As we move around Japan, we will see students traveling by bus, train, bike, and on foot to get to and from school. We may see children as young as six traveling alone. The students will be in uniform as most schools require uniforms. In fact, the dress code extends to rules about not wearing make-up, not styling hair, not shaving legs or dressing in any other way that would make them stand out from others. We might see a girl and boy talking but we won’t see any public display of affection. PDA is not considered polite in their country.
The Japanese school year begins in April and breaks for vacation July 20th. The students return in early September for the second term and they break again around December 25th. Even with these breaks many of the students continue to go to school for extra coaching. It is not uncommon for parents to spend a lot of money on extra tutoring so that the students can get in the programs they want.
In the classrooms, the students do the cleaning. All people in society are aware of cleanliness and are known to carry trash home if they can’t find a receptacle. We won’t see stickers or writing on buildings due to this social consciousness that is developed from a very early age and reinforced in classroom studies.
Timeliness is very important in Japan and this is established early for children. Tardiness to school is not allowed. I am sure that if we suffered consequences of being late in our culture, we wouldn’t be tardy as well.
If a teacher calls in sick, the students carry on with class without a substitute. I can’t imagine this! I have been in classes where even the teacher had difficulty keeping things under control.
Hanging in many classrooms is an ancient weapon called a sasumata. This device is used to control an intruder until the police can arrive. Watch this video to see a news report on this type of equipment in use.
I found a video that speaks of why the Japanese are polite to one another. I thought you may want to watch it.
Anime is hand drawn or computer generated animation. There are a lot of anime (not sure if I am phrasing that right) out there! I had no real idea how many until I started researching this. Here is a cool video to teach you how to draw an anime figure. You can learn how to create anime just by practicing and watching youtubes. Give it a try and send it to me! I would love to know if you enjoy designing like this.
A friend of mine from Japan told me that you might like this Japanese cartoon. It is Doraemon. Here is a link to one of the episodes he recommended. How does this compare to the cartoons you used to watch? It reminds me of “The Jetsons” but only because of the futuristic nature of it.
Rice is a staple food in Japan and has been for many years. The process of growing rice laid down the foundation for a culture based on social cooperation. Cultivation of rice began in Japan over 10,000 years ago. The land allowed for terracing plots of land with its design allowing control of water for irrigation, flooding, and then draining at the correct time. This need for large-scale coordination and the need for many laborers was met best by communities who listened, considered others and made needed adjustments for the benefit of the group.
See the beautiful terraced fields in this article.
At one point the value of a man was quite literally measured in rice. The labor of a Samurai was valued in units of koku 石 (the amount of rice needed to feed one man for a year). It is equivalent to 180 liters / 150 kilograms. The koku, a unit of currency was also used to describe the capacity of a ship, its ability to hold that volume of rice. Today a ship’s capacity is given in a measurement of ton/tonnage. A ton is 10 times the size of a koku. Today the Japanese lumber industry is the only place the koku unit is still used. See this site for a wonderful description of koku.
The rice grown and used in consumption in Japan is different than most of the rice we eat in the United States. I like rice to be fluffy and long grained. How could I eat this with chopsticks? The rice in Japan is short grained and sticky. It can clump together making it easier to pick up with chopsticks.See this link site to learn about the different types of Japanese rice.
I enjoy learning about other cultures and what they eat. Here is a recipe for Japanese and sushi rice. One of the things people put in their lunch boxes is called an Onigri. Watch this youtube to learn how to make an onigri. I bet you could make one sometime. Surprise your mom and dad by taking the leftover rice and making one of these for them.
Rice can be made into an alcoholic drink as well. It is called SAKE. This blog has a very nice article about a man who worked to make sake using the ways of the past. Even if you don’t read it, please take a look at the beautiful photos, especially the one of the BIG round pad of rice “where Komatsu spreads dark green spores of koji (Aspergillus Oryzae) mold over freshly steamed rice”.
There are 10,000 Torii Gates that take you to the top of a hill overlooking Kyoto, a city that once served as Japan’s capital. These gates serve as the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社). The vermillion color (red, originally created from mineral cinnabar) serves to block misfortune and calamity. The gates, donated by companies, organizations, and individuals as an expression of gratitude for prosperity, surround the path of several trails. There are lanterns that light the tunnels of color, creating a wondrous experience in the early evening.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine is in honor of the Shinto god of rice. “Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Oinari) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants.” (Wikipedia) What are Kami? I found this site that gives the best definition. (I liked this site so much I “bookmarked” it on my search engine to use for future ‘exploration’.)
Along the paths, there are many statues of kitsunes (foxes). People of the Shinto faith may leave offerings of food or objects at these locations as they appeal to the spirits. A favorite food of the fox is said to be a fried tofu – aburaage. This article gives a background on the fox and its place in Japanese spirituality and culture. Understanding the background may make you more aware of the use of the fox in today’s Japanese influenced entertainment.
Walking through the beautiful vermillion gates would be very relaxing to me, but I can’t read Japanese. The names of the donating businesses and organizations are written on the gates and I have wondered: If I could read Japanese, would I be reading all those gates as I passed through? When I was in Chile, I found that my mind could relax because I couldn’t read the signs or understand the language. Not being able to understand them made me realize how hard my mind must work all the time to take in the written and audible communication around me. Would walking past these beautiful gates be like walking past billboards if I understood the language?
It is interesting that the god of rice is also the god of prosperity. Rice is important to Japan. It is an important food in the diet and has a long history of cultivation influencing the culture. Please see this important article that explains the deep effects of rice on the culture of past and present. Rice is such an important part of the culture that I will spend more time on this subject – tomorrow.
Japan, slightly smaller in size than California, is located in East Asia. Japan is an archipelago (chain of islands). Over half of the country is mountainous with a large abundance of forests. I gave you a clue regarding the country by telling you that this country has boundaries with six seas/ bodies of water. Can you find them? Four are located on this map. The Inland Sea is located between the major islands. The Korean Strait is located between Japan and Korea. Take a look at your world map to see Korea and Japan. They are not that far apart; are they?
When we visit Japan I believe our main impression will be the cleanliness of the country and the deep tradition of respect seen within the communities. The respect can be seen in how people interact with one another and with how they interact with the environment. I remember watching the country’s early reaction to a disaster and noted the consideration that people had for one another even in one of its more stressful times. I was impressed with the view of a shelf previously filled with water bottles, still holding several water bottles despite the thirst and needs of the people surrounding the area. In their culture, it is dishonorable to take the last of something when someone around may need it more.
I found a wonderful site that gives you an idea of the manners needed to visit Japan. Please take a look at this site. After reading this – How would you feel visiting Japan? Would your habits and manners be good enough for you to feel relaxed around people there or would you be nervous about “messing up” and offending someone? I think I would be worried about messing up but I bet the people there would be understanding of my good intentions.
Would you know when to take your shoes off and when you can leave them on while visiting in Japan? Here is an article that explains when you should remove your shoes. The socks I sent to you are called Tabi socks. Because they have a separation of the big toe from the rest of the toes, you can easily slip them in and out of thongs.
Some areas we visit are very populated and mass transportation is our form of travel. The trains are known for being on time and reliable but we would probably avoid using the trains during rush hour. I found it so amazing that there are people paid to “stuff the trains” – pushing everyone on and getting the doors closed. Watch this youtube showing the workers stuffing the train. Observe how the people are patient despite the discomfort of the closeness of the crowd.
Japan’s national flower is the cherry blossom. The trees bloom around April and people come from all over the world to see the beautiful display. The USA has a famous cherry blossom festival as well, in Washington DC. The beautiful displays of color are the result of an initial gift of three thousand trees by Japan in 1912. They represent the friendly relationship between the two countries. Like family members, our countries have had periods when this relationship was not as good but peace and time have given us the benefit of this bond.
We will explore fascinating sights, sounds, and tastes of Japan in the coming weeks. Enjoy learning about another wonderful country!
I am working to get the boxes packed and out to you this week. Where did we go? I felt like we needed to go back to the Northern Hemisphere. This small country is surrounded by 5 seas. We don’t speak the language. Those are 3 good hints and should help you narrow it down. Can you guess?
Australia seems to be one of the first countries to celebrate the New Year. I can recall watching their fireworks on the last day of 1999 around 9 am of my New Year’s eve. It was a big deal, turning the clock to the year 2000 and we watched the countries from around the world marking that moment. Watch the event as it was recorded. The back drop of that site is the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Sydney Opera House is a distinctive landmark as well. You will see it often in your lifetime when Australia marks a significant moment in time. I actually remember when it was completed (1973) and it made quite a big impact with its unusual design. The roof contains large white shell shaped sails providing a dramatic representation of the Sydney Harbour and city.