Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween and Obon

Complying with onigiri’s request, I will write about Halloween situation in Japan. Halloween is getting one of popular event in Japan, but not as much as like Christmas. Most people who have a Halloween party tend to enjoy disguise which is like Kosupure, and it is not common yet to do “trick or treat” visiting houses.

There is a similar ceremony with Halloween in Japan called “Obon (お盆)”. Obon is the Festival of the Dead which mainly indicates for 3 to 5 days since August 15th,. It up to firms but, most of them generally takes the term off as a summer vacation.

During Obon, people go back to their home town. As its ceremony, people call deceased to their home and hold a memorial service by reciting a sutra. Besides, family pays a visit to ancestor’s grave. People clean the grave and place offerings. It depends on family but my family offerings ancestor’s favorite food like sweets and Sake. After the ceremony, Bon-Odori, Bon dance is held at a temple. The dance is a slow dance and people dance wearing Yukata, an informal cotton kimono for summer wear. Bon-Odori is said as an imitation that dead people who relieved of a pain at a hell are dancing with pleasure.

Originally, Obon was considered to come from Buddhism, but it contains less religious factor actually. Consequently, a lot of Japanese people tend to travel especially to abroad using this term. If you want to visit Japan, it maybe better to avoid these days since Narita air port would be congested.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Learning Samurai Words

As you know, Samurai(侍) is old Japanese warrior with Katana(刀), Japanese sword. Some people in other countries seem to believe there are still Samurai in Japan though they don’t exist anymore.

When Samurai existed in Japan, they had their own words which still alive in current Japanese. I picked up an example of Samurai word here.

“Katajikenai (忝い)” means “Thank you”. This is very dignified word. In formal occasion, not women but men rarely use this word to show big gratitude to someone. In informal case, this word is used among friends, sometimes for joking. My Ireland friend uses more “Katajikenai” than “Arigatou” to make Japanese people laugh.

If you have any chance to meet Japanese people, try “Katajikenai” to them, and they will give you a smile!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Milk Tooth Custom

On the other day, I pulled my 3rd wisdom teeth at a hospital. Wisdom teeth is “Oyashirazu (親知らず)” in Japanese. The operation was successful with a great dentist, but it was no less than fear, especially when he tried hard to pull my Oyashirazu strongly, I was just frozen. I was asked by a dental hygienist if I want the teeth. However, I refused immediately so that I don’t recall the thrilling moment.

By the way, I remember I used to throw my milk teeth, Nyu-shi(乳歯) in Japanese when it came off. If milk teeth above come off, children throw the teeth from 2nd floor. If the teeth below come off, they throw it toward a roof. These are a sort of charm for little kids to pray for having good permanent teeth, Eikyu-shi(永久歯) in Japanese.

I have heard coin things in the U.S when milk teeth come off. Do you have special custom in your country?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bangaku –Subtle and Profound Dancing-

There was Koyo Matsuri (autumn leaves festival) at Hottai waterfall. It was fortunate with the weather, and people enjoyed warm colors of mountains.

At the festival, I watched Bangaku(番楽) for the first time. Bangaku is a sort of Kagura; song and dancing at shrines celebrating Shinto gods, which is performed in autumn in both Akita and Yamagata prefecture. It leaves the old way of Noh.

Especially, Bangaku in my hometown is called “Honkai Bangaku” including 13 groups. This has being inherited since Edo period. Bangaku is performed at Obon (the Festival of the Dead), Shrine festival, autumn festival etc to pray for good health and the well-being of one’s family. Here is one of famous Honakai Bangaku performed by a 9 years old boy.

This is other performance of Bangaku with 2 men.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Tazawako -Deepest Love-

Last weekend, I went to Tazawako, Akita with my girl friends. Tazawako is a blue sky lake which is a typical crater lake and runs as deed as 423 meters, which is the deepest lake in Japan. Thinking about Tokyo tower, it has 333 meters heights, so Tazawako can hide it easily. Tazawako shows different faces seasonally which is absolutely beautiful. Here is a picture of the lake with my friends. It is pity that I couldn’t take nice photos of lake because of cloudy. You can see great photos of Tazawako from here.

There is a lovely ancient tradition about Tazawako. A young man, Hachiroutaro who was the guardian spirit of Hachirogata which was the biggest lake in Akita (now it is not a lake but reclaimed land) fell in love with the guardian spirit of Tazawako, named Tatsuko. It is said that feeling of Hachiroutaro and Tatusko deepened Tazawako and the lake is never frozen.

In the first place, before Tatsuko became the guardian spirit of Tazawako, she was a beautiful woman lived with her mother. Tatsuko started to think she wants to keep her beauty forever, and she went to a mountain with 3 girl friends searching for a miraculous fountain. Tatsuko and her friends grilled fish for them from river, but Tatsuko had all 3 fish because she couldn’t help eating them all. Then, she felt really thirsty and found the miraculous fountain on the way she was searching for water. Tatsuko kept drinking the water and suddenly became a dragon, and the guardian spirit of Tazawako.

The dragon, Tatuko can be seen as a bronze statue. Tourists surely take photos with the bronze statue as their memory. As soon as my friends and I get to the place of Tatsuko bronze statue, we took some photos with her.

There is an Ukigi shrine next to Tatsuko bronze statue. You can buy several charms there; most of them are about love relating to Tatsuko and Hachiroutaro’s story. My friends and I tried a lot to tell one’s fortune. Only I got Daikichi which is the best lot.

At Ukigi shrine, you can buy food for fish in Tazawako. You just stand the shore and through food to the lake, and massive of daces appear. This is one of other fun in Tazawako.

At the opposite side of Tatsuko bronze statue, people can take a sightseeing boat. It takes about 40 minutes for going around the lake. The best season for a sightseeing boat is May with new green leaves or end of October with red and yellow leaves.

Monday, October 09, 2006

National Holidays in Japan

Today, October 9th is a national holiday in Japan. Associated with the "holiday", I introduce all national holidays in Japan.

1.1st, Ganjitus (元日) / New Year’s Day.
Families and relatives gather and spend the day together wishing for good health and future by visiting or praying again Shrine.

The second Monday of January is Seijin no hi (成人の日) / Coming- of-age Day.
The day is a celebration day for people who become 20 years old.

2.11th, Kenkoku Kinenbi (建国記念日) / National Foundation Day.
This day is Japanese foundation day.

3.20th, Shunbun no hi (春分の日) / Vernal Equinox Day.
This day is the day for dead ancestors thinking of them and serve them rice cake and flowers.

4.29th, Midori no hi (緑の日) / Green Day.
This day is the birthday of Emperor, Showa passed away in 1989. People appreciate for the nature and its blessing.

5.3rd, Kenpou Kinenbi (憲法記念日) / Constitution Memorial Day.
This day is celebration day for operation of Japanese constitution.

5.4th, Kokumin no Kyujitsu (国民の休日) / National People’s Day.
When the day is between holidays, the day become a holiday.

5.5th, Kodomo no hi (こどもの日) / Children’s Day.
This day is a festival mainly for boys wishing for good future.

The third Monday of July is Umino hi (海の日) / Marine Day.
This is the day for blessing sea and wishing prosperity of Japan.

9.19th, Keirou no hi (敬老の日) / Respect-for-the Aged Day.
This is a day to respect aged people.

9.23rd, Shubun no hi (秋分の日) / Autumnal Equinox Day.
This day is similar to Vernal equinox Day thinking of dead ancestors.

The second Monday of October is Taiiku no hi (体育の日) / Sports Day.
This day was established associated with the day of Tokyo Olympic day. People do sports on this day.

11.3rd, Bunka no hi (文化の日) / Culture Day.
The day is celebration day to love freedom and peace wishing for development of culture.

11.23rd, Kinrou Kansha no hi (勤労感謝の日) / Labor Thankis-giving Day.
This day is the day respecting and appreciating all labors.

12.23rd, Tennou Tanjoubi (天皇誕生日) / Emperor’s Birthday.
The day is the current Emperor’s birthday.

* If a national holiday is on Sunday, Monday become a substitute day off, and more holidays people can get.

The days with Midori no hi(4/29), Kenpoukinenbi(5/3), Kokumin no Kyujitsu (5/4) and Kodomo no hi(5/5) are called Golden week. Besides, when Saturday and Sunday connect luckily, the Golden week get longer. People go back to parental home or go abroad using this long vacation all at once.

In addtion to Golden week, Bon(a Japanese Buddihist festival held annually in August to honour the dead. August 13th to 15th) can be long holidays. Bon is not a national holiday, but most companies are off in Bon.

These above are all national holidays in Japan. I think the number of national holidays is quite a lot compared with other countries. That’s why Japanese cannot take long vacations??

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hi Cheese!

What do you say when you take a photo? Do you say nothing? In Japan, most people say above title, “Hi cheese!” The aim of saying this is to make people look smile with “e” mouth form. I am not sure the exact reason why Japanese people use “cheese”, but several sites say it is because The Day of Photo and The Day of Cheese are the same day, June 1st in Japan. Consequently, people started to say “cheese” when they take a photo.

Moreover, there is also a popular saying. When you release the shutter, you say “Ichi tasu Ichi wa?”, and people who are taken photo answer “Ni”. “Ichi tasu Ichi wa (1+1は?)” means “One plus One is what?”, and “Ni (2)” means “Two”. This one includes the same effect with “Hi Cheese!”

In Canada, people said (or I said) “1, 2, 3” when they take photos. Besides, I remember my Korean friends in Canada used “Kimchi (Korean pickles)” instead of “1, 2, 3”. What do you say when you take a photo in your country?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Image Song Boom in Japan

From old times, any groups like to have their image songs in Japan. The groups can be school, prefecture, club and even company. I can sing 6 image songs for elementary school, junior high school (2 songs), high school, junior collage and town. While students belong to school, they sing school songs frequently as they have ceremonies and something important meetings.

People in Japan value image songs a lot. Singing the same song with everybody has effect to make people feel united and stimulate them to work on their aims. Whenever people make groups, they make their image songs which are becoming small boom now. I see many subscriptions for new image songs, and the prize money is always high like hundreds of thousands of dollars.

My father who is an amateur composer has composed several image songs for nursery school, elementary school, city, town, village, magician, road race, Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, commercial, and radio station. Some of them were ordered and others were elected at contests.

My father’s first elected image song, “Nangai no Ao” was for a small village, Nangai, Akita. That was more than 10 years ago. Time has passed, and the village was merged with several towns and cities last year, and became big 1 city, Daisen.

Yesterday, there was 1-year ceremony since the city is made. That was to announce citizens new image song for the city. In addition to the new song, 8 municipalities show their old image songs to look back over what they like. Since my father composed image song for Nangai, he had got pone call from the village and asked to stand the stage. Since the song is the key of women, I was somehow decided to sing the song in public.

I was so upset that I was shaking all the time because it was my fist time to sing a song alone in front of people. Besides, audience there included assembly members and many citizens. I felt so much pressure because I had to undertake a small village instead of them even though I am from another town. I don’t know whether I did well or not, but audiences gave me big applause to me.