Events:

21 April - 14 May 27th National Confectionary Exposition in Mie, Mie Prefecture
leaflet in four languages:
Venue: Mie Prefectural Sun Arena and peripheral areas --20 minutes bus ride from Ise Jingu Shrine(Naiku) (advance ticket needed)

1-30 April Miyako Odori(Cherry Dance), Kyoto
Maiko and geiko dance performances
Advance tickets are available from overseas at:
The performances are being done at Kyoto Art Theater “Shunjuza”(http://k-pac.org/) this year.

25-28 May Azuma Odori, Tokyo
http://www.azuma-odori.jp/ (sorry, Japanese version only)
Geisha dance performances
Tickets will be available after April 14



seasonal flowers:


cherry blossom forecast :
http://sakura.weathermap.jp/ (Japanese version only)  


Saturday, December 31, 2011

scenes on New Year's Eve

In Japan, people have a custom of cleaning house at the end of each year to greet the New Year. I'm struggling to clean my house and make the preparations for New Year's festivities. I'm tired.

Ame-yoko on New Year's Eve

Ame-yoko(Ameya-yokocho or Ameya Streets) in Ueno, Tokyo is crowded with shoppers buying the ingredients(mainly seafood) for New Year's dishes.




Ame-yoko on New Year's Eve
 photo by 東京デート



Namahage Festival is held on December 31st in the Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture. Men in demons' masks go from house to house with big papier-mache knives and clubs in their hands, saying "Naguko wa inega?(Are there any crying children here?) " They punish lazy fellows, drive away evil and usher in good fortune.

photo by 秋田の車窓から



Toshikoshi no Harai narabini Chinka-sai(年越大祓並鎮火祭)
 at Hie Jinja Shrine(日枝神社) in 2006

Oharae(大祓) is an event to purify people from half-year's worth of sin. It had been held on the last days of the 6th month and the 12th month in the lunar calendar.





Toshikoshi no Harai narabini Chinka-sai(年越大祓並鎮火祭)
 at Hie Jinja Shrine(日枝神社) in 2006

Toshikoshi no Harae(年越の祓) is held on December 31st now.


Toshikoshi no Harai narabini Chinka-sai(年越大祓並鎮火祭)
at Hie Jinja Shrine(日枝神社) in 2006

At many shrines, people purify them by going through Chinowa(茅の輪) which is a large loop made of Imperata cylindrica(cogongrass) or Miscanthus sinensis (Susuki grass).

photo by 無料写真素材提供サイト ~ぶらり東京探訪~


Joya no Kane at aisan-ji Temple(太山寺) in Kobe
In Buddhist beliefs, humans are born with 108 worldly desires which are removed when the bell is struck 108 times. It's called Joya no Kane(除夜の鐘).
The bell is struck 107 times on New Year's Eve and just one time after midnight on January 1st. At some temples, visitors can also ring the bell.

Joya no Kane at Suma-dera Temple(須磨寺) in Kobe
Many people leave home at the evening of New Year's Eve to visit a shrine or a temple at the midnight of New Year's Day.

photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集




Many people go home to celebrate the New Year with their family, but people who lost their home due to tsunami go to temporary housing or places of refuge to meet their family members.

I was riveted by images of tsunami for days in March, but those images had not been seen on TV in recent months. The end of the year is coming up, those images are often seen on TV. Being looking at those images, I feel butterflies in my stomach. Most tsunami victims still can't see those images.

In tsunami-hit areas, many people are still waiting for their missing family members.
As of December 30, 15,844 people died, 3,451 are missing.
The search for missing persons is still continuing.
If the tsunami had not occurred, most of them would have spent New Year's together with their families, lovers and friends. However, most of the missing persons will see the old year out in the sea.

We have had a tough year.
Helping hands were lent from all over the world after the quake and tsunai occurred. I truly appreciate your help and encouraging words. Thank you very much.

Monday, December 19, 2011

SENDAI Pageant of Starlight and The Kanji of the year

SENDAI Pageant of Starlight(SENDAI光のページェント) is an annual illumination event that citizen volunteers started in 1986.

Fundraising from citizens and donations from companies constitute more than half of the operational expenses.

It's being held near Sendai Staion from December 2nd to 31st.



All of 550,000 LED bulbs has become unusable because their storage warehouse was engulfed by the tsunami in March, so many people were afraid of holding the event.

The event collected more donations than usual this year. The organizations of illumination events including Omotesando in Tokyo, Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture, Hiroshima City and Odate City in Akita Prefecture are lending the light bulbs to the Sendai's event.
The organizers of the event secured 460,000 light bulbs and managed to hold the event.























photos by City of Sendai(仙台市観光交流課)
仙臺写眞館-Sendai photo gallery-


The post offices throughout the country started accepting New Year's postcards for 2012 on December 15th. They will be delivered on or after New Year's Day. Recently, we can also buy and post them on the Net.

People in the affected areas and people in other areas worry about whether they can send New Year's postcards to the affected areas. They also worry about what to write.

It's a custom in Japan to write this phrase on New Year's cards, "Akemashite Omedeto(明けまして おめでとう, Happy New Year)." People in the affected areas are not in the frame of mind to celebrate the New Year even if they didn't suffer any damage from tsunami. On one hand, many of tsunami victims lost their address books with their household goods. They would like their acquaintances to  send them the cards.

So many poeple write New Year's cards without the phrase to express their appreciation for people's support or to catch up on each other's lives.




Takatamatsubara(高田松原) in Rikuzentakata City, Iwate Prefecture was a scenic spot where 70,000 pine trees and sands stretched over 2 km along the sea. The pine trees were swept up by the tsunami, and one of them was left alone.

Finally the only remaining 260-year-old pine tree died due to salt damage by tsunami although it sprouted in July. However, three grafted seedlings and 18 seedlings from pinecone of the tree are being raised.

 
this character is written by a free software
The Japanese Kanji Proficiency Society (財団法人日本漢字能力検定協会) announced the Kanji of the year (今年の漢字 Kotoshi no Kanji) representing a sign of the times on December 12th.
 
"Kizuna(絆, Bonds)" received first-place votes in balloting. Many people selected this character because of the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11th.
 
The chief abbot of Kiyomizu-dera Temple(清水寺) wrote this character on a large piece of washi paper with a brush at the temple in Kyoto.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Asakusa Year-end Fair

Asakusa Toshi no Ichi(Asakusa Year-end Fair) is being held on the grounds of Sensoji Temple(浅草寺) from December 17th to 19th. The fair is famous as a battledore fair.

photos of battledore fair in 2006 by 無料写真素材提供サイト ~ぶらり東京探訪~





serried ranks of battledores


















scenes from kabuki plays



both traditional and modern types line up next to each other




shuttlecock for battledore


 The following photos are not related to battledore fair.

utilitarian battledore and shuttlecocks(small balls of wood with feathers)




(c) .foto project

(c) .foto project


"Wisteria Maiden"  - typical battledore

(c) .foto project

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kasugawakamiya Onmatsuri


Kasuga Taisha Shrine
photo by 日本の旅・鉄道見聞録
 Kasugawakamiya Onmatsuri(春日若宮おん祭) is a festival held at Wakamiya Jinja Shrine(若宮神社) which is one of auxiliary shrines of Kasuga Taisha Shrine on its grounds. Although some events of the festival are held in July, October and early December, main events are done from December 15th to 18th.
The main hall of Wakamiya Shrine was built to save people from famine and epidemics in 1135. The festival started in 1136 and has been held continuosly for more than 870 years.

At midnight on December 17th, people carry the god of the shrine from the shrine to Otabisho(お旅所) surrounding with sakaki leaves(Cleyera japonica) in complete darkness because the image of god should not be seen. The passage of the god was preceded by the carriers' voices. Not only taking pictures but also turning on a flashlight is prohibited on the way to and from Otabisyo. The passing is accompanied by live music.
 
After arriving Otabisho, foods as an offering are served to the god. Various performances are dedicated to the god.

At 11:00 p.m. on December 17th, people carry the god of the shrine from Otabisyo(お旅所) to the shrine. They have to escort the god to the shrine on the same day.

Some of the annual events in Kasuga Taisha are closed to the public.

The offerings include confections from ancinet China. Only the priests of the shrine can make the Chinese confections because they are dedicated to the god. The process for making them has been handed down in the shrine's priests for generations.

Japanese missions to Tang China(遣唐使) were frequently dispatched from 630 to 839 and introduced the culture from the mainland to Japan. the members of the missions risked their lives to cross the sea.
So they visited Kasuga Taisha to pray for a safe travel before leaving Japan and to thank the god for having been able to return to Japan after arriving in Japan.

It is said they offered the confections to the shrine at that time. Until then, sweet things meant fruits and nuts in Japan.  The Chinese confections spread among Shinto shrines all over Japan as an offering to the gods.

The recipe for the confections has been handed down in Shimogamo Jinja Shrine(下鴨神社).
On a TV program, the current priest made the confections and performers tasted them. They said the confections tasted good. One of them is shaped like jiaozi(餃子) or ravioli. The priest kneaded a mixture of rice flour and glutinous rice flour, shaped it and deep fried in sesame oil.

Kameya Kiyonaga(亀屋清永) which was founded in 1617 still sells the confection called Seijo-kankidan(清浄歓喜団) that is descended from an ancient Chinese confection. Kanki(歓喜) means Kangiten(歓喜天, Nandikesvara (Ganesh in the Buddhist pantheon)). This confection had been made as a offering to Nandikesvara. Now we can buy this.

It has the shape of eight lotus petals. It's made by deep-frying kneaded flour containing sandalwood, borneol, clove, cinnamon and others in sesame oil. The confection was originally sweetened with liquorice or amazura(甘葛, ivy or jiaogulan). It came to include sweet adzuki bean paste after the middle of the Edo Period.

Seijo-kankidan is introduced on this site(Japanese version only.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

casual confections

These are everyday confections, so they're not served at social events such as tea ceremony.

Kuromame-daifuku(黒豆大福)

Mame-daifuku(豆大福)is a round glutinous rice cake stuffed with boiled lightly-salted red peas and adzuki bean paste. Kuromame-daifuku contains kuromame(黒豆:black bean) instead of red peas. Kuromame is a variety of soybeans and is often served as one of the ingredients of New Year's dishes. Kuromame from Tanba Sasayama(丹波篠山) in Hyogo Prefecture is very delicious.

Mame-daifuku is a version of daifuku(or daifuku-mochi), which was created in 1772 and became popular among common people.
Daifuku's surface gets crusty a day after being made, but most of daifuku available at supermarkets don't so.


Butter-torayaki(バター虎焼き)

This is a version of dorayaki. (Refer to previous post about dorayaki)




Karinto(left) and Castella(Kasutera)(right)
 Karinto(花林糖)

Karinto is a traditional deep-fried confection made of wheat. It's unclear what the name means.
Some people say it was brought by Japanese envoys to Tang Dynasty China. Another theory suggests it derived from Portuguese or Spanish confectionery introduced in the latter half of the 16th century.
The confection came to be popular among common people during the Edo Period.


Senbei(煎餅)

"煎餅" appears in an ancient document written around 737, but it was called Irimochi which was made by frying kneaded flour and differed from modern Senbei.
According to a theory, Kukai (空海, 774–835) who was a Japanese monk introduced a method of making tortoise-shaped Senbei to Japan from Tang Dynasty China.
Senbei is made from wheat flour or rice flour. Senbei made from rice flour such as Soka Senbei(草加せんべい) is common in Kanto Region.
Thin plate-like senbei can be served at a tea ceremony.

senbei

These were made by drying kneaded rice flour in microwave, toasting it on a baking rack and brushing soy sauce on it. Originally, the dough is dried in the sun.






Okoshi(粔籹)

Okoshi was introduced from China to Japan from the ninth to the tenth century. Only the aristocracy could enjoy it at first. It spread throughout the country in the Edo Period.
"Kaminari-Okoshi(雷おこし)" of Asakusa, Tokyo and "Awa-Okoshi(粟おこし)" of Osaka are very famous.

okoshi

These confections use rice flakes and the rice that was steamed, dried, broken up and roasted.
These are made by boiling down a mixture of water, roasted peanuts, sugar, mizuame, butter and salt, combining the mixture and the rice and forming them into a shape. They solidify in a very short time, so I had to finish them quickly. Mizuame(水飴) is partially degraded starch sugar.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Night Festival of Chichibu


Kamimachi yatai

































photo by:seiko sai(photost.jp)

The Night Festival of Chichibu(秩父夜祭, Chichibu Yomatsuri) is held in Chichibu, Saitama Prefecture on December 2nd and 3rd every year.
One of my old friends who lived in Saitama Prefecture highly recommended watching this festival. I was not inclined to go and see the festival because of coldness.



Kamimachi yatai
 The festival dates back some 300 years.  It is said these floats came to be drawn as an entertainment at the annual festival of Chichibu Jinja Shrine (秩父神社). The festival was held on the 3rd day of the 11th month in the lunar calendar in the Edo Period. A silk fair took place at the festival because silk cultivation prospered and silk textiles were produced in Chichibu area.  As the fair flourished, the festival developed.
The festival has been designated as an important national cultural asset.



Nakachika kasaboko
 Four Yatai floats are drawn through the city streets from noon on the 2nd. The Yatai floats and two Kasaboko floats are drawn through the city streets from 9 a.m. on the 3rd.


Sambaso at Miyaji yatai
 Four Yatai floats stop at several spots and perform traditional dances during the parade. Miyaji(宮地)  Yatai shows a dance performance for celebratory events called Sanbaso(三番叟).

3 photos by 日本列島お国自慢


On the evening of the 3rd, the procession including mikoshi(portable shrine) and two horses starts from the shrine at around 6:30 p.m and arrives at the Otabisho(御旅所) at around 8 p.m. Otabisho is a rest house for the god or place where the sacred palanquin is lodged during a festival. Yatai and Kasaboko floats start from the shrine at around 7 p.m and arrive at the Otabisho at aorund 10 p.m.
The climax comes when people pull up the floats on a steep slope called Dango-zaka(団子坂) just before the Otabisho.
Fireworks are set off at night on both days.

Kamimachi yatai at around 2 a.m. on the 4th
 

































All of the flaots are pulled down on the slope at around midnight on the 4th after the ritual is held at the Otabisho. The floats return to their storages. The procession returns to the shrine.

photo by:seiko sai(photost.jp)

The floats have stages. One of them performs a traditional Chichibu Kabuki play on the stage at 6 p.m. on the 2nd and at 11 a.m. on the 3rd.

A sleety rain fell in Chichibu yesterday. Vinyl-covered floats were drawn. Nakamachi(中町) float performed a kabuki play in the evening and fireworks exploded in the night sky. Nakamachi and Kamimachi(上町) floats visited the Chichibu Shrine.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The 17th Kobe Luminarie

The 17th Kobe Luminarie(神戸ルミナリエ)  is a light festival which started in December 1995 to mourn for the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The festival is being held at Old Foreign Settlement and Higashi-Yuenchi Park (Chuo Ward) in Kobe City from December 1st to the 12th.

This festival is also taking electricity saving measures such as changing operating hours and using LED bulbs.

The theme of this year's Luminarie is "Light of Hope, Luci di speranza."
Now many poeple enjoy this festival as an annual illumination event.  I saw on TV a high school girl from an affected area in Tohoku was moved to tears watching the illuminations.

There is a detailed information about the festival on The 17th Kobe Luminarie(sorry, Japanese version only) of Feel KOBE's web site.



Feel KOBE is official Kobe tourism site by Kobe Convention & Visitors Association.