fireworks festivals(Japanese version only):

summer festivals: (Japanese version only)

Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

I got tired today.

We traditionally eat toshikoshi soba(年越し蕎麦:year-end buckwheat noodles) on New Year's Eve. This custom was already common by the middle of the Edo period, but its origin is unclear. Deep-fried shrimps for toshikoshi soba are also sold now.

These are confections containing buckwheat flour.

Soba-joyo manju(そば薯蕷饅頭)

Steamed buns filled with sweat bean paste. It contains buckwheat flour, rice flour and yam.

Soba bolo(そばぼうろ)

The name bolo is derived from the Portuguese word "bolo" meaning a cake. Soba bolo is a cookie containing buckwheat flour.

Visitors or monks ring the bell at Buddhist temples to remove the 108 worldly desires which humans have at the night of New Year's Eve. It's called Joya no Kane(除夜の鐘). They do it 107 times at the night and just one time after midnight on January 1st.
I can hear the bell ringing near my house.

NHK broadcasts its Year-end Grand Song Festival(紅白歌合戦, Kouhaku Utagassen) every year on New Year's Eve. It is held as a counterbalancing struggle and dates back to 1951. It started at 7:30 p.m. and ended at 11:45 p.m. this year.
This program has received audience ratings of around 80 percent, but viewer ratings have dropped to around 40 percent or lower now. Singers of various ages and genres take part in this festival.

Many people visit a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple during the New Year's holidays after the midnight of New Year's Day in order to make traditional New Year's wishes for health and happiness. 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.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Around the end of the year

Many people went to Ame-yoko in Ueno to get the ingredients of New Year's dishes. I'm struggling to clean my house and make the preparations for New Year's festivities.

Mikawa Manzai(三河萬歳) is the folk performing art that a duo named Tayu(太夫) and Saizo(才蔵) celebrate the New Year using a comic dialogue and dance in Mikawa(now Aichi Prefecture).  It has been designated a significant intangible folk cultural asset of the country.

Tayu from Mikawa chose a partner(Saizo) for manzai at the fair held in Nihonbashi around the 28th day of the 12th month during a short period in the Edo Period. Saizo were from the neighborhood of Edo(now Tokyo). They were allowed to act at Edo Castle or feudal lord's mansions and performed wearing a type of samurai's outfits.
Osan met a familiar Tayu on the run in "Daikyoji Mukashi-Goyomi(大経師昔暦)" by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門).

In the Edo Period, sales and purchase on credit were standard business practice. Their pay days were the days before the festival days of the 3rd month, the 5th month, 9th month, the day before the Bon Festival in the 7th month and New Year's Eve.

Ihara Saikaku(井原西鶴) depicts battles between debtors and bill collectors on New Year's Eve in his book "Seken Munesanyo(世間胸算用)" published in 1692. These are not gloomy stories. Both of them are very tough to beat. Most commoners were shrewd.

The game was over at the dawn of New Year's Day, so bill collectors didn't collect from debtors on New Year's Day. People spent tranquil New Year's Holidays.

Concerts of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony - also known as "Daiku" in Japan - are held throughout Japan in December of each year. There are several theories about the origin of this custom.
It is said that the symphony was performanced for the first time in Japan on June 1st in 1918. German prisoners performanced it in a Japanese prison camp where 1000 German prisoners were placed.

They published newspapers, performanced plays, had concerts regularly and enjoyed various sports. They also passed on their excellent manufacturing techniques about dairy-products and sausages to local residents and built bridges.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

preparations for New Year's festivities

December 28th was the last working day of the year for most public servants. Many people return to their hometowns, so expressways and trains are extremely crowded.

Supermarkets are overflowing with food and decorative objects for New Year's day. We can't find Christmas goods anywhere.
We are not supposed to place pine decorations for New Year's Day on December 29th and 31st, because nine(ku in Japanese) is commonly associated with suffering and decorating at the last minute is regarded as lack of sincerity.

People used to repaper shoji and reface the tatami in December. Fewer Japanese houses have tatami rooms and shoji(障子) which are screens made of a wooden frame with paper stretched over it.

Many people trim trees in their garden to make them look better toward the end of the year. In December, gardeners are so busy that they are fully booked. I have trees trimmed one or two months in advance.

Very few people pound rice at home at the end of a year and most rice cakes are put in airtight plastic bags now.  When I was a child, a rice dealer brought our family freshly pounded rice cakes. So we ate soft rice cakes at the end of a year and did toasted or boiled ones on New Year's holidays.

Some people started getting ready for New Year's dishes.

Monday, December 27, 2010


In Yokohama, the first ice of the year has been seen on December 25th. We had the first frost on December 18th. It snowed in many areas.

Hatsuyuki(初雪:first snow of the season)



下中菜穂,「切り紙 もんきり遊び」,株式会社宝島社,2007年,P.10,11.

Nabo Shimonaka, Kirigami Monkiri-asobi,(Tokyo:TAKARAJIMASHA,Inc.,2007),P.10,11.

The 11th lord of the Koga Domain, Doi Toshitsura(土井 利位) published "Sekka Zusetsu(雪華図説)" in 1833. He observed snow crystals under a microscope and outlined them through illustrations in his book.

Yukiwa(雪輪) is a traditional design that represents snow.

Winter vacation started at schools.

I've found a blossom of the Japanese apricot in my garden.

People used to leave only one kaki fruit on the tree to pray for an abundant harvest.  The kaki fruit is called Kimamori(木守).
Dried persimmons are available from mid-December.


These confections represent dried persimmons.

Saturday, December 25, 2010


December 23th was the Emperor's 77th birthday. The Emperor's Birthday(天皇誕生日, Tenno tanjobi) has been a national holiday since 1989. People are allowed to enter the Imperial Palace to offer their congratulations to the Emperor on this day. The Imperial family is facing many worries.

Many people engage in festive activities on Christmas Eve, but many middle-aged and older people sit about on the day. 
At this time every year, The Christmas lights are beautiful. Even in my town, I saw more illuminated houses. I used to enjoy these illuminations while dog-walking. I often saw some women with their dogs around 11 o'clock at night in my town.

The illuminations were reduced around 10 o'clock at night and after Christmas Day in my town. I always went for a night or midnight walk with my dog on weekdays, so I was disappointed at darkened houses. I got excited when I saw flickers of light on a small Christmas tree by the window at midnight.
The tree in a garden was illuminated with lights from the end of December to February. It was a comfort to watch these lights at the coldest time of the year.

Many Japanese-style confection stores sell confections for Christmas.

Christmas tree

It will be a snowy Christmas in many areas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the winter solstice

People in Japan eat pumpkins and take yuzu bath in an effort to protect the body against the cold winter on day of the winter solstice. 

We boil pieces of a pumpkin while keeping its shape better.

Yuzu(柚子:Citrus junos)

The yuzu tree in my garden is bearing a lot of fruit now. Its young leaves are bitten by two kinds of swallowtail butterfly larvae, but only old boughs bear fruits and I don't want the tree to become large. So I don't larvicide.

yuzu flower

Popular yubeshi is made by steaming a mixture of glutinous rice powder, miso(fermented soybean paste), soy sauce, sugar and water. It is often coated with oblate powder, but these are coated with kori-mochi because I was out of the powder. These include crushed walnuts.

Original yubeshi was made by stuffing a mixture of glutinous rice powder and miso into hollowed-out yuzu and steaming it as preserved foods or portable rations. It dates back around the end of the 12th century.

In the book named Nihon Saijiki(日本歳時記), Kaibara Ekiken(貝原益軒, 1630~1714) recommended to buy yuzu in the 11th month and make yubeshi and gave a recipe for making yubeshi.

It is thought to be close to Maru-yubeshi(丸柚餅子) in Wajima(輪島) of Ishikawa Prefecture, which is made by stuffing a mixture of glutinous rice powder and secret ingredients into hollowed-out yuzu, steaming it several times and lay out it to dry in the sun for four months. It is completed in spring. So maru-yubeshi is expensive.


A confection using unripe yuzu.

Furofuki Daikon(風呂吹き大根)

I topped a piece of boiled daikon radish with sweet miso and yuzu zest.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Asakusa Toshi no Ichi

Asakusa Toshi no Ichi(浅草歳の市:Asakusa Year-end Fair) was held on the grounds of Sensoji Temple(浅草寺) from December 17th to 19th.The fair has been famous since the Edo period. It is said that the fair started in 1659. New Year's decorations and kitchen utensils were sold at the fair.  It is said that the grounds were overflowing with people. Now the fair is famous as a battledore fair. One side of the hagoita(battledore) is decorated with a padded cloth picture of characters from Kabuki dramas.

Hanetsuki(羽根突き) is a traditional New Year's game similar to badminton. It is played with a wooden battledore and a hard black seed to which feathers have been attached like a shuttlecock. Some people say it came from a Chinese play, but there are several possible origins of it.

Hanetsuki first appeared in a book "Kanmon-gyoki(看聞御記)" in 1432. A book published in 1444 says Hagoita was used at New Year's.Hagoita was also called Kogiita(胡鬼板).
Some people say Kogi(胡鬼) meant a dragonfly in ancient China, a ball with feathers looks like a mosquito and dragonflies prey on mosquitos that carry diseases, so Hanetsuki was held to wish to protect children from mosquito bites at New Year's.

Some say that Tsukubane(衝羽根:Buckleya lanceolata) was used as a shuttlecock in the Muromachi Period(1338-1573) and it was called Kogi.

The seed of soapberry(無患子, mukuroji) was used as the ball of a shuttlecock, because mukuroji means children who stay free of disease.

Hagoita portraying Sagicho(左義長), which is one of the New Year holiday events, were used as a gift or a wedding gift by aristocrats.

Hanetsuki became popular around the end of around the end of the seventeenth century and hagoita were sold as a toy for New Year's Holidays at year-end fairs.

In the late Edo period, hagoita decorated with a padded cloth picture became very popular.

On the first New Year's Day of a girl, people presented hagoita to her parents to drive away evil spirits .

羽子板・揚巻 デザイン:弓岡勝美
"Hagoita Agemaki" designed by Katsumi Yumioka.

Agemaki is a courtesan and appears as the lover of Sukeroku(助六) in a Kabuki play named Sukeroku Yukari no Edozakura(助六由縁江戸桜), one of the Ichikawa family's repertoire comprising 18 classical Kabuki pieces(歌舞伎十八番).

Katsumi Yumioka, Chirmen no Oshie to Tsuribina to Temari (Tokyo:NIHON VOGUE-SHA.Co,Ltd.,2002),P.57.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Last week, I had lunch at a Japanese restaurant that a former classmate at Japanese confectionery making class works for.

Sashimi(刺身:sliced raw fish), Sunomono(酢の物:food in sweetened vinegar), assorted foods and a soup.

Goma-dofu(胡麻豆腐) is mixed with ground-up sesame seeds, kudzu starch and water and is molded. It doesn't contain soybeans.

She served us a confection named Hatsushimo(初霜: the first frost of the season) on a Japanese cedar plate with a wooden fork and a bowl of matcha tea. She usually makes confections for lunch.

We have the first frost of the season in Tokyo around mid-December.


These confections represent leaves killed by frost. Japanese confectionery portrays even a dead leaf or earth.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Susuharai and Oseibo

The preparations for New Year's festivities(正月事始め, Shogatsu Kotohajime) are started on December 8th in Tokyo, December 13th in Kyoto.
I watched TV news reports showing that maiko in Kyoto received a new fan for Japanese dance from her master today.

We have a custom of cleaning house thoroughly at the end of each year. That custom was called susuharai(煤払い) that comes from cleaning home altar and rooms to welcome the god of the New Year. It had been a regular annual event on the 13th day of the 12th month at the Edo Castle since 1640. Warriors and commoners began to follow the custom.

In the Edo Period, merchants used to clean their house with their employees and their regular steeplejacks and young neighbors. The whole town did the cleaning on this day.
After cleaning up, elderly participants in it were thrown in the air (in celebration?) and dishes such as soba noodles or sake were served.

Susuharai literally means brushing off the soot.  Even now, many shrines and temples maintain this custom to brush away the dust on floors or Buddhist statues on this day.

We are busy in December.
We have to send a year-end gift called Oseibo(お歳暮), clean our house, write and send postcards as New Year's greetings to be delivered on New Year's Day and make the preparations for New Year's festivities (and Christmas).

Oseibo is a year-end gift given around mid-December to show gratitude for the favors they received during the year. It originated from the custom that a married daughter or a branch family bring her parents or the head family offerings such as rice, fishes and rice cakes to welcome ancestral spirits.
It is said that Oseibo became popular in the Edo Period, when people made payment before the Bon holiday and at the end of the year. So they presented to their customers, relatives and benefactors at those times.

A long thin strip of paper attached to a year-end gift called noshi(熨斗) represents a dried abalone which is traces of expensive fishes for gifts.
It has become common to send a gift from stores or through the Internet to elders including parents, relatives, and superiors at work. Recently, most of year-end gifts are sent to relatives.

This year's maple leaves in my garden are more beautiful than usual. They are on the verge of falling although most yellow and red leaves in my area fell out of the trees.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Daikyoji Mukashi-Goyomi

"Daikyoji Mukashi-Goyomi(大経師昔暦)" is a bunraku play, which was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門) based on an actual incident.

Mohei(茂兵衛) and Osan(おさん) who committed adultery were crucified and Tama(玉) who helped their illicit affair was beheaded after being dragged around the town in 1683. Osan's husband was Daikyoji Ishun(大経師以春) and Mohei was one of Ishun's top apprentices.

Daikyoji family line was forced to cease to exist in the 12th month in 1684 because Ishun asked the magistrate's office in Edo to have an exclusive right to issue calendars without permission from the competent authorities.
The play was premiered in 1715 corresponding to 32 years after their death.

Daikyoji was an excellent scroll mounter(picture framer) under the patronage of the Imperial Court and was entitled to issue calendars.
The play starts at Ishun's house in Kyoto on the 1st day of the 11th month in the lunar calendar(corresponding to December 7th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1684.

Ishun brings new calendars to the members of the imperial family from early in the morning and is served with sake at each stop. Ishun's apprentices pack new calendars to send to Edo and Osaka, arrange for selling in Kyoto and prepare to give a great feast with his relatives.

Osan consults with Mohei to help her father in serious economic trouble. Although Mohei tries to come up with the money for her father without telling Ishun, another apprentice indicts his illegal actions. Mohei maintains secrecy about her father under torture. Tama, who is a apprentice and loves him, takes the rap although he brushed off her advances. Ishun is incensed by her conduct.

That night Osan goes to Tama's room to thank her, and Osan learns that Ishun comes in Tama's room to hit on her every night.  Tama says that she loves Mohei although he doesn't requite her love. Ishun was outraged because Tama dismissed him with a laugh and stood up for Mohei. Osan switch places with Tama to put down and punish her husband.

However, it is Mohei who steals into Tama's room. He comes to her to return her love. Mohei and Osan are unaware of getting the wrong person. They notice their catastrophic mistake and run away from home.

They go to her parents' home. Although taking a harsh attitude to her, her father gives money to her by pretending to drop his wallet. Chikamatsu describes the feelings of aging parents very well.

Moonlight silhouettes them and two poles against the wall. Their silhouettes lap over ones of the poles as if they are crucified upon a cross.

Tama is taken to her uncle and is resigned to die for her master. She frets about Mohei and Osan. Her uncle puts a crime upon her and cuts her head off to save them.
It doesn't make sense to me.

His unwise behavior precludes the possibility of taking testimony from the only witness. They are captured, but a Buddhist monk her father knows saves them on the way to a venue for public executions. Unlike the true story, this play has a happy ending.

She misses her husband who is her childhood friend during her life on the run. However, most of the audience think Mohei is more attractive than her husband and Mohei and Osan are a good match. Didn't they really have romantic feelings for each other?

The movie named The Crucified Lovers (近松物語, Chikamatsu Monogatari) in 1954 and the TV drama named Osan no Koi(おさんの恋:Osan's love) in 1985 depict the love of them.

There are some scroll mounters in Tokyo that was given the title of "Daikyoji" as an excellent scroll mounter by the Edo Shogunate.

They had the right to bear a surname and to wear a sword during the Edo period. They had access to the Edo Castle. Most commoners were not allowed to have a surname in the Edo Period.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

memorial service for old needles

In Edo(now Tokyo), the 8th day of the 12th month was regarded as the starting date of the preparations for New Year's festivities and the 8th day of the 2nd month was regarded as the ending date of them. Commoners in Edo put up a bamboo pole attached a bamboo sieve during the period.

According to a Japanese folklore, the two monsters named Hitotsume-kozou (一つ目小僧, one-eyed boy) and Mikari-baba(箕借り婆, witch) come by on these days.
There is a theory that bamboo sieves were used to ward them off. Woven-bamboo patterns have the shape of pentagram or hexagram. People believed that pentagram and hexagram had a power to ward off evil.

Some people say this folklore derived from the fact that both days were regarded as sinister days and people were stuck in the house without working.

However, the 8th day of the 2nd month was starting date and the the 8th day of the 12th month was the ending date at the beginning of the Edo Period.

Feburuary 8th is regarded as the starting date of the farm work and December 8th is the ending date of it in some areas.

Hari-kuyo(針供養:memorial service for old needles) is held to thank used-up needles and wish to improve sewing skills on Feburuary 8th (mainly in east areas) or December 8th(mainly in west areas).
On this day, sewers don't needlework, stick old or broken needles into tofu(soybean curd) or konnyaku(konjac) and bring them to shrines.

It is said that the event was started at Awashima Jinja Shrine(淡嶋神社) in Wakayama Prefecture.

Japan raided the Pearl Harbor and started a war with the U.S. in 1941.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kobe Luminarie

t rained hard and tornados hit in various parts of the country yesterday. Furthermore,temperatures soared to nearly 24 degrees Celsius.

The foliage season is nearing an end in my area. This year the autumn leaves are more beautiful than usual. The sidewalk in front of my house is covered with dead leaves shortly after I sweep up them.

The 16th "Kobe Luminarie" is being held in the central area of Kobe City from December 2nd to the 13th. Itwas started in December 1995 to mourn for the victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake. The 270-meter-long galleria (a spectacular corridor of light) receive many visitors. The theme of this year's Luminarie is "Sentiment of Light, ILCUORE NELLA LUCE".

Friday, December 3, 2010

the preparations for New Year and Christmas

The 12th month was very important to prepare for welcoming the deity of the year at the beginning of a year.

The preparations for New Year's festivities are started on December 8th in Tokyo, December 13th in Kyoto.

On this day, ancient people cut down the woods for New Year's festivities such as firewoods and pine decorations(門松, kadomatsu) to which the deity goes down from the sky.

The 13th day of the 12th month was the day of the ogre(鬼の日, oni no hi) according to the calendar that was used until the early part of the Edo Period (around the 17th century). The day was regarded as an ideal day for everything except a wedding.

At Gion in Kyoto, Geiko and maiko pay their devoirs to their masters with kagami-mochi (a round rice-cake offered to the deity) and make courtesy visits to ochaya where they entertain customers on December 13th.

A kitchen knife and a daikon radish(大根) are placed on a cutting board.
There are a carrot(人参, ninjin), Welsh onion(葱, negi), red turnip(赤蕪, akakabu), Chinese cabbage(白菜, hakusai) in a basket for winnowing rice.

Yuki-usagi(雪兎:snow rabbit)

Narcissus(水仙) is protected from snow by a straw shelter or a woven mat.
Trees are wrapped with straws or woven mats to protect them from snow or chilliness in many parts of Japan.

At Kenroku-en(兼六園) in Kanazawa, ropes or wires are placed around trees to protect them from the snow from November 1st to mid-December. Its release is scheduled for March 15th.
These pictures were taken on March 14th in 2005.

photos: Nihon-rettou Okuni Jiman (Japanese version only)

People used to pound rice with a pestle(杵, kine) in a mortar(臼, usu) at home at the end of a year, but few people do it now.
We see rabbit pounding steamed rice on the moon surface.

Many people came to engage in festive activities on Christmas Eve after World War ll, although most of them were not Christians.

Some people says a confectionery package maker started selling paper Christmas boots that contained candies around 1947.

We sometimes have snow in Tokyo around the end of December, but there isn't enough snow yet to make a snowman.

In the past, butter cakes were popular and whipped cream cakes were less common.