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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Ninja Day in Japan

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum
Today, February 22 is Ninja Day in Japan. Yes, we actually have a “Ninja Day” here in Japan.

The day is unfortunately not an official national holiday but a campaign spearheaded by the ninja cities of Iga and Koka to promote ninja culture and the region.

Iga in Mie Prefecture is considered to be one of the homes of ninja and historically a ninja stronghold. Koka in neighbouring Shiga Prefecture is home to a rival ninja clan the Koga ninja, who were based in the area.

If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend checking out the Iga-ryu Ninja Museum in Iga. It is dedicated to the history of the ninja and ninjutsu and is a lot of fun.

Why is February 22 Ninja Day? Well, it is basically a play on words. In Japanese, the number two is pronounced “ni” which sounds like the “ni” in “ninja” (忍者). February 22 (2-22) has a lot of twos, so this is a good a reason as any to make this day officially recognized as “Ninja Day”.

Another reason could be that the date is reminiscent of famous Japanese anime character Ninja Hattori Kun’s catchphrase “nin nin”. Japan loves it puns and word play.

Both Iga and Koka will be holding special events and activities to celebrate Ninja Day and promote ninja culture.

How do you plan to celebrate Ninja Day?

Iga-ryu Ninja Museum
Image Source

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Starbucks Japan Cherry Blossom Selections

Starbucks Japan Cherry Blossom Selections
Starbucks Japan have just released their seasonal cherry blossoms selections. This is something that we at Japan Australia look forward to every year. It is a sure tell sign that spring is on its way. The Japan only “sakura” (cherry blossom) food, drinks and goods are a great prelude to the upcoming cherry blossom season in Japan.

Japan Travel Advice recently published a Cherry Blossom Forecast for 2015 so we can all start planning our “hanami” parties.

This year we have the piping hot Caramel Sakura Chocolate Latte, icy cold Caramel Sakura Chocolate Frappuccino, and Sakura Chiffon Cake to choose from.

Both the sakura drinks feature a drizzling of rich cherry and caramel sauce and are topped with shavings of cherry-flavored white chocolate. Sounds good doesn’t it?

You may remember that last year Starbucks Japan released a Sakura White Chocolate Latte with real sakura petals and leaves as well as a strawberry flavoured topping and pink strawberry infused whipped cream. It was really good!

Last year we also wrote about some of our favourite flavours of spring in Japan

Starbucks Japan shelves will also be stocked with limited edition “Bliss” line sakura themed tumblers, glasses, mugs and gift cards in pale pink and other colours of spring. Around March they are planning to release their “Brilliant” line of products in more vivid hues of hot pink.

The cherry blossom selections are available from February 15 for a limited time.

Which sakura goodie do you want to try?

Starbucks Japan Website

Starbucks Japan Cherry Blossom Selections
 

Starbucks Cherry Blossom Selections Tumblers

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

National Foundation Day Kenkoku Kinen no Hi

National Foundation Day
February 11th is a National Holiday in Japan called National Foundation Day (建国記念の日) Kenkoku Kinen no Hi in Japanese. It is a day which celebrates the foundation of Japan and the accession of its legendary first Emperor Jimmu to the throne in 660BC.

Customs on National Foundation Day include raising the Japanese flag and reflecting on the meaning of Japanese citizenship.

The History of National Foundation Day 


The origins of National Foundation Day can be traced back to the foundation of Japan by Emperor Jimmu in 660BC.

The first National Foundation Day was celebrated in 1872 during the Meiji Period. In its original form, the holiday was created by the Meiji Government and called Empire Day (紀元節) Kigensetsu in Japanese. The aim of the holiday was to focus national attention on the emperor for the purpose of unifying the county. This was important after the fall of the Tokugawa Shogunate to legitimize the rule of the imperial family.

The first Empire Day was officially celebrated on the 29th of January 1872. According to legend, Emperor Jimmu ascended to the throne on the first day of the first month on the Chinese lunar calendar. This day corresponded to January 29th on the modern Gregorian calendar.

The date was later moved as many still used the Chinese lunar calendar resulting in Empire Day falling on what most considered to be New Year’s (oshogatsu). The Meiji Government in response to this moved Empire Day to February 11th.

Empire Day featured large parades and festivals and was considered one of the four major holidays of Japan.

After World War II the holiday was abolished and a commemorative holiday was re-established as National Foundation Day in 1966. The day was stripped of its overt references to the Emperor, but was still a day for expressing national patriotism and love of the nation. Coincidentally, the first draft of the post-War constitution was approved by General MacArthur on February 11th 1946.

What will you be doing today to celebrate Kenkoku Kinen no Hi?

National Foundation Day

Monday, January 12, 2015

Coming of Age Day Japan

Coming of Age Day
Coming of Age Day or seijin no hi (成人の日) in Japanese is a special ceremony that is held on the second Monday of January to mark the transition of young Japanese into adulthood. It is held to congratulate young boys and girls who will reach the age of 20 (二十歳) during the current school year. Twenty is considered the beginning of adulthood in Japan, and is the age when you can legally vote, drink and smoke.

The day is also a national holiday in Japan. If you are out and about in Japan, you’ll see many young people dressed in their finest clothes.

Girls will dress in a furisode (振袖), a colourful kimono with long sleeves, traditionally only worn by unmarried women. While boys will wear either a formal suit or traditional dark kimono with hakama.

Coming of Age Day
Image Source
 
To mark this special occasion there are special coming of age ceremonies (成人式) held in the morning at local city offices and prefectural offices throughout Japan. After the ceremonies, young adults and their families will often visit their local shrine, or a large shrine such as Meiji Jingu in Tokyo to celebrate. Once the formalities of the day are out of the way, the young adults will often celebrate further by going to parties with friends or going out drinking.

The History of Coming of Age Day 


Coming of Age ceremonies have been held and celebrated in Japan since at least 714 AD, when a young prince donning new robes and hairstyle to mark his passage into adulthood.

The National Holiday was first established in 1948, and was held every year on January 15. This changed in 2000, when the day was changed to the second Monday of January as a result of the Happy Monday System.

We are happy for the change as the Happy Monday System (ハッピーマンデー制度) moved a number of national holidays in Japan to a Monday, creating more three-day weekends for us to enjoy.

Coming of Age Day is a fun day and a great chance to see some young Japanese people dressed in beautiful traditional clothing.

HATACHI (二十歳)
Image Source

Friday, January 9, 2015

Hatsumode at Kogane Jinja in Gifu

Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
This year we made our first shrine visit of the New Year (hatsumode) at Kogane Jinja in Gifu City. Hatsumode (初詣) is the Japanese tradition of visiting a shrine or temple during the first few days of the New Year. This is usually around January 1st, 2nd or 3rd.

The main purpose of hatsumode is to pray for health, happiness and success for the year ahead.

Kogane Jinja (金神社) is one of Gifu’s most famous Shinto shrines and is conveniently located in the city center. The shrine was founded way back in 135 and has long been considered a place to pray for financial blessings in Gifu.

Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu City

This year we chose Kogane Jinja because we wanted to avoid all the crowds at Gifu’s main shrine, Inaba Jinja as well as pray for a financial successful year. This is important to us as we recently had a baby and we need all the financial help we can at the moment with just me working to support the family.

Kogane Jinja has been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions with the current structure built in 1988. The shrine has a nice feel to it and is always a popular place in Gifu to pray as it is so conveniently located to the downtown area.

The enshrined god at Kogane Jinja is the goddess, Nunoshihime-no-mikoto, who is the wife of Inishiki-Irihiko-no-mikoto, the god of Inaba Shrine.


the Main Shrine Gate at Kogane Jinja
The Main Shrine Gate at Kogane Jinja

We made our hatsumode at Inaba Jinja last year, which you can read about on this post.

The New Year’s period is always the busiest time for Kogane Jinja, with an estimated 150,000 worshipers visiting the shrine over the three-day period (January 1st ,2nd ,3rd).

Here are a few customs and traditions we followed for our hatsumode at Kogane Jinja:

Osaisen 


Osaisen (賽銭) is the custom of offering money to the gods at the shrine for good luck. Simply throw a small coin (5 yen is best) into the saisen-bako (賽銭箱) donation box, bow twice, clap twice, pray to the gods for a happy and prosperous year and bow once again as you finish. Why is a 5 yen coin the best? Because go-en (5 yen in Japanese) means chance, fate or destiny, and is considered lucky and to bring about good fortune.

Osaisen at Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Osaisen at Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu

Omikuji 


Omikuji (おみくじ) is another common custom when visiting a Shinto shrine in Japan. You can buy an omikuji at many different locations around the shrine for 100 yen. It is basically a fortune written on a small piece of paper. There are typically twelve different kinds of fortune you can receive ranging from good to bad. Don’t worry if you receive a bad fortune, simply tie it onto the special rack or tree on the shrine grounds, and this will ensure that the prediction will not come true. Remember to keep it if you receive a good one.

Omikuji at Inaba Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Omikuji at Inaba Jinja Shrine in Gifu City

Hamaya 


Hamaya (破魔矢) is a decorative wooden arrow sold at shrines to ward off misfortune and attract good luck. It is traditionally only available during the first few days of the year. They are sometimes also called ‘demon-breaking arrows’. Each shrine has its own unique design and they make a very cool decoration for your genkan (entrance at home) or souvenir. Traditionally, they are placed at the north-east and south-west corners of the house to protect against evil spirits. It is believed that these parts of the house are the most susceptible to evil influences. This year is the Year of the Sheep, so hamaya will feature a wooden wishing plaque called an ema (絵馬) with a sheep.

Hamaya from Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Hamaya from Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu

Ema Wooden Wishing Plaque
Ema ~ Wooden Wishing Plaque from Kogane Jinja Shrine

Amazake 


Amazake (甘酒) is one of my favourite New Year traditions at a shrine in Japan. It is a sweet traditional Japanese sake that is usually drunk to celebrate a special occasion such as the New Year.

A great way to finish off your hatsumode is by drinking a cup of steaming hot amazake by the bon-fire at the shrine.

Kogane Jinja Homepage


Kitsune at Kogane Jinja Shrine in Gifu
Kogane Jinja

Monday, January 5, 2015

Top 5 Most Popular Posts 2014

Japan Australia 2014 Year in Review
Happy New Year everyone, or as they say here in Japan, 明けましておめでとうございます. We hope you have had a great start to the year and all the best for a safe and prosperous year ahead in 2015.

Looking back on 2014, it was another great year for Japan Australia. We now have over 550 posts, which has more than exceeded our expectations when we first started this blog. We also expanded our freelance writing work this year as a travel writer for the new GaijinPot Blog.

You can check my work out here on my author profile John Asano.

The New Year is upon us, so it’s time to reflect and look back on the year that was 2014. Without further to do, here are the most popular blog posts for 2014.

The most popular blog posts for 2014 in order of popularity were:

#1 10 Things You Need to Know Before Moving to Japan 


Published on May 5th this post provided some insider tips to help you quickly settle into Japan from your big move overseas. It featured as part of an expat tip campaign run by HiFX.


Read this post


#2 Teaching English in Japan 


Published on January 12th this post highlighted some of the main types of teaching jobs available in Japan as well as the basic requirements. The English teaching industry in Japan is becoming more competitive, so we tried to provide some tips on what recruiters are looking for.


Read this post 

 

 

#3 Sakura Cherry Blossom Ice Cream 


Published on February 15th this post was about a brand new flavour in Japan of the popular Haagen-Dazs ice cream. The flavour was sakura cherry blossom, and it was released to celebrate Haagen-Dazs’s 30th anniversary in Japan. Yum Yum!


Read this post


#4 McDonald’s Japan American Vintage Series 


Published on January 9th this post was our most popular fast-food post for the year. McDonald’s Japan is always coming out with new menu items in order to entice customers and this series was a nostalgic look back to the 50’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Read this post 

#5 10 Tips to Survive Summer in Japan 


Published on July 13th this post provided some tips on how to survive the long hot humid summer in Japan. If you can’t make a quick getaway to the cooler Japan Alps then follow these tips to get some instant heat relief.


Read this post 


There you have it, our most popular blog posts for 2014! I hope you enjoy them and thank you for all your support in 2014. We at Japan Australia hope that 2015 will be even bigger and better. 

Japan Australia 2014 Year in Review

Monday, December 29, 2014

New Year’s Traditions and Customs in Japan

Shimekazari
New Year’s or oshogatsu (正月) in Japanese is one of the most important holidays on the calendar in Japan. It is a time to look back to the past and follow the traditional customs of the festive season. Most people will return home to spend the time together with their family, kind of like Christmas in the West. It is also a popular tradition to visit a temple or shrine at midnight on December 31st, as Buddhist temples all around 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.

January 1st or New Year’s Day (元日) is a very fortunate day in Japan. It is meant to be full of joy and happiness with no stress or anxiety. Everything should be clean and you should not work on this day. A popular custom is to watch the first sunrise of the New Year (初日), which is meant to guarantee good luck for the New Year. It is tradition to visit a shrine or temple during oshogatsu for hatsumode (初詣), the first visit of the New Year. The bigger more popular shrines and temples are extremely crowded with people praying for health and happiness. We usually visit Inaba Jinja, which is the biggest and most famous shrine in Gifu City.

Here are some popular traditions and customs that are followed during New Year’s in Japan

Shimekazari 


Shimekazari (しめ飾り) is a traditional New Year’s decoration made out of sacred Shinto rice straw rope, pine twigs, and carefully crafted zigzag-shaped paper strips called shide. Shimekazari is usually hung on the front door, and is used to keep bad spirits away as well as inviting the toshigami (歳神) or Shinto deity to visit. Unlike Christmas decorations which are usually packed up and used the following year, New Year's decorations must be new as they symbolize a brand new start and a move away from the past. It is good luck to hang up the shimekazari straight after Christmas, but no longer than after the 28th of December. It is custom to remove the shimekazari on either January 7th or after the 15th, depending on which area of Japan you live.

Shimekazari
Shimekazari 2014/2015

Shimekazari
Shimekazari 2013/2014

Kadomatsu


Kadomatsu (門松) is a traditional Japanese New Year decoration traditionally placed in front of homes to welcome ancestral spirits or kami of the harvest. They are believed to bring prosperity and good luck for the family. The bamboo symbolizes strength and prosperity, the pine symbolizes long life, and the rope protects against evil spirits. After January 15 the kadomatsu is burned to appease the kami or toshigami and release them.

Kadomatsu
Kadomatsu

Kagami Mochi 


Kagami Mochi (鏡餅) is another traditional decoration that consists of two round mochi (Japanese rice cakes). The smaller rice cake is placed on top of the larger one with a daidai (bitter orange) on top. The two mochi represent the past year and the year ahead with the daidai, which means “generations” in Japanese representing the continuation of a family from one generation to the next. These days you can buy a modern version with the zodiac sign for the coming year on top instead of the bitter orange. This year 2014 was the year of the horse, with the New Year in 2015 being the year of the sheep.

Kagami Mochi
Traditional style Kagami Mochi

Kagami Mochi
2014 Year of the Horse Kagami Mochi

Mochibana 


Mochibana (餅花) is a popular New Year’s decoration that consists of branches decorated with pieces of white and pink mochi. They look like flowering branches of the blossoms in spring, and signal the coming of spring ahead in Japan.

Nengajo 


Nengajo (年賀状) is a Japanese custom of sending a New Year’s Day Card to friends and relatives. It is very similar to our custom of sending Christmas Cards. Japanese people send these so that they arrive on January 1st. It is common to feature the zodiac sign for the coming year on the card.

Toshikoshi Soba 


Toshikoshi Soba (年越しそば) is buckwheat noodles that are eaten on New Year’s Eve and symbolise longevity. It is believed that by eating these long thin noodles you will live a long and healthy life. Toshikoshi means the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new one. It has become a modern tradition to eat toshikoshi soba while watching TV on New Year’s Eve, with the music competition Kohaku Uta Gassen (紅白歌合戦) the most popular show to watch. To ensure good luck, all the noodles must be polished off before midnight.

Toshikoshi Soba
Toshikoshi Soba

Hatsumode 


Hatsumode (初詣) is the first shrine visit of the New Year to pray for health, happiness and prosperity for the coming year. Most people will make their visit on the first, second, or third day of the year. A common custom is to buy an omikuji, which is a fortune written on a small piece of paper. If the omikuji predicts bad luck, you can tie it onto a tree on the shrine grounds, in order for the prediction not to come true.

Hatsumode at Inaba Jinja in Gifu City
Hatsumode at Inaba Jinja in Gifu City 2014

Omikuji
Omikuji 2014

Osechi Ryori 


Osechi Ryori (御節料理) is traditional Japanese dishes served during New Year celebrations. The tradition started in the Heian Period (794-1185) with each dish having a special meaning. Osechi ryori is served in special boxes called jubako (重箱) and contain food such as konbu (boiled seaweed), kamaboko (fish cakes), kinpira gobo (burdock root), and my personal favourite kuromame (sweetened black beans).

Osechi Ryori
Osechi Ryori

Ozoni 


Ozoni (お雑煮) is a soup made with mochi (rice cakes) traditionally served on New Year’s Day. Our family usually has ozoni for breakfast on New Year’s Day. Ozoni varies from region to region and from household to household.

Ozoni
Ozoni

Otoshidama 


Otoshidama (お年玉) is special money given to children on New Year’s Day. It is handed out in small decorated envelopes by family and relatives. The amount varies depending on the age of the child, but will typically be something like this. 

  • Babies and Pre-Schooler: ¥1,000 (USD$10) 
  • Elementary School Student: ¥3,000 - ¥5,000 (USD$30-50) 
  • Junior High School Student: ¥5,000 - ¥10,000 (USD$50-100)

Mochi 


Mochi (餅) a favourite custom for New Year's is creating mochi or soft rice cakes from boiled sticky rice. This is called mochitsuki (餅つき) and is usually made before New Year’s Day and eaten during the start of New Year’s in January.

Hope you have a great New Year's wherever you are in the world!

Happy New Year

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