七夕 Tanabata Festival: The Festival of Lovers in the Stars

Orihime and Hikoboshi, lovers separated across the Milky Way, are allowed to meet once a year. Represented by the stars Vega and Altair their meeting is a time of wish granting for lovers and hard workers. On the 7th day, of the 7th month of the lunisolar calendar, they are permitted to meet, and the …

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雛祭り Hinamatsuri: Japanese Girls’ Appreciation Day

My colleague plops down in his seat next to me, and nods in my direction. Knowing that he has a young daughter I ask him if he’ll be celebrating Hinamatsuri today. Of course, he says, she wouldn’t let me not celebrate it, and giggles. On Hinamatsuri, March 3rd, girls all over Japan are appreciated through …

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義理チョコ: Obligation Chocolate and Valentine’s Day in Japan

We announce the end of class, stand to attention, and bow. Some with more gusto than others, some merely nodding before collapsing into their chairs again. Four girls, in a rehearsed and giggling mass, come up to the lectern. They laugh at each other, and at themselves, look at me, and in unison say 'happy …

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おみくじ Omikuji: A Japanese Fortune Telling Slip

A Japanese language teacher gifted me an おみくじ, Omikuji, from the Dazaifu Tenman-gū, a famous shinto shrine in Fukuoka, Kyushu. She sat down to explain it to me, letting me know that Omikuji is best translated as a 'Fortune Slip'. As the Dazaifu Tenman-gū is a large and famous shrine, they had English Omikuji available. She happens …

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節分 Setsubun: A Japanese Coming of Spring Festival

A normally robust P.E. teacher quietly issues a ‘sumimasen’ at my shoulder. She stands behind my chair with a small paper bag in two hands outstretched, in the polite style of giving something. Rough calligraphy style kanji swoops over the front as is the norm with small, locally crafted gifts. She offers me the bag …

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節分 Setsubun Festival: 恵方巻 Eho-maki

Setsubun is here and so I'll be celebrating it in the Kansai tradition. On my way to work today I dropped into my local convini to pick up an Eho-Maki 恵方巻, translated as "lucky direction roll". Eho-Maki is an uncut roll of sushi, otherwise called makizushi. Once a year the stores will line their shelves with …

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語呂合わせ Goroawase – the Art of Japanese Mnemonics

Smiling, and with the slight self-awareness that comes with starting a conversation in an otherwise empty staff room, one of the older teachers at work swung round in his chair today to speak to me about Shakespeare. As a literature graduate who has seen that meme illustrating the heart wrenching uselessness of my degree far …

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Taiikusai: Inside a Japanese Sports Day

May is a little early for Japanese Sports Days but in compartmentalised Tokyo these rentable sports grounds are booked solid through the summer months. The entire student body, and teachers, are assembled on the pitch. The students lined up according to colour coded houses, and the teachers are sitting under the just erected canopy, the …

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