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Cherry blossoms, or Sakana in Japanese, are a popular symbol of Japan and viewing these delicate flowers is a springtime tradition throughout the country. The Japanese have a term, Hanami, which means to have a picnic lunches with sake under a cherry blossom tree.
In Japan the cherry blossoms bloom at varying times each year, but it begins in Okinawa, usually in January, then it reaches Tokyo by late March or early April. Acres upon acres of cherry trees are planted in parks, at schools and government buildings, and around temples, and people flock to see them when in peak bloom.
The cherry blossom has become a symbol of Japan, and it can be seen in a number of places: on money, on kimono fabric, and on military uniforms. During Japan's colonial days, cherry trees were often planted as a way to claim occupied lands for Japan; therefore, you will find cherry blossoms in former colonies such as Korea and China. In more recent years, the Japanese diaspora has planted cherry trees where large numbers of Japanese live overseas including in Brazil and Canada. Japan has also given cherry trees to the US, Turkey, Germany, Australia and other countries as goodwill gestures or symbols of friendship.
Written Mar 3, 2013
Akihabara Girls line the streets of Akihabara, wearing school uniforms and handing out flyers for local cafes, bars, clubs, and other entertainment establishments. The odd thing here is that many of the girls are local high school girls, often in their official school uniforms, working as hostesses for lonely male customers. Here you can find maid cafes, cuddle cafes, and other oddities.
Some of these places charge 10,000 Yen to 20,000 Yen for an hour of entertainment, though some are significantly less expensive, depending on the type of entertainment, type of refreshments, and the quality of the hostesses.
Written Jan 28, 2013
Cosplay, also known as costume play, is an odd Japanese tradition. People dress in costumes that depict cartoons, superheros, anime characters, and even real people, and hang out in public on weekends. There are also restaurants in Akihabara where wait staff and customers dress in cosplay.
In Tokyo, you can see cosplay, usually on Sundays, around Harajuku Station on the Yamanote Line. Many cosplayers hang out on the Jingu bridge and in Yoyogi Park.
During a recent trip to the city, we say a handful of cosplay people, despite a downpour of rain. The best dressed was a man in a Batman costume, but he was overshadowed by a chubby guy wearing nothing but shorts and a clear raincoat.
Written Jan 1, 2013
Japan has about 37,000 love hotels, that attracting 1.4 million couples per day. Why the big draw? Most single Japanese live with their parents into adulthood, due to the cost of living and tradition. A love hotel offers the opportunity for adult couples to get some private time for a few hours or overnight. Yes, love hotels allow you to rent rooms for just a few hours.
The name love hotel was coined in the 1960s, but this type of lodging has its roots in the Edo Persiod (1600s-1800s), when discrete tea houses became places where couples could meet, and prostitution took place.
In Tokyo, Shibuya is one of three areas with legal love hotels, along with Ikebukuro and Shinjuku. In these hotels, guests can "rest" for a few hours for 5,000 Yen or less, and they can "stay" overnight for under 10,000 Yen. Both prices are bargains for hotels in Tokyo.
Updated Sep 20, 2012
Yoyogi Park is one of Tokyo's best gathering places. Locals love to hang out in the park, athletes play soccer on the fields, and in a small square between the NHK television studios and the grassy park, there is often a festival.
The Vietnam Festival is one of the biggest festivals at Yoyogi Park. They claim 150,000 guests visited the event last year, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same this year. The lines at some of the food stands were 30 or 40 people long during my visit. The best sellers seemed to be banh mi sandwiches, 333 beer, and pho, but there were also a few Thai restaurants on the periphery of the festival. While food was the real draw, there was also live entertainment on the stage, and local art and crafts, along with the obligatory travel advertisements and tour companies (besides, isn't that the real purpose of an internationally themed festival like this?).
Most of the food is from local Vietnamese restaurants in Tokyo, many, like Monsoon Cafe, from the neighborhood around the park.
Updated Sep 19, 2012
Outside of an entrance to Shubiya Station, there is a unique statue of a Japanese Akita dog sitting obediently. According to legend, Hachiko was the pet of a professor at the University of Tokyo. Every day the professor would return home via Shibuya Station, and Hachiko would be waiting, just as the train arrived. In 1925, the professor died, but the dog kept returning at the same time each day looking for his master.... for nearly 10 years, until te dog's death in 1935.
Hachiko was stuffed and placed in the National Science Museum of Japan in Ueno, Tokyo. His master is buried at Aoyama Cemetery near Roppongi, also in Tokyo. Next to the master's grave is a memorial for Hachiko.
The Akita is Japan's national dog. It is originally from Akita prefecture on Honshu Island, the main island of Japan. The American Akita is slightly different than the Japanese Akita in terms of size and coloration, but both have te same Japanese origins.
Written Sep 18, 2012
A Kimono is a thing to wear. No really, in Japanese, ki means wear and mono means thing. This lose robe with a sash is a traditional outfit that many people still wear today in Japan, usually at holidays and festivals.
Traditional kimonos are very, very expensive because they are made almost entirely of silk. In modern times, silk is still the preferred material, but kimonos can be found in a variety of less expensive materials.
In many English speaking countries, the business world overuses a lame phrase, "open the kimono," which means to share information with others.
Updated Aug 31, 2012
So, Hello Kitty is Japan's favorite fictional character, but who knew this cuddly little cat was a gaijin? According to Hello Kitty's website, her real name is Kitty White, and she was born in London! Scandal!
Hello Kitty was created in 1974 by a Japanese designer. This character's appeal as gone global, and the company who owns the rights, sells about US$1 billion a year in merchandise, with about half featuring the Hello Kitty image.
Japan remains in love with Hello Kitty even after almost 40 years. They have TV Shows, theme parks, video games, and any kind of accessories you can dream of that feature this furry feline.
There are other characters in the Hello Kitty lineup including a horse named Turfy.
Updated Aug 30, 2012
The Japanese are mad about vending machines; there is one for every 12 residents, in fact. Like people elsewhere, they enjoy obtaining water, soft drinks, coffee and cigarettes simply by inserting coins into the appropriate machine. But how about ties? CDs? Books? Used ladies' underwear? All of that and more is on offer in the ubiquitous machines. Stop and take a look at the variety of merchandise.
Updated Oct 11, 2010
One day, we had to visit the Minato Ward office to deal with the business of name changes. Japanese bureaucracy is truly mind-boggling. My daughter-in-law had literally dozens of sheets of paper, applications, proofs of this or that, all bearing a variety of colorful seals on them...and it wasn't enough. She had to fill out several more sheets while we were at the Ward office, which is rather like an adjunct City Hall, except it had a beautiful, Zen-like courtyard. A uniformed guide greeted us as we arrived and directed us to the appropriate window.
As an American citizen, Mishuku was free to retain her own name when she married. As a Japanese national, this is impossible; she was supposed to have registered her marriage and assumed her husband's name within six months, even though at that point she was still living in the United States. It turned out to be not so simple to remedy things after the fact. When Emi was born, therefore, she legally had to take her mother's maiden name. Mishu spent four hours at the Ward office trying to straighten things out, but had been sent off to accumulate more documents, etc. On our return visit, we hoped everything would be in order -- which it was, eventually. Mishuku and Emi are now officially Southgates, and even have national health cards to prove it. Once the formal name change documents have been prepared by the Ward, they will be sent to the apartment and at that point everyone can go to the United States Embassy to apply for Emi's official American documents.
Written Oct 11, 2010
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