All posts by jgy

I have lived in Oita Japan for 10 years. Some things about Japan seem to draw me to them, like the diamond-patterned edge on the tatami mats and the pink plastic furoshiki on bentos. I agree with the poet Rilke, to "love the questions", so I don't look for answers. But I do look for clues. Hajimemashite.

Before the Festival

there is an expression in Japanese, `ato no matsuri`(after the festival)…but what happens before the festival?

Scene 1

This year I wanted to get to the summer festival early.
I recently found out that the festival is a time when the gods are let out to play and that is why they are paraded about on the o-mikoshi , or portable shrines. I was curious to see how it started, and feel the anticipation of those moments just before the gods are set free…

All the years I saw the summer festivals in the past, I never thought much of that beginning point. I enjoyed watching the elaborate portable shrines that are carried by a team of men in hapi coats with matsuri (festival) motifs or patterns…shouting heave, ho, and other expressive grunts that give the festival its lively air to the sound of taiko drums. It was always fun to hear the vendors along the sidelines shout out Welcome and announce their wares. From tako yaki to ringo ame to all things grilled on skewers or fried, the festival smells, colored streamers and tanabata decorations make it a joyful time.

Why this year did I feel called to watch the `start`? I am not really sure, but it was a new feeling to be there before the festival. I stood in the middle of the shrine grounds while the majority of those around me were busily getting ready . Young men and women in white hapi coats, older men in purple and young men in red, priests in silk robes, and kagura performers holding their masks, all clearly each with a specific `purpose` for the festivities. It was like watching behind the scenes at a grand spectacle as the cast of characters were taking their places and getting ready to perform their roles. I wasn`t thinking about the omikoshi  or when it would be brought out, rather I just felt the energy around me and watched and listened to the anticipation in the air.

I stayed in one place as the movement all around me seemed to take more and more of a `shape`, and at one point I could just feel it… the gods were being let out!

I got so excited, almost like a childlike feeling to see that all the energy mounted into the moment where it was happening, the portable shrine was being taken from the main shrine! I turned to where the `action` was…the omikoshi  being brought forth into the shrine grounds—carried by the team of men who were not yet screaming their shouts, but ceremoniously performing the sacred act of bringing out the gods!

I hope you  enjoy watching the scene in the video below and feel the meditative quality of those moments …the sense of not knowing what was to happen next…in the entrancing energy of the first moments before the festival!

Scene 2

Now that I had seen and felt these first moments, I was ready to dance through the still empty streets while the vendors were setting up their stalls!
Dance? You may ask!
Yes, this is a year for me of dance walking through Japan!

I was sitting in front of a mask-vendor`s stall, thinking about whether to buy an anime mask to get into the matsuri mood.

But the festive price of 1000yen made me stall.  My video collaborator and I sat in a shady spot waiting for the right moment,when a friend passed by and offered me a cape.

That was the signal! I put it on and was ready to dive into the empty streets, to greet the moments before the festival.  To get a hit of intoxication from the gods who were just starting their wild three days of being let loose in these streets!

Please enjoy `Before the Matsuri Dance Walk` video below,

**There is a Japanese expression, `Ato no matsuri` which means `After the festival`, or `too late!`. You can find a related post on BB here
`Mae no matsuri` could be a new expression to describe this feeling of anticipation `before the matsuri`.  We could coin it here.

There`s still time.
Don`t be late!** Zehi (by all means!) get to your summer festival early!

Video credit:
presented by Joanne G. Yoshida
filmed by Utsu-shin
location: Nagahama Shrine, Oita, Japan

Joanne G. Yoshida

Dance Walk Japan!

We rented bicycles to tour the island, stopped in front of the torii...
We rented bicycles to tour the island, stopped in front of the torii…

This year I discovered the pleasures of `dance walk` as a way to travel in Japan. It has become my favorite means of transportation and has taken me to visit one of Japan`s World Heritage sites, as well as to explore the area around where I live in southern Japan, and to see things with a new sense of discovery.

I would like to share a mini-`how to` manual with you so that you might try it too in Japan or wherever you are! I will also show you a few of the sites in Japan I have visited through this combined means of exercise and expression.

For dance walk travel, you don`t need much. I recommend these basics:
1. a backpack with easy-to-move-in light clothes for dancing,
2. an i-pod with music you might like to choose in advance to go with the mood of the site and what you wish to express
3. a video camera so you can share the experience
4. a friend or collaborator who shares your enthusiasm and openness, who is not shy to be with you as you will be dancing through the trip!

camera ready

5. (optional) Yoga Mat for stretches in your room and a small overnight kit if you will be staying overnight

take some time to stretch in your room...
take some time to stretch in your room…

As the idea of dance walk is discovery, it is best to travel with an empty mind and an open heart. Every site has its own special nature, so the first thing to do when you arrive at the site is to `greet it` with your movement. Breathe in the sights, the architecture, the sky, the trees, the flowers. If the moon is out, what luck you are in! Greet the moon with your gestures, connect with the sun…feel into your breath, and whenever you are ready turn on the music, begin to listen and feel your own rhythms, listen to your body, and let yourself move–in all directions— from the heart!

I learned in a dance workshop about `greeting` a site and asking its permission. Just as you would to a dance partner, when you dance walk in a site, it is a beautiful thing to `ask` if it is o.k. for you to enter. This can be done through gesture, breath, a short meditation or a simple offering of something you bring from nature or from your heart.

I recently went to Miyajima, one of Japans National Treasure sites located a ferry ride from Hiroshima, to do a dance walk by the famous orange torii gate and Itsukushima Shrine. You may know of this site famous for the shrine that appears to float in the sea at high tide.

The video of the dance walk became seven segments, starting in the morning hours before sunrise (the ocean tide and tide and travellers had not yet come in) where me and my video collaborator were the only ones in the site; to the sunset hours where we met some travelers who shared a dance with me in front of the Itsukushima Shrine

I also had a chance to dance with deer who roam the island, but as enthusiastic as I was for the chance to meet them through my dance, they showed indifference. Still those moments when I sat on the grass face to face with a deer were amazing memories for me!! They are part of the dance too. You can see the segment that has my `dance` with the deer here:

Part one starts with greeting the famous torii here and continues here as its power and the power of the tides bring me into both backwards and spinning movements that brought me a deep reverence for the site.

Whether it is a famous site, or a backstreets road, allow yourself to connect with the surroundings and be open to new movements and experience. Don`t hold back! Enjoy the movement! People might think you are a little strange, but the beauty is, people might think that anyway so it gives you a little freedom to go the extra step, to add a little shimmy or sway into your walk, and hopefully to connect with people heart to heart on your travels.

Other dance walks I have done this year include a Cherry Blossoms Dance Walk, and most recently a Rainy Season Dance Walk to dance by a pond of lotus flowers but it rained so hard I just got a short scene! My dream is to go to a dance walk on Mt. Fuji! And little by little to have others join with me in the dance through Japan…
Next time won`t you dance with me!

My dance walk in Miyajima begins here:

and you can find an assortment of dance walks here

Joanne G. Yoshida teaches Shake Your Soul/Kripalu Yoga Dance in Oita, Japan, where she has lived with her husband and daughter for fourteen years.
Feel free to share your comments and questions about her Dance Walk Japan or any of your dance walk plans!! Like Joanne`s Yoga Dance Walk on Facebook HERE.

miyajima peace statue

‘Kyarabens’ Tutorial

Hexagon Bento

If you are looking for a Japanese art form to explore but haven’t found a traditional art to your taste, you might want to try the art of Kyaraben, also known as Charaben, short for “Character Bentos”.

These are bentos where the assortment of foods to go in the lunch box are made in the shapes of your favorite animation characters.  If you develop a flair, you may even want to branch into landscape-bens, portrait-bens, or even abstra-bens.  The latter three being as yet unexplored bento art territory.

Sketch for Hexagon Character Bento by Y.

To make this 100% edible art, start with a sketch of your favorite character.  From Hello Kitty to Hexa-kun (the character from the well-known television quiz show, Hexagon),  the world’s your oyster and any vegetable, fish cake, meat morsel or seaweed  sheets can form the materials.

You will find a scissor helpful for cutting seaweed; and straws are good to punch small circles in slices of ham or cheese that can be used as buttons, on faces, as polkadots, etc.

Think about your palette, and how to make colors from plain white rice adding such condiments as tomato ketchup, mentaiko or pink fish powders, or an autumn orange using pumpkin.

Color variations for egg omelette
cutting holes in cheese with the end of a straw

Bento artist at work
Koala March Ben

Sharpen your knives, get out your bento supplies, and discover that you too can sculpt rice into onigiri of various shapes and sizes that can be wrapped with colorful tastes to resemble your favorite characters.

The bentos pictured are made by my daughter,  11-year old Y., who is getting an early start in the art.  She made these bentos  for her fall school excursions (ensokus).   BTW, the Chara-bens are also ECO and can be adapted for all ages.  If you enjoy this art, you might be inclined to use your own bento more and purchase the disposable variety less.


Aikawarazu Life in Japan

Tomare–Astor Place

One of the things I love about Japan is that the ground is painted like a giant asphalt canvas, with street signs in bright colors like the “TOMARE” which means “STOP” for cars.

One of the things I love about New York, is that anything goes, and new meanings can be found for just about anything.

What would happen if we painted “TOMARE” on the streets, and underneath it wrote the word “LOVE”.

Living in Japan , in a way, helps me to find the freedom to be who I am by living in an environment where meaning takes on new meaning in a kind of abstract sort of way.

This summer on a visit to New York, I brought my “TOMARE” Yoga mat with me and reached for the sky.


TOMARE–Have Mat, Will Travel

Tomare Yoga Mat, anywhere you go

(or, Home is Where the Mat Is)

This summer I came to the multi-culti realization that, for me, home is where the mat is.

After living in Oita City the same number of years (past the decade mark) as New York City (where I resided before Japan), I realize that home is no longer a country or a town.

I found that a 60 cm X 180 cm space that I can roll up and carry with me does the trick to let me find my center, and to be at home wherever I am.

Stop and find your center.  Let your energy radiate out from the heart,

is the motto of a yoga mat I designed this year, based on the Japanese kanji,, (tomare, pronounced toe-ma-ray),which means STOP.

I was attracted to this stop sign since I moved to Japan eleven years ago.  Over the years I drew Tomare, painted Tomare, and made a 3-D Tomare bench as a stopping place.  The yoga mat is a medium which finally brought the message home for me.

The radiant sun in the center of the design represents the heart.

When I STOP long enough I can watch my breath, and slow down into yoga postures that help me connect to the world around me— standing in front of my favorite tree in a field in Yufuin, or in front of an abstract square sculpture in the middle of New York City; looking up to the sky, watching as buildings touch the clouds, or staring at a clear blue expanse of sea.

To STOP is to connect to a stillness which at the same time is always in movement.

It took me a long time to pause on my journey long enough to feel this.  “TOMARE” continues to teach me and point me in the way to new “Starts”.

Where do you feel most at home?



To order a Tomare Yoga Mat,

For interest in collaborating on “Tomare’s around the World” or sponsor this project-in-the-planning, please ‘stop’ by.

Ice Cream

soda floatseventeen ice

Who remembers the ditty,

Ice Cream

You Scream

We all scream


Ice Cream

I wonder what an equivalent rhyme is in Japan for the universal yell for keeping cool with Ice Cream.

I find wrappers dotting the streets where I live, in bright colors and cool shades, great designs screaming out to be noticed, and great flavors that I look for when I need to scream for some of Japan’s great treats.

All wrappers 100% found in Japan.

Have you seen any new flavors where you are?

Keep cool, Happy Summer.

Found in Japanramane ice

happy finding to all and to all a good find


It’s All “Cho-co”

This season you can find sushi, beer, curry, green tea, shochu, and baseball in their chocolate incarnations.

A variety of Japan’s tastes and trends are made into “cho-co” versions for the Valentines Day boom.

Check the label on your favorite beer, curry or sushi package before purchasing to make sure if it’s the ‘real’ thing or the chocolate version!

beer chocolate

Curry Chocolate

If you hear this music playing in the background at the shop, you’re most probably looking at the cho-co.

Crush, crush I’ve got a crush on you,

Sweet, sweet I’ve got a thing for you.

Boom, boom my heart is beating for you…

You know I can’t stop Love.*

*(lyrics and photos from the “LOFT” Valentines Day display)


Aikawarazu Life in Japan

Tomare–the new peace sign for the 2010’s?!

How does a symbol become a universal symbol?

Like the peace sign and the smiley face.  How would one read a peace sign before having the knowledge that it is a peace sign.

If you don’t know Japanese what would this sign mean to you?

And if you know Japanese and know it is derived from a stop sign painted on the road for cars, could you look at it a-new, with fresh eyes, and see it as meaning START?

Stop and find your center.

Let your energy radiate out from your heart.



A walk near Amaterasu

In the earliest legends surrounding the origins of Japan, the Goddess called Amaterasu was known as the Sun Goddess.  Amaterasu is also said to be linked in lineage to the Imperial Household of Japan and the Emperor.

In one of the legends she shut herself in a cave when angered by her brother and for a period there was no light until she was lured out.  She is also associated with water and is said to have resided around the area of Takachiho in Miyazaki Prefecture.

At this time last year, we took a trip to Nobeoka to find traces of the famous Goddess, hoping to catch some glimpses of her shimmering spirit in the afternoon light, surrounded by the magical falls of Takachiho.

Then we made a wish at a nearby shrine where Amaterasu was said to have stayed, that the legend of Amaterasu and her beautiful light will live on in Japan and throughout the world.

Happy late days of fall and happy travels in Japan to wherever the spirit might move you this season to visit.


Aikawarazu Life in Japan

A must have winter accessory for this year–Ear Muffs

This year, one kakasenai (can’t do without) fashion item is sure to warm your ears and catch the eyes of fashion conscious passers-by.

hamburger earmuffs
Along with simple earmuffs in glorious plush winter whites and browns, you can find fashiony puffs in heart, smile and even hamburger shapes.


There are also ear warmers, attached to woven bands that fit snuggly like a headband to keep out the winter chill.

Keep warm this winter from ear to ear.

Only next winter will tell if the trend lives on from year to year.


Aikawarazu Life in Japan