fireworks festivals(Japanese version only):

summer festivals: (Japanese version only)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The earthquake in Chile and tsunamis

A huge earthquake occurred in Chile yesterday, causing tsunamis, which is washing ashore in Japan now. But they have not caused serious damage.
Fifty years ago, tsunamis generated by a large earthquake in Chile (1960 Valdivia earthquake) killed 140 people in Japan. So people experienced the tsunamis feared them.
The areas damaged in Tohoku region at that time have heavy-duty coastal levees and highways go not by near the sea but in the mountains.

Although The full scale of the earthquake's devastation are not known, I am sorry for the suffering of people in Chile.

Friday, February 26, 2010

the first spring storm

Haru-ichiban(春一番) is the first strong south winds of the year between Rissyun(立春:the first day of spring,Feb 4th this year) and Syunbun(春分:spring equinox,March 21th this year).
The Japan Meteorological Agency said haru-ichiban(春一番) blew in many regions on Feb 25th. The temperatures has risen in many parts of the country. This rise in temperature was caused by a high-pressure system over the Pacific Ocean.
In Tokyo, high temperatures was 18.3 degrees centigrade, the same as in mid April. Haru-ichiban(春一番) with gusts of up to 14.4 kilometers per hour blew 12 days later than usual.

Tokyo Bay area was wrapped in a dense fog yesterday, so it affected airline departures and arrivals. It's unusual in dry urban areas recently.

when all is said and done, the women's figure skating competition at the Vancouver Olympics was the only topic of conversation in Japan.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Why did Sugawara Michizane become a god?

The plum-blossom(ume) festival(梅花祭) is held at Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto City on the anniversary of Sugawara Michizane's death, February 25th. He is enshrined in the shrine.
In fact, he died on the 25th day of the second lunar month (on March 26th in 903 according to the Julian calendar).

Political foes ousted him from power and he was relegated to Dazaifu. Shortly after He died in hopelessness, some key figures died one after another and many officials were struck by lightning while they were meeting in Imperial court. So they regarded a series of accidents as his curse.

Surprisingly, it was believed that an evil spirit having extremely dreadful cursing power turned to the most powerful tutelary god by worshipping the spirit as a god. So Sugawara Michizane come to be worshipped as a god.
By the way, there have been a relic associated with Taira no Masakado, whose spirit is the tutelary god of Edo (old Tokyo). After World war Ⅱ, an attempt to remove the relic ended in failure by a series of accidents.
Although ancient people took too much for granted, it sounds like a good way to eradicate the root of evil. Eventually, it leaves a feeling of awe or respect for the dead.

●sugawara-denju-tenaraikagami(菅原伝授手習鑑)This story was written as a bunraku play by Takeda Izumo(竹田出雲), Miyoshi Syouraku(三好松洛), Namiki Senryu(並木千柳) and premiered in 1748.
I explain the story line: Sugawara Michizane was sent into exile due to a plot by Fujiwara no Shihei(藤原時平), his political rival. Michizane's retainers worked to help him and his son. In the end, Shihei was killed by lightning and Michizane came to be worshipped as a god.

In general, Fujiwara no Tokihira(the name of his role in the play is Shihei) is demonized. However, a TV program shed new light on
Michizane and Tokihira recently. Japanese governing institutions had modeled after Chinese ones, but the traditional system had not worked. In addition, Japan could not rely on the Tang dynasty of China declining at that time.
both of them had felt the need to change the system.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

confections with Japanese citrus fruits

I attended a class in Japanese sweets making this morning.

mandarin(マンダリン) :
Kanten jelly including mikan juice was poured into hollowed out mikan (温州蜜柑:Satsuma mandarin).

mikan (Satsuma mandarin) is becoming out of season. In Japanese citrus fruits, Iyokan (伊予柑) is in season. Dekopon (デコポン) is also in season and it became popular rapidly.

hassaku-kan(八朔羹) :
Hassaku(八朔) is bigger than mikan and come into season soon.
Kanten jelly including hassaku juice was poured into hollowed out hassaku (温州蜜柑:Satsuma mandarin). Kanten(寒天:Japan agar) like jelly solidify at room temperature and is tougher than jelly, so we can cut hassaku-kan with a knife. Hassaku skin is thicker than mikan

iyokan (伊予柑)、mikan (蜜柑)、dekopon (デコポン)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

cherry blossom forecasts

All the cherry blossom forecasts of weather information companies had been issued by yesterday. According to their forecasts, cherry trees in most areas are expected to bloom three or four days earlier than usual. In Tokyo, the trees are expected to bloom on March 23 or 25.
Meanwhile, The Japan Meteorological Agency withdrew from its cherry blossom forecast started in 1955 this year. Because private weather information providers have come to issue highly accurate cherry blossom forecasts. They predict the best time to view cherry blossoms in major viewing spots.

Totally aside from this, I enjoyed to see the figure skating pairs competition in the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games after so long. Japanese TV stations broadcast only men's and women's figure skating competition at most skating events. As more Japanese strong male and female skaters increased, airtime of pair skating and ice dancing decreased.
I used to watch pair skating and ice dance on television. Hongbo Zhao(趙 宏博) and Shen Xue(申 雪) participated in the NHK Trophy from 1997 to 2002 and lifted the audience. So old figure skating fans gave warm applause to their performance as if they were national players. I guess figure skating fans in Japan miss watching superior performances.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Saint Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year's Day

February 14th is Saint Valentine's Day and also syunsetsu(春節:Chinese New Year's Day) this year.

New Year celebrations are also held in Yokohama's Chinatown. These celebrations feature parades, dragon dances, lion dances, firecrackers, Chinese gongs, Chinese old harps, illuminations and Chinese lanterns.
Before the Meiji Era, Japanese people also celebrated the New Year in the lunar calendar. I feel the severity of the winter, but also feel sign of spring in February. So I think that New Year's Day in the lunar calendar is appropriate to the start of a year.

In Japan, only women give chocolate to men on Saint Valentine's Day. This custom became popular due to marketing efforts by confectionery makers. Many women buy chocolate for their sweethearts and obligation chocolate for co-workers.
Recently there has been a change. more and more women buy Elegant brand-name chocolate as a treat for themselves and affordable one for their female friends. In contrast, due to the recession, women buy less obligation chocolate for co-workers than before.

the 2-centimeter-high chocolate bears. Probably for female friends.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

e-mail from akoya pearls

February 11th is National Foundation Day(建国記念の日:kenkoku kinen-no-hi) in Japan. According to Japanese mythology, Emperor Jimmu, the first emperor of Japan, was ascended to the throne on this day.
There are various arguments that surround the day between the right and the left.

Although having climbed up to 20 degrees Celsius the day before yesterday, temperatures dropped down with a high of 6 or 7 degrees Celsius yesterday and today in Yokohama.
The Japanese apricot tree blossoms in my garden have partially fallen.

I watched the report about countermeasures against 'not-red' red tide, which often wipe out a crop of oysters, on the television yesterday. A pearl farming company has developed the system that gives notice of red tide occurrence. when akoya pearls feel a red tide, they close their shells to protect themselves. The system detects shell closing with a sensor and send an SOS e-mail to farmers on cell-phones.
The e-mail message is "tasukete(タスケテー:Help me!)". The word of "タスケテー" sounds to us as if a girl is calling for help.

Monday, February 8, 2010


Ume-Matsuri(Japanese apricot festival) is held from February 8th to March 8th at Yushima Tenmangu Shrine(Yushima Tenjin) in Tokyo. Although several precocious varieties of ume(Japanese apricot blossom) are in full bloom, other varieties have only partially blossomed so far.

Although this shrine was build to worship a deity of Shinto, later Sugawara Michizane(菅原道真) became worshiped together. He was celebrated as a scholar and also was a powerful politician. After getting involved in a political battle, however, He was demoted and transferred to Dazaifu in Kyushu on January 25th in the lunar calender(February 16th in the Julian calendar) in 901. It was very hard for him to leave the ume blossoms in his garden. So he composed the following waka poem for the love of the ume blossoms before his departure.


"ume blossoms, when the wind is in the east,
carry the smell of you all the way to me on the wind.
even if I'm not here, never forget to bloom in spring."

Legend has it that the ume blossoms in his garden followed him to Dazaifu in the air.

He came to be worshipped as the god of learning after his death.
By now, Many students taking entrance exams should have prayed to him for a wish to come true.

yakimochi(焼餅) :
This is the same confection as umegae-mochi. Yaki-mochi isn't just marked with ume design.
Umegae-mochi is a rice cake filled with sweet bean paste and a ume design is stamped on top. Its name is derived from an episode of Sugawara Michizane. But it doesn't taste and have smell like ume. Umegae-mochi is often sold around Dazaifu.

momoyama(桃山) :
momoyama is a moist and relatively new confection. It is forced into the mold and baked in an oven. Although momoyama is not related to ume, I happened to notice that its mold is the shape of "umebachi-mon", which is the same as the shrine crest of Yushima Tenjin. Other Tenjin shrines have the crests associated with ume.

Today, family crests can be seen on black ceremonial kimonos or on the gravestones.
The following paper cutouts are modeled after a variety of ume designs. Paper cutouts like these are called monkiri-asobi.
It is a play in the Edo Period, which derived from how-to book on making family crests.

a ume design that would appeal to Ogata Kourin.
It's generally called warai-ume, which means "laughing ume".

kageyae-ume(かげ八重梅) :

designs of double-flowered ume

mitsuyori-yokomi-ume(三ツ寄横見梅) :
a design of three ume from a lateral view

a design of ume being looked up from underneath

下中菜穂,「切り紙 もんきり遊び」,株式会社宝島社,2007年,P.16~18
Nabo Shimonaka, Kirigami Monkiri-asobi,(Tokyo:TAKARAJIMASHA,Inc.,2007),P.16~18

Sunday, February 7, 2010

winter confections

People living in Niigata City have the heaviest snowfall in 26 years during the past few days. The hard part was over.

fubuki-manjyuu(吹雪饅頭) :
steamed bean paste bun. It's called "snowstorm" from its resemblance to a light fall of snow.

kangori(寒氷:cold ice)
Of course ice is cold. Although they look cool, are not actually.

saka-manjyu(酒饅頭) (left):
They are often sold as souvenirs at hot-spring spa resorts. Steamed bean paste buns with sake lees. I recommend to eat them soon after steaming.

These are sandwiched buns between two leaves of camellia. This confection come into the story "The Tale of Genji" that had written about 1,000 years ago. However, it was not sweet because of sugar-free.

Many strawberries are in the marketplace now. it is shaped into a small silk wrapper(袱紗) used in tea ceremony.

awayuki(泡雪) means "a light snowfall in spring".
awayukikan(泡雪羹) is a mixture of whipped egg whites, sugar and kanten(vegetable gelatin). It's like firmer jelly.

This is an article on the market.
rice cake stuffed with bean paste and a strawberry.

This is sort of like soup stock cube.
This confection uses wafers of monaka. Monaka are bean-paste-filled wafers that are made of rice cakes pressed into shapes.
This is wafers filled with powdered bean paste and sugar. It's ready after putting this in the soup bowl, adding boiling water to it and stiring it well after wafers become soft.
Shiruko(汁粉) is a sweet bean paste soup.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

a letter of condolence

One of my old friends lost her mother-in-law having lived together for years the day before yesterday. Her family planed to hold her wake and funeral service by family. In addition, they refrained from receiving condolence money for a funeral and offering of flowers. So I wrote a letter of condolence to her. Instead of flowers, I perfumed the letter with a bit of ume's incense.

In the past people send a letter with a very small scent bag called fumikou(文香). It is made by different-shaped papers or cloth, for example ones in the shape of seasonal flowers.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

the first day of spring

Today is Rissyun(立春:the first day of spring).
This is the right song for today.

"Sousyun-fu(The Song of Early Spring)",written by Kazumasa Yoshimaru,composed by Akira Nakada

春は名のみの 風の寒さや
谷の鶯 歌は思えど
時にあらずと 声も立てず
時にあらずと 声も立てず

It's springtime according to the calendar.
Having said that, I feel the cutting cold wind.
A bush warbler of the valley thought of singing.
But it didin't so. Because it's too early to sing a song now.

Japanese bush warblers begin to sing in the middle of February. That time of year mostly coincides with New Year's Holidays according to the lunar calendar, so that ancient people prized their first song of the year called Hatsune(初音) as a sign of early spring.

"The start of a new year gives me a longing for the first song of bush warbler", written by Sosei.

The first thing I come to mind when thinking of Hatsune is "The Tale of Genji". Female novelist Murasaki Shikibu wrote "The Tale of Genji" in 54 chapters about 1,000years ago. She portrayed the life of the hero Hikaru Genji in this story. "Hatsune(初音)" is chapter 23. Its name comes from the following waka poem.

"I've been considering you most important for years.
bush warbler, Get your first song of the new year heard to me.
(Bring me the first tiding of the new year today.)"

The poet was not abel to meet her daughter even on New Years Day. Her daughter lived on the paternal side. This poem represents a mother's grief.

Marriage furniture associated with hatsune have been handed down in the feudal lords.

uguisu-bukuro(pouch in the shape of bush warbler) designed by Hisayo Minami
An original work was made in the latter half of the Edo Era.
Shigeyoshi Inoue(ed),Shiki-wo-Kazaru-Chirimenzaiku,(Tokyo:ONDORI SHA,2000),p.8.

these confections in bush warbler's color are soft rice cakes stuffed with bean paste and coated with dried and powderd green soy beans.

confection in the shape of bush warbler

this is the Japanese White-eye which is the same as the Japanese bush warbler in color. Bush warblers are very cautious, so I have never seen any one in my garden.
Historically, it was kept as a cage bird to enjoy its beautiful birdsong. Even now, only one white-eye per household is allowed to keep.

The Japanese White-eye feeding on nectar.

Now, wild birds are having very hard times with food shortage. I can see only tree sparrows, pigeons and crows in my garden during the seansons except winter. However, in winter, another kinds of wild birds such as mejiro(目白:Japanese White-eye), shijukara(四十雀:Great Tit), hiyodori(鵯:The Brown-eared Bulbul), mukudori(椋鳥:The White-cheeked Starling) often come down to my garden. During the New Year's season, nanten(南天:Nandina or heavenly bamboo) and manryo(万両:Ardisia crenata or coralberry) trees bore full fruit. Now, Brown-eared Bulbuls are likely to eat up the berries on that plants.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


This is my favorite monthly interior decoration. It is the coldest season in early February. a hibachi brazier, which was only heating appliance in the past, is sitting alone in the center of the room. It makes me feel severe coldness.

We associate an annual event in February with Setsubun(節分).
February 3rd or 4th is Setsubun in Japan. According to the lunar calendar, winter ends on this day. Originally Setsubun means each end of four seasons.

On the evening of this day, people throw roasted soybeans(peanuts in some areas) to a demon-masked man(mostly father's role) while shouting "fuku(福:Fortune) in and oni(鬼:demons out" to ward off evil spirits and attract good fortune.
People also eat the same number of beans as their age, wishing for health.
In ancient times, this event was held on New Year's Eve. Namahage Festival, in which demon-masked men with papier-mache knives go door-to-door saying "Naku-ko wa inega",
is held in the Oga Peninsula of Akita Prefecture on New Year's Eve (originally on January 15th).

Many people don't throw beans to avoid clean up spilled beans on the floor.
People living in the Kansai region eat uncut rolled sushi called Ehou-maki(恵方巻き) in silence for good luck, while facing in the year's auspicious direction (west-southwest this year).
This custom has been rapidly spreading to other parts of Japan due largely to marketing efforts by grocery and convenience stores. Recently Swiss rolls named "Ehou roll" have been released as an alternative to Ehou-maki.

Kotatsu is a small table with an electric heater underneath and covered by a quilt. Kotatsu and unshu mikan(温州蜜柑:Satsuma mandarin) always go together. Mikan is sweet, small and its skin is so thin that it can be peeled by hand very easily.

Some families will also put up small decorations of sardine heads and holly leaves on their house entrances so that bad spirits will not enter.
There are also dried sardines (held together by a bamboo skewer or string piercing the eye sockets) on the table. they are eaten in the Kansai Region on that day.
Spiky leaves of a holly stick into the eyes of demons and smoke and smell pouring from grilled sardines ward off demons.

This is a pincushion in the shape of peeled mikan. An original work was made in the latter half of the Edo Era.

「みかんの針刺し」 復元制作/水口艶子(原作/宮川すず)
"Mikan-no-harisashi" designed by Suzu Miyagawa, Tsuyako Mizuguchi
Tsuyako Mizuguchi(ed),Densyo-no-chirmenzaiku,(Tokyo:Graphsha inc.,1994),p.86.

These are oni and otafuku.
Otafuku(お多福:moon-faced woman) is a lucky charm to bring in good fortune.

「節分」 デザイン/戸上和子
"Setsubun" designed by Kazuko Togami
azuko Togami, Kisetsu-wo-Tanoshimu-Washi-no-Etegami 220(Tokyo:Nihon Vogue-sha,1999, p.24.

"Ofukusan(おふくさん)" in the shape of Otafuku
Buns filled with sweet bean paste.its dough made from yam. I shaped them with my fingers.

dry confection in the shape of "Otafuku"

Hatsuyume had referred to the dreams that occurred on the night of Setsubun (now January 2nd) until the early Edo period.
To ensure a good dream, people placed pictures of the ship of the Seven Gods of Good Fortune like this under their pillows in the Muromachi period.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fox's image in Japan

I cleared the snow off the street this morning.

Fox's image in Japan is different from that in the West. Foxes were portrayed as uncanny or sympathetic beings in literature, entertainment and folklore of Japan.

kitsune-no-yomeiri(狐の嫁入り:wedding procession of foxes)
 kitsunebi(狐火:foxfire or will-o'-the-wisps)

A lot of foxfire formed a line in night mountains or riverbank. Because it looked like an lantern-light parade, ancient people regarded it as the wedding procession of foxes. It's also appeared in the Akira Kurosawa's Dreams.

kyubi-no-kitsune(九尾の狐:nine-tailed fox)
Legend has it that a thousand-year-old fox turns to a nine-tailed fox spirit in China. It's called kumiho in Korea.


A bunraku play written by Chikamatsu Baishiken and Sagawa Touta, premiered in 1806. It's based on the legend that a nine-tailed fox spirit changed itself into a rare beauty, enslaved emperors or princes and drove countries to ruin in ancient China, India and Japan. The fox changes itself into a woman named Tamamonomae(玉藻前) in Japan.
Recently, only Act Ⅲ Scene Ⅱ (Michiharu-yakata-no-dan,道春館の段) of the play tends to be performed . Unfortunately, you can not see the fox in its scene.

Yokyoku(謡曲) "Sessyou-seki(殺生石:killing stone)"

Yokyoku is a script of a noh play. The story goes like this.
A nine-tailed fox spirit disguised as Tamamonomae was penetrated and became "killing stone", which kills approaching people or animals, after being shot to death. Later a priest drove away the evil spirit.
As an aside, a stone named Sessyou-seki(殺生石) lies in Nasu Town of Tochigi Prefecture.

Yoshitsune Senbon Zakura (義経千本桜:Yoshitsune and the Thousand Cherry Trees)
written by Takeda Izumo Ⅱ(二代目竹田出雲), Miyoshi Syouraku(三好松洛), Namiki Senryu(並木千柳), premiered as a bunraku play in 1747, as a kabuki play in 1748.

Monday, February 1, 2010


It's snowing in Yokohama. In recent years, we has had light snowfall here.

It is said that the god of grain, agriculture, trade and manufacture came down to Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社 :the head shrine of Inari in Fushimi) in Kyoto on the first horse's day(初午: hatsu-uma) of February in 711 in the lunar calender. Nowadays the Inari shrine rituals are practiced at Fushimi Inari Taisha and its sub-shrines throughout Japan on that day in the solar calender. 

Foxes are regarded as the messengers of the god. You can see a pair of stone-carved foxes like this in Inari shrines. Some people offer foxes' favorite, deep-fried bean curd, to the god. So udon (a type of thick wheat-flour noodle) topped with deep-fried bean curd is called "Kitsune(Fox) udon".

"Oshie-no-Ema" designed by Mie Kuwabara

Mie Kuwabara, Chirimen-de-Tsukuru-Saikumono-to-Oshie,(Tokyo:Ondori-sha,1999),P.34.