Omihachiman Shrine Fire Festival

Hi everyone,

Today we’re going to talk about the Omihachiman no Hi-matsuri (Omihachiman Shrine Fire Festival). It is best known as one of the three most dangerous festivals held in Japan during mid-March. This is an annual festival where people dance excitedly amid showers of fire sparks along the burning floats. It is also called the Sagicho Festival in Japan.

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A Sagicho refers to a huge float that is built with pine torches made of woven bamboo poles that are decorated with several thousand strips of red paper. A figure of the animal of the year, according to the lunar calendar, is mounted in the center of the float. Villagers might also use their creativity to decorate the center of the float with ingredients such as beans and noodles.

Around noon, Saguache floats will gather together at Himure Hachimangu Shrine and a poll is taken to determine the best one. Then, the floats parade through the town and people will carry mikoshi (potable shrines) along with them in the street. And the Sagicho floats parade would continue until the evening of the next day, where they assemble once again, at the shrine for the highlight for the festival.

Historically, it is believed that this festival was held for the first time in the 16th Century by newcomers to the district who had been astounded by a local festival featuring huge pine torches and decided to make it into an even more impressive festival.

Safety tips: Try not to stay too close to the fire during the parade!

Warm wishes,

Xue

Christmas in Japan

Hello Everyone,

Christmas is almost here!

Although Christmas is not a national holiday or religious celebration as there aren’t many Christians in Japan, but it has been adopted as a time for friends and dating. The festivities begin in November with shopping malls and department stores all putting up beautiful decorations and illuminations which are of course accompanied with carols. The main celebration of the festival revolves around Christmas eve and not Christmas Day. Christmas eve is regarded as a romantic day in which couples spend together and exchange lavish gifts. In many ways, it resembles Valentine’s Day celebration in the USA. Young couples like to walk down the street hand in hand to look at the Christmas lights and have a romantic meal in a fancy restaurant.

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When it comes to Christmas day, a slightly strange tradition of eating fried chicken at fast food restaurants has emerged because of the marketing prowess of the folks at Kentucky Fried Chicken. This tradition is so popular that many people even make reservations for their “Christmas Chicken” weeks in advance. KFC outlets will have their own life-size Colonel Sanders statue dressed as Santa and people line up at their outlets to pick up their orders at Christmas day. Japanese people now believe that Westerners celebrate Christmas with a chicken dinner.
Another traditional Japanese Christmas food is Christmas cake or “kurisumasu keki”. Unlike the fruity, boozy density of British Christmas cake, Japanese Christmas cake is a light sponge cake covered with a layer of whipped cream and decorated with ripe strawberries. One fun fact, the ‘shortcake’emoji [🍰 ] is a Japanese Christmas cake!
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Happy holiday! I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!

Warm wishes,

Xue

Noh Theatre

Hello everyone,

Noh (能, literally means skills or talent) is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama and one of the oldest extant theatrical forms in the world. The early development of Noh lie in the entertainment of various kinds (ancient forms of dance or simply plays) performed at shrines and temples in the 12th or 13th century, and it became a distinctive form in the 14th century. Similar to western narrative drama, Noh is often based on tales from traditional literature with a supernatural being transformed into human form as a hero narrating a story. However, Noh performers are simply storytellers who use their visual appearances and their movements to suggest the meaning of the play rather than to enact it. The total effect of the Noh drama is less that of a present action than of a metaphor or simile made visual. Until 100 years ago, the audience was intimately familiar with the story’s plot and know how to appreciate the symbolic and indirect references to Japanese cultural history contained in the words and movements.

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It is believed that Noh theatre is developed by Kiyotsugu Kan’ami (観阿弥 清次) and his son Zeami Motokiyo (世阿弥 元清). Zeami is often referred to as the father of Noh and developed many of the underlying principles of the Noh theatre in the 14th century, comparable in many ways to Shakespeare. For much of its history Noh drama was richly patronized by the warrior, priest and aristocratic classes.

There are five types of Noh plays, including the kami (“god”) play, shura mono (“fighting play”), katsura mono (“wig play”), gendai mono (“present-day play”), and kyōjo mono (“madwoman play”). A typical Noh play is relatively short (usually less than an hour) and by no means as complicated as Western theatre forms. The setting is generally a very simple place that has some special significance or meaning to the main character or actor (shite) and its dialogue is sparse. Essentially, there is no plot and everything on stage happens very slowly. There are five major Noh roles exists, including the shite (principal actor), the waki (subordinate actor) and the kyōgen actor (often serves as a narrator in the play). When an actor puts on his mask, he is transformed into that character. The Noh masks are used to express the fundamental human emotions common to Japanese dramas. Other than that, the story and the play’s “fuzei” (refined flavor or elegance) are the most important elements of the Noh theatre.

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The stories are usually ended tragically and related to themes beyond the human realm in a space populated by gods, demons, and ghosts. And today, there are roughly 2,000 Noh texts that are known to exist and only 230 core works are still performed regularly.

Hope you enjoy this post!

Warm Wishes,

Xue

Strawberry daifuku いちご大福

Hello everyone,

           I hope everyone enjoyed our first cooking event for this semester. Today, I would like to share with you more information about the strawberry daifuku that we made.

           Strawberry daifuku ( いちご大福, pronounced “di-foo-koo”) is a popular traditional Japanese sweet consisting of a small soft mochi (glutinous rice cake) stuffed with strawberry and anko (sweetened red bean paste). In fact, daifuku comes in many varieties, including yomogi daifuku (蓬大福), yukimi daifuku (雪見だいふく) and ume daifuku (梅大福). It was originally called Habutai mochi (thick belly rice cake) and it later changed to Daifuku mochi (big belly rice cake) and it literally means good luck in Japanese.

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During the springtime, Japanese confectionery shops sell strawberry daifuku as the seasonal daifuku. Even though we don’t live in Japan, we can still make this simple and tasty confection on our own. Below is a list of ingredients that we need for making strawberry daifuku and simple instructions.

Ingredients:

3 medium strawberries (1 strawberry per daifuku)

75g Anko (sweet red bean paste)

50g shiratamako (glutinous rice flour)

2 tablespoons of sugar

75 ml water

1 bag of corn/potato starch for dusting

(Most of the ingredients could be purchased in Asian markets or you can get them from Amazon as well.)

Instructions:

  1. Mix the shiratamako and sugar with a whisk in a glass bowl.
  2. Slowly add in warm water into the glass bowl and stir it until the mixture has reached a thick consistency.
  3. You can either microwave the mixture for 3 mixtures or steam it for around 5 minutes.
  4. Make sure the mochi mixture looks translucent and then you can take it out and put it on a tray.
  5. Sift corn or potato starch on the tray, and then use a silicone spatula or kitchen scraper to put the mochi on top of the potato starch.
  6. Mix the mochi with the corn or potato starch to make it less sticky, and then cut them into three equal pieces.

      After you complete the most difficult task of making the mochi wrap, we can move to the next step of putting in the fillings.

 

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  1. Rinse, dry and hull the strawberries.  
  2. Divide anko into 3 same size balls and then completely wrap them around the strawberries. (1 anko ball per stawberry).
  1. Put the corn or potato starch on your hands and put the anko covered strawberry on top of the mochi ball. (Make sure the tip of the strawberry is facing down)
  1. Start covering the strawberry from all sides and hold the mochi with both hands to make it into a nice round shape.

      歓呼する. You’re finished. This is what the Daifuku should look like!Strawberry-Daifuku-NEW.jpg

Now you can enjoy your delicious strawberry daifuku.  

For more details, visit: http://www.justonecookbook.com/strawberry-daifuku/.

Warm wishes,

Xue

Kimono

Hello everyone,

Kimono (着物,きもの) literally means a “thing to wear” and clothing in Japanese. But in more recent years, the word has been used to refer specifically to Japanese traditional garments. Kimono is considered as one of the world’s instantly recognizable traditional clothing and also a representative of polite and formal custom. There are different types of kimono for different seasons and occasions, but most of them are T-shaped with long, wide sleeves, straight-lined silk kimono robes and wrapped around the body. They often come into different color combinations that represent either the seasonal colors or the political class to which one belonged.  

 

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Traditionally, the art of putting on a kimono was passed from mother to daughter. When wearing a kimono, it is important to first put on the tabi (足袋,white cotton socks); then the undergarments (a top and a wraparound skirt), and next is the nagajuban (長襦袢, under-kimono which is tied with a datemaki belt); finally, to secured it by a obi (sash, ,おび), which is tied at the back. About an inch of the haneri (collar) of the nagajuban should be showing inside the collar of the kimono. When putting on a kimono, it is important to wear it with the left side over the right because right over left is used when dressing for burial.

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Began in the Heian period (794-1192), kimono was the form of dress worn by everyone in Japan until the mid 19th century where that began to change slowly by the import of suits and dresses and other western fashion. Nowadays, kimonos are most often worn by Japanese women for important festivals or special occasions including weddings, funerals, tea ceremonies and other formal moments.

Hope everyone enjoyed this post!

Warm wishes,

Xue

Kappa

Hi Everyone,

     Kappas (kawatarō 河童/川太郎literally means river child) are the most mischievous and mysterious water-typed demon in traditional Japanese folklore. They are distinguished by having a small pool of water suspended on their flat hairless head to indicate their habitat and life force. Their appearance is described as similar to the look of a frog or monkey the size of a human child. More than that, their scaly reptilian skins can be green, yellow or blue. Their physical features include a shell and beak. They could swim in water like fish. They would lose all of their powers and may even die if they ever dry out. Modern culture tends to portray them as a cute and harmless creature. However, during the Edo period, this humanoid sprite was viewed as vicious and ferocious. They would dwell in lakes, rivers and other swampy areas to wait for their prey. Children and women were most likely to become their victims. Kappa would drown them, drink their blood, eat their livers and take away their shirikodama (尻子玉), which translates literally as “small anus ball”. This is the strangest part of this folktale. It is believed to be a mythical ball that contains the soul of a human and it can grant the kappa magnificent powers.

Folklorist/manga artist Mizuki Shigeru wrote:

“Ever since I was a child I heard that I had to be careful in the water because the kappa would try and take my shirikodama. It was said that in the water, a kappa would come from below, extend an arm upwards and stick a hand up your anus to extract the ball.”

As the example above suggested, Kappa is also used as a warning to keep children aware of the danger of drowning in lakes and rivers.  

One of the most interesting facts about them is that cucumber is their traditional favorite meal. So if you ever meet a kappa in your life, you should bribe them with a cucumber they would promise to fulfill all of your wishes and you can protect yourself from being killed. 

I hope you enjoy this post! o(‧”‧)o

Warm wishes,

Xue

 

 

 

Japanese Cuisine-Tempura (天ぷら)

 

Hi Everyone,

Tempura (天ぷら) is definitely one of the most famous Japanese dishes in America. It consists of seafood or vegetables (sometimes both) that have been battered and deep fried. At the hands of skilled Tempura chefs at nice restaurants, tempura tastes delicate and is crispy fare that it is finger-licking good! The origin of tempura goes back to the mid-16th century. The concept of batter frying was introduced to Japan by Portuguese merchants. The word “tempura” is derived from the Latin word “Tempora”, which refers to “The Ember Days (quattuor anni tempora)”.

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(Picture Retrieved from https://kurubeki.com/you-wanna-enjoy-an-authentic-tempura-and-kushi-age-for-lunch-in-ginza-tokyo/)

Using fresh and seasonal ingredients is the key to creating delicious tempura. It’s important to cut the ingredients to the same size and thickness to ensure all of them are cooked evenly at the same time. Although it might seem like a jumble of vegetables or seafood , but each component delivers something unique to the overall taste! In addition to being eaten as is, it can also be eaten with dipping sauce, salted without sauce, or used in combinations with other dishes. Wowww, おいしい!

 

Warm Wishes,

Xue