Setsubun

           February, 3rd is the day that we celebrate Setubun by doing Mame-maki in Japan; throwing beans outside front door of your house and from the windows saying “oni-wa-soto”, which means “the demon is outside”.  Families then close the door right after they throw the beans so that the demons do not come back in and they start throwing beans inside the house while saying “fuku-wa-uchi”, which means “luck is inside”.

People in the past had believed that the beginning of a season was the easiest time for a demon to sneak into the house and cause problems.  So, Setubun was originally celebrated on the eve of every season.  It has turned to represent only the eve of spring since it’s the most important season after a New Year.

The types of beans that are thrown are soybeans.  The Japanese believed that soybeans carried good spirits within them, which fight off the demons.  Rice is also believed to have good spirits in them, however, since soy beans are bigger they are better suited to warding off demons.  Also the Japanese way of saying ‘bean’ is ‘mame’ which is similar to how the Japanese say ‘dispel demon’, “ma wo mesuru”.

onisan

Demons represent bad luck which causes disaster, disease and poverty.  The place they live is kimon, which is the direction of cow and tiger according to the zodiac.  Because of this, they have cow horns, tiger teeth and wear tiger patterned pants.

Beans need to be fried before they are thrown and those fried beans are called fuku-mame (it’s literally fortune beans in Japanese) it should be put in front of a shrine or kamidana to be ready for the day of Setubun.  People who don’t have kamidana at their house might put them on a high place like the top of shelves/drawers with a white sheet of paper underneath.  After Mame-maki, we eat the beans (the number of your age plus one) wishing us luck for a new year.  Eating beans are also believed to get good fortune by getting power against disease.

New culture

Instead of doing Mame-maki, the new way that has been spread out Japan now is Ehou-maki.  Ehou-Maki is a long roll sushi with seven ingredients inside, associated with 7 good fortune gods.  In order not to miss any good fortune, the roll cannot cut with a knife.

This sushi is named after the way to eat. 1) Look at Ehou, the direction of the year (East-northeast in 2014),  2) Start eating with one big bite first while making a wish  3) Keep eating without saying anything until finished.

          This custom started as a local custom in some Japanese towns to celebrate Setubun, yet it’s been gradually gaining popularity over the years. The reason does not only because it’s fun but also because there’s no need to clean up like Mamemaki, where you have to pick up all of the beans in and outside the house. Many housewives prefer Eho-maki better since they can replace it as dinner dishes.

Tanabata – July 7th

Did you pay attention to stars last night? If not, you missed out on the most romantic night sky of the year.

July 7th in Japan is called Tanabata (七夕).  This is the one night that you can see the two beautiful and bright stars, Vega and Altair, with the Milky Way as a backdrop. This legend originated from China and spread to Japan in the early Nara era.

Can you find two bright starts across the Milky Way?
image 1
Can you find two bright starts across the Milky Way?

According to this legend, Orihime was the beautiful daughter of Tentai, the Sky King, and she dedicated every day to weave beautiful clothes for her father. As Tentai contemplated about his precious daughter’s future, he found a famous farmer in another village located on the other side of the Amanogawa River that be believed would be suitable as Orihime’s future husband. They fell in love with each other right after her father’s arrangement, but they stopped working hard like they used to as soon as they got married. After seeing the two of them slowly become less and less responsible, Tentai finally decided to separate them by putting them on opposite sides of the Amanogawa River and allowed them to meet only once a year on July 7th.

Amanogawa, is what the Japanese call the Milky Way and Orihime and Hikoboshi are represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively in this legend. According to the story, if it rains on this day, these two lovers have to wait another year before they can meet.

tanzaku
image 2
a girl hanging tanzaku on bamboo leaves.

In Japan, there are many local festivals to celebrate these lovers meeting once a year. Many schools also offer events for the students by giving them time to write down a wish on a piece of paper called Tanzaku and hang it on bamboo leaves in hopes that their wishes would come true.

Tanabata Festival
image 3
Tanabata Festival

You cannot help to look up other people’s wishes on bamboo leaves because there is a wide variety of wishes…from cute and funny to sad wishes:

image 4 "wish Orihime and Hicoboshi could meet tonight."
image 4
“wish Orihime and Hicoboshi could meet tonight.”
image 5 "please give me big boos."
image 5
“please give me big boos.”
image 6 "wish my dad would break up with that bad woman soon."
image 6
“wish my dad would break up with the bad woman soon.”

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Image Sources:

1. http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/pi_hyarara2003/15577320.html

2. http://www.city.daito.lg.jp/photonews/1279609153474.html

3. http://duarcain.blogspot.com/2012/05/tanzaku.html

4. http://blogs.yahoo.co.jp/aroamtic/9828772.html

5. http://plaza.rakuten.co.jp/2ndorijin/diary/200807060000/

6. http://ameblo.jp/shikao-blog/entry2-10587054166.html

Ramen in Ikebukuro

It’s April and it’s still cold…  Yoko helps warm us up with her blog about ramen!

Ramen is one of  iconic foods in Japan, which has different types of flavor and taste depending on the area.  Sapporo ramen is a miso based ramen in Hokkaido (北海道), while Hakata ramen is a pork-based, tonkotsu ramen originating in Kyushu (九州).

In the past 5 years, tsukemen has become popular in Tokyo.  Tsukemen is ramen served with soup on the side. How do you eat it? – Dip some noodles in the broth and eat!  After you finish the noodles, add soba-yu (water you used to boil soba) into the soup and drink.

Although Tokyo-style ramen is actually a soy sauce based soup, people from all prefectures in Japan gather in Tokyo so many different flavors are available to its residents. If you want to try various regional specialty ramen in Tokyo, ikebukuro is the right place to go.

2. Ramen Map
Some ramen restaurants from west exit in Ikebukuro station.

ikebukuro (池袋) is a commercial and gourmet district which is sometimes referred to as the ‘ramen battleground’ in Tokyo. ikebukuro station is one of the main commuter hubs and second busiest station in Japan. Both the west and east exits of the station are home to famous ramen shops. People are always standing in long lines in front of these famous ramen restaurants which exceed even the most famous ramen restaurants in the US such as  ippudo in New York.

Some ramen noodle restaurants have automated ticket dispenser that entertain tourists.

This dispenser stands in front of the entrance of restaurants and customers can customize ramen by buying tickets for toppings as well as for soup bases such as miso-based, pork-based soup (tonkotu), salt-based, or  soy sauce based. You also can see this dispenser is in curry or soba/udon restaurants.

Do you feel like visiting ikebukuro now? I know it’s hard to make a trip just for ramen, so what can you do?  – Our ramen bowls bring you there!

ramen bowl

From the left: J3021A, J3021B, J3021C, and J3021D.
Size: 6.75″ x 3.5″

Have ramen at home.  Feel Japan.

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image source:

1. Tsukemen: http://tsukemen-sharin.com/
2. Ramen Map: http://antidote.sakura.ne.jp/ike_ra-men_nishi.html
3. Ramen Dispenser: http://ikemen.blog.so-net.ne.jp/2011-05-31

ハナコトバ – hanakotoba

hanakotobaHave you ever heard of hanakotoba? It means the language of flowers. Much like how a man will give a girl a rose to say ‘I love you’, each flower has a different meaning in Japanese culture.

Long time ago, people in Japan used to make poetry, called Waka, to express their emotions and feelings to profess their love in a love letter or store their feelings in diary. Waka describing flowers and seasons are thought to be more elegant and more romantic.  Though those customs were set by people in the past, the connection between people and flowers has transcended time and continues to have a strong presence in current day Japan. For example, children will give their mothers carnations, whose hanakotoba is ‘appreciation’, on Mother’s Day. It is kind of similar to the custom of sending people cards for specific occasions in the United States.  Because each flower has a specific hanakotoba, many Japanese buy flowers instead of cards and just send the flowers to people instead of writing the message.

Below are some hanakotoba of some common flowers:

LOVE
I love you – Rose
I’m into you – Peach
eternal love  – Tulip
true love – Margaret
my eyes are only for you – Sun Flower
think of me –  Pansy

OTHERS
beautiful heart, elegant lady – Cherry Blossom
love to mother, appreciation – Carnation
lady’s heart, sincere heart –  Cosmos
perfect beauty, mysterious beauty – Gerbera

see more hanakotoba?
source: http://hanakotoba-labo.com/

Yoko Reflects on Christmas in Japan

Yoko is our Marketing Assistant and here is her take on Christmas in her hometown!

Christmas songs from morning radio programs, bright decorations along the streets and storefronts, malls crowded  with families and young couples … Christmas is coming soon! When this time of year comes around I begin to miss my hometown in Japan, where Christmas music, Christmas trees, bright displays in shopping mall, and sweet couples are all over the place. Even though the air outside is cold, these days are the most beautiful and warm of the year.

In December, one of the first signals that the holidays are coming are the Christmas themed commercials.  KFC and Pepsi have commercials that feature original songs that always brings out the feeling of Christmas in Japan. Many TV and movie stars will also appear in commercials that celebrate the spirit of Christmas.

Besides, main cities start to wear bright and beautiful illumination, such as Roppongi (六本木), Yebisu (恵比寿), Omotesando (表参道), and Tokyo tower (東京タワー).

Roppongi (六本木)
Roppongi (六本木)

In Japan, Christmas is a romantic event for couples to spend time together since there are so many pretty and beautiful events out there. After work, they meet up in the city, and go shopping and have dinner with a glass of champagne.

Others will go out with their friends or co-workers in the evening to celebrate the end of the year through holiday parties or reunions with friends from the past.  A popular place to hangout is at karaoke bars or other venues (maybe someone’s house as well) where people can relax and have a good time.

Ebisu Garden Place (恵比寿)
Ebisu Garden Place (恵比寿)

Others spend Christmas with family. Typical dishes around Christmas time are chicken and cake. They might have a whole roasted chicken for dinner plus some traditional Japanese dishes, and have Christmas cake for dessert.  Picking out the Christmas cake is one of my favorite parts of Christmas in Japan since all the cakes around that time are really pretty and delicious.  While we do all of these activities, Christmas in Japan is still not as big of an event as Christmas in America.  Since Christmas isn’t a national holiday in Japan we do not get days off of work or school so instead of having big family reunions we try to just have our close family together for that day and give thanks to having one another.  Children might get some gifts while sleeping at night. I remember my mom (oops, Santa Claus) gave me one pair of socks for Christmas and I cried loudly the next morning.

It may seem slightly different how people in Japan and people here spend Christmas. But if we look closer, while the way we celebrate might be different, both countries is still to spend it with the people you love the most. No matter how different the cultures and traditions are, the main purpose of Christmas is to spread happiness to all the precious people in your life.

Merry Christmas to everyone!!

image source
Roppongi  : http://www.mori.co.jp/company/press/release/2007/11/20071107134401000130.html
Ebisu : http://matome.naver.jp/odai/2135436537364750001/2135437160565756303