Gain deeper insight into Japanese culture

Fukubukuro Lucky Bags in Japan

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Are you in Japan early January, just after New Year?
If so, you will notice many stores selling bags (usually red and white) called Fukubukuro (福袋) or Lucky Bags in Japanese. But the catch is that customers can’t look inside the bags before buying them.
Those bags are a post-New Years tradition in Japan and most stores offer them. They fill the bags with various goods from the previous year they need to get rid of to make room for new ones…and they sell the bags at a big discount, often 50% or more.
Stores offer different price ranged bags, usually JPY3.000, JPY5.000 and JPY10.000, with of course, some stores where it can be priced higher or lower depending on the type of items the store sells.
Young women line up outside the trendiest women’s fashions stores before they open and as soon as the doors open, it’s a mad rush to buy the Fukubukuro.
Some of them in Tokyo‘s stores are known to be all sold within minutes.
If patient enough to line up, be sure not to miss out the Lucky Bag frenzy!
Or try your luck online at Rakuten or simply search (brand name)+福袋+2018

KFC a Christmas Day tradition in Japan

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Taking your family out for fried chicken at KFC on Christmas Day? If you were living in Japan you would.
Since only about 1% to 2% of the Japanese population is Christian, the country didn’t have many established Christmas traditions.
In 1974, KFC ran an marketing campaign, by decorating their shops for the holiday and offering set meals advertised as American style Christmas dinners, which convinced Japanese people that in the US they eat chicken at Christmas time due to a lack of turkey.
It somehow changed into a Japanese tradition with families booking months in advance to secure a table at KFC on Christmas Day. “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!)
KFC Japan even sells 1% alcohol bottles of “Christmas champagne”.
So Christmas dinner in Japan means chicken, especially the Colonel’s Secret Recipe, who is a cult figure and these days, KFC records its highest sales volume each year on Christmas eve.

Togyu – Bull Sumo

Little known to most of the world, Japan has its own bull fighting tradition called Tōgyū (闘牛) also known as ushi-zumo or Bull Sumo. It is said that Bull Sumo was introduced to the Oki Islands to entertain Emperor Gotoba, after being exiled to the Oki Islands following his defeat in the Shokyu War in 1221.

The bulls are treated similar to their human sumo wrestler counterparts. It is so-named because of its similarities to Sumo; including the rank of the bulls and like traditional honbasho (sumo tournament), the ring is purified using salt before the fight begins. The winning bull is decided when the other one turns away from the fight or when the other of the combatants might get hurt, owner step in to break it up. Just as in sumo, bulls are ranked by their ability, with the top position in both sports being known as yokozuna.

It is also held in other regions of Japan, such as Iwate Prefecture, Niigata Prefecture, Shimane Prefecture, and Ehime Prefecture. Contact us for more info.

Shichi-Go-San Festival

November is the month of Koyo (Autumn foliage) in Japan, but also the month of Shichi-Go-San (七五三) Celebrations. The origins of this festival are in the Heian Period (794-1185).
It is a coming-of-age festival that takes place every year on or around November 15th. Children aged three, five and seven dressed up in traditional kimonos are taken to shrines and offered blessings by priests to ensure good fortune and longevity . It marks the passage of children into their middle childhood and as per Japanese numerology these odd ages are lucky for children.
Chitose-ame (千歳飴), literally thousand year candy, is given to children on this day. It is a long, thin, white and red candy, which represents healthy growth and longevity. They are put in a paper bag with a crane and a turtle on it, which symbolize long life in Japan.

Obon: The festival of the dead

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Obon (お盆): The festival of the dead takes place mid-August throughout Japan, although some regions celebrate it in July in connection with the lunar calendar.
Many Japanese people take days off to return to their hometown to pay tribute to their ancestors. Obon is the time during which we remember and we thank the ancestors for their sacrifices and takes place during the month of the ghosts, the only period when the dead can return to Earth.
The Obon festival lasts three days, but it may vary in different regions of Japan.
August 13 — Mukaebi or welcoming fire/bonfire in front of houses lights the way for returning spirits.
August 14-15 — Hoyo/Kuyo when families invite a Buddhist priest to their homes or visit a temple or shrine to perform a memorial service.
August 16 — Okuribi another bonfire or paper lantern to send the soul of the ancestors back to their world and also are organized bonodori dances performed for the deceased.
If you have the chance to be in Kyoto on August 16, the Obon matsuri is marked by Gozan no Okuribi, the feast of fire. For the occasion big fires are lit at the top of the five mountains of the ancient imperial city.

Yokohama Triennale 2017

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The Yokohama Triennial is Japan’s largest contemporary art event, held in Yokohama, the city’s Yokohama Museum of Art, the Red Brick Warehouse and surrounding neighborhoods.

Internationally known, it is this year the  sixth edition of the Yokohama Triennale will take place between August 04 and November  05 2017, with the theme “Islands, Constellations & Galapagos”.Art Bin performance

2017 also marks the 150th anniversary of Taisei Hokan or the restoration of the Emperor political authority and  the end of Japan’s isolationist policy, which led to Yokohama being the first port to open up to the west and International Art.

This year, a total of 40 artists from all over the world will exhibit, such as: Ai Weiwei, Joko Avianto, Aoyama Satoru,  Maurizio Cattelan, Alex Hartley…

Tickets for the event cost JPY1.500 in advance or 1.800 on the day, which also entitled you to ride the free shuttle bus between the venues.

More infos: Yokohama Triennale 2017

Hanabi – Summer in Japan, the season of fireworks!

Summertime in Japan is the season to go out with friends and to enjoy fireworks that take place throughout the country during July and August. Called Hanabi Taikai (花火大会) fireworks last approximately one hour and if you want to have the chance to attend them with a clear view, you have to reserve your place in advance.
Here is a the top 3 of the best fireworks festival in the country.

– The Sumida River Fireworks Festival
Date: July 29, 2017 from 7:05 pm to 8:30 pm
Location: Along the Sumida River in the vicinity of Asakusa Station, Tokyo

– Fukuroi Enshuu no Hanabi
Date: August 11, 2017 from 7 pm to 9 pm
Location: On the banks of the Haranoya River between JR Fukuroi and Aino stations, Fukuroi town, Shizuoka prefecture

– Miyajima Fireworks
Date: 26 August 2017 from 19.40 to 20.40
Location: The shores of Miyajima Island, Hiroshima Prefecture

Contact us for the full list this summer fireworks festival.

Setsubun: The Bean-Throwing Festival

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Setsubun (節分) is a unique festival in Japan occurring every year on February 3.
It literally means “seasonal division” and commemorates the beginning of spring or risshun (立春) in the traditional Japanese calendar, although it’s still pretty much winter for most of the country.
But it is best known as “the bean-throwing festival”, a day to remove the evil spirits and bad luck of the previous year and to allow good luck into the home for the next year, done with a custom called Mamemaki (豆撒き).
It involves throwing roasted soy beans out the front home door, at shrine or temple or at a demon-masked individual while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (鬼は外! 福は内!) or “Demons out, good fortune in!”.
If you are around that day, why not participating in Mamemaki.

Koyo viewing on Mount Takao

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“Koyo” is the Japanese word for leaves color change, during the Autumn. Trees, mainly Mapple trees and Ginko change their color from green to yellow, orange, red and make a spectacular view.
All forested mountains become tourists hot spots for autumn color viewing . It doesn’t happen everywhere at the same time though – it occurs over more than two months across Japan.
It starts usually in late September at high altitudes of mountain areas, where temperatures are cooler, and on the northern island of Hokkaido then descends down to the plain areas towards south of Japan.
Mount Takao (599m) is one of the closest natural recreation areas to central Tokyo and late November the mountain becomes one of Tokyo’s most popular koyo spot. Takaosan (Mount Takao) and the surrounding mountain areas also offer attractive hiking opportunities with many well marked hiking trails. It is also the home to an attractive Buddhist temple-Yakuoin.

Join us on a day tour. Contact us for info.

Teru Teru Bozu, the Rain Stopping Ghost

Teru Teru Bozu (てるてる坊主? “shine shine monk”), is a craft made of white paper or cloth bound together with a bit of string. It looks like a little ghost that Japanese farmers hang outside their window and is believed to have magical powers to bring good weather and stop/prevent rain.
What looks like a simple custom is actually a prayer to ancient gods and to one of Japan’s monster clan, the yokai called Hiyoribo, who is said to come from the mountains of Hitachi-no-kuni, modern day Chiba prefecture and his season is the summertime. Hiyoribo is said to be a yokai who brings sunny weather, and who can not be seen on rainy days.