Setsubun is a festival on February 3rd, one day before the start of spring according to the Japanese lunar calendar. It will be celebrated throughout Japan this year, too. The most commonly performed setsubun ritual is the throwing of roasted soybeans around the houses and at temples and shrines. When we throw the beans, we are supposed to shout, [Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!] which means [Devils out, Happiness in!].
Risa’s friend sent us an invitation code for g-mail! Yes, G-MAIL…something which has been troubling us for weeks now. It all started since we started receiving g-mails (quite a few everyday) to our inquiries-mail account. The problem is that we can’t read those g-mails and can’t reply to them either. None of the mails we have sent to those g-mail addresses have been delivered. Anyway, we thought if we make our own g-mail account, it might work…but the problem was that g-mail is not very friendly to everyone and you need to get an invitation code from your friend to make your own account. Fortunately, Risa’s friend, Sachiko (Thank you very much, Sachiko!) sent us the invitation. Well, the story doesn’t end here. We were so happy about our new g-mail account today (it’s like getting new clothes…ahhh maybe not that happy) thinking we can finally contact those people who showed interest in our site…it turned out it’s not that easy. Even from our g-mail account, we can’t send mails to those people!!! Our mails didn’t get delivered for some reason. Now I realize it probably isn’t g-mail’s problem. It’s just wired that all those blank strange mails are from g-mail accounts. G-mail keeps troubling us. (Junko)
The Minamiza theater (the big building on the left-hand side of the photo) is the birthplace of [kabuki] and the landmark of Kyoto City. It is the oldest theater (built in 1615) in Japan. There were seven theaters built in 17th century, but six of them collapsed due to the fire, the flood and the economic decline. The Minamiza’s kabuki performances have been designated as an important property. In the present day, not only kabuki plays but also concerts and rakugo, which is a traditional comic storytelling, performances are held there. I think it’s a great way for tourists to touch and know the local culture through the plays. Please ask us if you are interested in the plays!
This is just an aside…there is a soba [buckwheat noodle] restaurant called Matsuba just next to Minamiza. It is very famous for nishin [herring] soba. They still follow the recipe invented in 1882. Why don’t you try the traditional taste after enjoying at Minamiza? (Risa)
At about 3 pm today, I was working very hard (as usual!) looking at my computer screen and papers and stuff…then for some reason, I looked up and saw a rainbow through the window! I know rainbows are not too rare in some places but I don’t think I have seen many rainbows in Japan. So I got really excited and took a picture of it.
What day is coming next week? Yep, it is St. Valentine's day. It is extremely popular in Japan, and it is memorized as a day when girls are allowed to express their love to boys by giving chocolate. Not so many people here know what St. Valentine's day is for western people. St. Valentine’s day was introduced into Japan by chocolate companies.
From 1930 to 1960, a couple of confectionaries tried in vain to induce Japanese people to present chocolate on the day. Then in the 1970s, big chocolate companies joined the market, and St. Valentine’s became a special event especially for young people. There is another type of chocolate called [giri-choco]. Women working in offices present the chocolate to their bosses and workmates to show their thanks of every day life. Do you think Japanese guys are lucky to receive lots of chocolates from girls? What do you guess March 14 is for? I will let you know when the day is approaching.)
It’s sunny and beautiful outside but the air is freezing. According to the news, we have a very harsh winter all over the world this year. I don’t know if it influences or not, but a bad flue is going around Japan at the moment. Look at the picture below. You can see lots of red and pink districts. The prefectural health department has issued the flue warning [the last updated on Feb 7]. I was pretty surprised at the figure…I really didn’t know the flue has spread out across Japan.
Well, actually I asked Risa to take one as her desk is by the window...how lazy am I? Anyway, isn’t it beautiful???...except for the construction machine...and the dark sky…yeah, it is pretty. (Junko)
Yes, I have caught a cold… I am lucky I have a good workmate. Junko kindly bought me a bottle of hot lemonade and told me [Vitamin C and sleep are essential to clear up the flue]. I will faithfully follow her advice. Thank you, Junko!!!!!!!!!(Risa)
I have an itchy finger! I will tell you more on Monday but here is what my finger looks like today! (Junko)
So…my finger! As you can see in the picture, between the top joint and the second joint is red and puffy. It’s because I have [Shimoyake] or chilblain. The reason why I wanted to write about this is because my friend from the States had no idea what it was while it is very common to get Shimoyake in the winter. Well at least when I was a kid, all the kids have one of these. It is caused by exposing your skin to cold for a while. This very good friend of mine, Vinh is from Boston and he has no idea what chilblain is! Yes, Boston is much colder than here. They get lots of snow every year!!! Why don’t they get Shimoyake in Boston then??? I think I figured it out. It’s because IT IS COLDER here. I mean technically it’s colder in Boston but they have really good heating system everywhere and lots of people drive everywhere (in other words, they never walk outside). I got chilblain probably just from walking to the station on the way to work every morning. Kids get them because they play outside…(don’t know about kids now…hopefully they still play outside and be active) Anyway, I just wanted to say that chilblains itch and you are lucky if you don’t have one! (Junko)
We have funny weather in Kyoto today. I was happy it was absolutely sunny and beautiful this morning but it’s now dull and grey…I’m sure it starts raining pretty soon.
Our boss took us to a restaurant/bar near our office last night. We couldn’t choose what to order so we asked the staff what she recommends. [Tomato Oden] was her answer. Oden is a popular Japanese hotpot dish especially in winter…but Tomato Oden????? Our boss suddenly remembered it was featured in a TV program the other day. We decided to order and try it. Soon after, it was served to our table. It looked just a whole tomato but there were minced meat inside. We were pretty impressed by the taste. Yes, it was very delicious. We should have taken the picture…but sorry we forgot to do that!
Lots of thanks to our wonderful boss; He paid for the dishes and drinks. Thank you!!!!!! (Risa)
My friend and I went to have a Thai massage last Saturday ? the same place in the news on January 23. This poor friend of mine, Emi can’t do computer work for more than 10 minutes because she gets very bad stiff shoulders. The last time we were having the foot bath, the massage menu caught our eyes. By the time we left there, we already decided to make an appointment for the massage. Look at the picture below. Emi had the massage to alleviate her severe pain. I asked her how it was after the massage. She said she shoulders much less of the burden than before. Wow, the massage did help! The place called [INISIE] is located near the famous shrine, Kitano Tenmangu. I will highly recommend you to go there and heal your tired body after the sightseeing. (Risa)
Afterward, we pick up and eat the number of beans corresponding to our age. One of the other celebrations is eating Maki Sushi, a special rolled sushi. Specially in Western Japan, lots of people face a lucky direction- the direction changes every year. South-southeast this year- and try to eat the rolled sushi without saying a word. Those who can accomplish the sushi (it is about 20cm long) are promised good luck with the business, study, and freedom from illness. Why don’t you try this tomorrow????? (Risa)
Baika [Japanese apricot] Festival will be held at the famous Shrine, Kitano Tenmangu on February 25. The shrine enshrines Michizane Sugawara, who is worshipped as the god of study because of his great learning during his time. It is said that he loved Japanese apricot blossoms and he composed lots of waka poems about the flower. There are about 2000 Japanese apricot trees at the shrine, and they start to bloom in unison soon.
February 25 is the anniversary of his death, and so many people will visit
the shrine to see the ceremony. There will be a lot of street stalls around
the shrine on that day, too. How about dropping by the festival if you
are in Kyoto at the time?
*One more info is the Japanese apricot garden will be open to the public this weekend until around March 20. Don’t miss it! (Risa)
Risa and I like to talk about spring because we are very sick of the cold weather by now. So…I am going to talk about spring again. The other day I found spring at a super market near my house. They sell lots of alcohol too and there it was! Strawberry Chu-hai!!! Do you know what Chu-hai is? It’s a yummy drink made with Shochu (distilled spirit) and soda. We usually add different flavor to it, sometimes with fresh juice, most of the time just with flavored sweetener. Anyway, you can find lots of different flavored canned Chu-hai in Japan as they are very popular among girls…and some boys. And I found Strawberry flavor one! It’s a new limited flavor for the spring season! When you come to Japan, please try some of our yummy Chu-hai! (Junko)
The goddess of Weather has fulfilled our wish. It’s like spring today!
The day for girls is coming next week. On March 3, we celebrate Hinamatsuri, the Doll’s Festival. This is a day to pray for young girls’ growth and happiness. The festival is also called Momo no sekku [Peach Festival] because March is the peach blossom season on the old lunar calendar. Most families having a daughter(s) display Hina-ningyo [special dolls for Hinamatsuri] - Look at the photo.
There are the prince and princess on the top. The next step contains three court ladies, followed by five musicians, two ministers, and three servants. There are also tiny pieces of furniture, small meal dishes, and other things. As you can see, the dolls are dressed in costumes from the Heian period (794-1192). As an aside, Kyoto became the capital of Japan on 794. The Hina-ningyo are taken out only once a year for this day. We say if the dolls are not stored soon after the festival, the daughter will be doomed to marry late. A daughter’s parents or grandparents will give her a set of Hina-ningyo before her first Hinamatsuri. Some girls are given the dolls that belonged to their mother or grandmother. In my case, my grandfather bought me a set of Hina-ningyo…but I haven’t seen them for ages… (Risa)
Junko and I were walking to the station after work yesterday. Then, we found a van parked on the side of the road. It brought me back my childhood memories. When I was little, I often saw the van selling quite a few kinds of bread. They drove around the town, playing the advertising jingle. Every time I heard the song, I asked my grandmother to buy one. It is known as Roba no Pan [Donkey’s Bread]. Do you imagine where the name comes from? The cart was pulled by a donkey until 40 years ago. It’s pretty simple, right?
As you see the photo, the donkey is still their trademark. But, there are only 3 vans now… If you come across the van, you are very lucky!
P.S. I thought the Roba no Pan is fairly famous and known by everyone, but Junko didn’t know it. I checked the website and found it was founded in Kyoto about 80 years ago. So…it might be another Kyoto institution?????? (Risa)
Finally it stopped raining. We had lots of rain last week and this week. The sky is so beautiful right now so I took a picture from our office.
It’s not really a new piece of information but I just read on the internet that Lisa Marie Presley got married in Heian Shrine. Her new hubby is not a Japanese guy, so I wonder why they picked Kyoto or Heian Shrine to get married in. Maybe she was out of ideas after many marriges…(Junko)
Did you have a nice weekend? My friend and I went to Imperial Palace on Saturday. There is a tiny Japanese apricot garden, and the blossoms have just started to bloom. Look at the photos below. They are cute, expected to be in full bloom in a week or so. It is said that people in Nara Period preferred Japanese apricot blossoms to Cherry blossoms and composed lots of Waka poems about them. As it was a beautiful day on Saturday, there were a lot of people + dogs at the Palace. They looked they enjoyed the sunshine and totally relaxed. [Spring has finally come!] - Everybody was excited about that…but winter is back again today. (Risa)
I had a busy but fun weekend. I did a lot and I have no time or space to write everything so I pick one…well, my friends from Nara and I went to a club in Sakyo-ku, Kyoto. It’s called Metro since it is located in the subway station (Some people…like me???...would say it’s not technically a subway since it’s a Keihan Line/local train that goes underground in that area). This club is really nicely decorated with retro furniture. The reason my friends came all the way from Nara was because they had a Drag Queen show at Metro! Those Drag Queens were…nice! Good job queens! If you love Drag Queen shows, and if you are lucky, you may get to see one at Metro while you are in Japan…and if you are not a big fan of Drag Queen shows, Metro is a fun place to go to anyway. (Junko)