There are some lovely things about Christmas in Japan – the dramas on tv that tell romantic stories of couples who may not have known how deep their love was until Christmas night when they find themselves realizing what the true meaning of Christmas is – it’s all about dating a cute girl in a fluffy outfit who is standing outside at night in a brightly lit Christmas scene with perfect makeup as snow begins to fall gently.   It is, as the Japanese say, ro-man-ti-ku.

In Japan, people also like a good Christmas Cake  –  these are usually wonderful concoctions of whip cream and strawberry goodness.   Sounds like a better option over sticky lumpy fruitcake.

Then there’s the KFC tradition of ordering a fast food chicken dinner with all the fixings to devour with your family on Christmas night.   Mmmmm….  I don’t know when this started but it’s not a bad idea!  Sounds pretty good about now as I think about the many hours of cooking I have ahead of me when my family comes over on Christmas.

Why is Christmas so popular in Japan?  Not sure, maybe because Santa’s outfit has the same colors as the Japanese flag?  In fact, KFC, Santa, Strawberries & Cream and the Japanese flag… Wait a second, what do these all have in common?  The color scheme!  Wow.  I can’t believe I just figured it out.  Now on to global warming!

But before I solve that, I also have a theory about why Christmas is a romantic holiday in Japan – because everywhere you go, you can’t get away from Mariah Carey singing, “All I Want For Christmas” and George Michael singing “Last Christmas.”  These might be the official Christmas songs in Japan, not “White Christmas” or “Jingle Bells.”  You’d be hard pressed to find a Japanese person under 40 who didn’t know either of these Christmas pop songs.

The holiday season is fun wherever you go.  It’s the end of the year so people all around the world feel a little nostalgic, a little rejuvenated and maybe a little stressed out.  For us, it’s the busiest time of year as we try to supply all our customers with all the sushi sets they need to make their holiday season successful.  With just a couple of more shopping days to go, it’s always nuts but we are thankful that we are busy.

Happy Holidays everyone!  Enjoy your Christmas turkey, ham, roast or fast food chicken!  And may all your holidays be bright!

The Making of a Kokeshi Doll

A couple of years ago, Bob, our fearless leader, went to visit a Kokeshi doll factory and was given permission to take pictures and video tape some of the steps to make a doll.

I had these videos on our old blog but since that old blog died accidentally, I thought I would dig them up again to show how much work goes into making a Kokeshi Doll.  But while Blogspot will let you upload for free, they won’t let you recover a blog you accidentally deleted (oops).   And WordPress, while pretty in its templates, will not let you upload videos without paying.  So you see, I am at an impasse.  I will have to add the video upgrade fee to our marketing budget for 2012 and see what happens.   But in the meantime, if you would like to check out the videos, please visit our YouTube Channel.

I’ll add some still images here just to show you how much of an art form this really is.  And when you see the work and craftsmanship that goes into one, you will want to start your collection immediately!

First the trees are cut and the bark is removed.  The types of wood used are Japanese dogwood, cherry tree and chestnut.  They can’t just begin cutting it up.  It has to dry in the sun for 6 months to a year before they can do anything with it.  Then the wood is cut into thick slices.  The wood is then compressed and excess pieces are removed.

Then it is put on a lathe where the master craftsman uses a special tool to shape the head.  I would totally mess this up.

After each piece is prepared like this, they go through 3 rounds of sandpapering.

Some of the pieces also go through multiple rounds of painting as well.  The details are handpainted on each doll.

Engravings or carvings are also done by hand.  Then it’s off to be finished with two coats of a glaze to seal everything in.  They are then put on these poles that move around the room to dry.

Then the pieces are assembled and voila!  A perfect Kokeshi doll.

The factory also has a collection of many of their products throughout the years.  This company is in its 3rd generation (like us!) and the business along with the master craftsmanship have been carefully handed down.

Some of these older pieces seen here are amazing.  Unfortunately, the original owner of the factory used to make these and after he passed, they have not been able to find someone with his skill level to make these same shapes.







Some others from their collection on display only:

These last two still have their original branches intact!

A beautiful art form!  And that concludes Art Appreciation Thursday.

Chopstick Etiquette

As one of our gift ideas, I wrote that our bowl sets with chopstick notches are great for those friends you may have who insist that you do not stick your chopsticks in your food when taking a break from eating.  You have a predetermined notch on which you can rest your chopsticks.  So I thought it would be a good idea to explain why sticking your chopsticks in your food is considered rude.

Bowl & Chopstick Set of 2 - complete with notches to hold your chopsticks! Fashion or Function? Why, YES!

Did you know there is an etiquette to using chopsticks?  And it’s different in each culture where one uses chopsticks so there’s a lot of thinking involved….  There are little ones I have heard of, such as not crossing the chopsticks, not sticking them in your food, not tapping them like drumsticks.  Please don’t tap them like drumsticks.  Unless you are Roger Taylor (I think I just gave away my age).

So I’ve researched a few and I have some links if you’d like to see some good ones but I’m going to copy the Wikipedia etiquette list since it is the most concise and I thought it would be interesting to throw in the Korean and Chinese etiquette when it comes to chopsticks too.  I’ve literally copied and pasted it so take it up with Wikipedia if you don’t agree with these!

Japanese etiquette

  • Food should not be transferred from one’s own chopsticks to someone else’s chopsticks. Japanese people will always offer their plate to transfer it directly, or pass a person’s plate along if the distance is great. Transferring directly with chopsticks is how bones are passed as part of Japanese funeral rites.
  • The pointed ends of the chopsticks should be placed on a chopstick rest when the chopsticks are not being used. However, when a chopstick rest is not available as it is often the case in restaurants using waribashi (disposable chopsticks), a person may make a chopstick rest by folding the paper case that contained the chopsticks.
  • Reversing chopsticks to use the opposite clean end is commonly used to move food from a communal plate, although it is not considered to be proper manners.Rather, the group should ask for extra chopsticks to transfer food from a communal plate.
  • Chopsticks should not be crossed on a table, as this symbolizes death, or vertically stuck in the rice, which is done during a funeral.
  • It is rude to rub wooden chopsticks together after breaking them apart, as this communicates to the host that the user thinks the chopsticks are cheap.
  • Chopsticks should be placed right-left direction; the tips should be on the left. Placing diagonal, vertical and crossing each stick are not acceptable both in home and restaurant manners.
  • In formal use, disposable chopsticks (waribashi) should be replaced into the wrapper at the end of a meal.

Chinese etiquette

  • In Chinese culture, it is normal to hold the rice bowl—rice in China is rarely served on a plate—up to one’s mouth and use chopsticks to push rice directly into the mouth.
  • It is acceptable to transfer food to closely related people (e.g. grandparents, parents, spouse, children, or significant others) if they are having difficulty picking up the food. Also it is a sign of respect to pass food to the elderly first before the dinner starts.
  • It is poor etiquette to tap chopsticks on the edge of one’s bowl, as beggars are believed to make this noise to attract attention.
  • It is impolite to spear food with a chopstick, unless the food is difficult to handle, such as fishballs.
  • It is considered poor etiquette to point rested chopsticks towards others seated at the table.
  • Chopsticks should not be left vertically stuck into a bowl of rice because it resembles the ritual of incense-burning that symbolizes “feeding” the dead and death in general.
  • Holding chopsticks incorrectly will reflect badly on a child’s parents, who have the responsibility of teaching their children.
  • Serving chopsticks (公筷, “community-use chopsticks”) are used to take food from serving dishes. These chopsticks are to be returned to the dishes after one has served oneself, and are often a different colour from individuals’ chopsticks.

Korean etiquette

In Korea, chopsticks are paired with a spoon, and there are conventions for how these are used together.

  • The elders pick up the utensils first, then the younger ones do.
  • It is considered uncultured and rude to pick up a dish or a bowl to bring it closer to one’s mouth, and eat its content with chopsticks (except certain noodle dishes like naengmyeon). Dishes are to be left on the table at all times, and a spoon is used alongside chopsticks, if the food lifted “drips”. This is in stark contrast to Chinese and Japanese convention, which lifts up the rice bowl, often to the mouth.
  • When laying chopsticks down on the table next to a spoon, one must never put the chopsticks to the left of the spoon. Chopsticks are only laid to the left during the food preparation for the funeral or the memorial service for the deceased family members, known as jesa.
  • It is rude to use the same hand to hold both chopsticks and a spoon at the same time and laying the spoon down on the table while one uses chopsticks.
  • Use a spoon to eat soup, stew and liquid side dishes, and chopsticks for solid side dishes. Either may be used for eating rice.

Here are some links to fun sites that elaborate on Chopstick Etiquette:

Just Hungry where it really needed to be said:  don’t stick your chopsticks up your nose.  very gauche.

All About Teaching English in Japan has a succinct list that includes a very important one – there is no 2 second rule when it comes to dropping your chopsticks on the floor.  Please, people, that’s gross.

What Japan Thinks – that features a fun poll about chopstick etiquette.

So, now you know.  And knowing is half the battle.