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.
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!
Valentine’s Day is slowly approaching. In Japan, women are the ones that gift men with chocolate and gifts on Valentine’s Day! There are three types of chocolates that women often give out.
The first type is called the Giri-choco (also known as obligation chocolate). This chocolate is meant for male colleagues, close male friends, and other people whom the women have no romantic attachment/feelings to. It is usually an inexpensive gift women give. Below is an example of a Giri-choco.
The second type is called the Honmei-choco (also known as True feeling chocolate). This chocolate is given to a boyfriend or husband. Women tend to make these at home to demonstrate true love. Some believe that if it is not “homemade” but bought at a store then it is not true love. These chocolates tend to be of a higher quality and more expensive than Giri-choco. Below is an example of a Honmei-choco.
The third type is called the Tomo-choco (also known as friend chocolates). Women gives these chocolates to their female friends. Below is a picture of Tomo-choco.
Valentine’s Day chocolates are often a big hit in Japan. Many department stores have big displays with different chocolates that can be given.
Here are some recipes in making homemade chocolate if you’re interested!
If you want to make the chocolate from scratch click here!
Most of us have all seen a bento. Maybe some of us have even made our own! A bento is a Japanese lunch box. There are many different types of bento boxes.
The original bento was first created by samurais. Samurais created the foods that evolve into the modern day bento. During this time, a bento was simple and could carry rice balls or simply just rice.
During the Meiji era, Japan was modernizing by opening their markets to the global world. The bento also became modernized. Workers made their own lunch boxes and brought them to work, mothers prepared a bento box for their children, and office workers did the same. Aluminum and lacquer boxes became popular. Many bento in Japan now are mass produced and could be bought in many places: bento shops, train stations, restaurants, and convenience stores. They are very common.
There are many different types of bento. One very popular one is called the kyaraben, also known as the character bento. It is a bento that is designed with cute characters or cartoon characters. It was originally meant to entertain children. However, now there are national contests held .
Another type of bento is called the Ekiben. Ekibens are sold on shinkansen (Japanese bullet trains) and other express trains. Each station is known to have their own signature bento. There are some people who ride trains to collect the various bento.
The bento has become an important part of the Japanese culture and pastimes. People enjoy a bento under a sakura tree or during the hanami.
There are different bento that can be created. There are simple ones with rice and a umeboshi (pickled ume plum) to more extravagant ones.
If you’re interested in making a bento, check out this website right here.
The second Monday of January is known as the Coming of Age Day (成人の日), also known as seijin no hi. It is a national holiday that celebrates becoming an adult. People who turned 20 years old the previous year are invited to a ceremony in their local city hall and often visit a shrine as well.
Women dress in a furisode. A furisode is a long sleeve kimono that is often quite expensive and is given to the women by their parents. Furisodes are only worn by single adult women. It is meant to symbolize their availability for marriage.
Men wear a male kimono and a hakama. A hakama can have legs like pants but can also be open like a skirt. However many men wear western suits now.
After the ceremony and visit to the shrine, families will have a small party. Many photos are taken during this day and the focus is on the 20 year old. After the small party, many of the participants will change into informal clothes and go with their friends to the izakaya, Japanese pub. They go to celebrate reaching the legal drinking age.
There has been a decline in participation of the Coming of Age Ceremonies. Many refuse to buy/rent a furisode or a kimino, which are expensive. Many youths are not in a rush to become adults. There have been times where youths disrupt the ceremonies in protest. Therefore, there is often a police presence during the ceremonies.
It’s interesting to see how everyone rallies together to celebrate the young men and women who turn 20 as a community together.
Now that winter has officially started the weather is a bit more dreary and definitely colder. Winters in Japan can be especially cold. This is where the kotatsu comes in. A kotatsu is by no means a necessity; however, it does seem nice to have one.
What is a kotatsu? A kotatsu is a short wooden table frame that is covered by a heavy blanket, also known as a futon, with a table top that is then placed on top. Beneath the table top and futon is an electric heat source that is built into the table frame itself. Surrounding the kotatsu are often cushions for people to sit more comfortably or chairs.
The kotatsu’s origins began in the 14th century. It was originally used to cook with a charcoal burner. However, the cooking function is no longer a part of the structure.
During modern times, when the weather gets colder, the kotatsu becomes the center piece of domestic life. Family and friends all gather around the kotatsu to watch TV, play games, and other social activities while keeping warm at the same time.
People can also take short naps, but they should be careful not to touch the electric heater at the bottom. Many times pets will hide underneath seeking the kotatsu’s warmth as well. One of the typical images of a kotatsu is a cat snuggling underneath one.
I hope everyone enjoyed learning more about the kotatsu. Hope everyone stays warm during the winter!
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.
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!
Happy holiday! I hope you all have a very merry Christmas!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Mix the shiratamako and sugar with a whisk in a glass bowl.
Slowly add in warm water into the glass bowl and stir it until the mixture has reached a thick consistency.
You can either microwave the mixture for 3 mixtures or steam it for around 5 minutes.
Make sure the mochi mixture looks translucent and then you can take it out and put it on a tray.
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.
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.
Rinse, dry and hull the strawberries.
Divide anko into 3 same size balls and then completely wrap them around the strawberries. (1 anko ball per stawberry).
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)
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!
Now you can enjoy your delicious strawberry daifuku.
Sumo is a traditional and competitive wrestling sport that is very popular in Japan. To win, a wrestler must push his opponent out of the ring or to get any body part, other than the soles of his feet, of his opponent to touch the ground. Below is a picture of two sumo wrestlers.
The Kyushu Basho is one of the Grand Tournaments of Sumo. There are a total of six annual Grand Tournaments. This one is the last tournament for the year and takes place in mid-November in Fukuoka.
Fukuoka is a small city. Many of the locals get excited and enjoy seeing famous Sumo wrestlers around their town. To fully enjoy the tournament, one should get a tatami seat so they could throw their zabuton for when they’re angry. A zabuton is a thin mat that used to sit on tatami floors. Below is a picture of when people threw their zabutons on the Sumo ring.
The whole tournament is 15 days. The top wrestlers wrestle one day and the lower ranking wrestles the next. Each day the matches are different. Below are some of the pictures of the wrestlers.
It is highly recommended to go and watch a sumo event if there is an opportunity to do so!
If you haven’t heard already, OJC is having a Cooking Day! We will be making Strawberry Daifuku and onigiri! Today, I will be talking a little about onigiri.
Onigiri, also commonly known as rice balls, was first seen in Lady Murasaki’s diary. It stated that people were eating rice balls. However, the origins of the onigiri occurred much earlier than Lady Murasaki’s diary.
Traditional onigiri is just rice shaped into cylindrical or triangular shapes and sprinkled salt. The use of nori, dried seaweed, was first used during the mid-Edo period. Below is a picture of the traditional onigiri during the mid-Edo period.
However as society progressed so did the onigiri. Onigiri begins to have different fillings. The most traditional one is the pickled ume (umeboshi) filling. Umeboshi is also known as pickled plums. However there are many different fillings: salmon, kombu, and etc.
Originally it was thought that the onigiri could not be massed produced because of the hand technique that was required to put the different fillings in. However in 1980s, a machine was created that was able to make the onigiri even with the feelings. Ever since then, onigiri has been mass produced to fit on the shelves of convenience stores.
Soon onigiri becomes so popular that it spreads to other countries: Korea, China, London, and etc. There are specialty shops and small restaurants that sell onigiri.
To learn how to make your own, check out OJC’s Cooking Day! All information is written in the flyer on our Facebook Page at Origami & Japanese Club at UIUC. If you have any questions, feel free to message us through our Facebook.