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Valentine’s Day in Japan


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Love is in the air and most people are probably wondering how the Japanese celebrate this romantic day, given that they are often stereotyped as reserved individuals. Just like most Asian countries, Westernization and commercialization have invaded this love-filled day. Sales of chocolates and other gift items soar at least a week before Valentine’s Day.

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The holiday was introduced by Morozof Ltd in 1936 when it released an ad intended for foreigners living in Japan. In 1953, they began the trend of giving heart-shaped chocolates. Japanese confectioners saw the opportunity and started making them. It was in 1958 when a department store launched a “Valentine Sale”, offering a card and three buy generic cialis pieces of chocolates for 170 Yen.

What makes Japan unique is the fact that they do not go on romantic dinners on Valentine’s Day; “date night” is celebrated on Christmas Eve. Aside from this, only women give chocolates on Valentine’s Day. It gives them an excuse to express their feelings, which was taboo back in the day.  This custom started because of a typo error which resulted in

a mixed up translation during their initial promotional campaigns. The executive of that particular chocolate company is probably amused knowing that he is the culprit of this unique tradition.

The question now is when do men get their turn to express their love and affection? Well the get to do so exactly a month after. It was in 1980 when the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association coined March 14 as “reply day” or “Ai ni Kotaeru White Day” (Answer Love on White Day), now known as White Day, so that men can “return the favor” to those who online pharmacy gave them gifts on Valentine’s Day. On this event, men are supposed to reciprocate by giving gifts which are twice or thrice the value of the gifts they received. If he gives one of equal value it means that he is ending the relationship.

Image from Crickontour

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Japanese Christmas Cake

Japanese Christmas sponge cakeChristmas food in Japan can vary from year to year and from family to family. One thing that is quite common all throughout the country, however, is to have a Christmas cake. Perhaps the most common type of cake that the Japanese have for Christmas is the sponge cake. Here is a recipe for a Japanese Christmas cake, courtesy of About.com.

Ingredients:
• For sponge cake:
• 3/4 cup all purpose flour
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 1 Tbsp milk
• 3 eggs
• 1 1/2 Tbsp butter
• For topping:
• 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
• 4 Tbsps sugar
• Various fruits (strawberries, peaches, cherries, and so on)

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Preparation:
Whisk eggs in a bowl. Place the bowl over warm water in another large bowl and whisk further. Add sugar little by little. When the egg mixture becomes light yellow, sift flour and add to the bowl. Mix the flour lightly in the egg mixture. Mix butter in warm milk. Add mixture of melted butter and milk in the batter and stir gently. Preheat the oven in 350-degree. Place baking wax papers inside of a round cake pan (18cm). Pour the batter in the pan and bake in the preheated oven for 25-35 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and cool it on a rack. Cut the cake in half horizontally. Mix heavy cream and sugar in a bowl. Whip the cream well. Take the half of the whipped cream and mix with chopped fruits. Place the cream on top of a round cake slice. Place another cake slice on top of the cream. Spread the rest of the whipped cream on top and around the cake. Decorate the cake with colorful fruits and Christmas decorations.

Here’s to a happy Japanese Christmas!

Photo (c) Setsuko Yoshizuka

Scary Santa

Different cultures in the world have their own version of Santa Claus. There is Father Christmas in the UK. The French have Pere Noel. No matter which way you look at it, though, these Santas basically come from the same idea. In Japan, they have their own Santa too!

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Apparently, this is not a well known thing – even to modern day Japanese. I came across this piece of information by chance at the Christmas Archives. This is what I found out:

Santa Claus turned up in Japan in 1875, and the first book of Christmas was published in 1898, was called, ‘SANTAKURO’ and was a book about Santa Claus and for children.

The following account is not directly related to Christmas, but has the similarity with such European Christmas characters as ‘Cramps’ and ‘Knecht Ruprecht’.

“NAMAHAGE” has appeared in the snowy villages every 15th (January?). Namahage visits the houses in the village wearing the mask of a demon and clothes made of straw. He has a box which he rattles and it makes a scary noise. When he visits the houses he says, “Where are your naughty children?”
The children are afraid of him. The people living in the houses have to give him food and drink and entertain him, and then say, “My children are nice” to make him go away.

Also, “SHI-SHI-MAI” and “SHICHI FUKUGIN” come to the houses on New Years Day. This custom is like old Father Christmas in Britain when people believed that a holy traveller visited the villages on the day of the Winter Solstice.

So there you have it, the scary Santa of Japan. He could serve a good purpose these days, don’t you think?

Photo courtesy of shelleycurtis.blogspot.com/

A Japanese Christmas

Street in shinjuku

Despite the fact that Christmas is based on religious beliefs, it has evolved to become a universal celebration. We all know that Japan is not a largely Christian country although there is a small (but strong) following. Since Christmas is deeply rooted in Christian tradition, have you ever wondered how the Japanese as a nation celebrate this holiday?

Based on the web site Japanese Lifestyle, most of the focus is centered on Christmas Eve and not the day itself. With regard to giving gifts, it is only the children who normally receive gifts from their parents. The reverse is not true due to the idea that people receive gifts from Santa Claus and once a person becomes old enough NOT to believe in Santa, he or she does not receive gifts anymore.

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You would enjoy the lights that are to be seen all throughout Japan during this season, though. Establishments and households put up decorations like Christmas trees and lights – much like the people in the West. Another noteworthy point is that in Japan, December is considered to be the month of “forget-the-year” party or bounenkai. This means that there are a lot of parties going on throughout the month. And make no mistake about it – the Japanese love their drink just as much as any other nation in the world. During the Christmas season, then, you should not be surprised to see a tipsy person or two on the streets. One thing is for sure – they celebrate Christmas big time in Japan.

Kodomo no hi Or Children’s Day

koi kites
In the last post, I talked about Hinamatsuri, or the festival for girls. Though this is quite an important part of Japanese culture, it cannot be denied that there is another similar festival that puts the nation at a standstill – Kodomo no hi. Kodomo no hi is actually Children’s Day and takes place on the 5th of May – yes, yesterday. It is considered a National Holiday and is meant to celebrate children (of course) and their varying personalities and to wish them happiness.

It was not always known as Children’s Day, however. Prior to 1948, when it was changed to Children’s Day and proclaimed a National Holiday, this day was called Tango no Sekku, or Boys’ Day. This was also known as the Feast of Banners.

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The reason behind the Feast of Banners tag is that tradition dictates that families fly fish banners or fish kites on this day. These fish are actually koi and the banners have come to represent the hopes of the parents for their children – in particular, their sons. Koi fish are known to be full of energy and courage and they can swim against strong currents.

Today, Children’s Day is celebrated all over the country for both boys and girls. Many Japanese communities outside of Japan also celebrate with festivities of their own. Indeed, those fish kites flying are a sight to behold.

Valentine’s Day in Japan


One more day and the Day of Hearts comes around again. For many people around the world, this is the day when lovers celebrate their passion for each other. Japan is no different. However, their celebration takes on a slight twist. While in the Western world, men generally give their partners chocolates and gifts for Valentine’s, in Japan it is the other way around.

Women are the ones who give chocolate to the men! There are two different kinds of chocolate gifts on Valentine’s Day. One is the giri choco (obligatory chocolate). This is given by women to male colleagues, friends, and superiors at work. The other is honmei choco (chocolate for the man the woman is serious about). Quite obviously, this is for the special man in a woman’s life. In addition to the honmei choco, a woman may give her man something special like a tie for example.
[tags]Japan, food, culture, Valentine’s Day, chocolate[/tags]

Kouyou Season in Tokyo

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As I talked about in my last post, seeing Japan in the autumn is an experience not to be missed. Indeed, many tourists as well as locals, plan a “kouyou” trip for this precise reason, which can mean that the prime sightseeing destinations at this time of the year can become overcrowded.

Planning ahead and getting a headstart before the crowds arrive is key here, and weekends can become even more hectic, with the traffic jams reaching gridlock. But if you find yourself in Tokyo or any other big city during the kouyou season, a trip out of town is not always necessary to catch a glimpse of the changing colours. In fact, a simple stroll to the nearest park, which often has a good range of trees, can be enough.

In Tokyo, the Inokashira Koen and the Hibiya Koen are good choices. The Inokashira Koen was the first park opened to the public in 1917, and bears the same name as the train station it lies adjacent to. The Hibiya Koen, on the other hand, near the Kasumigaseki subway station, is more western in style, posessing a wide range of trees whose colours change during the kouyou. Other places worth visiting is the Jingu Gaien Street near the Meiji Kaigakan art museum, the Rikugien, and the the Hama-Rikyu garden.

[tags]Tkyo, Kouyou, Autumn Tokyo, Tokyo travel[/tags]