fireworks festivals(Japanese version only):

summer festivals: (Japanese version only)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hay Fever

The hay fever season has started again this year. In early February, the spread of cedar pollen begins. A lot of people suffer from it in Japan. Anyone has a risk of developing hay fever. I got hay fever 10 years ago, so my body feel the season acutely. I have to continue to take the preventive drugs for two months every year.

Hay fever in Japan is mainly caused by Japanese cedar pollen. Last summer was cool, so a small amount of pollen is expected this year.
After World War II, Japanese cedars have been planted for construction wood throughout the country. Losing ground to the imported cheaper lumber has caused cedars to be neglected and create more pollen.
Furthermore, immune function system that had worked very well under poor sanitary conditions has come to overreact to pollen because improved hygienic conditions got rid of its enemies.

People protect their eyes and nose from the pollen by wearing glasses and masks to avoid it. From March to May, you can see a lot of people wearing masks in Japan.
When the H1N1 swine flu virus began to spread worldwide last year , some towns were thronged with people wearing masks.
It looked strange to you, but it's a familiar sight to us.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Ingredients of Japanese confectionery(1)

Japanese confectionery is made mostly from beans, rice, flour and sugar.The ingredients that made from seaweed and roots of plants play a role similar to gelatin.
Traditional confections are of plant origin, so they are rich in fiber.
In addition, we wash kitchen utensils in water without dish detergent.

 ●azuki beans(小豆):
   an(餡:red bean paste) is made from red adzuki beans, which are sold
in supermarkets. At specialty shops, they are available in a variety of types.

 ●white azuki beans(白小豆), some kinds of kidney beans(いんげん豆類):
shiro-an(白餡:white bean paste) is made from these. White azuki beans rate with the very best, so that they are expensive.
Tebo beans(手亡豆) and white kidney beans(白いんげん豆) are used mainly for white bean paste. I use tebo beans.
Although white kidney beans are sold in supermarkets, white azuki beans and
tebo beans can only be purchased at specialty shops.

Green and red peas are used.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Confections including seasonal ingredients

冬景色(fuyu-geshiki:winter scenery)

sweetened some pieces of a lily bulb in steamed (sweetened) adzuki‐bean paste in bamboo sheath.
the demand for a lily bulb become high toward New Year's Day and it's expensive in December. So we can get a low price on it in January. Sometimes a yam sells for 100 yen.

枯露柿(koro-gaki:dried persimmon)

These are dried persimmons basted in adzuki‐bean paste.
Sales of dried persimmons start in mid-December and continues until the end of February.


Buns filled with sweet bean-jam and a kind of rice powder called karukan-ko. Its dough is made from Japanese yam. A feudal lord in the Satsuma Domain (now Kagoshima Prefecture) ordered a confectioner to make this confection.
Japanese yams are in season now. We enjoy yam's delicate flavor and moist texture. Now they are available all the year around because of preservation technique and even powdered yam are sold.

This is an another confection using Japanese yam.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

ume:the Japanese apricot

梅(ume:the Japanese apricot)

The Japanese apricot trees have only partially blossomed in the yard.

梅一輪 一輪ほどの あたたかさ (服部嵐雪「玄峯集」)
"Finding a blossom of the Japanese apricot, I feel slight warmth of spring approaching, its slightness is equivalent to one blossom of it",written by Ransetsu Hattori,"Genpou-syu"
Although it was "the coldest day in winter" yesterday, temperature stood at 19 degrees Celsius in Tokyo. it had been warm for these two or three days.

In ancient times the Japanese apricot blossom was considered to be symbolic of Japan.

福梅(fuku-ume: lucky Japanese apricot)

梅結び(ume-musubi: knot tied in the shape of Japanese apricot blossom)

A drawstring bag for tea utensil is often tied with this knot.

ねじ梅(neji-ume:a Japanese apricot with twisted petals)

These in the shape of a Japanese apricot blossom are formed in a mold for dry confectionery.

梅袋(ume-bukuro:a pouch in the shape of ume)

made based on:
Kazuo Kobayashi(ed),Saiji-wo-Kazaru-12kagetsu-no-osaikumono(Tokyo:Nihon Vogue-sha Co, Ltd.,2000)P.15

Monday, January 18, 2010


Now is the best time to view daffodils in the Kanto region.

These are Tama-zuisen(玉水仙:round daffodil).Traditional Japanese confections are almost made by hand.Although I made these by hand, traditional confectioners create far more refined ones. There is nothing harder than making simple confections. Maker's skills and aesthetic sensibility appears clearly throughout his work.

made by:
Susumu Naiki,Akogare-no-wagashi-wo-tsukuru(Tokyo:Japan Broadcast Publishing Co., Ltd,1999), p.71

This is a cell-phone strap in the shape of a daffodil, which is formed in a mold for dry confections.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Great Hanshin Awaji earthquake

阪神淡路大震災(Hanshin Awaji Daishinsai:The Great Hanshin Awaji earthquake)

The Great Hanshin Awaji earthquake occurred on January 17, 1995, at 05:46 JST in the southern part of Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.

A sister of my mother had lived with her family in Kobe. On the morning of that day, we heard about the earthquake on the news and made countless phone calls to her. However, we couldn't get through to her on the day. At that time her family lived in the old wooden house that was built before World War II. We prepared for the worst.

The next day Her son, who lived near her house, called a relative and said that the whole family was all right. After he confirmed their safety, went to the house of his friend in Osaka on foot for hours on end. He was finally able to make a call.

Although her house was partially destroyed in the earthquake, it could have collapsed at any time. That house was certified as a completely-destroyed house and it was torn down. The Members of her family were all right. But each of them lost old school classmates or acquaintances.

Fifteen years have passed since then. Even now, she has lived in a condo of Kobe.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

chirimen-zaiku(crepe crafts)

縮緬細工(chirimen-zaiku:crepe crafts)

In the late Edo Period upper-class women created crepe crafts using leftover kimono cloth. The crafts include pouches, stuffed animals and toys.
The pouches were used as a scent bag or a pick case of koto(琴:a traditional Japanese stringed instrument). As the number of kimono sewers come down, the crafts had been forgotten. Because they were made as one of female accomplishments and were not marketed.
Shigeyoshi Inoue, current director of The Japan Toy Museum in Himeji, tried to revive them. Now it is popular among fancywork lovers. Many works are remade based on old ones, but include original ones. Recently its works were displayed at the exhibition in other countries outside of Japan.

this year's zodiac sign, the Tiger
made based on:
Nobuko Naito, "Chirmen-de-Tanoshimu-Okazari" in Oshare-Koubou(Tokyo:Japan Broadcast Publishing Co.,Ltd.,2009),p.43
内藤乃武子,"ちりめんで楽しむお飾り", おしゃれ工房12月号(東京:日本出版放送協会,2009),p.43

飛び鶴袋(Tobizuru-bukuro:pouch in the shape of flying crane)

This knot on the back of the crane represents a Japanese apricot blossom.

蓬莱亀袋(houraikame-bukuro:pouch in the shape of turtle):
Blue threads represent algae growing on the turtleback of an old turtle.
So they are considered as a symbol of longevity.

made based on:
Tsuyako Mizuguchi,Itsumademo-Tsutaetai-Chirimen-no-Fukuromono(Tokyo:BUNKA PUBLISHING BUREAU,2000),P.40

In ancient times, a group of boys came from Echigo(old Niigata) to big cities like Edo(old Tokyo) or Osaka in the New Year season. They put on red lion masks and performed on the streets under the leadership of their boss.

made based on:
Shigeyoshi Inoue ed.,Wa-no-Nunoasobi-chirimenzaiku,(Tokyo:ONdori-Sha,2003),P.23

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Ceremony of the Utakai Hajime

歌会始(Utakai Hajime:Imperial New Year's Poetry Reading)

Utakai Hajime (Imperial New Year's Poetry Reading) was held at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo on January 14. The reading of traditional tanka poetry is convened by the Emperor. Although its exact origin is unclear, the oldest recorded ceremony was held on 15 January 1267.
This year's theme was "光(hikari:the light)", which was announced by The Imperial Household Agency shortly after the ceremony in the previous year finished.
Today, the general public can apply for its selection. People whose tanka poems were chosen are able to attend the ceremony and their poems are recited at the Imperial Palace in the presence of the Emperor and Empress. At the end of the ceremony, the poems of the Imperial Family, the Emperor and Empress are recited.
This ceremony is televised live on television. The next year's theme is "葉(ha:the leaf)".

On this occasion I'll show you some Japanese confections for New Year holidays. I'm taking a class in Japanese sweets making of Homemade Kyokai(ホームメード協会:the Homemade Association), there made these confections.
In Japan, Many people prefer western confectionery rather than Japanese confectionery. Most folks assume that only confectioners can make Japanese confections.
As a result, we have some schools for training practicing professionals and few Japanese sweets making classes for fun.

御題菓子(gyoudai(odai)-gashi:confection associated with this year's theme):
this confection named goraikou(ご来光) represents the first sunrise of the year.

This confection feature this year's zodiac sign, the Tiger


鶴亀(tsuru-kame:crane and turtle):
Both of them are considered to be a symbol of longevity.

A straw bag of rice represents a wish for a good harvest.

Hatsugama(初釜) is the New Year's first tea ceremony. This is a kind of confections served in some tea ceremony schools at Hatsugama. Originally, it was permitted to eat only at the imperial court. In the Meiji Period(1868-1912), a school of tea ceremony asked for permission to use hanabira-mochi at Hatsugama, it was allowed to do. Another schools use manju that are steamed sweet made of Japanese yam filled with sweet bean paste.

made modification of hanabira-mochi's design

鯛(tai:sea bream)
The Japanese word for sea bream, tai, sounds similar to the word "mede-tai" or "felicity" and, what is more, it is auspiciously red in color.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Seijin-no-Hi & Kagami-Biraki

Coming of Age Day (成人の日:Seijin-no-Hi)
The second Monday of January, 11th this year, is a national holiday called Coming-of-Age Day in Japan. Coming-of-age ceremonies are held all over Japan. The ceremonies by upper-class people date back centuries.

We can see many women wearing long-sleeved kimono called furisode on this day. When wearing a furisode, we used to tie obi(帯) in the back with a bow like this doll. The bow is called fukurasuzume(福良雀:full sparrow) because it looks like a sparrow with spread out wings. A sparrow fluffed up its feathers to keep out the cold with warm air. Its full figure is associated with prosperity.

成人式(seijin-shiki:coming of age ceremonies) made based on:
Akiko Sadamori,Kisetsu-no-Chirimen-Komono,(Tokyo:Patchwork Tsushin Co., Ltd.,2009), p.33

This is a homemade dry confection called rakugan(落雁) in the shape of fukurasuzume.

The Eurasian Tree Sparrow is the most familiar bird to the Japanese. Although the sparrow eats crop pest, it eats grains of rice during the harvest. So it has both a good and a negative image.

a sparrow has a good image in the well-known haiku poems written by Kobayashi Issa(1763-1828).
雀の子 そこのけそこのけ お馬がとおる
"Young sparrow, clear the way, toy horse comes by"
われと来て 遊べや 親のない雀
"Come and play with me, orphan sparrow"
"a sparrow" is a seasonal word of spring in haiku. As a child, I used to take care of a baby sparrow that dropped out of the nest.

Meanwhile grilled sparrows are eaten in some areas. The folk tale called "The Sparrow's Inn" does not judge a sparrow as right or wrong. One year is a typical lifespan of the tree sparrow in Japan. Recently its population has decreased sharply.

On January 11th New Year's rice cakes(Kagami-mochi) are cooked and served with stewed red beans and sugar. I use homemade tsubu-an(つぶ餡) which is made by mixing boiled adzuki beans and sugar,retaining the original form of beans. The an(餡) can freeze well.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Pine decorations is left in place from January the first to the seventh (until the fifteenth ), the period referred to as matsu-no-uchi. It means that the deity goes up to the sky on the seventh.
Originally it lasts until January the fifteenth, so I'll show you some of good luck charms.

Manekineko(招き猫)is considered to invite fortune.

Shishimai(獅子舞:Japanese lion dance) and lucky charms sticking up on the straw bag.

nanten(南天:Nandina or heavenly bamboo)
Nanten means "overcome difficulties(難を転ずる:nan-wo-tenzuru)".

manryou(万両:Ardisia crenata or coralberry) :
manryou(万両) means 10,000 ryou. Ryou is a kind of old Japanese monetary units.

flower arrangement for New Year's Day including pines and senryou(千両:Sarcandra glabra). Senryou(千両) means 1,000 ryou.
In Japanese flower arrangement, stalks of plants are pressed firmly onto the kenzan(剣山), which is a needle point holder. So the plants that have a sturdy stalk are needed. However, the stalks of most materials sold in flower shops are not sturdy, so they are unsuitable for Japanese flower arrangement.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Dezome-shiki & Nanakusagayu


Dezome-shiki(The New Year parade of fire brigades) was held by fire fighting officials across Japan yesterday morning. It is an event of the first work day of the new year.
It began in the Edo Period. At that time, fire department was composed of volunteers who were full-time scaffolding men. A firefighter was attractive to women by his courageous act.There was a famous firefighter who unified 3,000 followers and was asked to guard important persons of the Edo can see modern firefighting demonstration and traditional firefighter's acrobatic performance on a ladder in it.

I cut out the parts of 'firefighter on a ladder' and pasted over it on a sheet of paper with washi(Japanese paper).

"Hashigo-nori" made from the following book:
Kazuko Togami, Kisetsu-wo-Tanoshimu-Washi-no-Etegami 220(Tokyo:Nihon Vogue-
sha, 1999), p.28.

In China, there is a custom of eating vegetable soup to pray for good health on January 7th each year.After its introduction into Japan, there has become a custom of eating Nanakusagayu, or soft-boiled rice that includes seven kinds of spring herbs on January 7th.
It may well be that those herbs come up on the seventh day of the first lunar month. On January 7th in the solar calendar, they don't, so that a pack of greenhouse-grown herbs sells for about 400 yen in a supermarket. But I can't buy it.

soft-boiled rice that includes a kinds of seven spring herbs, seri(芹:Japanese parsley)

three kinds of spring herbs:

daikon(大根:Japanese radish);

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Hakone Ekiden

箱根駅伝(Hakone Ekiden)

Hakone Ekiden(The Tokyo-Hakone collegiate ekiden) is held every year on January 2 and 3 . It has become one of the signature winter events.
In 2010 Toyo University won the 86st Hakone Ekiden for the second straight year.

The term of 'ekiden' dates back the ancient times but now refers to a long-distance relay race.
The ekiden course of about 100 kilos from Tokyo to Hakone is separated into five legs on each day. Ten members of each team run in the two-day race. Each runner hands his team's sashes to the next runner at a leg.

The highlights of the route are the second,fifth and sixth leg;
the second leg has two long and steep slopes, so that the ace runner of each team runs mostly in that part of the race.
In the fifth leg runners must run up the steep hill to 864m meters high within a distance of about 20km. Runners need to have strong legs and stamina.
In contrast, runners run down steep slopes in the sixth leg.
These slopes are high-impact on runners' legs. In addition, they have to protect themselves against the cold.

The participating team has each target depending on its level.
1. All of ten runners run their legs without dropping out, or their times are not officially recorded.
2. Runners get to a station within 20 minutes after the leading runner pass by the station, or the next runners start at a time before the former runners arrive there. So apparent difference is not actual one.
3. Teams finish in the top 10 to be seeded in next year's Hakone ekiden, or they have to win the heat next time.
4.Teams win the first day's title, the second day's one and win the overall one.
5. Excellent runners aim for the fastest runner of their legs or at breaking the record.

It's very rare that all of ten are excellent players and are able to realize their potential.
Therefore most of the teams go higher up or fall down in the rankings during a game. Even some of the previous tournament favorites dropped out or failed to be seeded. So it's exciting to see the game.

Today various problems are pointed out.
universities with international students often took a big lead in the race, so that each team can choose only one international student as a runner of the race.There have been a variety of opinions on this point.
As the popularity of the game increases by being broadcast on television, it has encouraged male good long-distance runners to be a ekiden runner. After they graduate without training to run in a marathon, we see rarely their outstanding performance on world-class competitions.

Above all, it's striking that the spectators line and cheer for runners along almost all the course between Tokyo and Hakone on both days.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year holidays

The Japanese have valued a sense of the seasons from ancient times.I want to tell you about the sense of the seasons through traditional Japanese confections, handicrafts, bunraku(文楽:Japanese puppet theater) mainly for one year.
The Japanese traditional events were originally held according to the lunar calendar. Even now the other East Asia countries' ones such as New Year holidays are held in the lunar calendar. In Japan the dates for events vary in area or event nowadays.

looking Japanese doll's houses, please enjoy Japanese New Year holidays.
This one is modeled after an old house of Kyoto, which have an old and formal style.

The other represents the house of the common people about 1970. There was a boom in the era of the rapid economic growth which inspired the Japanese with hope for the future.

We welcome a deity of the year bringing a good harvest at the beginning of a year.the deity goes down from the sky to New Year's pine and bamboo decorations or New Year pine decorations.

We don't cook for three days so that 'the deity of the kitchen range(竈の神様)' can take three days off. We eat osechi-ryori(御節料理) which are traditional Japanese New Year foods for three days.
Many people do not cook but buy them now. My mother cooked most of them when I was a child, me and my sister helped her. We fill the square nest of boxes with foods related to longevity, descendant prosperity, good harvest, lucky words. they have a rich taste to be kept for a long time. They are intended to please the eyes, so that we use cutters in the shaped of blossoms and flavour with pale-coloured soy sauce.

This is my japanned square nest of boxes. The foods that make up osechi each have a special meaning associated with good luck. I'll introduce some of their typical ingredients.

黒豆(kuromame : black soybeans)
伊達巻(datemaki : fish omelet rolled up)
栗金団(kurikinton : Mashed sweet potatoes containing sweetened chestnuts)

数の子(kazunoko : herring roe)
昆布巻き(kobu-maki : rolled kelp with fish in it)
田作り(tazukuri : dried young anchovies)
八幡巻き(yahata-maki : rolled beef (or conger, eel) with burdock root(gobou) in it)

お煮しめ(o-nishime : vegetables boiled and seasoned)


The chopsticks for New Year holidays, both ends become narrow. Because people and the deity eat New Year dishes together.


The New Year's present is big pleasure for a child with pocket money to the child.

We eat soup containing vegetables and rice cakes for New Year's Day called ozouni(お雑煮) with osechi-ryori. Originally the contents of the soup are offerings to the deity. It is cooked in various ways according to regional custom.

Here, some of square rice cakes are baked on a Japanese heating appliance using charcoal as fuel called hibachi(火鉢). Baked (or boiled) and square(or round) rice cakes can be included in ozouni.
In old days a housewife did not cook on the three days, but busy for reception to visitors or relatives.On the other hand, they took a rest on January 15, so it is said New Year holidays for women.

One of the traditional games Japanese play during the New Year is karuta, Japanese playing cards. This is iroha-garuta which is the most traditional karuta and uses 47 Japanese proverbs, each of which starts with one of the 47 Japanese syllables.
Using cards with pictures and words, people compete to find picture cards that match the card being read aloud. There are one hundred waka poem cards based on Ogura Hyakunin-isshu, a famous poetry anthology selected by Fujiwarano Teika in the Heian period.

Round rice cakes modeled after an ancient mirror, is placed in the tokonoma(alcove). We decorate kagamimochi with various symbols of good luck:
a fan spreads out wide toward the end; daidai(橙) like an orange means successive generations;a shrimp looks like an old man bent with age;A thing such as black paper is kelp; A dried persimmon has a wrinkled surface like an old man. A dried persimmon has been used as a lucky charm more than 400 years. Makers peel inedible persimons, thread them onto skewers, place them in the sun for two months from the end of October and care about every little part of dried ones. The works except peeling are still done by hand. A dried persimmon is used not in Kanto region but in Kansai region.

餅花(mochi-bana : rice cakes or dumplings on a stick)

年賀状(nengajou: a New Year's card)

獅子舞(shishi-mai:lion dance)
It's a performance for protecting people from sickness and against evils.