyuki Benten-dō, home of Benzaiten, the only female kami (女神 megami) of the 7 gods of good luck. It’s a very small temple and today it was filled with old people standing around and looking very confused… until the tour guide told everyone to make a single file line and pay their respects. We got our stamp and got out of there as quickly as possible so as to beat all the old people to the next stops on our course.

IMG_3893

The shrine to Benzaiten is so small and the grounds so narrow that it is literally wedged between to small apartment buildings. If it weren’t for the flags announcing the 7 fukujin walk, you might not even notice it!

Next stop was Shingyō-ji where Fukurokuju-son is enshrined. The temple itself isn’t’t much to look at, but the interesting thing is the Buddhist style stall in which Fukurokuju is venerated, it’s a good example of syncretism in Japanese religion (ie; foreign religions like Buddhism naturally mixed with the native Shintōism).

Entrance to Shingyoji. Again, if you didn't know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn't even bat an eye at this temple.

Entrance to Shingyoji.
Again, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you probably wouldn’t even bat an eye at this temple.

This is the shrine to Fukurokuju.  The shape of this structure is distinctly Buddhist.

This is the shrine to Fukurokuju.
The shape of this structure is distinctly Buddhist.

Here's a statue of the little bugger himself.

Here’s a statue of the little bugger himself.

Along the way, we passed a famous 和菓子屋 wagashi-ya Japanese sweets shop called 伊勢屋 Isei-ya. We picked up some 大福 daifuku and went on our merry way.

Iseya has been in business since 1907 (Meiji 40) and has quite a good reputation in Tokyo for quality Japanese sweets.

Iseya has been in business since 1907 (Meiji 40) and has quite a good reputation in Tokyo for quality Japanese sweets.

Our 4th stop was Enju-in which houses and enshrinement of Daikokuten. As I mentioned before, most of the shichi fukujin are commonly recognized when seen together, but separately, it may be hard to remember who is who. Ebisu, Benzaiten, and Daikokuten are the most recognizable, I think. Daikokuten’s gig is granting wealth – not just wealth, but ever accumulating wealth. There is a famous chain of “pawn shops[x]” called Daikokuya. The one near my house specializes in high end wallets and bags (Hermes, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, etc…), I can’t help but think there is a connection. Anyhoo, the temple itself is non-descript and if it hadn’t been for the flags lining the path, I might have had a hard time finding the place.

A paper lantern with the name "Daikokuten" written on it.

A paper lantern with the name “Daikokuten” written on it.

IMG_3903

Again, if you didn’t know what you were looking for, you’d probably never look twice at this temple.

During my winter vacation, I visited Arizona. Feeling a bit stir crazy one day, I took a 2 hour walk just to see what I could see – and I saw nothing. But walk for 10 minutes through the heart of Edo-Tōkyō and you’ll see lots of things! As we were moseying along, we stumbled across a solitary grave near an intersection. Turns out, this was the grave of Mamiya Rinzō. He was a map maker and a spy for the Tokugawa shōgunate. He made maps of northern Japan and the Kuril Isla— and wait, did you just say “spy?!

Yes, I did.

In 1826, the Dutch doctor and botanist, Phillip von Siebold was caught collecting maps of northern Japan (drawn by a member of the imperial court in Kyōto, no less). But the Tokugawa shōgunate was all about very limited access to the country[xi]. Furthermore, they insisted on keeping the imperial court out of the business of real politics and especially out of the limited international exchanges possible at the time. So this was quite a big deal to the government in Edo. Today, most of us look back at it and laugh but really this was some North Korea-style shit, right? Well, North Korea shit could get you killed but luckily for von Siebold, the shōgunate didn’t want to create an international riff, so they effectively deported him and that’s the end of story.

But who was the douchebag who told on von Siebold like a little bitch? Oh, it was Mamiya Rinzō from 水戸藩 Mito Han Mito Domain[xii]. Make what you will of that.

Grave of Mamiya Rinzo.

Grave of Mamiya Rinzo – Tattletale extraordinaire.

IMG_3906

Plaque in front of Rinzo’s grave.


Then, we moved on to Ryūkō-in. This is where Bishamonten is revered. It’s another less than memorable temple.

Ryūkō-in - yet another non-descript temple.

Ryūkō-in – yet another non-descript temple.

A makeshift sign for the season that says "Bishamonten."

A makeshift sign for the season that says “Bishamonten.”

After that, we headed to Fukagawa Inari Shrine to see Hotei-son. This shine is literally crammed into a tiny corner of a residential intersection. I bet this is the most action this place gets all year.

It's hardly fair to even call this a shrine.

It’s hardly fair to even call this a shrine.

Finally we hit up Shinmei-gū which was larger than the last few places, but not so big. They had their o-mikoshi (portable shrine) on display with pictures indicating that they participate in the mizukake matsuri which is generally spearheaded by Tomioka Hachiman-gū[xiii].

Torii and entrance to Shinmeigū. The premises were quite large, but the architecture and space weren't much to look at.

Torii and entrance to Shinmeigū. The premises were quite large, but the architecture and space weren’t much to look at.

So, having done quite a few shichi fukujin walks, I was really looking forward to the Fukagawa walk because it’s so famous. But it was a bit of a letdown compared to the others. The highlights were definitely Tomioka Hachiman-gū (because of its size and importance to Edo-Tōkyō) and the grave of Mamiya Rinzō (which just pissed me off). But all in all, I got a lot of good exercise, quality time with Mrs. JapanThis, and best of all, I got a future place name to research. Check this shit out:

Bakuroyokoyama FTW!!!

Bakuroyokoyama FTW!!!

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[i] It’s a rhetorical question; I don’t need my inboxes flooded with “no” e-mails.

[ii] For lack of a better word.

[iii] This is the most liberal reckoning I can think of for this era. Various scholars will assign different dates for the beginning of the Muromachi Period depending on how they are trying to frame certain topics. I probably won’t even mention the Muromachi Period again in this article, so let’s leave it at that for now.

[iv] And I reckon most foreigners who have spent a few years in Japan would recognize them too.

[v] And according to Wikipedia, there are at least 10 more in the Kantō area.

[vi] Some routes are officially open as late as Jan. 15th.

[vii] Not unlike in Europe where a church may be dedicated to a certain saint, but the relics or bodies of various other saints and holy people may be also be located on the premises.

[viii] That is too say, they have a real 9-5 most of the time.

[ix] Again, if you’re interested in the etymology of the place name Monzen Nakachō, I recommend you read my article here.

[x] Again, for lack of a better word.

[xi] Some say it was 開国 sakoku a closed country, others say it was under 海禁 kaikin a policy of limited access by sea.

[xii] The same Mito Domain that produced Mito Gaku and the grand douche daimyō extraordinaire, Tokugawa Nariaki. Oh yes, Mito Han. JapanThis! loves to hate on Mito Han almost as much as Satsuma and Chōshū.

[xiii] More about this next summer…

Edo River Fireworks

In Japan, Japanese Holidays, Travel in Japan on August 5, 2013 at 2:38 am

江戸川花火大会
Edogawa Hanabi Taikai Edo River Fireworks

江戸川にヤンキーが多い

Edo River Fireworks 2013

First of all, long time readers of Japan This will have noticed that I haven’t had a good history article in a week or two. The main reason is that work is super busy and I just don’t have any free time. Literally. Things will change soon and I promise to continue my Edo-Tokyo place names series as soon as I can. I miss doing it. I also have other ideas for short series, like the Tokugawa Funerary Temples series or the Edo Execution Grounds Spectacular.

In the meantime, I did have a little time after work this weekend to go to the 江戸川花火大会 Edogawa Hanabi Taikai Edo River Fireworks. I’ve gone to this fireworks display almost every year for the past 6 years. It’s one of the best fireworks displays in Japan — I dare say, one of the best in the world.

江戸川花火大会・ヤンキー多いw

Edo River Fireworks. Tokugawa Ieyasu would have been impressed by the number of ヤンキー present at this event.

I took some video this year. I thought I had 10 minutes of footage, but when I started editing, I soon realized that I had over 45 minutes of video clips. That means that I watched almost half of the entire event through my iPhone and not with my own eyes. Probably shouldn’t have done that….  But it does mean I have some interesting content for you, dear reader. And without any further ado, I’d like to present a montage of video clips, in order, from start to finish, of the Edo River Fireworks 2013. I hope you enjoy.

Japanese Manners (part 1)

In Japanese Holidays, Japanese Manners, Travel in Japan on February 7, 2013 at 4:38 pm

Going to Japan for the first time? There are a lot of manners and commonsensical behaviors that people do here and just take for granted that everyone knows. But the fact is that if you’re visiting Japan for the first time, you probably don’t know most (or maybe any) of the local customs.

If I had a 1 yen coin for every time I saw a foreigner doing something “wrong,” I’d have a fuckload of 1 yen coins. They get in the way, mess up everyone’s routine, or just do things that will annoy everyone around them. None of these things is the end of the world; you can be oblivious and still have a great time. After all, ignorance is bliss.

But if you take the time to learn a few basics, you’ll look like a pro, people will think “what an urbane and polite foreigner,” and in my honest opinion, you’ll have a lot more fun because of the insight into the culture. I really believe the proverb “When in Rome, do as the Romans” is some of the best advice ever. You’ll experience Japan more deeply and you’ll come away with a so much more profound experience.

As I said, there are a lot of “rules” (or “manners,” if you will). But they’re not hard to learn. After a few basics, you’ll start to see patterns and probably be able to figure out the rest for yourself. I’m going to start my list with the big mistakes that I see tourists make all the time, then I’ll go into the smaller things.

4 Manners You Must Know In Japan

Walking & Using Escalators
Walk on the left side of the streets and hallways.
Stand on the left side of elevators; the right side is for people in a hurry to walk.
I see foreigners standing side by side relaxing on the handrails blocking the flow of traffic all the time. There’s a long line of people standing behind them looking irritated about being slowed down.

Pro-tip: In Osaka, for some strange reason, the elevator rule is reversed. People stand on the right side and pass on the left. Often you’ll see Tokyo people doing it wrong here – sometimes intentionally as a snub – so if you do it correctly, you’ll be doing better than even some Japanese!
tokyo elevato

Getting On Trains
Make a line. Japanese trains stop at the same spots, the doors are marked on the platforms or across on the facing wall.
Stand to the right or left of the door, so you don’t block people getting off the trains.
People exit the doors in the middle of the left & right lines first. After everyone has gotten off the train, the people waiting will board the train.
The Japanese like lines and order. It’s this sort of behavior that keeps people calm when there are typhoons, earthquakes, etc.
It’s really just common sense. Let people off first, then get on yourself. Stand to the sides so you don’t block people. You can parlay this skill to every other situation in Japan.

3935620126_ff4e2f57cc_z

Silence is Golden
Don’t talk loudly anywhere (but especially on trains).
Don’t sit across from your friend on the subways and have a loud conversation. Sit next to each other and talk at a reasonable volume.
People are generally quiet in elevators when unknown people get in with them.
Always keep your phone in silent mode (vibrate), called “Manner Mode” in Japanese, especially in public places.
Don’t talk on your phone on the train. They even make announcements saying this. If you have to take a phone call, get off the train and talk on the platform. The next train will come soon anyways.

Pro-tip: Don’t take phone calls at the table, step outside. You’ll score lots of “cool foreigner” points for this one.

TS3G0247

Saying Thank You
Don’t say arigato to staff. They are not your friends. You say arigatō gozaimasu (polite) or dōmo arigatō gozaimasu (super polite).

Pro-tip 1: After a meal, instead of saying arigatō gozaimasu, you can say go-chisō-sama desu, which means something like “Thank you for the bad ass feast.”

Pro-tip 2: The Japanese bow a lot. You don’t have to do a 45 degree bow or anything, but whenever you feel appreciation for someone, give a little bow or at least a nod.

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There they are.

4 rules that will help you enjoy Japan while the Japanese enjoy you too.

If you wanna go the extra distance, I have a few more rules that will help you!
Here: Japanese Manners 2

 

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Coming of Age Day

In Japanese Holidays on January 19, 2010 at 8:16 am

Coming of Age Day was a few weeks ago and I really didn’t have anything to write about.  I mean, I’ve never been to a coming of age ceremony.  I’ve heard about what goes on there, but I’m not really an authority on the subject, nor did I have any insightful commentary on the phenomenon.

But I do love when this holiday comes around for one reason.  All the girls who turn 20 that year get all decked out in really [expensive] beautiful kimonos and get their hair and make up done especially for the day. It’s a great day for people watching.

In the spirit of enjoying the sight of a beautiful woman on the street looking her best, I simply offer a small gallery of photos of girls from this year.  For those who live overseas, and those who don’t, I hope you enjoy.

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VOCAB

成人
せいじん
seijin

coming of age, mature, to be an adult

成人式
せいじんしき
seijin-shiki

coming of age ceremony

着物
きもの
kimono

kimono, traditional japanese clothes.
(the kanji is great!  it just means “stuff you wear” or “thing for wearing”)

awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸

李苑 – Korean Barbecue in Nakano!

In Japanese Food, Japanese Holidays on January 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm

The holidays are over. My Christmas and O-shōgatsu breaks are finished. Even though I went back to work, the last 2 weeks have been 3 day weekends this year which really helped me ease into the new year. However, with funds low I just spent my days off loafing around the house with the girlfriend watching DVD’s and sleeping late. In other words, too busy to write anything in the blog.

Yeah, I know it’s bad. I just started this blog and already I’m slacking off… Well, for better or for worse, slacking off is one of my talents. I really have it down to an art.

I don’t have any super interesting topic to cover this time, but I feel compelled to at least make some sort of an entry.

Ummmm… so what to say? Today was freaking cold. It rained all day today. Ummm… oh! I know, I found a really big hole in one of my socks!

japanese socks

i need a hole in my socks like i need a hole in my head

Oh yeah. I know what to talk about. The other night we were craving some Korean food so we went to Nakano to try a place we’ve seen all the time but never went inside. It’s a tiny little shop called 李苑. There’s another Korean restaurant located directly across the street from it which seems to be connected, because we saw a cook run over with a pot of soup broth (or something) from the main shop where we ate. I didn’t realize there was such a Korean Konnection in Nakano, but right around the corner from this spot is an area notorious for Korean sex workers who operate in unmarked (and I’m assuming unlicensed) vacant spaces. Not sure if there’s any connection to the restaurant beyond location, but it’s an interesting prospect. (The gf and I wondered if you could negotiate that into the price of dinner if you wanted something special for dessert).

Anyhoo, if you follow the link above, you can see the shop’s menu and location.

I was craving sam gyup sal and we were about to order it, but the chapche (a Korean rice noodle dish) and selection of Japanese beef and pork cuts of meat (Korean Barbecue) quickly grabbed our attention. This place also offers “all you can eat” sanchu for 715 yen — which is a steal. (For those who don’t know, sanchu is Korean lettuce used for making barbecue wraps and the like – in Japan you usually have to keep ordering it again and again so it starts to get pricey even though it’s just lettuce.)

The meats were beautifully striated and juicy. They provided 2 sauces, the regular Japanese “tare” yaki niku sauce and a their own Korean style sesame oil sauce which was wicked. Combined with the Korean miso, the sesame oil and sanchu combo won the night. Fucking DELICIOUS!

I wanted to drink some soju, but it was by the bottle only, and the gf was down with it. So I ordered atsukan (hot sake). (Soju is the Korean equivalent to shochu, I think). Anyways, it was a damn good meal and I’m looking forward to going back again.

Here are some pictures for your viewing enjoyment.


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awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸

Japanese New Year

In Japan, Japanese Holidays, Travel in Japan on January 6, 2010 at 1:07 pm

OK. This is gonna be loooooooooooooooooooooong. I promise to try my best to be concise, but I’m also trying to include as much as possible for people interested in life in Japan.

Japanese New Year is the most important holiday of the year. It’s a big family holiday, much like Christmas, but a bit more solemn. All the companies and schools shut down and people return to their hometowns for a week and kick it old school with the fam.


(I included a list New Year’s related vocab at the bottom if you want to see the kanji for any words used in this article.)

an assortment of new year’s decorations

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The Basics

In Japanese this holiday is called o-shōgatstu, which was the name of “January” in the old Japanese calendar. Now this term just refers to the first 3 days of the new year, or to the season in general. The first day of the new year is called ganjitsu.

There are 2 related terms ōshōgatsu (“Big January”) and koshōgatsu (“Little January”). From my understanding, koshōgatsu refers to the lunar new year, celebrated in old Japan. This is synonymous with Chinese Near Year. Ōshōgatsu refers to the actual first day of the new year.

On a side note, if a death has occurred, there is a Buddhist proscription against celebrating o-shōgatstu for one year as the family is still considered to be in mourning.

 

the first sunrise of the new year behind mount fuji

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Preparation for the New Year

To prepare for the new year, most Japanese start writing nengajō (New Year’s post cards). Some people write literally hundreds of these. It’s considered tacky to write them by computer, so usually each post card is accompanied by a short message made of set phrases wishing good health and prosperity in the coming year and to continue offering their kindness. The American tradition of sending long Christmas notes describing the family’s experiences in the ending year won’t fly in Japan as it would be seen as too egotistical (“me, me, me!”). Anyone who’s spent some time in Japan knows that kind of behavior doesn’t fly too well with traditional folk here. New Year’s decorations will also be bought or made in advance. I’ll go into these in more detail later.

Another tradition is ōsōji, or the big clean up. The entire house, office, etc will be cleaned thoroughly. This is like spring cleaning in America. The idea is to get everything in order for the new year.

some examples of nengajo

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New Year’s Eve

Leading up to the countdown, activities will vary from family to family. But chances are the family will eat toshi koshi sobafor dinner. Toshi koshi means “year crossing” and soba are Japanese buckwheat noodles – one of my absolute favorites! Because the noodles are long, they are said to represent long life (all the food eaten on New Year’s Day have special meanings). Because the noodles represent long life, it’s considered inauspicious to leave leftover noodles – so prepare to eat a lot! And while this is a meal easily made at home in minutes, I’ve been at one household where toshi koshi soba and massive trays of sushi were ordered and delivered right to the door at dinner time. Awwww yeah.

Inevitably, the TV will be tuned in to NHK. A musical competition called Kōhaku Uta Gassen, or just Kōhaku for short, has been running for years. This is even more of a tradition than “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve” – even if it is derivative – or at least similar in some sense. Kōhaku means “red & white” – which are festive colors often associated with o-shōgatstu. The show divides popular singers of all genres into 2 teams, Red Team and White Team. The singers try to outdo each other with dramatic performances. The show runs right up until the countdown.

5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – Happy New Year!!!

The countdown is usually followed by musical performances by various artists popular in the closing year. I think most of the stations play music. However, one station shows various major shrines across the country ringing bells 108 times. This is another tradition which I’ll mention briefly in the list of related terms at the end of this article. Right after midnight, some families might go to the butsudan in their tatami room. A butsudan is a small household altar (Buddhism) where there may be pictures of deceased family members. A bell will be rung and incense will be lit and a little prayer will be said silently.

toshikoshi soba — yummy!!!

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New Year’s Day

Hungover family members may sleep in late, but not too late, as the next day’s main event is an elaborate brunch of traditional foods called o-sechi ryōri. (Take a look at the picture because I can’t describe it in words.)

Each o-sechi has a special meaning. There are so many different kinds that you can easily avoid the ones you don’t like and stick with the ones you do like. Sake or beer may be served too. One type of sake that is popular is called nigorizake. This is unfiltered sake, so it’s a foamy and creamy white rice alcohol. O-toso, or spiced sake may also be served. Another popular dish is o-zōni, a kind of soup which varies from region to region in Japan. I’ve only eaten it twice so I can’t say much about it. Mochi, or rice cakes are also eaten. In fact, throughout the rest of the holiday many store fronts may customers come up and help make mochi the old fashioned way (beating rice until it becomes mochi), after which you can eat it. Yummy.

Often families will do hatsumōde, or the first shrine visit of a new year. This might occur the night before or sometime the following week. Here in Tokyo, many families will do a pilgrimage of the Shichi Fukujin, or the 7 Gods of Good Luck, visiting all 7 shrines over the course of 2-3 hours. Most of the major shrines across the country are packed and there are long lines to get your turn to pray or get o-mikuji (a kind of horoscope for the year).

Another popular thing to do is to stay up until the first sunset, which is considered good luck.

For the kids, the best part is receiving o-toshidama from their parents and grandparents. O-toshidama is gift money. They might receive anywhere from 5000 yen and up from each person.

o-sechi ryori – check wiki for an explanation!

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Lots of Firsts

The Japanese are into doing things “for the first time” in the new year so there are tons of things that people do during the o-shōgatsu season. I’ve already mentioned a few of these.

Hatsumōde – first shrine visit of the year

Hatsu hi no de – first sunrise of the new year

Hatsuyume – first dream of the new year

As you can probably guess, hatsu means “first” or “start” in Japanese.

 

this is the kanji for

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Auspicious Decorations

There are many auspicious decorations you can see all over Japan. I have pictures of these below in the related words list.

 

some new year’s decorations, again…

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———————————————————————

Vocab List

年賀状

ねんがじょう

nengajō


門松
かどまつ
kadomatsu

pine gate”


注連飾り

しめかざり

shime kazari


鏡餅

かぎりもち

kagiri mochi

mirror mochi”


お屠蘇

おとそ

o-toso

New Year’s spiced sake”


お年玉

おとしだま

o-toshidama

money given to kids on New Year’s Day”


仏壇

ぶつだん

butsudan

Buddhist altar kept in the home


除夜の鐘

じょやのかね

joya no kane

bell rung 108 times”

this is a buddhist practice (not shinto). It’s based on the belief that human beings are cursed by 108 earthly desires. Each time the bell rings one curse is dispelled.


初詣

はつもうで

hatsumode

first shrine visit of the year”


初夢

はつゆめ

hatsuyume

first dream of the new year”


書き初め

かきはじめ

New Year’s Resolution; literally, first writing”

although my dictionary says this is a new year’s resolution, I think this actually refers to the first calligraphy a person does – usually choosing an auspicious character. Ii seem to have forgotten the actual word for a real new year’s resolution. some stores may have a calligraphy table set up and customers can take turns writing.


七福神

しちふくじん

shichi fukujin
“the 7 gods of good luck”
this is a kind of pilgrimage, whereby you visit the shrines of all 7 gods. you can get a collector’s stamp page and receive a stamp at each shrine so your friends believe you when you say that you did it.


姫初
ひめはじめ
first sex of the new year; a girl’s loss of virginity


大掃除

おおそうじ

ōsōji

the big cleaning”

大正月

おおしょうがつ

ōshōgatsu

big january”

小正

こしょうがつ

koshōgatsu

little january” (chinese new year)

元日

がんじつ

ganjitsu

new year’s day

紅白歌合戦

こうはくうたがっせん

kōhaku uta gassen

red & white singing battle”
(red & white are auspicious festival colors in Japan)


初日の出

はつひので

hatsu hi no de

first sunrise of the new year”

初レズ

はつれず

hatsu-lez

first lesbian experience; first lesbian experience of the new year”

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awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸

 

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Christmas In Japan!

In Japanese Holidays on December 26, 2009 at 11:18 am
So a lot of people have asked me about Christmas in Japan. Well, the Japanese are masters at appropriating elements or foreign cultures and then thoroughly Japanizing them to fit the the needs of their own culture.

Christmas is no exception.

The Basics

How do you say “Merry Christmas” in Japanese?

メリークリスマス!
merii kurisumasu

it’s the Japanized version of the English phrase.

Young people shorten it to メリクリ (meri kuri).

Christmas Eve is called:

クリスマスイブ kurisumasu ibu
or just イブ ibu for short.

The Religious Stuff

One of the most notable differences is the apparent lack of the Jesus-related trappings of Christmas. It seems ol’ JC got lost in translation. Japan is a very secular society. In fact, only about 1% of the country claims Christianity as their faith. Although roughly 80% of the population claims to adhere to Shintoism or Buddhism (or both), the reality is most Japanese just aren’t very religious or downright atheist, occasionally practicing certain religious rites to keep in touch with the old traditions. So, it’s not surprising that the particularly uninteresting story of a poor baby born in a desert in bronze age Palestine wouldn’t appeal to the sensibilities of modern Japanese. Occasionally, you will see angels or some other religious trappings, particularly on imported goods. But for the most part, all the boring religious stuff gets skipped over in favor of the flashy pagan stuff that even most westerners will agree makes it most fun.

an actual Christmas Card from about 20 years ago


Santa-san is Coming to Town

Of course, Santa is big here. While everybody knows his name is Santa Claus, he is affectionately referred to with the honorific suffix “-san” (this suffix is fairly well known outside of Japan and somewhat similar to “Mr./Mrs” in English). So Santa Claus becomes Santa-san.

Japanese houses don’t have chimneys, so I’ve always wondered how he delivers toys to the little boys and girls here. I don’t know if this is a widespread story or not, but my girlfriend’s father told her that Santa-san is like a ghost and can walk through walls. Pretty spooky.

Japanese friends who don’t know all the Christmas traditions, have asked me what the elves are all about. I tried to explain that they build toys for Santa. But I usually get a stunned look and サンタさんの奴隷??マジで? (Santa-san no dorei?? maji de? They’re Santa’s slaves??? Seriously??)
santa-san can be a girl too…


Christmas Cake and KFC

“Christmas Cake” just refers to any kind of cake decorated in some wintery, semi-Christmassy style. I don’t think there is a particular flavor. The ones I have had are quite delicious and beautifully decorated (the Japanese are masters of cakes and sweets, particularly in the European traditions). Often the convenience stores put makeshift stands on the streets and peddle cakes to pedestrians heading home after work. While I don’t recall ever seeing a “Christmas Cake” in any of the Christmas celebrations of my home town, it doesn’t seem like a particularly strange practice.

The thing that sort of caught me by surprise during my first celebration in Tokyo, was how everyone was looking forward to chicken from KFC. This year was the first year I actually indulged in the Colonel’s fine victuals. There was a loooooooong line outside of the shop (seemed longer on Christmas Eve than Christmas Day).

If you order in advance, you can procure a whole roasted chicken and some very large family sized buckets of roasted chicken legs and breasts and thighs. At the shop I visited in Nakano, the fried menu had been limited to original recipe. Crispy strips (my fave) and chicken sandwiches, wraps and the like were unavailable until the 26th.

One more thing about Christmas Cake.

On Dec. 26, nobody wants to buy Christmas Cake anymore. So a Japanese girl who turns 26 before getting married is derogatorily referred to as “Christmas Cake” – because obviously nobody will want her anymore. Ouch!
KFC Christmas Menu


Short & Sweet

Christmas is not a national holiday so if you’re not a foreigner working for a foreign company, chances are you’ll be working on Christmas. You won’t be meeting up with all of your family from all over the country and sitting around a traditional feast with wine and a roaring fire in the fireplace. Although these days a lot of families with small children will set up a small tree and some decorations and may even go through the whole Santa-san charade, the kids just get one present or two. They may receive it on イブ (“ibu”, Christmas Eve) or first thing in the morning before going to school. Family celebrations are short and sweet. There are still a lot of families who don’t celebrate at all – in fact, they might not even know which day is Christmas, though they know it’s Christmas season because you can’t get away from the ubiquitous Christmas music and lights.

Merry XXXmas!!!
So who is Christmas mainly celebrated by? The truth is Japanese Christmas is basically a holiday for couples, and young couples at that. Perhaps they’ll enjoy a romantic dinner (chicken, of course) washed down with some expensive wine or champagne. イブ (“ibu” – “eve,” as in Christmas Eve) is a pretty big business day for intimate restaurants. If they can get the day off, many couples like to make a quick getaway to an elegant hotel. Some hotels offer a Christmas package which would include a dinner and Christmas Cake. From my own experience, I’ve gone to 旅館 (“ryokan,” traditional japanese style inn). The room is a classic Japanese room with tatami floors and a futon. A yukata (a kind of kimono) is also provided. We like to choose rooms with a private hot spring bath attached to the veranda, so you can kick it in the steaming hot bath and look at the mountains and sea and snow. It’s a pretty awesome way to spend Christmas! The food at a ryokan will be traditional Japanese fare. Sashimi, rice, miso soup and whatever local vegetables and meats are in season. Of course, they provide you with a complimentary Christmas Cake.
A lot of couples opt for a cheaper and more practical kind of hotel. Japan is famous for love hotels, gaudy erotic playgrounds with massive beds and a jacuzzi (sometimes karaoke and video games, too) that can be rented overnight or by the hour for the sole purpose of sex. In Uguisudani, an area of Tokyo famous for its many love hotels, a lot of the hotels get so much business on XXXmas that they put a 3 hour max time limit on each room and a line of couples will be wrapped around the building waiting in the cold for their turn to get a room.

one love hotel’s special christmas rates!

Wham, Bam, Thank You Ma’am!
The shops start playing Christmas music and putting up decorations 2 months or so before the actual day. Some of the most extravagant and high-tech illuminations in the world are right here in Tokyo. I don’t want to think about how expensive the electricity bill is for these projects or who’s paying for them… but they are really beautiful. In the US, it seems like Christmas decorations stay up until at least New Years, and some people keep them up until January 6th (The Epiphany still being part of the religious observance of the Christmas Season).But in Japan it’s all over on the 26th.

Literally erased from view.

You’ll wake up the next day and won’t see a single light, wreath, or Santa-san. The clean up is so efficient and thorough that if you hadn’t actually seen the stuff up, you’d think there was no such thing as Christmas in Japan at all.I used to think that this was just the silliest thing ever – an example of Japanese over-efficiency. But recently, I have another theory. The biggest holiday in Japan – the big family holiday which brings everyone from all over the country back to their home towns – is お正月 (o-shōgatsu, New Year’s Day). It’s not a very consumer driven holiday, but it is a rather solemn holiday and it IS a real Japanese holiday, deeply connected to the culture and history and language. I’ve come to think now, that while Christmas is all fun and all, they clean it all up quickly to get people into the mind set of o-shōgatsu and remove all the distractions of this foreign practice. And if that’s the case, fair enough. It’s their damn culture, they can do what they want with it.

the trappings of o-shogatsu are much more formal

Since this is my first blog post, I’m in need of feed back. If I’ve left anything out or been unclear, point it out and I’ll add it to this when I expand it for next year’s Christmas post!!

awwwwwwww yeah!
mαrky( -_-)凸 Read the rest of this entry »

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