Oct 27, 2013

Halloween in Japan


The Japanese are very fond of enjoying Western holidays which have undergone a complete Japanese makeover. Halloween is no exception.
When I first came to Japan in 1991, Halloween was a celebration for western foreigners confined to urban areas . In recent years however, Halloween has become quite popular nationwide, although there is no actual trick-or-treating, jack-o-lantern carving, or any other traditional Halloween celebration.

 From September through October, Japanese malls and department stores put up lavish Halloween decorations and sell Halloween-themed goods that are “cute rather than spooky”!

Trick-or-Treat candy
 
My Halloween cookies

Trying to be spooky with
witches fingers!
 
White chocolate monsters eyeballs!
 
Many restaurants offer Halloween-inspired menus and fashion houses display colorful, Halloween costumes with cute accessories. The major attraction for Japanese in Halloween is dressing up in fancy costumes called “Kosupure (cosplay = costume play or masquerade), and partying.
 
 
The kids in their "Cosplay"
 
It's all about having fun!
 
The growing popularity of Halloween in Japan is the result of intelligent marketing and attractive media promotions which deliver the Japanese consumer just what they want; a chance to “dress up and have fun ", nothing more, nothing less! The two major theme parks in Japan, Tokyo Disneyland
http://www.tokyodisneyresort.co.jp/en/event/halloween2013/tdl/index.html 
and Universal Studios Japan in Osaka http://www.usj.co.jp/e/halloween2013/,
also commercialize Halloween, by holding Halloween parades, costume parties and trick-or-treat events.

Many do not know that there is a Japanese version of Halloween in mid-summer, known as the “O-Bon Festival”. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Festival
During this special time, spirits of the dead ancestors apparently visit their household shrines. Family members welcome the departed souls, by placing food and beverages on Buddhist altars, and lighting bonfires and lanterns to guide the spirits back home. However, there is no “obon costume”, but some Japanese adorn the traditional summer kimono (yukata) for this occasion. While imported cultures may entertain Japanese hearts transiently, only traditional events seem to bring peace and harmony to the Japanese soul.

Culture is like wealth; it makes us more ourselves, it enables us to express ourselves. Philip Gilbert Hamerton

Oct 19, 2013

Japanese Proverbs

Proverbs are a good way to learn the wisdom and traditions of any culture, but as they are metaphorical, it is simply impossible to grasp the actual meaning without adequate language proficiency.
Let me introduce a very popular Japanese proverb about the autumn sky.
Heart of a woman and the fall sky (Onna gokoro to aki no sora)
There are many ways one can relate “women to nature” but in this proverb, the “nature (heart) of a woman” has been compared to the unexpected, changeable, autumn sky!
Early evening autumn sky
over Tokyo Station
 
One late autumn afternoon, as my friend was driving me home, I looked up at the sky and said to her “The autumn sky changes so abruptly!” To this she replied, “Yes. In Japan, this abrupt transition is compared to the ever-changing moods of a woman”!
Late evening sky

For a few seconds, I was lost in translation, pondering on all the negative meanings this proverb symbolized (fickle, variable, unpredictable). Then my friend continued; “ Some others think it may also reflect the ever changing beauty of a woman or the clarity of a woman, as crisp and clear as the autumn sky”! Although the second explanation seemed more relevant, my curiosity led me to dig deeper into this matter and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that originally, this proverb was written for Japanese men; A man's heart changes as often as does the autumn sky”. However, this “change of heart from men to women” was highly influenced by a similar British proverb A woman's mind and winter wind change often ".
Sundown

Irrespective of what message this particular proverb actually conveyed, it made me realize how climates around the world shape the human mind and character differently, and how each culture interprets nature in a unique manner, reflecting their individual style.

 

There is a harmony in autumn, and a lustre in its sky,
Which through the summer is not heard or seen,
As if it could not be, as if it had not been! -    
    Percy Bysshe Shelley
 



Oct 13, 2013

Elementary School Sports Festival

In commemoration of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964, the Japanese government made October 10th, “Health and Sports day”, to stimulate a “healthy mind and body through the spirit of sportsmanship”. Presently, this national holiday falls on the second Monday in October.
Every year in spring or autumn, Japanese schools hold their annual sports day. Unlike sports day in most countries where children strive to test their athletic skills, in Japan, school children, along with their families and neighboring communities play a significant role in honoring the “spirit of sportsmanship”. It is all about performance not face off!
Weeks prior to sports day, children practice tirelessly, and teachers work endlessly to prepare for the biggest annual school event. Many parents and local community members help teachers with preparations on the school grounds, while mothers put together delicious lunchboxes. The whole community gets ready to bring in the big day! 
My son & his dad on Sports
Day, 2013
Race, relay, tug of war, etc., are some commonly enjoyed games, but the Giant Ball Rolling game (Oodama korogashiand the Bag Ball game (Tama Ire),  are perhaps unique to Japan.



Giant Ball Rolling game
**Taken from the internet

The Bag Ball game
**Taken from the internet
Sports day begins with the opening ceremony and is divided into before and after lunch events. The school song, flag raising ceremony, speeches by the school principal, respected dignitaries and representatives of each team, are followed by synchronized gymnastics.

Children in every grade are divided into two groups, sporting either red or white reversible caps, depicting the colors of the Japanese flag. Irrespective of individual or group competition, the children win or lose as a “team”, as the Japanese encourage team spirit and togetherness and discourage personal competition, which may lead to disappointment or pride.



Red and white teams

Whether a participant is fast or slow, the cheering crowd is enthusiastic about each and every child and shouts “GAN-BATTE”, which combines several meanings into one.
“Go for it /do your best/ hang in there”!
Amazing, isn’t it?
In this way, Japanese children learn team work from a very tender age, which inspires them to compete for their country on an international platform.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.”

Oct 5, 2013

About Me




“Knowing me, knowing you, it’s the best I can do”…..
ABBA, 14th, Feb.1977.

 
Hello friends! I’m Sabina, an avid ABBA fan, other than being a medical professional, living and working in Japan for over 20 years.

Basically, I love reading anything from books, magazines, blogs, to manga and enjoy discussing and exchanging views with others. However, my writing experience so far has been strictly limited to writing scientific papers, related to my work.

“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment”- Lao Tzu

They say writing is a path to “self-discovery” and an opportunity to build a social network of like-minded people. I love connecting with people and hope this platform will give me an opportunity to express myself and learn from others. Life has been quite a journey, moving to Japan in my mid-20s; adapting to a very culturally, guarded society; raising trilingual, multi-cultural children and learning to love Japan and call it home.  

So here I am, partly lost, partly found, but very eager to write.

Through this blog, I’d like to share my first-hand experiences of life in Japan and things that interest me. Let me end with a quote from Benjamin Franklin:

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”-

 Well, I aspire to do both and hopefully win your hearts! Welcome to my first blog!  

Kendama

Hi! I would like to dedicate my first blog post to something that my nine year old son is very passionate about.
It is a traditional, wooden, Japanese children’s toy, called “Kendama”, which is affordable, portable and fun to play with. According to the Japanese, the English interpretation of Kendama would be the “cup and ball” game.
 
 
This simple yet amazing toy, not only teaches children tricks but also helps to improve their focus and balance. I am told, originally it was invented to exercise hand and eye coordinated movements in children, but after watching my son practice, I have found the Kendama to be a fun and learning experience for both children and adults alike.
Anatomically, the Kendama is a wooden toy, consisting of two parts; a “cross” shaped body called the “Ken” which has two concave “small & big” cups on each side, a concave-cup base & a spiked head, attached by a string to a wooden ball “Tama” having a drilled hole. The trick is to catch one part with the other using juggles and balances. The first 10 basic tricks are called “kyu” which gradually level up to 10 ranks or “dan”.
 

 

Parts of a Kendama
 
1.  Main body = ken
2. Top part of main body= spike or kensaki
3. Other end of the ken = grip or suberidome
4. Larger, concave, side cup = ōzara
5. Smaller, concave, side cup = kozara
6. Crosspiece joining the cups = sarado
7.Concave base of the “Ken” = chūzara
8.The ball with a drilled hole= tama
9. The ball is connected to the main body with a string about 40 cm (16 inches) long.
 
Although the tricks may look very easy in the beginning, they are in fact, quite difficult to master. In order to properly perform each trick, one has to first, balance one’s posture by bending the knees and moving the hips in a coordinated manner. In Japan, children are introduced to Kendamas through school or community related centers. For those children who take a keen interest in it, are encouraged to attend Kendmama lessons or boot camps and participate in local and national Kendama tournaments. For my family, the Kendama is not just a toy but an effective tool which has helped my son focus on the game and other areas too. In less than three years he has dramatically leveled up from a beginner to the 5th rank. The challenging spirit to learn new tricks and level up has influenced his daily life tremendously. Please give it a try!
 
For further information, please visit: http://kendama.or.jp/english/
 
 

Autumn Appetite

Having distinct four seasons may not be unique to Japan, but the Japanese put a lot of emphasis on the “change of season” and enjoying every season in their characteristic manner is very “Japanese”. As I’m starting my blog in autumn let me tell you about this season and its festivities, first. After the hot and humid summer, when the cool autumn temperatures set in, the body restores a healthy appetite, which the Japanese refer to as “shokuyoku no aki” meaning “A good appetite in autumn”.

Shokuyoku = appetite; Aki = autumn

Chestnuts (kuri), persimmons (kaki), Matsutake mushrooms, Pacific Saury (Sanma fish), sweet potatoes (Satsuma-imo) and “Nashi” (Japanese pears) are some very popular foods synonymous with the Japanese Autumn.
 
Raw (lower left)  and boiled (upper right) chestnuts
 
Chestnuts are eaten boiled, roasted, or cooked with rice called “kuri gohan”, (gohan = rice), while “marron” chestnuts are used mostly in desserts.


Persimmon
Japanese Pear
Persimmons, which are said to be cultivated most widely in Japan, are eaten raw or in a dried form. Japanese pears have a unique taste and are always eaten raw and peeled. They are crunchy and juicy but are not suitable for baking or making jams, due to their high water content.

Raw sweet potatoes
Candied sweet potatoes
*Taken from Cookpad 
Japanese sweet potatoes come with a purple skin and a soft, yellow flesh. They are eaten baked, as “Tempura/fritters” or candied, called “Daigaku-imo”.

*Taken from Wikipedia
 
Last but not least, the japanese fall-food experience is incomplete without“matsutake mushrooms”. Most popular for their distinct aroma, they are usually grilled or cooked with rice called “matsutake gohan” (gohan = rice). However, they are rare and unbelievably expensive. Their price depends mostly on their quality, availability and origin. In peak season, matsutake mushrooms grown in Japan may cost up to US$ 2000 per kilogram, whereas imported ones from neighboring Korea and China may be bought for US$ 100, per kilogram! Nevertheless, the special tastes of the Japanese autumn entertain our palettes until the cold winter sets in. Itadakimasu! ("Let's eat" in japanese).

Autumn Moon Viewing

Otsukimi


Taken from my balcony on Sept. 19th, 2013!
The first event in autumn is the “Moon Viewing” ceremony called “Tsukimi” to celebrate the “harvest moon”. The celebrations usually fall on the 13th day of the 9th month. In Japanese, “tsuki means moon & “mi” means to see. Traditionally, the Japanese honor the beauty of the full harvest moon, by offering rice dumplings called “Tsukimi  Dango” and other seasonal products on an altar surrounded by decorations of autumn flowers and Japanese pampas grass called “susuki”.

Tsukimi Dango
 
Susuki


A “Tsukimi Party” is a very popular event, where people eat Tsukimi Dango, drink sake, listen to the “Koto” and pray for a good harvest under the full moon. To commemorate the full moon, Japanese noodle shops also offer fall menus such as "tsukimi udon", where noodles are topped with raw eggs (the yolk depicting the full moon). Fast food restaurants such as McDonalds, offer limited seasonal “Tsukimi burgers”!



Tsukimi Burger
Tsukimi Udon Noodles
*Taken from cookpad.com