Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Yukata in Kyoto

The other week Setsiko (one of Josh's students) came to the house bearing gifts. She had gone to Kyoto and bought us both a full set of Yukata. This is Japanese traditional summer clothing. They are kimonos but made of cotton rather than silk, lighter for the terrible heat that is the Kansai region of Japan. Setsiko really wanted us to go to Japanese summer festivals (matzuri) and felt that we needed the right clothing. Our outfits include everything even Japanese wooden shoes (getta) for me, apparently Josh's feet are too big.

So now we have these awesome outfits all we needed was a place to wear them. It was then that our friends Dan and Yuka thought that we should all go to Kyoto wearing Yukata. Lots of people wear traditional clothing in Kyoto. In fact, many women go to Kyoto with the expressed purpose of wearing their traditional clothing. So we thought we would give it a try.

Josh and I spent the night before drinking Yamamomo juice and coconut rum and watching internet videos about how to put the Yukata on. It is a bit of a process. The next day we were off in our traditional clothing, it was extrordinaily hot but an excellent time.

These are not real Gieshas, they are girls who have dressed up for fun as Giesha for a photo op, a common sight around Kyoto.

This is the shrine of bad wishes, we usually check it out to see what nasty things people had written lately.

These girls were also walking around in their traditional clothing so they asked us if we would take a picture with them.

Yuka just before she almost fell into the fountain.

Ahhh..... KYOTO!

Monday, 19 July 2010

New Fruit.......in my backyard

There are several new fruit trees on our property here in Sanda Japan, well new to us Canadians anyway. They are the Loquat and the Chinese Bayberry, known respectively as Biwa and Yamamomo to the Japanese . We have been having a lot of fun watching the fruits develop and harvesting them over the past few months. Of course it is quite a challenge to keep them from the birds and beetles but through a plastic Hawk on a string, some CDs tied to trees and some netting we have been able to reap a pretty good harvest of both of these fruits and they are quite exotic.

Both plants come from China, like much of everything here in Japan, and are not really favoured fruits more seen as Garden ornamentals, though their fruits are really nice. The Loquat is a large yellow plumlike fruit that tastes akin to a plum but with a mango texture and vanilla overtones. This one was really hard to defend from bird and we lost about 2/3s of the crop to them.
The Bayberry likes to rain down showers of ripe and unripe fruit all over the ground, though it grows in very large clumps which have been consistently giving us fruit. I scale this large tree twice a week to harvest sacks full of the bumpy round marble sized berries. They are quite easy to damage when ripe and do not ripen further after being harvested so this might account for their lack of presence in the grocery aisles. Both of these strange Chinese exotics are quite interesting trees and it is quite a shame we cannot grow them back home, unless you live in Niagara or on the Georgia strait.

So far we have managed to produce a great jam from the loquat, lots of fresh fruit for eating, bayberry icecubes and the most delicious fruit juice I have ever made (or tasted). Bayberry juice is a pink liquid squeezed directly from the fruits with a cheese cloth. Boiled to cleanse, chilled and served with bayberry icecubes, there is no better summer heat remedy. All in all this has been a fantastic journey here in Japan, now that we have exotic jam and a great fruit juice produced from our yard we can certainly say that Japan's climate affords quite interesting produce as well as scenery.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Happy Star festival

Here in Japan the Seventh day of the seventh month is an important day, and we were going to be damned if we didn't also participate. Two stars known as Orihime and Hikoboshi meet across the milky way but are divided by the star chain. On the seventh the two contact each other from our view and ancient Chinese scholars believed that our wishes would be heard by the stars on this night. Orihime is viewed as a silk weaver who plies her work along the banks of a rushing river (the milky way) which was a lonely existence. Her father takes pity on her and introduces her to a lonely cowherder named Hikoboshi who lives on the other side of the river. Their love was intense and they soon forgot to tend their cows and silk, neglecting their duties for a time. In the story Orihime's father grows angry and separates the two forbidding them to meet....except on the night of the seventh when flights of birds make a bridge for their meeting.

Now this is a really special tale of the stars movements and the celebration is quite interesting to go along with it. In present-day Japan, people generally celebrate this day by writing wishes, sometimes in the form of poetry, on tanzaku (短冊 tanzaku), small pieces of origami paper, and hanging them on bamboo, sometimes with other decorations.
The bamboo and decorations are often set afloat on a river or burned after the festival, around midnight or on the next day. So we had our classes participate in writing English wishes and decorating branches of bamboo to take home for that night. It was interesting that most wished to be great soccer players or other funny skills like flying and climbing trees well. The cutest wish was one of Jackie's students who wished for his "baby" to grow big and strong and that his parents would be happy.

We made our own Tanzaku and brought them up to the country and burned them in the traditional manner, although we did it a couple days late, the burning part, so we are not sure our wishes will be heard. It is really neat to see the fusion of Chinese festivities with the native Japanese take on them, truly an interesting cultural experience. And what were our wishes?....To find good land to build a house on, to get into law school, to make many high quality birch canoes and that the people would succeed.

Happy Tanabata!

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Honour with your "O"

In Japanese, people honour certain things. They do so with adding the prefix "O" to many different words. This is to honour the spirit or essence of a thing or idea, this is a sense which flows out of Japanese animism, what is now seen as the Shinto religion. O can be added to many different things to make the idea of the word honoured. Some examples are money, which is kaneh, becomes o-kaneh or water, mizu, becomes o-mizu. There seems to be a rhyme to much of this as food objects often get this as do things dealing with children and babies to transfer positive energy onto the objects. Here is a list of a few you might find interesting....

  • meat=o-niku
  • bento box=o-bento
  • diapers=o-mutsu
  • temple=o-tera
  • tea=o-cha
  • hot water=o-yu
  • grandma=o-baasan
  • incense=o-koh
  • food=go-han (this is because o-han would sound strange, so go is used)
  • new=o-new (yes this is Japlish but it still uses o)
  • sushi roll=o-maki zushi
  • hand pressed sushi=o-nigiri zushi
  • sleep=o-yasumi
  • to wait=o-machi
  • telephone=o-denwa
The list goes on for a while, and is quite interesting noting what the Japanese honour, telephone being very interesting as I have seen my fair share of Japanese honouring their telephones around town. Alternatively you can use "San" (Mr./Ms.) when speaking about animals and strangely enough corporations and stores?!?. So boar (inoshishi) becomes inoshishi-san, Toyota is Toyota-san, rabbit is usagi-san and Nikon is Nikon-san. Although cute only the company san's apply to adult use, where honouring the animals is seen as child's business and we adults are to refrain from using it. Although I like this idea and have had a few Japanese friends laughing at my calling Rabbits Mr. Rabbit!