Archive for March, 2016

Cherry Blossom Tours!

March 30, 2016

The second of our Cherry Blossom Tour Groups 2016 have set off merrily from Kabukicho, Tokyo!

The Cherry Blossom Tour

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Graduation Ceremony

March 27, 2016

The cherry blossoms coincide with the graduations here in Japan, here’s student on their way to their university graduation ceremony in the Budokan, Tokyo.

Cherry blossom pary – hanami party

March 27, 2016

We had the first of our Cherry Blossom Tour hanami (cherry blossom viewing party) parties yesterday. Great group, plenty of wine and beer consumed, beautiful weather – excellent!

Cherry Blossom Tour

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Spring is springing!

March 20, 2016

It is well known that Japan’s traditional culture is deeply entwined with the seasons and with nature. It is no surprise then that there is a national holiday, Shunbun no Hi, to celebrate the spring equinox (this year, March 20th, when the day and night are of equal length).

Indeed, this used to be a Shinto festival celebrating renewal through the cycle of the seasons. After the second world war, General MacArthur forced a change of status of the festival in his drive to separate Shinto and the state, recasting it as a secular holiday.

Nevertheless, a great many people still observe the occasion as a time to remember the departed, either by inviting priests to their homes to conduct memorials, or through visiting shrines.

In the spirit of renewal, you might spring-clean your house, or start a new job or a new project — in fact this time of year marks the start of the school year and induction time for new employees in Japan’s famous corporations. As nature shakes off the winter and refreshes itself, so does Japanese society.

If you are on a Japan cultural tour, you might be able to catch a special event at one of Japan’s many shrines and temples.

For most of us, Vernal Equinox Day (as it is known in its prosaic English translation) is a welcome national holiday and a chance to get out to some of Japan’s renowned cultural sites for some sightseeing and to soak up some history.

Spring is a favourite time for enjoying Japan’s charms as the weather is at its best, the trees are looking vibrant in their new green. Indeed, this holiday introduces Japan’s favourite time of year when cherry blossom turns the country pink and the population sits out under the trees for picnics.

The Cherry Blossom TourDTJ_3728-2

Kids and paper doors.

March 16, 2016

One of the phenomena of having kids in Japan is that all your beautiful shoji doors (paper doors) get destroyed.  From the moment that wonderful bundle of larvae learns to roll, those shoji doors, an icon of Japanese architecture are under threat; they don’t stand a chance.  With that said however, shoji, just as the buildings housing them were never designed with longevity in mind and many households will replace the paper frequently, often around the new-year when households are scrubbed and polished casting away the old and welcoming in the new.

Despite all the years of living in Japan this was the first time I’ve replaced shoji and I had a little assistant helping me, in part at least.  The process is easy enough, use a sponge to wet the doors, peel off the old paper, then cut and glue on the new paper.  The replacement shoji we got is a new strengthened type, actually more of a plastic than a paper, rip proof and we got a nice maple leaf design for this one too.  Now another 7 sets of doors to get to work through…

Hinamatsuri — a Girls’ Day for everyone

March 2, 2016

Girls’ Day, or Hinamatsuri, must be one of the most picturesque festivals in Japan, centring as it does on collections of exquisitely-made dolls.

The dolls, which are called hina-ningyo, represent the most Japanese qualities of beauty, craft, and mind-boggling attention to minute detail.

In early March, the dolls, each dressed in classical and often courtly attire, are set out on display on tiered stands that are covered in red cloth — a red carpet and parade of costumes to rival the one at the Oscars.

The alternative name for the festival is Doll’s Day but the temptation to associate girls and dolls as stereotyping would be mistaken. In Japan, dolls have symbolic power, and were traditionally thought to capture and contain spirits, which may be good or bad depending on the circumstances. Dolls bearing malign spirits would be floated down rivers and out to sea taking the bad luck with them, and this practice was once at the heart of Hinamatsuri ceremony — and in some shrines still is.

In modern times, the original purpose of the dolls may not be uppermost in the minds of the Japanese, who are more likely to see this as an occasion to decorate the home, revel in the beauty of the dolls and celebrate family.

Certainly, the modern dolls are too beautiful and expensive to float down any river. They may have been passed down through the generations, each family adding to the collection, or they may have been expensively bought in time for the first birthday of the first daughter.

There’s a huge variety of dolls. Some are distinctly regal in appearance, some are koto-playing musicians, and every role in between is represented. Unsurprisingly given where we are, each has its own significance. And of course, the exact positioning of each doll on the display is a matter of utmost importance. There is enough arcana in these dolls to keep you busy for a lifetime, however, we can all appreciate them without special knowledge.

Hinamatsuri is mostly a family festival, with displays put up at home. However, there are also plenty of public displays and events at stores and shrines, and anyone touring in Japan in early March will have plenty of opportunity to see these displays and marvel at them.

Girls’ Day is March 3rd, but the displays of dolls might go up at the end of February. They are all taken down on March 4th.

In many areas, Girls’ Day coincides with the plum blossom season, another spring tour of Japan treat, which will make March a richly rewarding time to visit Japan in 2017 or any year.

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Hina-Ningyo doll display  Private Tours of Japan

The morning view

March 1, 2016

Welcomed to this view this morning and it’s been snowing all day. Snowball fights booked for this afternoon!DTJ_0928