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Category Archives: Japan

Here is another great post from Tokyohamster! 🙂 (It’ll make you crave soba! 😉 )

oh my omiyage

It seems like it would be so simple.  Pick up soba, put it in your mouth, chew, and swallow.  But just like many things in Japan with a history or tradition, there’s a proper way to eat soba.  Although there are hot soba dishes, truly good soba is enjoyed cold or chilled served on top of a zaru (a bamboo strainer).  And just like pasta, it’s served ‘al dente’ so that each bite of soba is chewy.

Soba dipping bowl - wasabi and green onions served over a bowl of tsuyu

Typically before the soba arrives, a server will bring you a cup filled with tsuyu (pronounced: tszoo-you; soba dipping sauce) covered with a small plate of wasabi and leeks.

Soba Dipping Sauce - wasabi and green onions. How to eat soba.

Take the plate off of the dipping cup, add your desired amount of wasabi and leeks to the tsuyu, and mix in the cup.

Soba Tsuyu with wasabi and green onions

When your soba is served, pick up some soba noodles with your chopsticks, dip it directly into the tsuyu, and…

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The Light of the Firefly: What is its Role in Japanese Culture?

Japanese fireflies in Okayama Prefecture

The firefly (or lightning bug as we call it in my hometown) has always been my favorite insect.  Surrounded by hundreds in a field on a summer night can take your breath away and make you feel as though you’re in a fairytale.

Well, the other day I was perusing one of my favorite websites (japanese.about.com) and I found an article about the role fireflies (known as “hotaku” in Japanese) play in Japanese society.  It was really fascinating!

According to Namiko Abe, the Japanese language guide for japanese.about.com, fireflies have quite a few meanings in Japan. She wrote that the firefly’s mystical light has been a metaphor for passionate love in poetry since Man’you-shu (the 8thcentury anthology-which is the oldest collection of poetry in Japan). The firefly is not only a symbol of love but it also has a

Image from the movie “Grave of the Fireflies”

supernatural meaning, too. “Their eerie lights are also thought to be the altered form of the souls of soldiers who have died in war,” wrote Abe. I believe that this metaphor is used throughout the popular 1988 Japanese animated film, “Hotaru no Haka (Grave of the Firelies)” as a representation of not only the soldiers that died in World War II but also of innocent citizens who died from “side effects” of the war (such as starvation).

Another form of poetry that fireflies have been the subject of is music. “Hotaru no Hikari (Light of the Firefly)” is a very popular song in Japan. According to Puneeta (from the blog Japan-as I know it), this song is sung to the Scottish tune of “Auld Lang Syne” and is sung mostly at graduations or as a symbol of “the end” (such as the end of a business day).  I really like the Japanese version! The lyrics are beautiful. Below are the lyrics to this song as they were listed on Puneeta’s blog:

Lyrics of Hotaru no Hikari (with English translation)

hotaru no hikari, mado no yuki. (Light of fireflies, snow by the window)
fumi yomu tsukihi, kasanetsutsu.(Many suns and moons spent reading)
itsushika toshi mo, sugi no to wo. (Years have gone by without notice)
aketezo kesa wa, wakare yuku. (Day has dawned; this morning we part)

tomaru mo yuku mo, kagiri tote ( Stay or leave, either an end)
katami ni omofu, chiyorozu no (Think as mementos; so many)
kokoro no hashi wo, hitokoto ni (Corners of my heart, in one word)
sakiku to bakari, utafu nari. (Sing for peace)

tsukushi no kiwami, michi no oku (Far reaches of Kyushu, far along roads)
umi yama tohoku, hedatsu tomo (Though separated by seas and mountains)
sono magokoro wa, hedate naku (Its sincere heart is not.)
hitotsu ni tsukuse, kuni no tame. (Serve single-mindedly for our country)

chishima no oku mo, okinawa mo (From the ends of Chishima to Okinawa),
yashima no uchi no, mamori nari. (All part of Japan)
itaran kuni ni, isa o shiku. (Contribute to our great country)
tsutomeyo wagase, tsutsuganaku (I’ll faithfully devote my life)

Similar in concept to “hanami” (the cherry blossom viewing that occurs earlier in the year in Japan), Abe also wrote about “hotaru-gari”. She said that “hotaru-gari” is a popular activity where people go out on summer nights to view the fireflies’ glow. Abe went on to say that because of pollution, the fireflies are sadly decreasing as they only live in clean streams.

Japanese fireflies near a stream in Okayama Prefecture

Do you have fireflies in your area? Do they have any special meanings that are different than the ones listed here? If so, leave a comment and let me know! 🙂

***If you’d like to read the posts where I received this information, here are their links:

Namiko Abe from japanese.about.com: Relationships with Nature: Firefly-The Role of the Firefly in Japanese Society

Puneeta: Japan-as I know it: Hotaru no Hikari (Glow of the Fireflies)

I wanted to reblog this post because the topic is very interesting and the pictures are absolutely beautiful! 🙂

Japanese Art, Tokyo News and Japan News

Ogawa Kazumasa: photos of women in the late 19th and early 20th century in Japan

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The photography of Ogawa Kazumasa in this article is based on images of Japanese ladies in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. In each image you will find nothing revolutionary nor will you find a “hidden mystery.” However, the simplicity of each image and the serene effect is most heartwarming.

Indeed, if you venture into stunning gardens like Chinzan-so and you are lucky enough to see a female dressed in traditional Japanese clothes, then the “ghosts” of these images will instantly connect. It is this simplicity which appeals greatly because Ogawa Kazumasa isn’t showing an agenda or focused on highlighting perfection.

Instead, all these images are highlighting aspects of life in the distant past and from the purpose of female fashion, traditional Japanese clothes, the role of women…

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This is a great post and I had to share it! 🙂 As the song goes, put a smile on your face, make the world better! ^_^

The streets of Tokyo, Sydney, Seoul and Tottori.

日本では確かに笑顔の人が少なすぎます。無理もないかもわかりません・・・地震に、福島被爆に永遠に続く不況であまり良いことがありませんね・・・・

しかし、昨年、空港で鏡にうつった自分の顔を見てショック受けました。日本で笑顔が少なすぎ, 言う資格がないと思った・・・私も笑顔がなくていました。

私の今年の豊富を決めました。今さら紹介するのもどうかと思うけど6週間ほど実行の成果を報告します・・・・

元旦に 「もっと笑顔で暮らそう」と決めました。すぐに効果が表れました。

朝、起きてから夜寝るまで自分に「笑顔、笑顔」と言い聞かせる・・・時々鏡の前で練習もします・・・私が笑顔をするとつい、明るいことを考える、何をするのも楽しくなる(きっと綺麗にも見える?)、そして 周囲の反応もすぐ感じました。笑顔で人を見ると 相手がびっくりして笑顔が帰って来ることも多いです。笑顔攻撃ですね!!!たまに男性は誤解をするけど それも楽しいことにしました・・・・

そして、この前、笑顔作戦を試しました。近所に 嫌なおじさんが住んでいます。何時も、私を睨みながら 私の行動を監視します。そこで・・・私が車に乗り、彼の姿を見ました。本来なら知らん顔して通りたいけど 笑顔で生活をすると決めた以上は選択肢がないでしょう??頑張りました。笑顔でおじさんを見ました・・・そうすると私の三倍の笑顔が変えて来ました!!びっくりした!!!和解かもね・・・・

皆さん!!笑顔!スマイル!まず、自分自身も幸福になりながら隣人をを幸せに出来る・・・・

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You don’t very often see people smile in Japan, with the earthquake, the nuclear fall-out and the recession that has been going on AND on I guess there isn’t a whole lot to smile about? But at the end of the last year I caught a glimpse of my face in the mirror going through immigration……..who was I to talk? I wasn’t smiling either!! So, my resolution for this year (I know it is a little late telling you all now but I needed to put it to practice)…. Would be to smile more!! Now, almost 6 weeks into my resolution I have noticed a big difference in how I feel about myself and how people react.

First, when I am not smiling I remind myself…I start smiling when I get up and until I go to bed……the more I smile…

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Valentine’s Day in Japan

In Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated by women giving out sweets, usually chocolate, to the men in their life (that includes their sweetheart, friends and coworkers).

Not all gifts given are symbols of affection though! Namiko Abe, from japan.about.com, discussed the two types of chocolates that are given on Valentine’s Day. Giri-choco (a.k.a. obligation chocolate) is given to the men in a woman’s life that she doesn’t

Photo Courtesy of datingtips.com

really have any romantic interest in but would like to give a gift of appreciation or friendship to. Honmei-choco (a.k.a. true love chocolate) is given to the man that a woman is serious about.

Even though the men don’t have to worry about giving gifts on February 14, they do have to return the favor on White Day (March 14). Abe says that the top five gifts given on White Day are:

  1. necklaces
  2. rings
  3. handkerchiefs
  4. flowers
  5. stuffed animals

She also went on to explain the meaning of “giri” (which explains this Valentine’s Day tradition). Abe said, “The concept of ‘giri’ is very Japanese. It is a mutual obligation that the Japanese follow when dealing with other people. If someone does you a favor, then you feel obligated to do something for that person.”

For more information about Valentine’s Day (and White Day) in Japan, you can access Abe’s article here.