Cultural Calendar 2


A Japanese saying goes "atsusa samusa mo higan made" (Neither heat in summer, nor cold in winter last beyond higan.). Higan is the week-long period of Buddhist memorial services peculiar to Japan and held twice a year, centering around the vernal and autumnal equinoxes (the days in the year when day and night are exactly the same length in March and September). During the week Buddhist temples perform special memorial services, and families get together and visit the family grave. The middle days of each Higan, Shunbun no hi (Spring Equinox) and Shuubun no hi (Autumnal Equinox) are national holidays. The graveyard I visited was quite big and a long line of cars had been formed on the street leading to the main parking lot. They were also offering a shuttle bus service between the yard and nearest train station.

A family praying in front of their ancestors' grave. A young couple cleaning up, offering incense and flowers to the grave.
This is a wide angle shot of the graveyard I visited. These are typical graves in Japan
Since the Christian population is only
about 1% of the whole population of Japan, you don't come across graves for Christians very often.

This flower, manjushage, is nicknamed higan bana (flower of higan) because it blossoms around higan (autumnal equinox). It is typically found along roadsides, on the ridges between rice paddies from Honshu to Kyushu. The pictures on the right were taken at a place called Kinchakuden in Saitama prefecture. I heard that it is very rare for this flower to grow in clusters like these

I am not sure about other areas in Japan, but where I live rice reaping starts around the middle of September. First rice is reaped and tied up into about 15cm bundles (this process is done by a machine) and hung on racks to dry for about ten days before getting threshed. Although this whole process (from reaping to threshing and putting in bags) could be done by machines, I was told by a farmer that leaving it under the sun makes it taste better.

A close-up shot of rice a few weeks before reaping.
As you can see lots of rice was blown down by a typhoon.
Rice is tied up into bundles like this after being reaped. Rice hanging on racks.By the way, the tall screen fence you see in the background is a driving range.
This is the machine that does everything (reaping, bundling, drying, threshing, packaging ) I once saw a machine three times as big as this one but it is just not common around here.

Oct 10th is Taiku no hi (Sports Day), a national holiday.It was established in commemoration of the Tokyo Olympics to encourage people to enjoy sports. Around this time of year lots of schools, companies and communities hold undookai (track day or field day).Since undookai is often open to the public, I recommend you go see what Japanese undookai is like! If your community holds an undookai, you might be able to participate in it as they always seem short on participants.

This undookai was organized by several districts in my city. Each district sets up a tent and roots for its residents.. Undookai could be a good opportunity for people to get to know each other, but it seems the number of participants is decreasing every year.
Undokai always has fun elements in it especially ones held by communities. They come up with all sorts of fun games. One famous game is pankui kyoosoo. It is a game where you run to anpan (sort of like Japanese donuts) hanging from strings and have to jump to grab it with your mouth (without using your hands) and run again to the goal with an anpan in your mouth.It is more fun than it sounds!!!
Four pictures above are of undookai held at the kindergarten that my neice attends.

This mushroom smells extrememly nice.
What food comes to your mind when you hear the word "Aki"(autumn)? Asked this question, I am sure lots of Japanese people think of matsutake mushrooms .Matsutake is a mushroom that grows only in red-pine forests. Its characteristic flavor and aroma has make it the most highly prized mushroom in Japanese cooking. Since it is very difficult to cultivate (not only do they need red-pine forests, but special soil and surface conditions as well), matsutake is very expensive. One matsutake easily costs thousands of yen. The best - and most luxurious - way to eat matsutake is to just bake it in a casserole, but not many people can afford to do that now. The most common way to fix it, therefore, would be to slice them and mix them with rice. This way you can make the most of their fragrance.

When the calendar turns October trees start changing their colors and becoming prettier and prettier. In April people go out for what they call "hanami"(cherry blossom viewing), and the fall equivalent is momijigari. It doesn't involve any special ritual,and unlike hanami there isn't a boisterous atomosphere. People just enjoy the red and yellow leaves, maybe having something good to eat or drink. Even though there are no particular places that you have to go to enjoy momijigari, places like Nikko, Kakone, and Arashiyama in Kyoto are famous spots for viewing the foliage.

The first and the second picture
was taken in Karuizawa, one of the
most popular summer resorts.
This wasa taken Chichibu, Saitama.

During the first two weeks in November you see a lot of little children dressed in kimono. They are celebrating Shichigosan ("seven-five-three" festival). It is a custom of taking three-or seven-year-old girls and three- or five-year-old boys to the local Shinto shrine to give thanks for their good health and pray for future blessings. There are a few theories of how this custom was started but the one most convincing is that in Edo priod (1603-1868) samurai warrior class boys and girls aged three were allowed to start growing their hair long, boys aged five could begin wearing hakama (a kind of skirt worn by men), and girl aged seven were given obi (kimono sashes) instead of rope to tie their kimono. Also, this custom is said to be connected with the belief that children of certain ages were especially prone to bad luck and diseases and thus in need of divine protection. After the visit to a shrine people buy long sticks of candy called chitoseame (thousand-year candy") Chitose means thousand years and the candy bears the wish that the children will grow up healthy and live a long life.

The long rectangle paper bag this girl is holding in her hand contains candies called chitoseame.
This was taken in fron of the
main hall of a shrine. All those
people in the picture were there
to celebrate shichigosan.
Usually girls wear pretty kimono
On the other hand, boys wear
either haori (coat) and hakama (skirt-like pants) or suit.
I wore suit when I was five.
A family with a son and a daughter posing for a picture
in front of the main hall.

Torino ichi
Lots of people feel that New Year season is just around the corner when they see the TV coverage of (or actually visit) torino ichi. Torino ichi is a festival held at certain shrines on the days of rooster*** in November. The first day of the rooster in the month (the day recurs in 12-day cycles) is called ichino tori, the second nino tori, and the third sanno tori. On these days stalls selling good luck charms (decorated bamboo rakes called kakkome) are set up in shrines' precincts. Those bamboo rakes are supposed to RAKE IN good fortune and lots of people buy them for household safety while shop owners get them in the hopes that kakkome will rake in more customers.

***In the old days, time, days, month, year and compass directions are often expressed using 12 different animals
A picture of the gate of Otori shrine. All the torino ichi held at other places have their origin at this temple. The people in dark blue clothes are police officers. They were there to control the traffic of people. A huge kakkome put up at the gate. Decorated on it are imitations of gold coins, treasure chests, turtles, sea breams, gold bales of rice and so on.Those things are called engimono and they are supposed to bring good luck
It seems that there are no certain rules as to what to put on kakkome. I saw a kakkome as big as the one at the gate with "Hello Kitty"stuffed dolls. Sanrio (the company that makes Hello Kitty goods.) bought it. A picture of people clapping their hands(this is called tejime). It is customary for the vendor and the customer to clap their hands 20 times (3,3,3,1 pattern twice) or sometimes more when a kakkome is bought.

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