history of Japan

Japans whacky holidays: Coming of age day

The second Monday of January is Coming-of-Age Day, a national holiday to encourage those who have newly entered adulthood to become self-reliant members of society. (The holiday used to be on January 15, but in 2000 it was moved to the second Monday of the month.) Last Monday we celebrated the coming of age day for 2014.

Local governments host special coming-of-age ceremonies for 20-year-olds, since an “adult” in Japan is legally defined as one who is 20 or over. They gain the right to vote on their twentieth birthday, and they’re also allowed to smoke and drink. But along with these rights come new responsibilities as well, and so age 20 is a big turning point for the Japanese.

Coming-of-age ceremonies have been held since time immemorial in Japan. In the past boys marked their transition to adulthood when they were around 15, and girls celebrated their coming of age when they turned 13 or so. During the Edo period (1603-1868), boys had their forelocks cropped off, and girls had their teeth dyed black. It wasn’t until 1876 that 20 became the legal age of adulthood.

These days, males generally wear suits to their coming-of-age ceremony, but a lot of females choose to wear traditional furisode – a special type of kimono for unmarried women with extra-long sleeves and elaborate designs. For unmarried women, furisode is about the most formal thing they can wear, and so many of them don it to the event marking the start of their adult life.

Coming of Age Day is a joyous occasion in Japan. Although most 20-year-old girls choose to wear a traditional kimono, get their nails painted, and have their hair done up, usually with some curls and a few accessories such as flowers or jewels. But one young adult who goes by the name “Harutamu” on Twitter, celebrated her milestone with some of the most extreme fashion we’ve ever seen. Don’t take our word for it, have a look yourself:

Harutamu crazy hair

Harutama full lenght

▼ Let’s play “Where’s Harutamu?”

Group pic

Don’t worry, Harutamu’s extreme fashion has company. Introducing the Coming of Age dress of Twitter user, “Richu,” who just happens to be Harutamu’s friend:


If you’re shocked by these ladies’ choice of clothing and accessories, take a look at how they look on the weekend:


Harutama and Richu are both part of a gyaru group called Black Diamond. Gyaru are fashion-conscious young women who like to dress in extreme makeup, but we probably didn’t have to tell you that. Upon turning 20 years of age, these girls are now technically adults in the eyes of the Japanese government, but we’re not so sure this is the kind of adult they had in mind. Especially with Twitpic captions such as, “Check out my long-sleeved kimono for the coming-of-age ceremony ♡ mini prostitute ʕ•̫͡•ʔ♡ʕ•̫͡•” (but we have to give her props for adding bear emoticons). As expected, most Twitter users who retweeted Harutama and Richu’s pictures were also unsure if the pair could be considered adults and one user wondered, “What happened to the Japan of old?” But no matter your opinion, we suppose there’s nothing left to say but, “Congratulations!” and hope for the best as these young ladies continue their journey into adulthood.

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Festivals and Events for October 2013 in Japan

5-6 October 2013

Event: Oda Nobunaga Festival in Gifu
Location: Downtown Gifu City
Time: 10:00 am to 5:00 pm
Price of Admission: Free

The festival honours the feats of Oda Nobunaga, a samurai warlord who used Gifu City as a base on his mission to unify Japan during the Warring States (Sengoku) period of Japan. It is a celebration of his contribution towards the construction of Gifu City and the legacy that he has left behind. The must see events are the memorial ceremony at Sofuku-ji Temple (Nobunaga’s family temple) and the samurai warrior parade down the main street.






Nagasaki Kunchi festival

7-9 October 2013

Event: Nagasaki Kunchi Festival
Location: Suwa Shrine Nagasaki
Time: Times vary according to the event
Price of Admission: FREE

The Nagasaki Kunchi Festival is Nagasaki’s most famous festival and has been celebrated for close to 400 years now. The festival incorporates different aspects of both Chinese and Dutch culture, which have played an important part in the city’s history.




Takayama autumn festival

9-10 October 2013

Event: Takayama Autumn Festival
Location: Sakurayama Hachimangu Shrine Takayama
Time: Times vary according to the event
Price of Admission: FREE

One of Japan’s greatest festivals, it is held twice a year in spring and autumn. The Takayama Autumn Festival is the annual festival for the Hachiman Shrine and is also referred to as the Hachiman Festival. The must see is the parade of elaborately decorated floats called yatai.


Health and sports day

14 October 2013

Event: Health and Sports Day
National Holiday

Health and Sports Day is a National Holiday in Japan that commemorates the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. It is called “Taiku no Hi” in Japanese, and is a day to promote both sports and physical and mental health. A lot of schools in Japan hold their sports festivals on this day.







Jidai Matsuri

22 October 2013

Event: Jidai Matsuri
Location: Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto
Time: 12:00 pm departure
Price of Admission: FREE

The Jidai Matsuri or Festival of the Ages dates from 1895, and sees people dressed in costumes ranging from the 8th century (Heian Period) to the 19 century (Meiji Period), parade from Kyoto Gosho (Kyoto Imperial Palace) to Heian Jingu Shrine. It is one of Kyoto’s three most famous festivals.



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Things to do: Have your dinner blessed by a Koyasan monk

jingumae_koyakun-640Monks have taken over the menus at restaurants in the posh Shin-Marunouchi building in Tokyo to offer real soul food.

Throughout the weeklong Koyasan Cafe event, diners can fill their stomachs and their spirits with Buddhist-inspired dishes.

Koyasan Cafe takes its name from the spiritual center of Japanese Buddhism, Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture. Also known as Mount Koya, it is the last resting place of the eighth-century monk Kukai, the headquarters of the Shingon sect he founded and, as of 2004, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Nankai Railway brought the event to Tokyo six years ago, aiming to attract visitors and pilgrims to Koyasan.

The participating monks also hope to deliver some of the values from their holy mountain to busy urban dwellers who have come to take the dining experience for granted.

“ ‘Shojin ryori‘ doesn’t simply mean abstaining from meat and fish,” for religious or health reasons, says Hogen Yabu, one of the monks. “Behind it is the concept of striving to bring oneself to higher enlightenment.”

buddhist monks

Nine restaurants and bars in the Shin-Marunouchi Building, located opposite Tokyo Station, are involved in the project. In addition to the food, there are chanting performances, meditation lessons and opportunities to sit down and ask questions directly to the monks.

Among the eateries are Henry Good Seven, So Tired, Tiki Bar Tokyo and Rigoletto Wine and Bar. But don’t be surprised that their names don’t exactly hint at Buddhist ascetic. Each place has gone to town with its own version of Japanese shojin ryori, once simple but now elaborate meals forgoing meat and based around vegetables and tofu. Henry Good Seven for example offers chilled cappellini with yuzu and fruit tomatoes; So Tired offers Chinese-style sweet-and-sour “pork” (made from soybeans); while Tiki Bar Tokyo presents shojin tacos and terrine made from tomatoes, cucumbers and kanten (agar-agar) gelatin. Then there are desserts such as a blancmange of mango, kiwi, kanten and soy milk available at the European-inspired Japanese restaurant Sawamura. Altogether there are 35 original shojin ryori dishes to savor.

It all sounds tempting, but eating the bare minimum is one of the first lessons that the monks hope to teach.

“So much food goes to waste these days,” Yabu says. “We want Japanese to re-examine what it really means when they say ‘itadakimasu’ (‘I receive humbly’) before eating a meal–to show gratitude to the food itself by controlling your passions and taking just enough.”

For details and schedule see the official website at (http://www.nankaikoya.jp/cafe).



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Anime fans offer prayer tablets featuring favorite characters

Anime votive boards2

Anime enthusiasts are flocking in droves to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, but not in a spiritual pilgrimage or prompted by a sudden interest in religion.

Instead it’s worship of a different kind, a devotion to fictional characters from their beloved animated works. At the shrines and temples, these anime buffs are dedicating mountains of votive picture tablets, called “ita-ema,” containing drawings of their favorite characters.

On one weekend in July, an incessant wave of young visitors was seen at Oarai Isosakijinja shrine, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean in Oarai, Ibaraki Prefecture.

After praying at the worship hall, the young “pilgrims” made frequent stops at a nearby area that was offering picture tablets for sale, where hand-drawn images of young girls far outnumber the usual tablets, which typically carry prayers about entrance exams and love.

“Katyusha is here,” said one excited visitor, who had spotted an image of one fictional character. “Wow, there are so many,” exclaimed another, merrily photographing the magnificent spectacle.

Girls und Panzer,” an anime set in Oarai, was aired from October through March. Themed around sports and youth, the serial work centered on high school girls in tanks battling as a martial art.

Views of the town, including of the shrine, were reproduced with precision in scenes of the anime that depicted the street fighting, part of the combative “bouts.”

One male visitor from Ushiku, Ibaraki Prefecture, said he has dedicated more than 30 picture tablets of his own drawings.

Anime votive boards

“It’s fun, because some people learn about my tablets on the Internet and come to see them,” said the 31-year-old. He said he makes a point of adding one phrase to his drawings: “For the development of Oarai.”

“I like the atmosphere here, so I hope the passion will continue,” the man said.

A shrine official spoke approvingly of the recent wave of visiting anime enthusiasts.

“They are real master illustrators,” he said. “I was surprised at the outset, but I am grateful for them, because they do care about Oarai.”

The word itaema, which has taken root among anime followers, was coined after “ita-sha,” which refers to cars carrying flamboyant paintings of fictional characters from the owners’ favorite anime or video games. That style of expression is believed to have originated from Washinomiyajinja shri

ne in Saitama Prefecture, where “Lucky Star,” a popular anime series from 2007, was set.

“It represents one form of fan culture, whereby you leave behind proof of your visits for others to see, much like you do in cosplay,” said Takeshi Okamoto, a lecturer of tourism sociology at Nara Prefectural University, who is studying the “pilgrimage” of anime enthusiasts.

Each shrine designates a special area for visitors to offer their votive picture tablets. That makes it easier to see that many fans are visiting, so the inspired enthusiasts compete to draw more votive tablets, offering more visual fun to their fellow anime fans, Okamoto said.

Jorinji temple, a stop on the traditional, 34-temple pilgrimage route in the Chichibu area of Saitama Prefecture, was featured in “Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day,” a serial anime aired in 2011. A feature film version has been showing in theaters across Japan since late August.

Jorinji sells official votive tablets that each carry an image of a female character in the work. While many “Anohana” enthusiasts buy them to take home, a large number of them dedicate the tablets to the temple after adding their own drawings and messages to the blank sections.

Hiroya Yoshitani, a professor of religious folklore at Komatsu College, studied 635 votive picture tablets that were offered on the temple grounds in February. He found that 24 percent of them carried conventional types of prayers, such as for success in exams, whereas an additional 25 percent carried prayers about developments in “Anohana,” such as luck in love for fictional characters in the anime.

What drew Yoshitani’s attention were the unconventional “novel” types of prayers that were carried by many of the remaining half of the votive tablets. One said, “May happiness prevail on everybody who comes here,” whereas another said, “May peace prevail in the world,” Yoshitani said.

“Anohana” was aired in the immediate aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, which claimed more than 15,000 lives. It features a girl who dies in an accident and later returns to her childhood friends. That storyline probably inspired the novel types of prayers, Yoshitani said.

Something similar is found at Oarai Isosakijinja shrine of the “Girls und Panzer” fame, where many votive tablets carry prayers about recovery from the disasters of March 11, 2011. Oarai not only had its coastal areas swamped by the towering tsunami, but the town has also been plagued by harmful rumors about radioactive fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which followed the March 2011 earthquake.

“Votive picture tablets are typical examples of worldly desires, which are egotistic,” Yoshitani said. “But fictional works with the power to inspire have engendered altruistic and all-embracing prayers that go beyond personal yearnings.”



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Former train station renovated, now offers a unique dining experience

Maach Ecute


Manseibashi Station (万世橋駅 Manseibashi-eki) can refer to two closed railway stations all in Chiyoda, Tokyo, Japan. One was a railway station on the Japanese Government Railways Chūō Main Line and the other was a subway station in the Tokyo Subway network.

Both stations were closed by 1943, though trains and subway cars still pass through them. The stations took their name from the nearby bridge, Manseibashi. The railway station was located on the south bank of the Kanda River, while the subway station was located on the north bank. The area north of the bridge is known as “Akihabara Electric Town”. Some train enthusiasts have dubbed Manseibashi station “the phantom station”.



Saturday, September 14, 2013, sees the opening of Maach Ecute Kanda Manseibashi, a commercial facility with 11 outlets including restaurants, cafés, and retailers. Its home is the red brick Manseibashi viaduct, located between Ochanomizu and Kanda stations on the JR Chuo Line, and stretching along the Kanda-gawa River from the Manseibashi area to Sotobori-dori Street. The complex pays tribute to its history as the former Manseibashi Station and later the Transportation Museum. For instance, two sets of stairs will open to the public for the first time in 70 years, since the structure stopped functioning as a station in 1943, and lead to an observation deck fashioned from the old train platform. The new Maach Ecute Kanda Manseibashi plans to stage events and create a space to liven up the community.

Maach Ecute Kanda Manseibashi

Address 1-25-4 Kanda Suda-cho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo
Hours Retailers 11:00–21:00 (Sundays and holidays –20:00)
Restaurants and cafés (11:00–23:00 (Sundays and holidays –21:00) *Excluding some outlets
Access 4-min. walk from JR Akihabara Station; 6-min. walk from JR Kanda Station / Ochanomizu Station
Contact information tel:03-3257-8910
URL http://www.maach-ecute.jp/

Manseibashi station


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Secret treasures of Japan: Origami




Voor een Nederlandse vertaling: Scroll naar beneden

Origami (折り紙), Japanese: ‘ori’ means to fold and ‘kami’ paper, is a traditional Japanese folding art and developed in the Edo period.


Origami uses a limited number of folds but due to the combination of these folds intriguing designs are possible. The art originates in China during the first or second century, shortly after the invention of paper. From China it came to Japan, where it gained its shape and form as we know it today. In general the designs start with a piece of squared paper of which the sides can be differently colored. The paper may be fold but it cannot be cut.


Japanese origami has been applied since the Edo period (1603-1867). Although frequently assumed, Japanese origami can also be made with a rectangular piece of paper instead of a squared one.


origami as a secret art for the Noble

The Japanese are said to be good at handcrafted work. Of course, there are always exceptions but in general children in kindergarten can already fold a crane bird or helmet. A foreigner completely ignorant regarding origami will be very impressed by the many possibilities one can make out of a single piece of paper.


Simple origami erects from the time of Prince Shoutokutashi (572-622) when the method of produce was first introduced by the Korean priest Tan Zhi. Traditionally de acts of ‘break’, ‘fold’ and ‘bind’ were linked to religious ceremonies. In these days people came up with certain rules concerning the folding of paper because this form of folding art was being used during formal and, most of all, holy occasions.



family secret

During the Muromachi period (1333-1568), when the shogun laid down several rules and laws, the Ogasawara and Ise families were responsible for the rules regarding ceremonial ornaments (made out of paper) and gift wraps. They decided that the rules could only be passed on as a family secret and strictly to a select number of people.


gift wrapping

During this period it was important that, if a gift was to be wrapped, it was easy to guess what it contained by the way it was packed. In other words, the package had to clearly show the form of the object inside or there had to be a small opening so one could peek inside. If it was a small gift, the giver had to write down a description of the content including the quantity.


1000 crane birds for good luck

During the Edo Period a book was published which reflected 49 ways of folding a crane bird. From that time on the tradition of folding a 1000 crane birds for luck, began to arise. This was done when, for example, someone was ill or was going to make a great journey. A crane bird is supposed to deliver a blessed feeling, therefore a 1000 or more should give you enough to be quite alright.


Mid-Meiji Period people started to teach children to fold origami in order for them to learn about art in a playful manner.


magical origami

The first person to introduce origami in Europe was a magician. In that time balloons were not yet invented so no balloon animals could be crafted. Therefore, this magician gave children joy by making them an animal of origami. He used the origami technique as well during his shows and the crowd was very impressed by his capability of crafting 3D figures out of a single piece of paper.


origami after WWII

After the Second World War the soldiers brought the art of folding back to the United States and there as well it became a huge success. Many of the more unique designs of origami which are invented in this period, were made by foreigners. After all, the Japanese had to obey strict rules that did not influence nor impede the designs of foreigners. They could fold whatever fantasy they imagined and therefore created many more creative forms. This freedom eventually reached Japan as well and they decided to ditch the rules and give their imagination free rein.



Official practitioners of origami are called Origamians and are a phenomenon all over the world. There are even competitions where participants are being challenged to great new creative pieces and push the boundaries of Origami.


geometrical imagination

During the Showa Period (1926-1989) Origami was seen as inferior to kids in kindergarten because it would limit the free imagination and fantasy. A chemist called Ryuutarou Tsuchida and Kouji Fuhimi, a physicist, spread around that Origami was actually good for children in their development phase. The creation of many complicated forms stimulates the geometrical imagination and will prepare children to solve difficult mathematical problems later on in high school. These two geniuses thought that children who learn to think with their spatial skills by making Origami, will be able to apply this way of thinking at mathematics while children who have never created Origami will have much more trouble in this area.



origami in space

Nowadays Origami is even applied in space. The technique is used to fold a solar panel. Professor Kouryou developed the Muira-ori method. This is an ideal way to fold a solar panel in space, for it to be as effective in space as possible. This Muira-ori method has ever since been applied to many more utilizations. Origami has been proved to be ideal for all ages. It can provide hours of joy but also improve science and technology.


Want to learn the art of Origami by an expert?

Surf to: www.shoko-origami.com for more information.


Origami  (折り紙), Japans: ‘ori’, vouwen, en ‘kami’, papier is een traditionele Japanse vouwkunst en is ontstaan in de Edo periode.


Origami gebruikt een beperkt aantal vouwen, maar door de combinatie hiervan zijn intrigerende ontwerpen mogelijk. De kunst stamt uit China in de eerste of tweede eeuw, kort na de uitvinding van het papier. Van daar uit is het overgewaaid naar Japan, waar het de bekende vorm heeft gekregen. In het algemeen beginnen deze ontwerpen met een vierkant stuk papier, waarvan de zijdes verschillend gekleurd kunnen zijn. Het papier mag wel gevouwen worden maar er mag niet in geknipt worden.


Japans origami wordt dus al toegepast sinds de Edoperiode (1603-1867). In tegenstelling met wat algemeen wordt aangenomen, wordt in de Japanse origami soms ook met rechthoekig en rond papier gewerkt.


origami als een geheime kunst voor de nobelen

Van Japanners wordt gezegd dat ze goed zijn in handwerk. Natuurlijk zijn er altijd uitzonderingen, maar over het algemeen kunnen kinderen vanaf de kleuterschool al een kraanvogel of een helm vouwen. Een buitenlander die

niets weet van origami, zal onder de indruk zijn van wat je allemaal kunt maken uit 1 velletje papier.


Simpele origami stamt al uit de tijd van de prins Shoutokutashi (572-622) toen de methode voor het produceren voor het eerst werd geÏntroduceerd door de Koreaanse priester Tan Zhi. Traditioneel gezien waren de handelingen van ‘breek’, ‘vouw’ en ‘binden’ gelinkt aan religieuze ceremonies. In deze tijd bedachten de mensen al bepaalde regels voor het vouwen van papier aangezien deze vorm van vouwkunst destijds werd gebruikt tijdens formele en vooral ook heilige gelegenheden.





In de Muromachi periode (1333-1568), toen de shogun allerlei wetten en regels vast stelde, waren de Ogasawara en de Ise familie verantwoordelijk voor de regels omtrend ceremoniële ornamenten (gemaakt van gevouwen papier)en cadeauverpakkingen. Zij stelden dat de regels alleen doorgegeven mochten worden als familiegeheim en alleen aan een select aantal personen.


kadootjes inpakken

In deze periode was het van belang dat als een cadeau werd ingepakt, het door de wijze van verpakken gemakkelijk te raden was wat er in zat. Ofwel het pakje moest duidelijk de vorm tonen van hetgeen erin zat, of er moest een kleine opening worden open gelaten zodat men naar binnen kon gluren. Als het een klein kadootje was, dan moest de gever een omschrijving van de inhoud op de verpakking schrijven plus de hoeveelheid.


1000 kraanvogels voor geluk

Tijdens de Edo periode werd er een boek gepubliceerd die 49 verschillende manieren weergaf hoe je een kraanvogel kunt vouwen. Vanaf die tijd begon ook de traditie om 1000 kraanvogels te vouwen voor geluk, bijvoorbeeld als iemand ziek was of een lange reis zou gaan maken. Een kraanvogel zou een gelukzalig gevoel moeten brengen, dus als er 1000 of meer zijn, dan moet het wel goed komen met je.


Tijdens het midden van de Meiji periode begon men met het leren van origami aan kinderen om hen op een speelse manier artistieke kunst bij te brengen.


magische origami

De eerste persoon die Origami in Europa introduceerde was een googelaar. In die tijd hadden ze nog geen ballonnen om ballonbeesten van te maken, dus maakte deze ‘magiër de kinderen die toestroomden blij met een beestje gemaakt van Origami. Hij gebruikte de Origami techniek ook tijdens zijn shows en zijn publiek was bijzonder onder de indruk dat hij de meest fantastische 3D vormen uit een enkel blaadje papier wist te krijgen.


origami na WWII

Na de Tweede Wereldoorlog brachten de soldaten de kunst van het vouwen terug naar de Verenigde Staten en werd het ook daar een groot succes. Veel van de meer unieke Origami kunstwerkjes die in deze periode zijn ontworpen, waren gemaakt door buitenlanders. Japanners moesten zich immers aan strikte regels houden, maar buitenlanders werden hier niet door gehinderd en konden hun fantasie de vrije loop laten, waardoor de meer creatievere vormen buiten Japan ontstonden. Deze beweging bleek een stimulans te zijn voor Japan. Hier werd ook eindelijk besloten de regels overboord te gooien en simpelweg de fantasie de vrije loop te laten.



Officiële beoefenaars van Origami worden Origamians genoemd en is in de hele wereld een fenomeen. Er zijn zelfs wedstrijden waar deelnemers worden uitgedaagd om nieuwe creatieve werkstukken te verzinnen die de grenzen van wat mogelijk is met Origami opzoeken.



geometrische verbeelding

Tijdens de Showa periode (1926-1989) werd Origami als ongeschikt beschouwd voor kinderen die naar de kleuterschool aan omdat het de vrije verbeelding en fantasie zou beperken. Een chemicus, Ryuutarou Tsuchida genaamd en Kouji Fushimi die werkzaam was als natuurkundige, zeiden dat Origami juist goed was voor kinderen in de ontwikkelingsfase. Het maken van de vaak ingewikkelde vormen zorgt ervoor dat de geometrische verbeelding wordt gestimuleerd en zal kinderen voorbereiden om de ingewikkelde wiskunde die ze later op de middelbare school moeten doen. Deze twee knappe koppen meenden dat kinderen die ruimtelijk leren denken door het maken van Origami, zullen deze denkwijze gemakkelijker kunnen toepassen op ingewikkelde wiskundige problemen, terwijl kinderen die nog nooit Origami hebben gemaakt, hier meer moeite meer zullen hebben.



origami in de ruimte

Tegenwoordig wordt Origami zelfs in de ruimte toegepast. De techniek wordt gebruikt om een zonnepaneel op te kunnen vouwen. Professor Kouryou ontwikkelde de Muira-ori methode. Dit is de ideale manier om een

zonnepaneel in de ruimte op te vouwen, zodat het zo effectief mogelijk kan werken in de ruimte. Deze Muira-ori methode heeft inmiddels vele andere toepassingen gevonden. Origami is dus ideaal voor jong en oud. Het zorgt voor urenlang vermaak, maar kan ook zorgen voor een rijk belegde boterham!

Origami leren van een expert?

Kijk dan eens op www.shoko-origami.com voor meer informatie


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How to drink… Shochu (Japanese gin or vodka)



While sake is familiar to millions outside of Asia, shochu is the drink of choice amongst the Japanese. Since 2003, shipments of shochu within Japan have outstripped sake and the trend shows no sign of reversing.

Shochu can be made from barley, sweet potatoes or rice and is distilled like whisky, unlike sake, which is brewed similarly to beer. The shochu is then aged in oak barrels giving the drink more kick (it averages around 25 percent alcohol, rising to 40 percent for some barley shochus) and a deeper flavour.

The famed Shinozaki brewery has been producing sake and shochu for over 200 years. Here Hiroyuki Shinozaki, CEO offers his tips for how to enjoy shochu:

‘The difference between different types of shochu is huge, be it rice, barley or sweet potatoes it is a case of finding what suits you. For me though, the best shochu is made from rice.’

‘If you are new to shochu, look for a bottle that is around 13 percent alcohol, the stronger shochus are more of an acquired taste. ’

‘Although you can drink shochu neat I’d always recommend diluting it with water to bring out the taste.’

‘Rather than just throwing the water in, as you would with whisky, you should dilute the shochu the night before you plan on drinking it. That way it blends overnight allowing the water and shochu to fuse. Don’t be impatient – a good shochu is aged for four years, it deserves one more day.’

‘Once you are ready to drink the shochu heat it gently in a pot of hot water – never, ever, use a microwave. The drink is best served at about 38 degrees Celsius, body temperature. It’s not a cup of tea after all.’


SHINOZAKI Co., Ltd, 185 Hiramatsu Asakura-shi, Fukuoka 838-1303
Telephone +81 946 52 0005


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September 16th, respect for the elderly day in Japan

Keirō no Hi

Japan has many strange holidays. In the past there were religious holidays, but the government decided that religious days should not be celebrated as public holidays unlike all the other religions in the world like for instance the Christians who celebrate chrismas and other major Christian holidays, or the Jewish people who celebrate passover or Muslims who celebrate their sugar feast at the end of the fasting period. I could go on and on. Many countries celebrate their religious special days. Not so in Japan where there are rather peculiar holidays such as Greenery Day (みどりの日Midori no Hi ) or Health and Sports Day (体育の日 Taiiku no Hi).

Today (September 16th) is also considered a special day. Most people have the day off. Japanese use this day to celebrate Respect-for-the-Aged Day (敬老の日 Keirō no Hi). This national holiday was established in 1966 as a day to respect the elderly and celebrate long life. Originally held on September 15, it originated as a renaming of Old Folks’ Day (老人の日 Rōjin no hi?). In 2003, it was changed to the third Monday of September in accordance with the Happy Monday System. This national holiday traces its origins to 1947, when Nomadani-mura (later Yachiyo-cho, currently Taka-cho), Hyōgo Prefecture proclaimed September 15 Old Folks’ Day (Toshiyori no Hi). Its popularity spread nationwide, and in 1966 it took its present name and status. Annually, Japanese media take the opportunity to feature the elderly, reporting on the population and highlighting the oldest people in the country.

Haiku poet Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902), who was born in September and also died in September, penned this piece: “‘Ikimitama’/ 70 years old/ Still hale and hearty.”

“Ikimitama” refers to an old custom of honoring elderly members of one’s family with a celebration meal during the Bon season. In addition, as in Shiki’s haiku, the expression can be used to denote the elderly themselves.

Back in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), 70 was a ripe old age. If Shiki were to update this poem today, the age would have to be changed to 90, if not 100.

Japan’s centenarian population, which has been growing every year, is to exceed 54,000 this autumn. And some of these super-seniors are still active in various fields, changing my preconceptions about old age.

For instance, poet Masako Kinbara says in her book “Ara, Mo 102-sai” (Oh my, I’m 102 years old already) from Soshisha Publishing Co., “I feel that the older I get, the easier it gets to write freely.” Her works and way of life mirror her youthful sensibilities.

There is something sensual about this poem of hers: “Oh how irresistibly delicious my legs are/ I am an octopus.”

Another piece is evocative of something like a scene from a film. It goes, “At the foot of a rainbow/ Uniqlo and Lanvin embrace.” Lanvin is the French brand of high fashion clothes. Uniqlo is the Japanese brand of casual clothing. Of the embracing lovers, I wonder who is wearing Lanvin and who is wearing Uniqlo.

Everyone living now, young or old, is in the process of rewriting their own record of longevity. Sept. 16 is Keiro no hi, or Respect-for-the-Aged Day, a national holiday. Growing old isn’t all sweetness and light, obviously, but I’d like us all to renew our resolve to support and care for one another as our country continues to remain among the highest in the world in life expectancy.

To come back to ikimitama, the word seems to suggest someone who has already transcended the mundane. The Asahi Kadan poetry section of The Asahi Shimbun recently ran this piece by one poet: “This ikimitama is anti-war/ And has a sharp tongue.” This is exactly the way to go in one’s old age.

And here’s one by another: “Ikimitama/ Still reading Vox Populi, Vox Dei.” Sitting up straight and bowing my head in gratitude and humility, I pray for their health and long life.




Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Stories about Japan | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Want to get into shape? Try the sumo work-out!

Sumo workout


Sumo’s incredible hulks might not be obvious role models for a fitness regime, but behind the flab are athletes of awesome strength, stamina and reflexes. Follow their exercises, skip their diets, and you might see some big benefits. The sport’s governing body, the Nihon Sumo Kyokai, has created an exercise programme that draws on the sport’s signature thrusts, stomps and stretches. Regular practice, they say, will relax your muscles, improve circulation, strengthen the spine, stimulate the nervous system and slow the ageing process, among other benefits. The exercises are to be performed barefoot, and the Sumo Kyokai asks that you start and finish the routine with a bow.


This exercise strengthens the ankles, knees, legs and lower back. It also improves lower-body balance.



1. Make a fist with both hands, draw your arms into your chest, then shout as you push your arms forward.
2. Bring your arms into your sides again.
3. Shift your weight onto your right foot as you stretch your right arm forward. Focus your eyes on your outstretched hand and keep your other hand tight to your side.
4. Shift your weight to your left foot and repeat the exercise with your left arm.


This works your ankles, knees and wrists.



1. Start as in the Seme-no-kata (above).
2. Shift your weight onto your right leg, raise your right arm, turn your elbow out and thrust your palm toward your forehead.
3. Turn your other outstretched hand inward and thrust it toward your crotch.
4. Repeat for the left side.


The culmination of the sumo routine, these exercises help energy flow around your body.



1. Focus your mind on your abdomen.
2. Turn your heels inward and shuffle forward, scuffing the ground.
3. Return your feet to the start position.
4. Draw a circle with both hands in front of you three times.
5. Press your hands together and slowly raise your upper body while shuffling forward.
6. Keeping your hands pressed together, turn your elbows out.
7. Without raising your hips, raise both hands into the air.
8. Return to the original position.


Categories: history of Japan, Japanese customs, Stories about Japan, Things to do | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things to do: Visit a Japanese miso factory



Okazaki City is located southeast of Nagoya in Aichi Prefecture and prospered in the Edo period (1600-1868) as a castle town and an important post-station along the Tōkaidō Road.


In the Sengoku period (1467-1568), the area of modern-day Aichi Prefecture was controlled by the Matsudaira clan, who would later be known as the Tokugawa and who in 1600 established a shogunate that would control Japan’s fate during the Edo period (1600-1868). The first fortifications were built in 1455 and later moved across the Yahagi River to the current location of Okazaki Castle by the Matsudaira. The castle is usually associated with Tokugawa Ieyasu, who was born there in 1543. Situated along the Tōkaidō Road, which connected Edo (present-day Tokyo) with Kyoto, Okazaki City prospered in the Edo period, developing into a busy castle town and commercial hub with a postal station.

Okazaki was and still is renowned for its production of fireworks. Okazaki Domain was one of the very few regions permitted by the shogunate to produce gunpowder. Another famous local product is miso (fermented bean paste). Nowadays, Okazaki is a satellite town, with many of its residents commuting to Nagoya just some 35 kilometres away.


Okazaki Castle

Tokugawa Ieyasu’s birthplace. Read more about it here.

Hatcho Miso

Miso” is a slow-fermented soybean paste with a strong salty flavor, and forms one of the bases of Japanese cooking. Very versatile, it is used in sauces, with meats, fish, vegetables, tofu, but above all in Miso Soup, a part of the staple diet of Japanese and as common as rice. Breakfast is not breakfast without miso-shiro (miso soup), and it has entered into many sayings. Don’t use it, but for example, “ore no miso shiro wo tsukutte kureru?” or “will you make my miso soup?” meaning “Will you marry me?” Several types exist – white and red being the main varieties – and every region of the country has its peculiar method of producing miso. Miso is made by fermenting soybeans with water, and while some types include other ingredients such as rice, Hatcho Miso is renowned for its traditional method of production (unchanged for at least 500 years) and distinctive taste and color.

Hatcho Miso Home Delivery Service
Hatcho Miso Home Delivery Service


Hatcho Miso is made by the Hatcho Miso Company in Hatcho, or Eighth Street, of Okazaki. Hatcho Miso is famous for the same reason that Okazaki is famous: Tokugawa Ieyasu. Apparently having a liking for miso soup made with hatcho miso (or so the company says), Tokugawa Ieyasu made sure that his armies were supplied with the local bean paste. Being very long lasting, very high in protein, energy and other nutrients, Hatcho Miso is an ideal trail food. Having Conquered Japan, Tokugawa moved the capital of Japan from Kyoto to Edo (no Tokyo), and continued to have Hatcho Miso shipped to his castle there. The Hatcho Miso Company became famous as purveyors to the Shogun and later gained even more prestige as purveyors to the Emperor.

Making Hatcho Miso:

Obviously changes have taken place in the process of making Hatcho Miso, but fundamentally it is the same as it was in the days of Tokugawa Ieyasu. You too can make Hatcho Miso at home if you have sufficient space. Firstly, prepare a 3000-liter cedar container. The ideal type is one that has (like those of the Hatcho Miso Company) been used for several centuries. Next, wash about 2.5 tons of soybeans and soak for one hour. Transfer to a pressure cooker and steam for two hours, then leave to stand overnight without opening. This stage is vital for producing the rich, dark color that is unique to Hatcho Miso. The next morning, the beans are then crushed and formed into cross-shapes to maximize surface area for growth of moulds. Dust with Aspergillus mould and barley flour (koji, as used in making sake) and incubate for 3 days.

Miso Vats
Miso Vats

The crosses are now also called koji, and are placed in the cedar vat. Add a little water and plenty of sea-salt. Place a wooden lid on the top of the miso, and pile on top about 3 tons of river stones in a pyramid shape, to ensure that the miso can slowly ferment without air entering the barrel. The hatcho Miso Company claims to balance their stones so well that they will even stand up in an earthquake. If you are not in a known earthquake zone, this may be unnecessary. Leave the miso to ferment slowly through the warm, humid summers and mild winters for two or two-and-a-half years.

One of the vital ingredients of the process is the Aspergillus mould that over the centuries has become embedded in the cedar casks, adding to the unique flavor of the Hatcho Miso Company’s miso. Other companies make Hatcho Miso, but none is quite the same as the real thing.

Tasty tasty very very tasty (and very salty)
Tasty tasty very very tasty (and very salty)

Health and Miso:

Some misos are made by adding rice or barley to the soybean base. This detracts from the flavor of the finished product, and also reduces the nutritional content. Real Hatcho Miso is made from whole soybeans and a minimum amount of water. The final product is about 80 percent richer in protein and contains up to 25 percent less salt than long-aged rice and barley misos. Moreover, hatcho miso is a source of essential amino acids, minerals, and vitamins, and it is low in calories and fat. Hatcho miso has five times the fiber of an equal amount of celery, so don’t eat too much.

Miso also has proven anti-carcinogenic effects, and helps clear heavy metals from the body – many tons of Hatcho Miso were sold to Europeans (at least those who could afford it) in the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. Hatcho Miso is renowned among practitioners of traditional Oriental Medicine as the most effective of the misos. Claimed properties of Miso in general include lowering cholesterol, detoxifying blood, and negating the effects of smoking. This last seems a little unlikely however. Being high in lactic acid, miso also aids digestion. So it’s good for you too.

Historical Tour
Historical Tour

Getting there:

The factory is well worth a visit and is easy to get to: Hatcho Miso no sato is just a 5-minute walk from Okazaki Koen station on the Meitetsu Honsen train line.

Japanese page about miso: http://www.tsuruken.co.jp/maruya/

The Company homepage: http://www.hatcho-miso.co.jp/

Other related links

Categories: Daytrips, history of Japan, Must see, Things to do | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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