Friday, 30 December 2011

New Year in Japan

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New Year is just around the corner. 2011 is about to over. And of course New Year is also the official Japanese New Year which is also on the 1st of January!

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Japanese New Year (正月 shōgatsu) is one of the most important festivals.

Due to the importance of the holiday and the preparations required, the preceding days are quite busy, particularly the day before, known as Omisoka.
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At midnight on December 31, Buddhist temples all over Japan ring their bells a total of 108 times to symbolize the 108 human sins in Buddhist belief, and to get rid of the 108 worldly desires regarding sense and feeling in every Japanese citizen. A major attraction is The Watched Night bell, in Tokyo. Japanese believe that the ringing of bells can rid off their sins during the previous year. After they are done ringing the bells, they celebrate and feast on soba noodles.

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Most businesses shut down from January 1 to January 3, and families typically gather to spend the days together.

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January 1 is a very auspicious day, best started by viewing the new year's first sunrise (hatsu-hinode), and traditionally believed to be representative for the whole year that has just commenced. Therefore, the day is supposed be full of joy and free of stress and anger, while everything should be clean and no work should be done.

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On New Year's Day, Japanese people have a custom of giving money to children. This is known as otoshidama (お年玉?). It is handed out in small decorated envelopes called 'pochibukuro,' similar to Chinese red envolopes and to the Scottish handsel. In the Edo period large stores and wealthy families gave out a small bag of mochi and a Mandarin orange to spread happiness all around. The amount of money given depends on the age of the child but is usually the same if there is more than one child so that no one feels slighted. It is not uncommon for amounts greater than 10,000¥($120) to be given.

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Hatsuyume (初夢) is the Japanese word for the first dream had in the new year. Traditionally, the contents of the dream would foretell the luck of the dreamer in the ensuing year. In Japan, the night of December 31 was often passed without sleeping, thus the hatsuyume was often the dream seen the night of January 1. This explains why January 2 (the day after the night of the "first dream") is known as Hatsuyume in the traditional Japanese calender.

It is considered to be particularly good luck to dream of Mount Fuji, a hawk, and an eggplant. This belief has been in place since the early Edo Period but there are various theories regarding the origins as to why this particular combination was considered to be auspicious. One theory suggests that this combination is lucky because Mount Fuji is Japan's highest mountain, the hawk is a clever and strong bird, and the word for eggplant (nasu or nasubi 茄子) suggests achieving something great (nasu 成す). Another theory suggests that this combination arose because Mount Fuji, falconry, and early eggplants were favorites of the shogun Tokugawa Ieyesu.

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Various kinds of special dishes are served during shogatsu. They include osechi ryori, otoso (sweetened rice wine) and ozoni (a soup with mochi).

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                  HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF YOU :)

Monday, 26 December 2011

Japanese Winter - Keeping Warm

In Japan, the winter can be very cold. It also has snow falls occasionally. Thus the Japanese came up with some unique ways to stay warm during winter.

There are varieties of pocket warmers, called ”KAIRO” in Japanese sold in Japan, and you can get one at any convenience stores, supermarkets and drug stores. Some called it ”HOKKAIRO”.

                                                       credit: jetalone - some rights reserved. 

I haven't seen any of these outside Japan and probably not even in my country. These are amazing little plastic packets which, when shaken, heat up to an average 40°C (104°F) and last up to 20 hours.

These are also good to put under the blankets in winter, to help warm up children and the elderly, for inside your ski jacket or motorcycle jacket- anywhere you need to feel a bit of warmth! Some people stick it on their stomach area or the back of their body. Also, you can use them to warm up food when out and about- the possibilities are really unlimited!


The major ones are disposal kairo but reusable eco kairo is getting popular since it appeared in the market.

Each pad is filled with iron powder. It reacts with oxygen to give off heat when removed from the packaging.

There is also a Kotatsu, a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, often built into the table itself. Kotatsu are used almost exclusively in Japan, although similar devices are used elsewhere.

                                                  credit: dejahthoris - some rights reserved.

There are two kinds of kotatsu used in Japan today, differing in the configuration and the type of heating:

Electric: The modern style of kotatsu (oki-gotatsu (置き炬燵)) consists of a table with an electric heater attached to the underside of the table. This evolved from a clay pot with hot coals placed under a table. The kotatsu is usually set on a thin futon, like a throw rug. A second, thicker futon is placed over the kotatsu table, above which the tabletop is placed. The electric heater attached to the underside of the table heats the space under the comforter.

Charcoal: The more traditional type is a table placed over a recessed floor (hori-gotatsu (掘り炬燵)). The pit is cut into the floor and is about 40 centimeters deep. A charcoal heater is placed somewhere in the pit's floor, walls, or, as in the modern-style kotatsu, attached to the table-frame. There are pit type kotatsu with an electric heater too.

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Sunday, 18 December 2011

Japanese Christmas

Christmas is on the way. A happy and wonderful day for family who celebrates Christmas to gather around and spend some quality time with each other after a whole year of busy work.

For today's topic, let's take a look at Christmas in Japan!

First of all, Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan. Christmas in Japan is different from western countries. The major religions in Japan are Buddhism and Shinto, so Christmas is more of a commercial event. The main celebration revolves around Christmas eve and not Christmas day. In fact it is said that Japanese celebrate Christmas like Valentine's Day!

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In Japan it is common to give Christmas presents. Within the family parents give presents to their children, but the children do not give presents to the parents. The reasoning behind this is that only Santa bring presents, so once the children no longer believe in Santa the presents are no longer given.

Most Japanese families would have a Christmas tree and now it is becoming very common to have lights on the outside of houses as you would see in the western countries.

For single women in Japan it is really crucial to have someone to spend Christmas eve with. It is also really important for them where they spend Christmas eve and what present they receive. The whole evening must be very special, gorgeous and romantic.

credit: Jason Collin

Japanese women who have a boy friend tend to show off, so women who don't are not happy to talk about the topic. If you watch Anime, you'll be very familiar with this situations, where a character, often female, is looking forward to celebrate Christmas with a male. A great example would be the romantic Anime series, Amagami SS.

There also used to be a sarcasm that Christmas is compared with a woman's age. Cake shops throughout Japan always try to sell all their Christmas cakes before Christmas eve. Any cakes left after Christmas are seen to be very old or out of date. Women over 25 years old used to be said 'unsold Xmas cake.' It's a bit bad joke, though. However, nowadays, the average age for marriage has changed, getting older and older, and it is a history.

The shops are open Christmas day and all other days up to New Years day, except they close early on the 31st.

Most shops are then closed on the 1st, 2nd & 3rd. After this it depends on the shop, some will stay closed longer. The trend is towards shops opening on the 2nd of January.

How to say "Merry Christmas" in Japanese - easy - "Merry Christmas"

How to write "Merry Christmas" in Japanese - メリークリスマス

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


Why crab? Last week I saw a travelling programme on the Internet. One of the scene showed a crab, fresh and nicely wrapped in plastic and thought of it as today's topic.

When I read about the Japanese crab, I found out that there is this so called Japanese Spider Crab, very big indeed.

It's known to be the biggest arthropod that currently exists.
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A fully grown Japanese Spider Crab legs have a span of around four metres, a total weight of approximately twenty kilograms, and a body of between 35 to 40 cm.

It is also known as a species that has been in existence for millions of years and has evolved very little in that time. For this reason it is often described as being a living fossil.

The main habitat for these species is the area of the Pacific that surrounds the islands of the Japanese archipelago. It is believed that they once were found over a much larger area including the heavily vegetated shores that were previously common around the islands.

Before people knew what it was, they thought it was a sea monster.
Today they are primarily found on the seabed, ranging in depth from two hundred metres to three hundred.

credit: JasonCross

Today they are thought of as being a delicacy and so are fished in large numbers on an annual basis. Their meat is highly prized not just in Japan but around the world. Usually, to catch this variety requires large trawling nets.

Saturday, 10 December 2011


Asakusa (浅草) is a part of Tokyo's downtown Taito district best known for its many temples, particularly Sensōji. The gate, with its lantern and statues, is popular with tourists.The Kaminarimon (雷門 "Thunder Gate") is the outer of two large entrance gates that ultimately leads to the Senso-ji (the inner being the Hozomon) in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. The gate, with its lantern and statues, is popular with tourists. It stands 11.7 m tall, 11.4 m wide and covers and area of 69.3 m2.

The Kaminarimon was first built in 942 by Taira no Kinmasa. It was originally located near Komagata, but it was reconstructed in its current location in 1635. This is believed to be when the statues of Raijin and Fūjin were first placed on the gate. The gate has been destroyed many times throughout the ages. Four years after its relocation, the Kaminarimon burned down, and in 1649 Tokugawa Iemitsu rebuilt the gate along with several other of the major structures in the temple complex. The Kaminarimon's current structure dates from 1960.

Four statues are housed in the Kaminarimon. On the front of the gate, the statues of the Shinto gods Fujin and Raijin are displayed. Fūjin, literally the god of wind, is located on the east side of the gate, while Raijin, literally the god of thunder, is located on the west side. Two additional statues stand on the reverse of the gate: the Buddhist god Tenryū on the east, and the goddess Kinryū on the west side.

In the center of the Kaminarimon, under the gate, hangs a giant red chochin that is 4 meters tall, 3.4 meters in circumference and weighs 670 kilograms (1,500 lb). Being very fragile, the lantern is not an original piece. It is instead a restoration that was donated in August 2003 in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the start of the Edo period by Konosuke Matsushita, the founder of the Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. (now known as Panasonic).

The front of the lantern displays the gate's name, Kaminarimon (雷門). Painted on the back is the gate’s official name, Furaijinmon (風雷神門). A wooden carving depicting a dragon adorns the bottom of the lantern.

During festivals such as Sanja Matsurii, the lantern is collapsed to let tall objects pass through the gate.

The characters 金龍山 (Kinryū-zan) on the tablet above the lantern read from right to left and reference the Sensō-ji.

Things To Do in Asakusa:
Sanja Matsuri (三社祭). Organized at Asakusa Jinja yearly on the third weekend in May, this is Tokyo's largest festival (matsuri) and attracts up to 2 million spectators. The main event is a procession known as Daigyoretsu, when traditional performers and musicians parade through the streets, while on the next two days portable shrines (mikoshi) are carried to and from the temple for purification.

Asakusa Samba Carnival. Held on the last Saturday of August. The street parade, which features thousands of participants from all over Japan, is held in the afternoon around Sensoji, and there are some stage shows in the evening. The event started in 1981, it's the biggest party of the year for the many Japanese-Brazilian residents of Tokyo.

Hanayashiki (花やしき). Next to the Sensoji temple grounds is this small and somewhat lackluster carnival complex with rides, booths, and games. The neighborhood theatre specializes in showing classic Japanese films, as many of the tourists are elderly Japanese.

The busy shopping street leading from the Kaminarimon gate to the temple is the covered Nakamise (仲見世) arcade, selling all sorts of Buddhist paraphernalia as well as assorted tourist kitsch. This is one of the best places in Tokyo to buy souvenirs (the other being the Oriental Bazaar in Omotesando), but not more expensive items such as swords and kimonos are likely to be of inferior quality. Slightly nicer crafts, rather than mass-produced kitsch, can be found at good prices if you walk up to the temple, turn right, and turn right again on the first small street running parallel to Nakamise. You will see plenty of small shops in this general area which have better quality souvenirs and gifts, like handkerchiefs, strings of hand-made silk balls, hairclips, etc

The shops are tourist friendly. Even if you don't really speak Japanese, the shopkeeper will calculate the amount using a calculator and show it to you, a rather convenient way to communicate about the price. Asakusa is definitely a must-visit place for all tourist.

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Asakusa is also a popular accommodation choice for budget travelers and there are many cheap ryokan catering to foreigners in the area..

Spooky Japan-Part 1 Hanako-san

Hanako --

                                                      Toire No Hanako by Digital Dolls

Hanako-san -- a spooky young girl that haunts school restrooms across Japan -- has in recent decades become one of the nation's most famous ghosts.

It is not uncommon for schools to have a toilet permanently occupied by the mysterious girl, who is known in Japanese as Toire no Hanako-san (lit. "Hanako of the toilet"). She is often found in the third stall in the restroom on the third floor -- usually the girls' room -- but this can vary from school to school. Details about her physical appearance also vary, but she is usually described as having bobbed hair and wearing a red skirt.
Hanako-san's behavior also varies according to location, but in most cases, she remains holed up in the bathroom until an adventurous student dares to provoke her. Hanako-san can be conjured up by knocking on the door to her stall (usually three times), calling her name, and asking a particular question. The most common question is simply "Are you there, Hanako-san?" If Hanako-san is indeed present, she says in a faint voice, "Yes, I'm here." Some stories claim that anyone courageous enough to open the door at this point is greeted by a little girl in a red skirt and then pulled into the toilet.

Details about Hanako-san's origins are murky. Although she became a national phenomenon in the 1980s, there is speculation that she has existed since the 1950s. Some stories claim she is the ghost of a WWII-era girl who died in a bombing raid on the school while she was playing hide-and-seek. Other stories claim she is the restless spirit of a young girl who met her end at the hands of an abusive or deranged parent (or a perverted stranger, according to some stories) who found her hiding in the bathroom. In some cases, she is the ghost of a former student who died in an unfortunate accident at the school (one story from Fukushima prefecture, for example, claims she is the ghost of a girl who fell out of the library window).

Countless versions of the Hanako-san legend have emerged over time. Here are a few of the more colorful variations:
- According to one Yamagata prefecture legend, something terrible will happen to you if Hanako-san speaks to you in a nasty voice. Another legend from Yamagata prefecture claims that Hanako-san is actually a 3-meter-long, 3-headed lizard that uses a little girl's voice to attract prey.
- At a school in the town of Kurosawajiri (Iwate prefecture), it is said that a large, white hand emerges from a hole in the floor of the third bathroom stall if you say "third Hanako-san" (sanbanme no Hanako-san).
- In the boys' room at a school in Yokohama (Kanagawa prefecture), it is said that a bloody hand emerges from the toilet (presumably an old-fashioned squatter) if you walk around it three times while calling Hanako-san's name.
- Stories have also circulated about a so-called "Hanako fungus" that can infect anyone who scrapes their knee on the playground. The infection reportedly causes tiny mushrooms to sprout from the scab.

For the most part, Hanako-san is harmless and can be avoided simply by staying away from her designated hiding spot. But if you ever need to get rid of her, try showing her a graded exam with a perfect score. Some legends claim that the sight of good grades makes her vanish into thin air.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Japanese High-Tech Toilets

For many visitors to Japan, their first encounter with Japan’s high-tech lavatories is like coming across something out of science fiction. As you step into the washroom, the seat lid lifts automatically and “background sounds” fill the air, allowing the self-conscious to set about their business in private. Later, warm jets of cleansing water shoot from precisely aimed nozzles behind you. When you stand up, the toilet flushes automatically and an air purifier wafts the surroundings with delicately scented air. These high-tech toilets are the special province of Japanese companies. What is the Japanese technology behind these remarkable machines?

The toilet lid lifts automatically when someone approaches, and closes again after use. (C) INAX Corporation

The water that comes out of the nozzle can be controlled for temperature, strength, and speed, ensuring hygienic and comfortable cleaning after use. (C) TOTO Ltd

The warm-water bidet heated toilet seat was originally invented in the United States. It first appeared in Japan in the 1960s, when it was imported for use mostly in hospitals and care facilities. Domestic production started in the late 1960s, but sales were sluggish at first due to high prices.
But this original exposure was enough to convince several companies that one day there would be a market for these products in Japan, with its obsessive regard for cleanliness and concern for a sanitary environment. Japanese companies embarked on their own research and development programs. Among these was TOTO, which has the largest market share for high-technology toilets today. The company’s “Washlet”—a warm-water bidet heated toilet seat—was developed in 1980. Incorporating cutting-edge Japanese technology in areas such as electronic controllers and water-saving technology, the industry has made great progress in the years since then in improving convenience and cleanliness for consumers.
For example, the water that comes out from the cleaning nozzles is not simply sprayed out in one constant stream. By alternating strong jets and softer sprays, it is possible to cut down on the amount of water used without affecting the performance.
The latest model allows users to adjust the speed and force of the water and also incorporate an aeration system that puts bubbles into the water. By combining large drops for coverage and small drops for power, the system offers maximum comfort and optimum cleansing.
There have also been major advances in water conservation technologies. In 1975, the average toilet sold in Japan required 13 liters of water per flush. Today, it takes only 4.8 liters. The principles of fluid dynamics were applied to come up with the ideal shape of toilet bowl that requires the minimum amount of water to flush.

Unlike plastic, the shrinkage that occurs when firing ceramics in the traditional way made it impossible to mass produce identically shaped porcelain bowls, but the skills of innovative Japanese craftsmen overcame this difficulty. A ceramic glaze was also applied to the surface of the porcelain before firing, to make it more resistant to grime. Special pumps create a horizontal and perpendicular whirlpool motion inside of the bowl, making it possible to keep the bowl clean with very little water.

                   High-tech lavatories like this are features of many Japanese homes. (C) TOTO Ltd

      The latest INAX model has an automatic light that comes on for nighttime use. (C) INAX Corporation

Detergent suds rinse the bowl thoroughly after use, in Panasonic’s A La Uno model. (C) Panasonic Electric Works Co., Ltd

INAX has been another leading player in the evolution of Japan’s high-tech toilets. At Expo 2010, the company demonstrated the wonders of Japanese toilet technology to the world at their “World’s Best Toilet” display in the Japan Industrial Pavilion. “Competition has spurred Japanese manufacturers on to even greater efforts,” says Tanaka Nobuyuki of INAX’s product strategy division, “driving them to develop more comfortable toilets and turn the washroom into a place of relaxation. The combination of traditional ceramic craftsmanship and modern technology makes these high-tech toilets the epitome of the Made in Japan brand.”

Aerated water and a mixture of large and small bubbles ensure cleanliness and comfort. (C) TOTO Ltd.

Some pictures of TOTO's toilet :