January 12, 2008

There is no place like... a kotatsu!

Jason, as snug as a bug in a rug!

Hi everyone, it’s Jason again! It’s been a long time since my last post. Lots of interesting things has happened since my experience of picking potatoes. We have just come back to school from our winter holiday break and what a break it was. I spent most of my free time when I was at home under my home stay’s kotatsu (a table with an electric heater underneath covered by a quilt).

It’s terrific because in a drafty, cold Japanese home, you can eat, sleep and watch TV while seating inside the kotatsu.

Can you imagine seating in a nice warm area where your feet are toasty, and you are relaxed while eating, well you pretty much are imagining a kotatsu. I spent all my meals eating in the kotatsu located in the living room. It felt like I was a king.

After a hard training session there is nothing better then coming home and having a nice snooze inside the warm kotatsu. It feels like heaven especially because it’s so cold here in Japan right now. Japanese homes are drafty because they are built for summer when the house needs more air movement to reduce the repressive humidity. But the problem is in winter it’s absolutely freezing and that’s where the kotatsu comes into play.

Watching TV while laying down in the kotatsu I believe beats going out to the movies. However, there is only one problem with watching a DVD at home while seating in the kotatsu and that is trying to stay awake during the movie because it’s so cozy.

All in all I had only five whole days off training during my winter holidays because of my busy soccer schedule and in those five days I didn’t do nothing spectacular, but seating down, relaxing inside the kotatsu. Really it was better than going out with friends and having fun. The biggest problem is if you ever get inside a kotatsu, it’s so hard to leave!

Jason Davidson

January 12, 2008

Ryosuke and the New Year's mystery boars...

Ryosuke in the snowy mountains with his ever present soccer ball...

About two weeks ago I went to Nagoya City to visit my dad during the soccer club’s New Years break. Nagoya is about a two hour ride on a bullet train from Tokyo and it is famous for having very unique foods which I was looking forward to a new experience.

Dads’ house is way up in the mountains in Okazaki City (near Nagoya) and there are supposed to be wild boars roaming the forest.

Having the break was awesome!!! I can’t even remember the last time we had two days off in a row from soccer training let alone five.

The bullet train ride from Tokyo seemed really short and for some reason I was quite tired. I even slept when the train passed the great Mt. Fuji and I thought I lost a once in a lifetime experience to see it. (Luckily I stayed awake on the ride home). After that exhausting two hour ride I changed to a local train and stayed on it for yet another half an hour upon finally arriving at Nagoya station. Then it was a thirty minute car-ride and from there on, where the scenery changed from buildings to trees, trees, and more trees.

In the mountains there were wild boar footprints of all sizes and many rumors that on the neighboring mountain there were occasionally sightings of bears. I never got to see any wild animals while I was there and am sort of glad I didn’t have to be engaged in a running race with a screaming pig with tusks!!

Although I was looking forward to the new food ‘Nagoya style’, I only eat traditional New Year’s dishes, called osechiryouri, which everyone eats in Japan. I thought I would be able to eat something different but guess what!? During the five days, four was spent eating osechiryouri which I have been eaten every year New Years, and then I had to leave on the fifth! (guess I’ll have to wait until next year)

Overall it was a great, relaxing five days of spending time with family…and…I got $350 richer! (There is a Japanese tradition called otoshidama where relatives give money to younger relatives on New Year’s Day). I’m sure I will go back next year!

Ryosuke Yano

January 5, 2008

Happy New Years (in Japan!)

The entrance to the pathway to Hikawa Shrine in Omiya Park. During the first 3 days of January, this 1km pathway is lined with food stalls which are kept busy by the 2 million people who come to pray at the shrine.

People lined up to the main shrine gate.

2008 is the Year of the Rat as per the Chinese calendar.

Many people lined up to pray in front of the main Hikawa Shrine building. This scene is common at all shrines all over Japan.

New Years is the biggest event in Japan, sort of lasting several days into the first few days of January. Below is a great article from the Japan Times English newspaper about new year's customs here in old Nippon. Pretty much everything written in this article one experiences in Japan for sure.

Sights, sounds and tastes of new year in Japan

Don't be surprised if you've noticed an unusual proliferation of rodents lately. Today marks the start of a nezumi-doshi, or Year of the Rat, the first in the order of 12 celestial animals of the Chinese zodiac.

In 2008, toshi-otoko and toshi-onna, men and women who were born in the year of the rat, will be turning age 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 and so on.

When marking the occasion, however, nezumi is never written using the Chinese character for rat, but instead with the same kanji as ko (as in kodomo, child), which in this case is pronounced "ne."

According to the ancient Chinese sexagenary (60-year) cycle, 2008 will be a tsuchi-no-e-ne, (year of the "earth-rat"), superseding hi-no-to-i (year of the fire-boar).

The New Year is a time to celebrate renewal, and you can expect to encounter numerous terms incorporating shin (new), such as shin-nen (new year) and hatsu (first), as in hatsu-mode (visit to a shrine at the New Year).

Of course, preparations have already been under way well before. On Omisoka (December 31) people rush to complete their osoji (big end-of-the-year cleanup). New Year's Day is referred to as ganjitsu or gantan. Gan means "original" or "first." The characters for jitsu (meaning sun and day) and tan are almost the same, except the latter adds one stroke beneath it to represent the sun above the horizon at dawn. Jan. 1 is also a public holiday, and buses and street cars display the Japanese Hinomaru flag.

If you go anywhere aboard public transport, you may see people, many dressed in kimono, returning from hatsu-mode carrying a white arrow, a talisman called a hamaya, which is used to ward off demons and protect households during the year.

Most decorations, while rooted in Shinto traditions, have become a social custom detached from religious overtones. Kadomatsu (gate pine) that flank the entrances of buildings or homes provide a short-term abode for the spirits. Assembled, in the most elaborate cases, using shochiku-bai — the alternate kun readings for matsu, take and ume (pine, bamboo and plum) — these are removed on Jan. 7.

The ornaments affixed to doors and car radiators are called shimekazari. Traditionally sold by tobishoku (scaffolding workers), they incorporate a shimenawa, a straw rope that serves as a Shinto symbol of purity.

From Dec. 28 or 29, two slabs of mochi (cakes of glutinous rice) topped with a small bitter orange, called a daidai, a homonymn for the word that means "generations," are placed on home altars. These kagami mochi, which look something like a headless snowman, are customarily cut up and eaten around the second weekend in January.

If you visit a Japanese home, you might see children receiving otoshidama, monetary gifts from relatives, close friends and neighbors. The colorful small envelopes into which money is inserted are called pochibukuro.

This occasion certainly wouldn't be the same without nengajo New Year's greeting cards, some 400 million of which are sent each year. The postal service hires some 210,000 part-timers to deliver them on Jan. 1.

While "Hotaru no Hikari" (light of the fireflies, as "Auld Lang Syne" is called in Japanese) has been around since the 1880s, Japanese people are more likely to associate New Year's Eve with popular songs on the NHK program "Kohaku Utagassen." The famous Red vs. White Song Competition has been broadcast annually since 1951 (originally via radio, and on TV from 1963).
Then from 11:45 p.m., NHK shifts to the solemn tolling of the "Joya-no-Kane," the bell that marks the passing of the year. This is usually broadcast from the Chion-in temple in Kyoto, where the huge 74-ton tsuri-gane (hanging bell), cast in 1636, is sounded 108 times, symbolically driving out the 108 bonno (evil passions or earthly desires).

New Year's foods, called osechi ryori, a tradition dating back to the Heian Era (794-1185), are served from a three-tiered lacquered box (oju). The various items, all of which have some symbolic meaning, include date-maki (rolled omelet); kohaku kamaboko (red and white fish sausage); kurikinton (a mashed mixture of sweet potatoes and chestnuts); and konbu maki (rolled sea vegetable). Eaten cold and rather sweet to the palate, these are definitely an acquired taste. Other seasonal foods and beverages include toshikoshi soba (buckwheat noodles consumed on New Year's Eve), ozoni (vegetable soup with rice cakes) and otoso (a special spiced rice wine).

Finally, on this auspicious day, I'd like to say, "Minasama, akemashite omedeto gozaimasu (Happy New Year, everybody)!" and "Kotoshi mo yoroshiku onegai shimasu (please treat me favorably in the year ahead)."



about Seiritsu

Seiritsu Gakuen is a private co-educational high school created in 1925 and it is located in Tokyo, Japan.

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