Tenno Tanjobi, The Emperor’s Birthday

The Emperor’s Birthday honors the Emperor of Japan and the Chrysanthemum Throne, but it is also a time for Japanese citizens to have fun and express their patriotism. On the Emperor’s Birthday, people can enjoy many festivities. Currently, the Emperor’s Birthday is celebrated on December 23. The date of the holiday changes to correspond with the birthday of the current Emperor of Japan. In Japan, the Emperor’s Birthday is known as Tenno Tanjobi.

Birthday celebrations for Japanese emperors date back to Ancient Japan. These celebrations were held to honor the Emperor as a person and Imperial ruler. Prior to World War II, the Emperor’s Birthday was called Tenchosetsu. Tenchosetsu corresponded with Chikusetsu, or the Empress’ Birthday. In 1948, the Emperor’s Birthday became a public holiday in Japan. During the same year, Chikusetsu was eliminated and Tenchosetsu was changed to Tenno Tanjobi. Tennor Tanjobi is a literal translation of the Emperor’s Birthday and matches the current form of Japanese used in Japan. Tenno Tanjobi was a celebration of Emperor Showa’s birthday. During the Showa period, Tenno Tanjobi was celebrated on April 29 each year. When Emperor Showa passed away in 1989, April 29 became Greenery Day.

In 2007, April 29 became Showa Day. Today, the Emperor’s Birthday, Greenery Day, and Showa Day are all celebrated separately. After Showa’s death, Akihito ascended to the Chrysanthemum Throne. Today, Emperor Akihito continues to reign over Japan. Empero Akihito’s birthday is December 23. Because of this, the Diet changed Tenno Tanjobi to December 23 before Akihito came to power. Japanese law states that the Diet must change Tenno Tanjobi to the birthday of the current Japanese emperor, so the holiday will be celebrated on a different day in the future.

Tenno Tanjobi currently celebrates the life and accomplishments of Emperor Akihito. Akihito was born on December 23, 1933. His parents were Emperor Hirohito and Empress Nagako. Emperor Akihito was the first member of the Imperial family of Japan to marry a person from a lower social class. In 1959, Emperor Akihito married Michiko Shoda, a commoner from Tokyo. Throughout his life, Akihito continued to depart from the elitist ideals that the Imperial family had become known for throughout history. Emperor Akihito has also dedicated a large portion of his life to being a humanitarian. Akihito is credited for improving Japan’s reputation in East Asia. He visited many nations to apologize for Imperial Japan’s cruel actions. Emperor Akihito is also known to visit the sites of earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters. Emperor Akihito still continues to do what he can to promote peace and understanding throughout the world. Akihito is also a scholar with a genuine interest in science. Emperor Akihito has published a book on marine biology.

Celebrations

The Emperor’s Birthday is one of Japan’s most unique holidays, so Japanese people have many ways to celebrate.

  • Visiting the Imperial Palace

    Many people use the Emperor’s Birthday as an opportunity to visit the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. On December 23, the Imperial Palace opens to the public. Normally, most of the Imperial Palace is restricted to regular Japanese citizens. On the Emperor’s Birthday, people can take a tour of the Imperial Palace’s inner rooms and courtyards. This is a rare experience, so people from across Japan often travel to Tokyo to enjoy the holiday. There is also a large ceremony at the Imperial Palace. Prior to the beginning of the ceremony, huge crowds of people gather in front of the Imperial Palace to await the arrival of Japanese Emperor. When the ceremony begins, the Emperor will look at the crowds from his balcony. He will often say a few words of gratitude while the visitors shout out birthday salutations. During the ceremony, the Emperor is accompanied by the Empress and other members of the Imperial family.

  • Flags

    Since the Emperor’s Birthday is a patriotic holiday, many Japanese people hang the national flag of Japan on their homes. People also bring miniature flags to the celebration at the Imperial Palace.

  • Letters

    During the week before the birthday celebration, many Japanese citizens write letters to the Japanese Emperor. Most of these letters are generic, but some people write messages that are quite personal. These personal letters often come from individuals that have been directly impacted by the Emperor’s actions. Emperor Akihito often receives letters from people who are appreciative of his dedication to humanitarianism. Before the Emperor’s Birthday, many street vendors sell parchment and postage to people who want to write a letter to the Japanese Emperor.

Since all of the events for the Emperor’s Birthday occur at the Imperial Palace, Tokyo is the best to celebrate the holiday.

The Emperor’s Birthday is a patriotic holiday that honors the current Japanese Emperor and his life.

Source: Public Holidays
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Japanese Arts & Crafts (Part 3 and last)

This is the last part of Japanese Arts & Crafts

Byobu are Japanese folding screens that were historically used to partition rooms for privacy. They are typically adorned with shodo or landscape paintings.
Gyotaku is the Japanese art of fish printing that evolved as a way for fishermen to record their impressive catches.
Samurai Masks, known as Mempo, are a type of battle armor designed to protect the face and strike fear into the heart of an opponent. They were designed by special craftsmen to reflect the personality and preferences of each Samurai.
Japan has one of the world’s biggest and oldest film industries with a history of over 100 years. The country currently produces more than 400 films a year. In most years, Japanese films do slightly better at the box office in Japan than foreign films. Countless Japanese films have received international awards and recognition with several considered amongst the top films of all time.
Kimonos don’t have pockets. This historically posed a problem, particularly for men who tended to travel light. A solution evolved in the Edo-era whereby men hung decorative containers known as netsuke from the obi of their kimono. These containers, known as netsuke, were typically hand crafted sculptures that depicted historical scenes, myths, lucky symbols, women and other themes that Edo-era men found interesting. Many are comical with a double or hidden meaning.
Creative professions are extremely popular amongst young generations of Japanese students. Art programs at colleges and universities are thriving. Creative professions are extremely competitive in Japan but many graduates manage to find a niche and pursue a productive career as an artist. Any art that doesn’t follow an established tradition tends to be heaped together and categorized as contemporary art. This is an extremely broad category of art that’s ever expanding.
Washi Eggs are a somewhat rare craft in Japan that are produced by removing the contents of an egg and covering it in washi paper.
Rice paddy art is a picture made completely of different varieties of rice plant. It’s a relatively new tradition that began in the 1990s in Inakadate, a small northern town that was looking for a way to boost the local economy. The town of 8000 residents involves more than 1000 people in the rice art planting. Each year the art attracts more than 200,000 tourists. The success of the program has led to rice art in other northern communities.
Source: Japan Talk
Photos: Mask by S1L3N0Z / Street art by Bong Grit
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Japanese Arts & Crafts (Part 2)

We continue with the description of the main japanese Arts & Craft that we started in the previous post.

The folding fan was invented in Japan. Japanese fans are considered a cultural item that are used in ritual, dance and festivals. They were also historically used as a weapon of war by the samurai. Japanese folding fans, known as Sensu, vary widely in quality and often feature original art.
Kirigami, literally cut paper, is like origami except that the paper can be cut to create more elaborate designs. Kirigami are made from a single piece of paper without gluing.
Maki-e are a type of Japanese lacquerware decorated with powdered metal such as gold or silver. An artist uses a fine brush to shape the powder into decorative patterns. It has an old fashioned and elegant feel and is used in Japanese interior design. Maki-e is the type of thing you’d find at a Japanese-style luxury hotel. It’s also used to decorate small items such as jewelry boxes and pens.
Amigurumi is the Japanese craft of knitting or crocheting small stuffed animals and creatures. Designs typically adhere to the kawaii aesthetic.
Chochin are collapsible bamboo lanterns covered in paper or silk that emerged in Japan around the year 1085. They are usually adorned with shodo or a painting. Chochin are hung at temples and as decorations for matsuri. They are also traditionally used to mark shops and restaurants such as izakaya.
Temari, literally “hand ball”, are a Japanese folk craft that were historically created with old silk kimono as a toy for children. The outside of the ball are covered in a detailed embroidery. It was once common for parents to put a small paper at center of a temari with a goodwill wish for a child.
Japan has a rich tradition of tattooing known as Irezumi that was historically influence by Ukiyo-e art. Tattoos were once used to punish criminals in Japan and are still considered incredibly taboo.
Source: Japan Talk
Photos: East West Center and Jeff Laitila
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Japanese Arts & Crafts (Part 1)

Japanese art evolved unique techniques, traditions and aesthetics as the country’s artists were isolated from the rest of the art world for centuries at a time. When Japanese art finally exploded onto the world stage in the 1860s, it changed everything. For example, Japanese art was one of the inspirations for the Impressionist movement in Europe and America.

The following are a few major Japanese arts and crafts:

1. Shodo

Shodo is the Japanese art of calligraphy that’s created with a brush. It’s highly stylized and often almost illegible. The art mostly evolved at temples and has been greatly influenced by Japanese Buddhism. Works of shodo often look vaguely like a landscape painting. Most Japanese people have studied it and have an appreciation for the art.
Ukiyo-e is a genre of Japanese art that thrived from the 1600s to 1880s. They were printed in great numbers using wood block printing methods. In most cases, they depicted popular topics such as kabuki, geisha, travel, history, myth and politics. Ukiyo-e greatly influenced European artists such as Vincent Gogh.
Most historical structures in Japan such as temples, shrines, castles and palaces are made of wood. The Japanese had unique techniques with wood and were able to create remarkably large wooden structures. For example, the great wooden stage of Kiyomizu-dera was constructed without a single nail. Modern Japanese architecture is equally interesting with hundreds of buildings and mega-projects such as bridges that have been recognized for their design.
Manga are Japanese comic books. Japan began producing dark, irreverent, sensual, violent graphic novels as early as the 1760s that were essentially comic books. These books were largely banned in 1787 but the art continued nonetheless. Modern Japanese manga represent an vibrant and popular form of art and writing.
Origami is the Japanese art of folding paper to create decorative art. The classic origami that every school child in Japan learns is the crane. According to myth, anyone who strings together 1000 origami cranes is granted a wish. The Japanese traditionally believed that cranes live 1000 years.
Japanese sculpture is traditionally associated with religion. Wooden sculptures of protectors of Buddha such as Nio and Shitenno guard the gates to many temples. Shinto gods known as kami are often depicted in sculpture at shrines. Several of these are priceless cultural artifacts including sculptures that rank amongst the largest in the world such as the Buddha of Todaiji.
Bonseki are miniature landscapes on black lacquer trays that make use of white sand, pebbles, and small rocks. The art dates back to the 7th century and was historically used to plan real gardens. Bonseki faded with time but interest in it has recently resumed and a number of bonseki classes are now available in Japan. It’s rare for bonseki to be preserved and they are viewed as temporary works of art that are more attractive because they are impermanent according the Japanese aesthetic of mono no aware.
Source: Japan Talk
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Izakaya: Japan’s Pub Culture

Izakaya are Japanese pubs. They vary greatly in style, price, menu and atmosphere. Approximately 1 out of every 5 restaurants in Japan can be considered an izakaya.

People don’t commonly have house parties, dinner parties or backyard barbeques in Japan. Coworkers, friends and social clubs use izakaya as a venue for get-togethers. Izakaya are also popular spots for a date.

A wide range of special occasions are celebrated at izakaya from birthdays to retirement parties.

Food

Izakaya menus vary greatly and often include original items. Izakaya food can be generally classified as drinking food — popular foods for a social or party situation.

Common izakaya foods include: Edamame (boiled young soybeans), Sushi, Sashimi, Yakitori, Karaage (Japanese fried chicken), Deep fried dishes (e.g. Tako Karaage ~ deep fried octopus), Tofu dishes (e.g. Agedashi Tofu ~ deep fried tofu in broth), Western style junk food (e.g. pizza, french fries) and Japanese fish dishes (e.g. grilled squid).
There are hundreds of common izakaya foods. The focus is on salty, oily foods that can be shared with a group of people. Starches such as rice and noodles are often missing from izakaya menus. These are not considered drinking foods because popular izakaya beverages (such as beer and sake) are already high in carbohydrates.
When rice or noodles are consumed they are customarily ordered at the end of the night — to make sure no one goes home hungry.
As with other restaurants in Japan, Izakaya sometimes have a button at the table that can be used to summon staff. Otherwise, customers can shout “sumimasen”.

Layout

As with western pubs, izakaya often have bars or tables where you sit alongside other customers.

Izakaya can be very small (with just a few seats) or massive multi-floor restaurants. Large izakaya are social places for groups of friends. It’s common to visit small izakaya and standing izakaya (tachinomiya) alone or with a few friends.
Many excellent izakaya have outdoor seating on the street. Others (tachinomiya) are standing room only — customers purchase drinks and snacks and essentially stand on the street. It often seems as if the less facilities a restaurant has the more popular it becomes.

Music and Entertainment

Some izakaya go to great lengths to pull in customers. Themed interiors, costumed staff and performances may be used to pull in customers. For example, several ninja themed izakaya in Tokyo feature ninja performances.

Izakaya don’t usually play popular music or have music performances (as western pubs do). Background music (when there is any) is usually traditional Japanese music. The focus of most evenings at izakaya is lively conversation (although parties can also be rowdy).

Visiting a Izakaya

Visiting an izakaya is a recommended Japan experience. The main challenge you’ll face at izakaya is ordering. Some izakaya have English menus, others don’t. Many traditional izakaya don’t have a menu at all. Or rather, the menu is posted on the wall (in Japanese) with paper strips. When the restaurant runs out of an item the corresponding paper strip is pulled from the wall.

The language barrier is present at any restaurant in Japan. It shouldn’t hold you back. Worst case — you’ll just order randomly.
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The Art of Japanese Kanji

Kanјі was adopted from the Сhіnеse chаraсtеrs and has been used in Japаn as a wrіtіng sуstem for hundreds of уеars. Lеаrnіng Kаnјі isn’t really diffіcult, but it is very timе cоnsuming. To get to a lеvеl where you can rеad Kanјі in сontеxt rеquires daily praсtiсe for at least 6 mоnths to a уeаr. Therе are many wаys to leаrn Јараnesе Κаnjі. Lets take a look at somе.

Learnіng Jaраnesе kаnjі involves a lоt of rеаding and writіng рrаctiсе. А greаt way to leаrn how to rеаd kаnjі is with the helр of the intеrnеt. Тhеrе are a lot of tutоrial vіdеоs that teасh the reading, meanіng and strоkе оrdеr of Κаnjі. Іn fact, there are many frеe vіdеos tutоrіаls that you can find on YоuТube. Аlthоugh most of them are сreаted by аmаteurs the qualіty of these vіdeо lеssons are quite good.

Аnothеr way to leаrn Japаnese kanjі is with the helр of hоw-to books. Thesе books help you lеarn Κаnјі сharаcters by leаrnіng strоkе оrdеr through lоts of wrіtіng рrасticе. Ѕome рeоple can lеarn kаnјi quite fast using these kind of bооks as they fіnd that the writіng рrасtice helрs them mеmоrizе the reаdings and mеanіngs of kаnјі.

It takes a lot of patіеncе, dеtеrminatіon, as wеll as conсentratіon in order to lеarn, undеrstand and rеаd Јараnese kanјі at a рrоfісіent level. Аlsо, kаnјі is only part of the рісturе. Ѕtudеnts must first lеаrn Japаnеsе hiragana and kаtakanа before taking on kanјі. Alsо you should reаlіze your gоаl is not to mеmorіze hundreds of kаnјi, but to learn to read kanji.

Goоd luсk with your kanji studiеs!

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Kinro Kansha no Hi: the japanese Labor Thanksgiving Day

November 23 is Labor Thanksgiving Day, a second national holiday in November. It became a holiday in 1948 as a day for citizens to express gratitude to one other for work done throughout the year and for the fruits of those labors.

Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinro Kansha no Hi in Japanese) is actually a modern name for an ancient ritual called Niinamesai (Harvest Festival). In the ritual, the Emperor makes the season’s first offering of freshly harvested rice to the gods and then partakes of the rice himself.

The history of Niinamesai goes back hundreds and hundreds of years; the first written account is found in the Nihon Shoki (The Chronicle of Japan) – one of the oldest histories of Japan, dating from 720 – which says that a Niinamesai took place in November 673. The origin of the ritual is believed to be much older, going back to when rice cultivation was first transmitted to Japan more than 2,000 years ago. Niinamesai came to be held on November 23 during the Meiji era (1868-1912) and was a nationally celebrated event.

After the World War II, Labor Thanksgiving Day was established to mark the fact that fundamental human rights were guaranteed and rights of workers were greatly expanded in the postwar Constitution. Today, Labor Thanksgiving Day has become a national holiday while Niinamesai is celebrated as a private function of the Imperial Family.

A number of major events are held on this day. One such event is a labor festival held every year in the city of Nagano, which hosted the Olympic Winter Games in February 1998. Local labor organizations sponsor this event to encourage people to think about issues affecting peace, human rights, and the environment.

In the suburbs of Tokyo, nursery school pupils present drawings and handicrafts to local police officers, who look after their safety every day.

Photo copyright: @nihongadaisuki / Wikimedia Commons
Text source: Japan.org
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