What is “Sensu?”

扇子

“sensu”

A sensu, a folding fan made of bamboo ribs covered with Japanese paper, is fan-shaped when opened and like a bamboo stick closed. It is said that the uchiwa (round fan) brought from China was remodeled into the sensu by Japanese and that the folding style was reintroduced to China and brought all the way to Europe. There is a phrase, “hidari uchiwa de kurasu.” Hidari means left and kurasu means live. So like using an uchiwa with your left hand, this phrase means “living in comfort” or “lead an easy life.” You can say this expression to someone who won a lottery.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

The Deep Relationship Between Wine and Shinto Shrines

The Shibuya district of Tokyo is known as Japan’s Mecca for youth fashion trends. The Meiji Jingu shrine, located nearby, is where three million people converge each New Year to offer prayers. Within the shrine’s main complex, where the Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken used to pay ceremonial visits, stand this array of 60 wine barrels from France’s Bourgogne region. Emperor Meiji, who reigned from 1867 to 1912, enjoyed Japanese sake and other alcoholic beverages. After being diagnosed with diabetes, he switched to wine on the recommendation of his physician, because wine was believed to be less taxing on his physique. The Tokyo representative office of Bourgogne began to offer the barrels to the shrine from 2006. Of course they are empty.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

What is “Sakuramochi”? Where Was the First Cherry Leaf Used to Wrap Sakura Mochi From?

Speaking of sakura mochi (rice cake stuffed with sweet bean paste and wrapped in cherry leaves), its particular aroma created by the salted cherry leaves stimulates one’s appetite.  But who was it that first preserved cherry leaves in salt and used them to wrap mochi?

It was Shinroku Yamamoto, the gatekeeper of Chomeiji Temple in Tokyo.  The front gate of Chomeiji Temple opened up onto the bank of the Sumida River.  The area was commonly called Sumizutsumi.  And, since Sumizutsumi was well known for its cherry trees, spring was always crowded with people viewing the cherry blossoms.  When the blossoms were finished, the leaves would become luxuriant and would presently begin to fall.  The gatekeeper Shinroku would diligently sweep up the fallen cherry leaves keeping the temple grounds neat and tidy.  However, the leaves would keep falling one after another.  Shinroku was stumped because he always had to keep sweeping.

Up to his knees in leaves and thinking to himself that it would be a waste to simply throw away the many leaves, Shinroku hit upon the idea of pickling and preserving the cherry leaves.  Thinking further, Shinroku was struck with the idea that the preserved cheery leaves could be used to wrap mochi whereby the indescribable aroma of the cherry leaves would be transferred to the mochi creating a refined, elegant flavor.  It is said that this idea was the origin of sakura mochi.

In 1717, Shinroku began selling his thought up sakura mochi at the front gate of Chomeiji Temple.  As might be expected of a site busy with cherry blossom viewers, the sakura mochi instantly became popular, and even became a specialty of Sumizutsumi.  As an example of how popular sakura mochi was, “Toen Shosetsu,” a book of anecdotes published in 1825, relates that in the previous year 387,500 sakura mochi were sold and that the number of cherry leaves prepared for the mochi reached 775,000.

The sakura mochi first begun by Shinroku is still being sold at the front of Sumizutsumi as “Yamamotoya no Sakura Mochi.”

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Town of Dolls in Konosu, Saitama, Japan

Town of Dolls

Each March 3, Hina Matsuri (the Girl’s Festival or the Dolls Festival), families celebrate the growth and good health of their daughters by displaying Hina (which literally means a chick) dolls at home. Traditionally the dolls, dressed in ancient Japanese court attire, were usually displayed on a platform five or six stages. But because nowadays the dolls are rather expensive and take up a lot of space in the home, more families tend to buy only a single pair of male and female dolls, or do nothing special on the Hina Matsuri.

But here at Konosu City Office in Saitama Prefecture, a huge display of dolls — as many as 4,538 — is arrayed on a massive tiered stand of 30 levels, which stands 6.7 meters at its highest point. Konosu City has a history of doll-making going back over 380 years and started this festival in 2005. It attracts many visitors to the city. A kokeshi (a wooden doll characterized by its simple shape with a uniformly cylindrical body and a round head) might be more famous as a Japanese doll, but these Hina dolls are also worth a closer look. The annual festival is usually held from mid-February to March 5.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Most Scary Japanese Fairy Tale: Three Paper Talismans

Most Scary Japanese Fairy Tale: Three Paper Talismans

Three Paper Talismans

(originated from Aomori Prefecture)

An apprentice priest lived in a certain temple. One day he was told by the chief priest to go over the mountains to the neighboring village on an errand.

“In the mountains, there is an old hag, onibaba, who eats people. Take these three ofuda paper talismans with you. If you say out loud what you wish for, it will definitely come true.”

After the errand in the neighboring village, the young priest walked back along the mountain path. After a while, he came across an old woman sitting by the side of the road.

“Young priest, young priest, can’t you lend me a hand? My legs hurt and I can’t walk and so I can’t get home,” said the old woman.

The young priest got hold of the old woman’s hand and pulled her up.

“It’s over there.” So saying, the old woman showed the young priest the way.

But the path kept taking them further and further into mountain country. Then, at last, they came to a ramshackle old hovel deep in the mountains.

“Thank you. But it will soon be dark. The road is dangerous at night, so you should stay here overnight.” Since the old woman told him to do so, the apprentice priest had no choice but to spend the night at the old woman’s place.

In the middle of the night, the apprentice priest suddenly woke up. He could hear a scraping sound, scrape, scrape. When he peeped into the next room through a hole in the fusuma sliding door, he could see that the kind old woman, who had seemed so nice, had turned into an old hag, and what was she doing? Sharpening a knife!

“Oh no, I bet she’s going to eat me!” thought the apprentice priest. “I know. I’ll say I have to go to the toilet, and then run out of here.”

“Lady, lady, I need to pee.” The apprentice priest called out to the old woman.

“Well, if you’ve got to go, you’ve got to go, I suppose. I’ll tie this rope around you so you don’t get lost. Off you go to the toilet then.”

Once the apprentice priest had got inside the toilet, he untied the rope fastened round his waist and tied it instead around the main pillar. Then he stuck one of the paper talismans the priest had given him onto the pillar.

“Please, if that onibaba hag says anything, reply with “Not yet, not yet!” he begged the paper. Then the apprentice priest quietly climbed out of the window and ran away.

Whenever the old hag said something, the reply came back, “Not yet, not yet!”

“Haven’t you finished yet, young apprentice?” “Not yet, not yet!”

So things passed for a while. And the apprentice got further and further away.

“Stop fooling around! How long are you going to be in there?” But when the old hag forced the door of the toilet open, nobody was there.

“That terrible apprentice!” The onibaba hag chased after the apprentice in a great fury.

She was so fast, so fast, that before you knew it she was closing in on the young apprentice. When she’d got so close that she could almost reach out and touch him, the apprentice priest threw down the secondtalisman, saying, “Please make a big river.”

And then, right before the old hag’s eyes, a big river appeared. The old hag would have to cross it.

“Drat! That nasty little apprentice priest!”

While this was going on, the apprentice priest ran further and further away.

Instead of swimming across the river, the old hag drank the river completely dry, and chased the apprentice priest with even more speed than before. In just a little more time, her hand would be able to reach his back! But just then, the apprentice priest threw down the last talisman and said, “Please make a big fire!”

Suddenly a big fire appeared, and the old hag couldn’t go any further, unable to catch up with the young apprentice. But she spewed out the river water she had drunk and put out the fire completely.

In the meantime, the young apprentice had used this chance and managed to run as far as the temple where the priest was. He told the priest, “Priest, priest, it’s terrible! I’ll get eaten by the old hag!”

“It’s all right, don’t worry, just hide in that closet,” said the priest.

As soon as the young apprentice had hidden in the closet, the old hag rushed onto the scene.

“Hey, priest, didn’t that apprentice come running into here?”

“No, no one came here.”

“Liar! If you tell lies, you’ll get eaten yourself!”

“Well then, let’s compare our skills. If I lose, you can eat me, OK? Right, let’s see, can you change yourself into a bean? I bet it’s really hard to change yourself into something as small as that!”

Hearing this, the old hag said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a bean. Nothing to it!”

Saying this, she turned a somersault. And then, quick as a flash, she changed herself into a tiny little bean.

Seeing this, the priest quickly put out his hand, grabbed the bean, and threw it into his mouth. Then he ate it up, munch, munch, crunch and crunch.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

TATEYAMA KUROBE ALPINE ROUTE YUKI – NO – OTANI Japan’s largest snow corridor

Who can imagine that this view is limited to the spring season in Japan?!

A surprising, diverse, colorful and unmistakable landscape presents itself.

You will find yourselves immersed in the beauty of this majestic scene.

The wall of this snow corridor can be as tall as 20-meters high as you walk through it, and the awesome scenery is unique even on a global scale.

This view can be only seen in springtime from April to mid only.

Please enjoy an extraordinary panoramic trip. Tateyama is a holy peak considered as one of the three great mountains of Japan along with Mt. Fuji and Hakusan.
The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route that runs as if piercing through Tateyama is a mountain touring route that goes through the mountain range of the Northern Alps (all the peaks are as much as 3,000 meters tall). Although the route is about 25kilo meters as the crow flies, the difference in elevation is 1,975 meters from Tateyama Station (at 475 meters above sea level) to Murodo (2,450 meters above sea level).

This route links Tateyama-machi in Nakaniikawa-gun, Toyama Prefecture and Omachi-shi in Nagano Prefecture by six means of transportation. When going from the Toyama Prefecture side, you will pass through the mountains by riding on the Tateyama Cable Car that goes up a difference in elevation of 500 meters at once, Kogen Bus that goes up to the highest point (Murodo), Tateyama Tunnel Trolleybus that runs right beneath the mountaintop of Tateyama, Tateyama Ropeway that offers a sweeping view of the Tateyama mountain range, Kurobe Cable Car which is the only line in Japan that goes entirely under a tunnel, and Kanden Tunnel Trolleybus that goes through the tunnel. (first used when constructing the Kurobe Dam) Almost all the zones are located in the Chubu Sangaku National Park. By passing through many scenic spots such as the Northern Alps’ magical mountains, dynamic Kurobe Gorge, and Kurobe Dam(Picture right side), the splendor of Mother Nature can be fully enjoyed.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

What is “dango”? Sweet or Food in Japan

The Debut of Four-Mon Coins Determined the Number of Dango Per Skewer

The various colored confection on display at Japanese-style confectionary shops dazzle the eye.  Unlike expensive, high-quality confection, the simple looking, unspectacular kushi dango (skewered dumplings) as represented by mitarashi (sugar and soy sauce flavor) dango is popular with its endearing taste.  Its price is also reasonable making kushi dango a friend of the common person.

Dango has an extremely long history.  Dango made from acorn flour can be traced back to the Jomon period (10,000 to 400 B.C.).  However, it is said that “Kara kudamono (Tang confectionary)” brought back to Japan by Japanese envoys sent to China during the Tang dynasty can be regarded as the origin of the current dango.

The kushi dango intended for common people, like mitarashi and an (bean paste) dango, made its appearance during the Edo period (1603 to 1867).

“Edo Kaimono Hitori Annai (Edo Shopping Guide)” published in 1824 lists 2622 famous shops in Edo.  Of the shops that handled foodstuffs, the majority were confectionary shops.  The book lists 120 confectionary shops.  In particular, kushi dango that could be easily picked up by hand and eaten was popular as a quick snack.  It was enjoyed at tea shops on the streets or at the entrances to temples and shrines.

Generally speaking, most kushi dango consist of four dumplings on a single skewer.  According to “Kashiyawa,” a collection of essays, written by the feudal lord Matsuura Seizan during the Edo period, the four-dumpling kushi dango made its appearance during the Meiwa era (1764 to 1772), i.e., in the middle of the Edo period.

Why was the number of dango per skewer set to four?  The reason is connected to the appearance of four-mon coins (mon: unit of money) that were newly minted at that time.

Up until that time, kushi dango commonly consisted of five dumplings and sold for five mon per skewer.  That is, the price was one mon per dango and kushi dango was priced at five mon because there were five dango on a skewer.  It was thus easy to understand.

However, after the four-mon coins made their appearance, an increasing number of customers began to quickly pay with a four-mon coin at the crowded shops and walk away with a five-dango skewer.  Because of this, the shops reduced the number of dango per skewer to four out of necessity.

Thus, the change in the number of dango hides the drama of an offensive and defensive battle between the tough common people and the shop owners who would not be defeated.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

The unofficial national flower of Japan, sakura, or the Japanese cherry blossom, holds tremendous symbolic and cultural meaning to the Japanese people. Contrary to the name, sakura does not bear actual fruit; sakuranbo (cherries) actually come from another type of tree. Today we will introduce you to the cultural impact of Japan’s glorious sakura, and a couple of our tours to Tokyo’s best sakura sightseeing locations.

Most Japanese are gaga about sakura. Whether it is traditional kimono, ceramics, and sweets, the Japanese love of sakura can be observed in many traditional Japanese culture, and continues even until today. Every year, when it becomes late March, it is difficult to turn on the radio and not have a song about Japan’s beloved sakura. It may seem a little bizarre to one who has not lived in Japan, but during this season there is whole section in the daily weather dedicated to predicting the blooming schedules of the sakura.

Of course, there is a good reason why the sakura has taken such a deep root into Japanese culture. To the Japanese, sakura symbolize a time of new beginnings. As both the Japanese fiscal and school year both begin when the sakura bloom in April, the Japanese are raised from childhood with a distinct fondness for the white and pink blossoms produced by the tree. The short lifespan of the sakura represents the shortness of life, and it can be said that the sakura season is a time for the Japanese to show their respect for mortality.

Japan’s love of sakura is deeply ingrained into the culture that its blossoming is used as a way to bring people together. Companies and friends have picnics during the cherry blossom season called hanami, where they drink, eat, and watch the sakura together.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

What is “Teruteru Bozu”?

てるてる坊主

“teruteru-bozu” A teruteru-bozu is a kind of doll made simply with tissues or white cloth. Children hang the doll from the eaves hoping that it will stop raining soon or the weather will be clear tomorrow. It is an old custom done by children especially when they are looking forward to a special event like a field trip the next day. But an expression using teruteru-bozu can be used among adults. When your co-worker tells you that she will have a barbecue tomorrow, you can say to her, “Teruteru-bozu wo tsurushite kudasai” meaning “Please hang out a teruteru-bozu (for good weather).” On the other hand, if you want a rainy day, it is said that you should hang it upside-down.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

因幡の白兎 (Inaba no Shirousagi): The White Rabbit of Inaba

A long, long time ago, on an island called Okinoshima, there lived a rabbit. The rabbit, looking at the coast of Inaba in Japan, so far away, thought, “I’d really like to get to that big island somehow.”

So the rabbit said to some “crocodiles” (actually sharks) that were on the beach, “Crocodile, crocodile, which do you think are more numerous, us rabbits or you crocodiles?”

The crocodile replied, “It goes without saying that there are more of us than there are of you, of course!”

“In that case, I’ll try counting, so please get all your crocodile friends together.”

So the crocodile got his pals to come and lined them all up in a row. There were so many of them, so very many of them!

There were so many crocodiles that they stretched all the way from Okinoshima to the distant coast of Inaba. The rabbit, thinking she’d got it made, jumped on each of the crocodiles’ backs, counting as she went, “One crocodile, two crocodiles, three crocodiles….”

But when at last she was about to reach the coast of Inaba in this style, the rabbit spilled the beans without thinking, saying, “Ha, ha, you crocodiles, I fooled you! All I really wanted to do was get to Inaba, just like this!”

Hearing the rabbit say this, the last crocodile in the line grabbed hold of the rabbit and dived into a river.

Then the gods came along. Seeing the rabbit with her fur torn off and her skin showing bright red, one god said, “Hey, rabbit, you seem to have your fur torn off. If you wash it in sea water and dry it in the sun, it will stop hurting, you’ll see.”

But that god was a mean one, and he just wanted to give the rabbit a hard time. The rabbit did as she was told, but when she washed her body in sea water and dried it in the sun, the pain just got worse.

Then the younger brother of the nasty gods came along, Ohkuninushinomikoto. This god was a very kind one.

He said to the rabbit, “Oh, you poor thing! You must wash your body in pure river water and cover it with cattail reeds. If you do that, you’ll be fine again, just like you were before.”

That’s what the god Ohkuninushinomikoto told the rabbit to do.

The rabbit did as she’d been told. She washed her body in the river and then gathered the cattail reeds and covered her body with them. When she did so, the pain lessened and her white fur began to grow back.

“From now on, I’ll never tell another lie. Because if you do something bad, it always comes back to you, doesn’t it?” So thinking, the rabbit deeply reflected on her actions.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時: