Thursday, May 8, 2008

Cluture, Holidays

Japanese Culture

Exotic Japanese culture attracts many travelers to Japan from around the world. Even though you aren't visiting Japan, you might be interested in learning various cultural aspects of Japan with these resources.

Japanese Holidays

Here is a list of Japanese national holidays and traditional events in Japan. It helps you plan your trip to Japan. You might want to experience some of them or you might want to avoid the busiest travel season.

* Japanese New Year
* Valentine's Day in Japan
* Japanese Girl's Day
* Golden Week
* Tanabata

* Obon in Japan
* Christmas in Japan
* New Year's Eve
* Japanese Autumn Holidays

Japanese New Year
January 1st to 3rd are called shougatsu (Japanese New Year's holidays) in Japan. January 1st is called gantan and is a Japanese national holiday. Shogatsu is the most important holiday in Japan. People say to each other "ake-mashite-omedetou-gozaimasu" (Happy New Year) whenever they see at the first time in the new year.

Japanese people eat special dishes called osechi ryouri during shogatsu. Osechi ryouri is packed in a Jubako box, which has several layers. The foods are colorful and artistically presented. Each dish has a particular meaning. For example, prawns for long life, kuromame (sweet black beans) for health, kazunoko (herring roe) for fertility, tazukuri (teriyaki taste small sardines) for a good harvest, kurikinton (sweet chestnuts and mashed sweet potato) for happiness, and so on. It is also traditional to eat mochi (rice cake) dishes on New Year's holidays. Zouni (rice cake soup) is the most popular mochi dish. The ingredients vary depending on regions and families. If you are lucky, you can taste many different zouni in Japan. People usually spend New Year's holidays quietly at home eating various food. There is a custom of giving money to children on New Year's holidays in Japan. It's called otoshidama. If you are going to family gatherings, it's good to prepare some money in small envelopes.

It is traditional for Japanese people to visit to a shrine or a temple during New Year's holidays. People pray for safety, health and good fortune. The first visit to a temple or shrine in a year is called hatsumoude. It is not a very religious event but rather a custom. Many well-known temples and shrines are extremely crowded. Some temples and shrines expect a couple million visitors during New Year's holidays each year. If you want to visit one of the famous shrines or temples, be aware of pickpockets. The Most Popular Shrines and Temples for Hatsumoude

Government offices are usually closed from Dec. 29th to January 3rd. Financial institutions are usually closed from Dec. 31st to January 3. Since most businesses are closed during the first three days of the year, the streets tend to be quiet except for those near shrines and temples. Many department stores hold New Year's special sales, so it might be worth it to check the prices out if you have shopping needs.

Valentine's Day in Japan
Japanese Valentine's Day is for women to give men chocolates or gifts. This is a typical way to celebrate Valentine's day in Japan. Women are expressing love to men by giving chocolates. But it's also common for women to give chocolates to men who they don't actually love, such as co-workers and male friends. This kind of chocolates are called giri-choco which mean chocolates given because of obligations.

Many stores in Japan sell lots of chocolates before Valentine's day. Men who received chocolates or gifts on Valentine's day are supposed to give gifts back to the women on March 14th called White Day.

Japanese Girl's Day
March 3 is Japanese Girl's Day called hina matsuri (hina doll festival) or momo no sekku (peach flower festival). A set of hina dolls wearing kimono is displayed at homes of Japanese girls. It's a celebration for Japanese girls. People pray for girls' happiness and health, eating special food, such as chirashi-zushi (colorful sushi), clam soup, sakura mochi (sweet rice cakes), and more.

Hina matsuri originated in China, and it was established in Japan during Edo Period (1603-1867). Since then, different types of hina dolls have been created around Japan. In some areas in Japan, hina dolls are hung from the ceiling.

Golden Week in Japan

The end of April through around May 5th is called "Golden Week" in Japan since there are many Japanese national holidays during this period. Many businesses close for about a week to 10 days depending on the calender. Many people take a vacation and travel around the country or abroad. So, many sightseeing and amusement places are very crowded at this time. Also, airports and train stations in Japan are overflowing with people. It is extremely hard to get reservations for accommodations and transportation around this time.

The first holiday during Golden Week is April 29, which was the birthday of the former emperor Shouwa. Now, this day is called showa-no-hi (Showa Day). The second holiday is kenpou-kinen-bi (Constitution Memorial Day), May 3. The new Japanese constitution was put into effect on May 3, 1947. Then, May 4 is called midori-no-hi (Greenery Day) during which we show appreciation for nature.

The last one is kodomono-hi (Children's Day), May 5th. On this day, we pray for the healthy growth of children. Children's Day is also called Tangono-sekku. It's traditionally the day to celebrate and pray for the health of boys. Japanese families with boys hang up carp streamers (koinobori) outside and display May dolls (gogatsu Ningyo) inside their houses.

May is a pleasant season to travel in Japan. But, I recommend avoiding traveling to or around Japan during Golden Week. Try traveling after Golden Week. It is much better.

Japanese Holidays - Golden Week

* April 29: Showa-no-hi (Showa Day)
* May 3 : Kenpou-kinen-bi (Constitution Memorial Day)
* May 4 : Midori-no-hi (Greenery Day)
* May 5 : Kodomo-no-hi (Children's Day)

uly 7th is called tanabata in Japan. It's a Japanese tradition wherein people write their wishes on tanzaku papers (colorful, small strips of papers) and hang them on bamboo branches. People also hang many kinds of paper decorations on bamboo branches and place them outside their houses. Many cities and towns hold tanabata festivals and have tanabata displays, decorating the main streets. In some regions, people light lanterns and float them on the river, or float bamboo leaves on the river.

The most common tanabata decorations are colorful streamers. Streamers are said to symbolize the weaving of threads. Other tanabata decorations are toami (casting net), which means good luck for fishing and farming and kinchaku (hand bag), which means wealth.

Tanabata originated more than 2,000 years ago with an old Chinese tale called Kikkoden. Once there was a weaver princess named Orihime and a cow herder prince named Hikoboshi living in space. After they got together, they were playing all the time and forgot their jobs. The king was angry at them and separated them on opposite sides of the Amanogawa River (Milky Way). The king allowed them to meet only once a year on July 7th. This is why tanabata is also called the Star Festival. People say that Orihime and Hikoboshi can't meet each other if July 7th is rainy, so they pray for good weather and also make wishes for themselves.

In many regions in Japan, tanabata is celebrated on August 7th (which is near July 7th on the lunar calendar) instead of July 7th. If you are in Japan around these days, stop by a tanabata festival near your destination. Tanabata events are held all over Japan, but the festivals in Sendai-city, Miyagi Prefecture and Hiratsuka-city, Kanagawa Prefecture are particularly well-known. Huge Tanabata decorations fill the main streets in these cities and attract millions of visitors every year. It's fun to walk through the long streamers on the street. Sendai Tanabata is held around August 7 and Hiratsuka Tanabata is held around July 7th every year.

Christmas in Japan
It is estimated that less than 1% of Japan's population is Christian. Also, December 25th is not a Japanese national holiday. Unless it is on weekend, Japanese people work and go to school on the day. Christmas is mostly a commercial event in Japan. Many people don't know exactly what the origin of Christmas is. The big corporations do the main decorating. They light their buildings and the trees.

Many western customs in observing Christmas have been adopted by the Japanese. Lots of people decorate Christmas trees at home and hold parties around Christmas Day. Japanese people tend to find things of interest from abroad and transform them into something that is uniquely Japanese. It's a Japanese way to celebrate Christmas Eve by eating Christmas cakes. Also, Christmas Eve has become a night for lovers to go out and spend a romantic time together at fancy restaurants or hotels. It isn't easy to make reservations for such restaurants and hotels at the last minute on this day.

Besides exchanging Christmas gifts, there is a custom of sending oseibo (the end of the year gift) from business to business in Japan.
Japanese Holiday Gifts

December is the bounenkai (forget-the-year-party) season in Japan. Christmas parties tend to be mixed up with bounenkai. You see many drunk people on the street on December nights in Japan.
For Japanese people, Christmas is an enjoyable day in the year, but Japanese New Year is more important than Christmas.

The End of the Year in Japan
In Japan, December is called shiwasu, which literally means "teachers run around." This word reflects the busiest month of the year in Japan. Actually, Japanese people run around a lot to welcome a new year with a clean state. All cleaning need to be done by the end of the year in contrast to "spring cleaning" that is common in the US. People also decorate around and in the house. The decorations of pine and bamboo (kadomatsu) are placed outside doors. Twisted straw ropes (shimenawa) are hung on doors to bring good luck, and shimekazari which is made with straw, paper decoration, and tangerines are hung various places to thank to the god for harvest. The bamboo, pine, tangerines are also symbols of longevity, vitality, and good fortune. Kagami- mochi (rice cake) is a traditional New Year's decoration which consists of two round shaped mochi one on top of the other. Kagami mochi is placed in the main room in a house. It serves both as the dwelling place of the god of the harvest and the offering to the god.

In most households, usually women are busy preparing the New Year's food (osechi ryouri). It is traditionally said that people make enough food so that they can take a rest from cooking for the New Year's Days. Since Japanese eat rice cake (mochi) during New Year's Days, at the end of the year, mochitsuki (pounding mochi rice to make mochi) is held at some traditional houses, public places, and shrines. People use a wooden mallet (kine) to pound steamed mochi rice in the stone or wooden mortar (usu). After the rice become sticky, it is flattened and cut into pieces or shaped into rounds. Packages of mochi are available in supermarkets. So, mochitsuki is not as common as it used to be. Some people use automatic mochi-pounding machines at home. The fresh mochi is tasty but is very sticky, so be careful not to choke.

In December, people send oseibo (the end of the year gift) from business to business and also send New Year cards. It's a tradition for Japanese people to write New Year's cards in December so that cards will be delivered on January 1st.

Beethoven's Nineth Symphony (the Daiku) is traditionally performed in many places in December in conjunction with the New Year. Also, December is the bounenkai (forget-the-year-party) season in Japan. You see many drunk people on the streets on December nights in Japan.

After the all busy work, Japanese people usually spend New Year's Eve (oomisoka) rather quietly with the family. Most of businesses are closed from the 29th or 30th of December to 3rd or 4th of January, depending on the kind of business and day of week. Be aware that banks are closed around this time of the year.

It is traditional to eat soba (buckwheat noodles) on New Year's Eve since thin long noodles symbolizes longevity. It is called toshikoshi soba (passing the year). Soba-shops are very busy delivering and making soba. At mid night, the temple bells around the country are rung 108 times (joya no kane). It is said that we all have 108 attachments to our ego and that we need to rid ourselves of before the New Year. You can be one of the people to ring the bell. People say to each other "yoi otoshiwo" which means "Have a nice year passing" on New Year's Eve.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


During the Dontaku Festival, many people, young and old, parade through the streets in various costumes, some playing the shamisen or beating drums, others are clapping wooden spoons for scoping rice. The festival originates from the local custom dating back to the Heian period (13th century) , called 'toka' or 'matsubayashi,' during which the local people praised the feudal lord on the occasion of New Year. It is said that the upper class people of Hakata walked around the town on their way back from the castle. The word'Dontaku'comes from the Dutch word 'Zontag,' meaning holiday. The festival was first referred to as 'Dontaku' in the Meiji period (late 19th century) when the once-prohibited 'matsubayashi' was revived. Today it is celebrated as a citizens 'festival and many people from in and outside Fukuoka, including from overseas, get together on May 3rd and 4th to celebrate. The whole city eagerly awaits the start of one of the most exciting carnivals in Japan.

This colorful festival takes place on May 3 and 4 in the city of Fukuoka in northern Kyushu. The festival evolved from matsubayashi, a folk art widely performed in Kyoto during the Muromachi period (1333-1568). It was performed by farmers and townspeople as a form of New Year's greetings to the local landowner or leader. People dressed up as the three gods of good fortune and paraded to musical accompaniment. The "gods" were followed by young children, who danced to a special chant called iitate. The Hakata Dontaku elevated the traditional matsubayashi into a festive occasion, when people from all walks of life can meet and exchange greetings on an equal footing. Today, people from all over the country descend on Fukuoka for the festival, which coincides with Golden Week." It is one of the most popular destinations for vacationers during the holidays in western Japan.

In the Edo period (1603-1868), decorative floats and platforms showcasing dolls were added. The name of the festival was adopted around this time: it is believed to be derived from the Dutch word zondag (Sunday), which was taken to mean "holiday".

On May 3, a 1.2-kilometer stretch of a major thoroughfare is converted into "Dontaku Square," where a parade is held. Traditional matsubayashi is performed by over 12,000 people belonging to around 120 groups. Some of these groups use traditional Japanese instruments, while others perform the folk melody with brass instruments. A parade is also held on May 4. In addition, 16,000 dancers, singers, and other performers are featured on specially built stages in the city of Fukuoka. Closing out the two-day festival are rousing renditions of the Dontaku dance that spectators are invited to join and a gala display of fireworks.

Photos: Thousands of people take part in the festival parade. (Fukuoka Chamber of Commerce & Industry)




TRANSLATION: Bon Odori dance of Tokyo

SOURCE: Madelynne Greene learned this dance in Hawaii and taught it to folk dancers in the United States in the 1960s.

BACKGROUND: Tokyo Dontaku is a "Bon Odori" dance, a special dance of the O-Bon Festival in Japan. During the O-Bon, or Feast of the Dead, Buddhists throughout Japan honor the souls of their ancestors. In Tokyo, the festival is held during the third week of July. Sometimes called The Feast of Lanterns, the O-Bon is held at other times of the year in other parts of Japan. For instance, the festival is held at Nikko during the first week of August, at Nagasaki during the second week of August, and at Okinawa during the third week of August. It is also one of the largest festivals held on Sado Island. Thousands of lighted paper lanterns are launched on rivers and lakes to carry the ancestors' spirits (who had returned to earth during this time) back to heaven.

MUSIC: Express (45 rpm) E-212
Folk Dancer (45 rpm) MH-2050
Star (45 rpm) S-8414

Geisler, Richard. "Tokyo Dontaku" (sheet music), Village Dance Music from Around the World, The Village & Early Music Society, 15181 Ballantree Lane, Grass Valley, CA 95949-7633.

FORMATION: Cir of individual dancers facing CCW, hands at sides.


STEPS/STYLE: Due to the restrictions of the kimono worn by the dancers, the steps are small. From long tradition, the steps are slightly pigeon-toed, and the knees are slightly bent and close together. The thumb is kept under the index finger, the fingers are kept together, and the hands and arms are moved gracefully.



1-8 No action.


1 CEREMONIAL BOW: Facing and moving in LOD, step R fwd, lightly clapping hands in front of chest (ct 1); step L fwd, lightly clapping hands in front of chest (ct 3);
2 Step R, bending knee, while leaving L in place as hands are crossed in front of chest, palms down (ct 1); step back onto L as hands are swept down and out to sides (ct 2); step R next to L, clapping hands in front of chest (ct 3).

3 PADDLE BOAT: As if paddling a boat, step L moving both hands bwd along L side (ct 1); step R, moving both hands bwd along R side (ct 3).

4 LOOK IN MIRROR: Step L, bringing L hand in front of L ear with palm bwd as if pulling back the hair while R hand is extended fwd with palm fwd and fingers up as if looking into a mirror (ct 1); repeat action of ct 1 with opp ftwk and handwk (ct 2); repeat action of ct 1 (ct 3).

5 MAKE TREE: Step R with toe pointed outside, bending knees deeply, and with rounded arms, touch finger tips at knee level with palms up (ct 1); straightening knees, bring arms outward and up and, with rounded arms, and touch fingertips overhead with palms up as L heel is brought up behind to raise "kimono" off of floor, shin parallel to floor (ct 3);
6 Repeat action of meas 5 to ctr with opp ftwk.

7 HOLD SLEEVE: Stepping R,L,R, turn slowly to face out of cir while R hand is held at head level, palm bwd, and L hand is held under R elbow as if keeping "kimono sleeve" from swinging (cts 1,2,3);
8 Repeat action of meas 7 to ctr with opp ftwk and handwk.

Repeat entire dance from beg.

Friday, November 2, 2007


“s?ji shimasu” clean

“asobimasu” play

“sentaku shimasu” wash (clothes)

“okurimasu” send

“dekakemasu” go out

“kekkon shimasu” get married

“omoimasu” think

“machimasu” wait

“kimasu” wear


“orimasu” get off

“aimasu” meet

“norikaemasu” change (train )

“kirimasu” cut

“shaw? o abimasu” take a shower

“sh?ri shimasu” repair

“wasuremasu” forget

“denwa o kakemasu” make a phone call

“sinpai shimasu” worry

“agemasu” give

“utaimasu” sing

“moraimasu” receive

“rensh? shimasu” practice

“oshiemasu” teach

“unten shimasu” drive

“naraimasu” learn


“simemasu” shut, close

“nomimasu” drink

“akemasu” open

“tabako o suimasu” smoke

“suwarimasu” sit down

“kakimasu” write

“tachimasu” stand up

“yomimasu” read

“sumimasu” live

“kikimasu” listen

“ry?ri shimasu” cook

“mimasu” see, look, watch

“norimasu” get (a train etc.)

“kaimasu” buy

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Conversational Expressions

Saying "yes"/"You are right"

"Hai, sō desu" -- Yes. / That's right.

Saying "No"/"you are not right"

"Iie, chigaimasu" -- No. / That's not right.

Saying you don't understand.

"Wakarimasen" -- I don't understand.

Asking for something

"...o onegaishimasu" -- May I have (a / some...) ? (polite situations)

"… o kudasai" -- Please give me ...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Conversational Expressions



Basic words.

We will start with the daily using words and sentences. So how to say “GOOD MORNING”. 1 Minute, in Japan usually before 10.00am we say good morning and after 10.00am they usually say “good afternoon”

“Good Morning”

Casual way (with in friends)


Formal way

– “Ohayou Gozaimasu”

"Good Afternoon"

“Konnichiva" -- Hello Hai

“Good Evening"

"Kombanwa" -- Good Evening

“Good Night"

"Oyasuminisai" -- Good Night

Saying GoodBye

"Sayōnara" -- Good bye.

"Ja mata ashita" -- See you tomorrow.

"Ja mata" -- See you.

"Shitsurei shimasu" (formal / business) -- Good bye.

Attracting someone's attention

"Sumimasen" -- Excuse me.

"Onegaishimasu" -- Can you help me, please?

Saying thank you

"Arigatō" (informal) -- Thanks!

"Arigatō gozaimasu" (formal) -- Thank you very much.

Responding to thanks

"Dō itashimashite" -- You're welcome.