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

Ushinohi – ‘Eel Day’

The 27th of July this year was the one day of the year where people traditionally ate freshwater eel, Unagi, usually grilled over charcoal, as a “stamina food”, a meal presumed to give one the stamina to last out the hot summer days. This year African eels were imported to Japan for the first time and according to surveys didn’t go over to well. The eels might have still been eaten up, though out of curiosity.

About Unagi
After Tokugawa Ieyasu succeeded in unifying Japan with his victory at the Battle of Sekigahara, the capital moved from Kyoto to his base, the provincial town of Edo (now called Tokyo, or ‘East Capital’). Transforming Edo into a modern capital of its day required, among other things, extensive land reclamation projects.

Reclamation projects created temporary lakes and ponds in which unagi quickly invaded and flourished. Land reclamation is low paying work so laborers would simply catch unagi ‘on site’ for free. Physical labor is very hard work and unagi which is high in fat gave laborers the required energy.

In the early Edo period (1603-1868) unagi was considered a low class and unsophisticated food due to the fact that it was caught, chopped, roasted and eaten in the field by laborers and also because of its high fat content.

By the late Edo period though this had changed due to various unagi cooking processes being developed in the capital, namely kabayaki. With kabayaki, fish, generally unagi, is boned, put on metal skewers and grilled over charcoal while being dipped in a thick, sweetened soy sauce several times throughout the grilling process.
Today, unagi kabayaki is usually served on top of rice, as donburi, or unagi-don.

Difference Between Kanto and Kansai Style Unagi
Kanto (eastern Japan/Tokyo) style unagi is first steamed, then grilled kabayaki style. The steaming process causes a good deal of the fat to be removed and the unagi flesh to be soft.
Kansai (western Japan/Osaka, Kyoto) style unagi is not steamed, and therefore it is more fatty and chewy.

Another interesting difference is the way the unagi is cleaned. Edo was the seat of the military (samurai) government of Japan and samurai sometimes had to commit ritual suicide (seppeku 切腹) by cutting their lower abdomen open and slowly bleeding to death in excruciating pain. The purveyors of unagi cuisine were sensitive to this as samurai were among their customers, accordingly they split the eel open from the back, not the stomach; Japanese love this kind of thing. Also, usually the head and tail was removed in the process, though not out of deference to samurai.

In Kansai, in the merchant city of Osaka, there was a saying, ‘talk with your stomach open’; be frank, open and honest. So, in Kansai, the eels were split down the stomach. The head and tail usually remained attached.

About the Ushinohi ‘Eel Day’ Custom
In modern-day Japan, most everyone eats unagi on the Doyo-no-ushi-no-hi (土用の丑の日). This year it was on July 27th, but it occurs one day between mid-July and the beginning of August.

Fukubukuros: Japan ‘Fortune Bags’ Draw New Year’s Shoppers

New Year’s Day is the most revered holiday in Japan. Celebrated in a four-day period, most Japanese spend it with family, quietly visiting shrines and feasting on traditional New Year’s dishes.

But the scene outside the popular Laforet mall in Tokyo’s Harajuku district looked more like a concert today. Lines of shoppers spilled out into the streets as security guards watched closely.

Laforet employees wore colorful Jinbeis (a Japanese traditional short jacket) with megaphones in hand, while the sound of traditional taiko drums echoed through the hip shopping district.

Read the rest of the story: Japan ‘Fortune Bags’ Draw New Year’s Shoppers.

‘Tis the Season Commercial Christmas and a Bucket of Chicken in Japan

Although it is said that most Japanese are Shinto and Buddhist, few people are aware the Japanese also participate in "commercialized Christianity" in order to take advantage of those fun Christian holidays.

Christmas, with its sparkly, over-glitzed trees, a cherry-cheeked Santa Claus and the ritual of gift-giving is irresistible to the Japanese who have taken to celebrating Christmas on a superficial level. You can hardly blame them for wanting to participate in such an entertaining religion.

But the Japanese have adjusted Christmas to their own liking. Santa-san enters the house through the window and brings one gift to each child on Christmas Eve, which he leaves on the childs bed. Christmas also plays a romantic role, a type of Valentines Day for couples. But there is plenty of Christmas spirit too — decorations, Christmas carols piped into shopping malls, and of course Christmas sales.

And there is one stellar biped who has stuck his neck out to represent Christmas in Japan: the chicken. Chicken is the official Christmas dinner and most families order KFC to spread the Christmas joy.

Read the rest of the story: Christmas in Japan.

Delicious dishes that are fit for a princess on Momo no Sekku

Hina Matsuri, also known as Girls’ Festival or Momo no Sekku (Peach Day). This day was a traditional seasonal and religious event on the lunar calendar, during the period when peach blossoms were in bloom — around early April on the Gregorian calendar. (Japan has followed the Gregorian calendar since the late 19th century, so peaches are no longer in bloom during Hina Matsuri, but they are still symbolic of the festival.)

Girlie goodies: Kyoto-Kansai-style hina arare , a multicolored sweet and savory rice-cracker mix.

During the latter half of the Edo Period (1603-1868), Momo no Sekku evolved into the festival it is now: a day to celebrate women and to wish for their health and happiness. While it’s not an official national holiday, it’s observed widely in Japan, especially by families that have young daughters.

The centerpiece of Hina Matsuri is the ohina-sama or hina (princess) doll display, depicting the wedding procession of an imperial princess of the Heian Period (794-1185)

Read the rest of the story: Delicious dishes that are fit for a princess.

Japan celebrates Mt Fuji Day

The Japanese love Mt.Fuji. In fact, they love the iconic peak that they’ve designated February 23 as Mt Fuji Day.

Mt Fuji, Japan’s highest peak, stands 3,776 metres high on the border between Shizuoka and Yamanashi Prefectures.

The almost perfectly shaped volcano is a national icon, attracting hordes of tourists to Shizuoka Prefecture every year.

Many schools in Japan’s Shizuoka Prefecture which enjoys good views of Mt Fuji have chosen to close on February 23, which is all the better to take advantage of the free admissions to various public facilities and parks.

It appropriate that Mt Fuji Day is in February as clear skies make it one of the best months to catch sight of the iconic snow-capped peak.

The date – February 23 – also has a special meaning for the royal family.

Read the rest of the story: Japan celebrates Mt Fuji Day.

St. Patrick’s Day Parades Around Japan

Omotesando, Tokyo is home of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade for Japan biggest city. This year’s parade is on March 14 and starts from Omotesando Hills; it runs from 2 p.m. till 4 p.m.

Tokyoites aren’t the only ones that think they have a little Irish in them. Other areas in Japan also hold parades and more.

In Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, parades will take place on land and the Horikawa River on March 14. The land parade starts at midday from Karakoro Plaza. Twenty green boats, will also depart Otemae Horikawa Boat Boarding Point at 11 a.m. and head to Karakoro Plaza. (

In Yokohama, the parade runs from 1 p.m. till 4 p.m. on Motomachi Shopping Street on March 20, (

In Tsukuba, the parade starts at 3 p.m. in Tsukuba Center Plaza on March 27 (

In Ise, people will parade along a 2-km course, starting at Ise Shrine Geku from midday and finishing at 4 p.m. on March 13 (

In Kyoto, a mere 300 participants will march on Oike Dori from 2:30 p.m. till 4 p.m. on March 14 (

Visit the Irish Network Japan at for more information.

Photo by infomatique.

Happy Moe Day!!!

“What is Moe Day?”

Moe (もえ・萌え): Literally means “to bud” and is a pun on the homonym “to burn”. It is used among otaku to mean getting fired up for budding young beauties. A character described as moe today is an amalgam of Lolicon and Bishoujo features. Most are infantile and bright and have massive, wet, dog-like eyes. They can seem almost animal-like, alien, or androgynous. The appeal of moe features relates to childlike purity, so it should come as no surprise that moe characteristics tend to be younger than Kawaii Bishoujo schoolgirls. The lolicon image is now considered too “real”, and too sexual, so moe is used instead to define a fantasy love or desire.

Whoa!!! But, why today?

Take a look at the Kanji for the word moe.


Now let’s break them down into their parts…


And now let’s write them out…


And there you have it October 10th is Moe Day! Happy Moe Day!

Tsukimi – How can we enjoy Tsukimi?

This October 3rd in 2009 is Ju-goya (Full moon night). It is the day for Tsukimi. Tsukimi means watching the moon. People enjoy watching the moon and the feeling it gives on cool autumn nights.

This custom originally came from China, but has changed a little in Japan. Compared with Chinese Tsukimi, which is a big annual event, Japanese Tsukimi mainly is a day to enjoy watching the moon and just soaking in autumn.

How can we enjoy Tsukimi?

Usually, we put silver glasses, Tsukimi dango (Dumplings), aroids(potatoes type roots), edamame, chestnuts, sake, and so on…in a place from where you can see the moon at home. The reason why you put silver glasses is because they have the power to ward off evil spirits. And the reason for putting those foods in the moonlight is said to be in appreciation of the harvest and is in respect to nature.

During the Heian Period, noble people had a drinking spree and enjoyed writing poems about the moon. And they enjoyed not only watching the moon directly, but also watching it reflected in a pond and in the sake in their cups.

After you finish Tsukimi of Ju-goya on October 3rd, you also may enjoy another Tsukimi on October 30th. It is called Ju-sanya. You will be able to see the second most beautiful moon of the month on that night. It is good for luck with money and succees to pray for the moon on Ju-sanya.

So, if you have a deep appreciation for autumn or a drinking spree of your own and come up with some lyrical poems or not so lyrical poems…we would love to have you post them here in the comments section.

Respect for the Aged Day

The third Monday in September is Respect for the Aged Day or Respect for the Elderly Day.

It is a kind of like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. You go out of your way to be especially respectful to elderly people on this day.
It is something to celebrate that people in Japan can have long lives. In Japan, people celebrate their long lives at each juncture, such as Kanreki.

Kanreki means 60 years-old. The people who become Kanreki celebrate it by wearing a red Chanchanko (a padded sleeveless kimono jacket) and a red hood.

And there are more celebrating years such as Koki (70 years-old), Kiju (77 years-old), Sanju (80 years-old), Beiju (88 years-old), Sotsuju (90 years-old) and Hakuju (99 years-old).

There is no rule of celebrating those years on this day, but it is a good occasion to do so. And of course you can celebrate elderly people who are not of those ages, as well.

You may send a nice card to them or you can take them to a nice restaurant for dinner.

Here is a ranking of things to do.

1.Dinner together
3.Anything to do with their grand children (if you are a grand child, lucky you)
5.Saying thinks and Thank-you cards
6.Trips with their family
8.Gift cards or money
9.Local goods

Research done by goo (July 2009)
Photo by crschmidt