Happy Halloween from Japan!
This year, I was invited to see a local fall festival (秋祭り). It was held in a small neighborhood nestled deep in the mountains. In good weather, this neighborhood is a 20 minutes drive from the nearest store. Once the snow falls, it takes even longer. The festival involved bringing a large object from the elementary school to a local shrine. (The school only has 5 students and will be shut down at the end of the school year.)
More pictures after the jump (more…)
One Saturday, my friend and I walked into our local supermarket to find out that a special event was going on. Several companies were giving away free samples and employees were placed throughout the store stamping raffle cards. (You have to get 5 stamps to equal one entry to the raffle.) One of the supermarket staff members asked us where we were from and when we said we were from the US, he told us that he had gone on a business trip to the US and that he really likes Trader Joe’s.
My favorite of the stations set up by one of the companies was the one set up by the local milk company. They had a mock cow milking station!
Golden Week is one of my favorite times of the year. Around the first week of May, Japan has 4 public holidays. They are so close together, that it is usually possible to take a week off of work, but only take 2 vacation days. It is one of the busiest times to travel both within Japan and to and from Japan. This year, Showa Day fell on April 29th, Constitution Memorial Day was May 3rd, Greenery Day was May 4th, and Children’s Day was May 5th. I decided to take off the last week of April and the first week of May so that I could enjoy a Double Golden Week!
I spent the first half of my Double Golden Week in Hong Kong and the second half in and around Bangkok. But, to get out of my rural town, I first had to take a night bus to Osaka, then take the train for about 90 minutes to get to Kansai International Airport (Nicknamed Kankuu). And from there I flew to Hong Kong.
You can see more pictures in the full post. (more…)
Continuing with the Cherry Blossoms. The 7 stages of the blooming cherry blossoms are bud (tsubomi つぼみ), beginning to bloom (sakihajime 咲き始め), half bloomed (gobunsaki ５分咲き), 70 percent bloomed (nanabunsaki ７分咲き), full bloom (mankai 満開), beginning to fall (chirihajime 散り始め), and completely gone (hazakura 葉桜). The cherry blossom full bloom that everyone is always clamoring to see only lasts about 2 weeks! Many people plan to travel when the cherry blossoms are in bloom, but it’s hard to predict exactly when they will blossom and the spring season is busy, so good luck getting a hotel room in Kyoto or other major cherry blossom viewing areas during this time.
These pictures were taken during the main event of my town’s cherry blossom festival. They usually have a schedule packed with events, including fireworks and musical performances. This year, they had a very limited schedule because of the earthquake and tsunami in Northeastern Japan. They still lit up the trees at night and had a few food stalls and added one extra event, which they called candle night. They were asking everyone to buy a candle for disaster relief and they placed the candles on the ground in the shape of a heart.
In my previous post, I included some pictures of the cherry blossoms as they were just starting to bloom. Once again, the seven stages of cherry blossoms, according to Yahoo Japan, are bud (tsubomi つぼみ), beginning to bloom (sakihajime 咲き始め), half bloomed (gobunsaki ５分咲き), 70 percent bloomed (nanabunsaki ７分咲き), full bloom (mankai 満開), beginning to fall (chirihajime 散り始め), and completely gone (hazakura 葉桜).
These pictures are of roughly half-bloomed cherry blossoms (sakura).
A couple weeks ago, I posted some pictures of the local cherry blossoms, pre-bloom. These pictures were taken on April 2nd, when the cherry blossoms were just starting to bloom. That would put them in the second category of the yahoo Japan cherry blossom blooming categories or beginning to bloom (sakihajime 咲き始め). (To recap, these are the 7 categories: bud (tsubomi つぼみ), beginning to bloom (sakihajime 咲き始め), half bloomed (gobunsaki ５分咲き), 70 percent bloomed (nanabunsaki ７分咲き), full bloom (mankai 満開), beginning to fall (chirihajime 散り始め), and completely gone (hazakura 葉桜).)
April 2nd and 3rd was initially supposed to be the day of the big cherry blossom festival because it fell during the period that the Japanese Meteorological Agency had predicted that the trees would be in full bloom. The festival didn’t happen that day for 2 reasons: 1) The cherry blossoms weren’t blooming like they thought they would. 2) Out of respect for the earthquake victims. Japan fell into a state of jishuku（自粛）, or voluntary restraint, after the earthquake and the general feeling that everyone needs to pull together and cut back seeped into aspects of everyday life all over the country, even in places far removed from the disaster area like my little town in the West.
Ever since the massive 9.0 earthquake and tsunami, which happened exactly one month ago today and devastated Northeastern Japan, things have been a bit different here. Although my area was not greatly affected by the initial disaster and is a safe distance away from the Fukushima Nucelar Plant, the general attitude has changed a bit. Events have been canceled, people are saving electricity, and many people are asking what they can do. Many stores are answering this need to help by adding donation boxes next to their registers.
The situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant is still tenuous, but even worse, people are still suffering in the disaster zone. We’ve had a couple cold snaps recently, which hasn’t helped. And the aftershocks are incessant. They had a 7.1 on the 1 month anniversary and a 5 a couple of hours ago. 150,000 people are still in shelters. If you are able to donate, please consider the Red Cross or another reputable organization.
April first is a big day in Japanese offices. No, it’s not April fools day. People aren’t pulling pranks in the office. April first is the day for personnel transfers (jinji idou 人事異動). In my office, people found out about 3 weeks ago whether they would stay in our department or be transferred. We had 6 people leave the department, including my division head and department head. You have the option to request a transfer or request not to be transferred, but you the final decision is up to the personnel division. And if you get transferred, you won’t necessarily stay in the same building. The farthest anyone in my department can be transferred to is the other side of town. (The coworker who sat next to me got transferred to the farthest possible office from here and now his morning commute will go from half an hour to and hour and a half! Not fun!) But in large companies, you could get transferred to a different city or even a different country! Of course, if you were to be transferred so far away, you would probably know about it more than 3 weeks in advance. But all these transfer means that March is the time when most Japanese people move to new cities and new homes. (In America, people tend to move in the summer.)
In addition to the people moving to different offices within their company, the new school year starts in April and recent graduates who are new employees have their first day of work today. (Several people I know are starting work today. Good luck everyone!)
It is hard to imagine Japan without Ｍｏｃｈｉ, Japanese rice cakes. Anytime time of the year, but especially around new years, it is popular in many communities and families around Japan to pound rice and make mochi, a kind of rice cake. (I don’t particularly like defining mochi as rice cakes because rice cake can refer to many, many things, but I don’t know of a better definition.) Around new years, I was visiting an elementary school and explaining what new years in like in the states to them. While in Japan, there are particular children’s and games and food associated with New Years, a lot of the new years fun in the states is much more fun for adults, so I had difficulty conveying new years to them in an interesting way. When asked if there was special food for new years, I drew a blank. One kid asked me if we have mochi in the states and when I said no, he said, “good thing I was born in Japan.”
In the states, most people who know mochi probably know it in the form of mochi ice cream. Mochi ice cream was the first kind of mochi that I ever ate. In recent years, I’ve also seen small bite-sized pieces of mochi offered as toppings at some frozen yogurt chains.
To make mochi, glutinous rice is pounded down using a wooden pestle called a kine (pronounced key-neigh) and a mortar called an usu. As the rice is pounded, the individual grains cease to exist and it all becomes one sticky mass of rice. It is then shaped and eaten as is or put into a kind of soup. It can also be filled with red bean paste or sometimes with strawberries. For the lazy ones among us, there are now machines that pound the mochi for you, including ones small enough to have at home.