Top 9 Cultural Autumn Festivals to Attend in Japan!

Top 9 Cultural Autumn Festivals to Attend in Japan!

I don’t know about you but autumn is one of my favourite seasons ever. Autumn in Japan is beautiful – I’d argue that it’s just as beautiful as spring in Japan! Everyone in the country is looking for a bit of chill in the air after the hot and humid summer season. 

And not only is the weather a bit cooler, but the colours of the scenery changes too! The lush greens gradually change to vibrant shades of red and orange. And just like how people go for cherry blossom viewing (or hanami 花見) in spring, they go for autumn leaves viewing (or momijigari 紅葉狩り) in fall! I personally went from north to south of Japan just to witness this changing season. 

But that’s not all. Japanese autumn is full of cultural festivals. As I always mention, the Japanese love to celebrate anything and everything! While summer is the season with the most festivals, autumn is a runner up. Here we have a list of 9 culturally exciting autumn festivals for you to consider when visiting Japan during this season! 

1. Otsukimi (Nationwide)

One of the most exciting festivals to look out for during autumn in Japan is otsukimi (お月見), which translates to “moon viewing”. Somewhere from the middle of September and lasting till the beginning of October, you’ll get the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the ancient calendar.  This is known as the juugoya (十五夜), which is the night of the harvest moon and believed to be the most beautiful moon of the whole year!

During this time, the Japanese celebrate the cultural practice of moon-viewing to show their appreciation and pray for a successful seasonal harvest. Some even throw moon-viewing parties with friends and family. Decorations are put outside of houses, which includes pampas grass to resemble rice stalks and white rice cakes (dango 団子) to resemble the moon.

2. Shichi-Go-San (Nationwide)

Another autumn cultural festival that happens worldwide is the Shichi-Go-San (七五三), which literally translates to 7-5-3. This cultural festival involves families bringing their kids aged 3, 5 or 7 to the local shrine on the 15th of November. However, nowadays, families would schedule their visits for weekends close to the date to avoid the crowds. 

The history of this festival goes way back, believed to have originated in the Heinz period. This cultural festival is a way to celebrate the healthy growth of kids and also to pray for their future. The ages 3, 5 and 7 are odd numbers and believed to be numbers of good luck. So this festival involves a ceremony where they celebrate the healthy growth of the children into middle childhood as well as pray for their future.

Children are all dressed up and dolled up in the prettiest kimono and hakama, which are traditional Japanese costumes. Girls, particularly, are polished up in pretty makeup and hairstyles. 

3. Tori no Ichi (Nationwide)

Good things come in three. The third nationwide cultural festival in Japan is Tori no Ichi (酉の市). This is translated as “The Day of the Bird” and is one celebrated since quite a while back, since the Edo Period. While this cultural festival is famously celebrated in Tokyo, Tori no Ichi is actually celebrated nationwide with street parades, stalls and decorations. 

The cultural festival falls on the day of the rooster in the lunar calendar. In the olden days, this day was the best day for farmers to sell their goods and harvest that they got from the autumn harvest. It’s also a day that signifies the start of an economically strong year.

4. Takayama Autumn Festival (Gifu)

In Gifu Prefecture, a cultural festival that’s pretty well known nationwide is the Takayama Autumn Festival, celebrating for more than 350 years in early October. More than 100,000 visitors from all over the country travel to Takayama City every year to attend this festival.

The highlight of this cultural festival is the festival floats, each having their own theme based on Japanese traditions. But while the actual festival day itself is the highlight, the days leading up to the parade are no bore either. Food and drink stalls as well as artisan vendors are set up, along with the best entertainment on the streets. 

There’s also a Takayama Spring Festival if you missed out on this autumn festival. It’s not the same, but it’s a good replacement! 

5. Kurama Fire Festival (Kyoto)

One of the biggest autumn cultural festivals in Japan is the Kurama Fire Festival in Kyoto. The main object of this festival is….fire! You’ve got to travel into the mountains of Kurama for this event, but it’s not too far away from the capital city Kyoto. 

At the end of October, the festival starts right after sunset. Guests and participants dress in costumes to carry torches down the streets towards Yuki-jinja Shrine. At the end of the march, there’s a huge bonfire! It’s kind of like the summer festival Obon, because both festivals are about welcoming spirits. The difference is that this festival welcomes spirits from the shrine into the village. These spirits are believed to offer protection. 

6. Zuiki Festival (Kyoto)

Another Kyoto autumn cultural festival is the Zuiki Festival, which dates back to 947. This is another event that is a show of thanks for a good harvest, taking place between the first to the fifth of October. During this festival, you get to see a portable shrine known as mikoshi (神輿) that is decorated with taro stems being carried around the shrine grounds. This portable shrine is accompanied by about 350 priests and shrine parishioners! 

Performances are also part of this cultural festival. Some special ones open and end the event. One of them is a dance called yaotomemai, which means “sacred dance”, that’s performed by elementary school girls from the local area. 

7. Saga International Balloon Festival (Saga)

This is one of the lesser known cultural festivals by foreigners but definitely one extravagantly celebrated by the locals. Saga International Balloon Festival takes place in Saga prefecture at the end of October. This annual balloon festival is the largest in all of Asia! 

At around 5:30 in the morning, more than 50 hot air balloons start floating into the sky! But if you’re not there that early, there’s a night show where you can catch these balloons all lit up. Stick around for the huge market in the area, selling Saga-made products, food and drinks, and crafts. 

8. Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival (Fukushima)

In Fukushima at Nihonmatsu Shrine, the annual Nihonmatsu Lantern Festival takes place at the beginning of October. This is such an old cultural festival that has been going on for almost 400 years! Around 300 lanterns are involved, along with 65,000 people visiting annually!

This cultural festival is a way to honour the Hachiman and Kumano gods of the Nihonmatsu Shrine. These gods are believed to be the ones giving power to the rice plants and harvesting season. 

The shrine priests perform ceremonial prayers before sunset. A lot of incense is being burned too. Then, the lanterns are placed on seven floats, with some tied to long bamboo poles and stand up on the floats to represent rice plants. The marching parade only starts after sunset, accompanied by taiko drums and flute music.  and after sunset, the parade starts with taiko drums and flute music to accompany the march. 

9. Supernatural Cat Festival (Tokyo)

Last but not least, a more modern yet still cultural autumn festival in Japan is the Supernatural Cat Festival in Tokyo! Every year on the 13th of October, you’ll find people dressed as cats roaming the streets of the Kagurazaka neighbourhood. Anyone can participate, and to participate, all you need is to pay the entrance fee and a cat costume!

If you don’t have a cat costume, get your face painted by an on-site makeup artist! And just like any other Japanese cultural festivals, you have food stalls and dance performances to accompany the parade. 

Get your cultural experience at these top festivals!

There are tons of other Japanese cultural festivals in autumn, and if I were to list them all, it’d be an endless article. To get you started on that autumn festival checklist, these 9 festivals are a good starting point. Which ones will make it to your Japan autumn itinerary? 

10 important Japanese Cultural facts about Marriage in Japan!

10 important Japanese Cultural facts about Marriage in Japan!

In our current day and age, marrying someone of a different race is totally normal. However, because cultures are so different, it can lead to a few culture shocks. One of the more commonly known culture shocks when it comes to Japan is when it comes to marriage.

There are some things about Japanese marriage that are not common in other cultures. So, to shed some light on the matter, especially for those who are keen on getting into one, we’re going to look at the top 10 Japanese marriage culture facts!

1. Arranged marriages still exists

Even though Japan is very modernised, the custom of arranged marriages still happens. Sometimes, the first day you meet someone is also when they become your legally wedded husband or wife. Your parents can pick a wife for you, even though you can definitely pick one for yourself. 

2. San-san-kudo

During the wedding ceremony, there’s an event called the san-san-kedo. This is where the pair show their sign of fidelity to each other by sipping sake three times from three different cups. It’s believed that when they take their first sip, they officially become spouses.

3. Hiring actors to be family is normal

It might sound strange, but it’s completely okay to hire actors to play as family members at the ceremony. Image is so crucial in Japanese culture, so it might look bad if your side doesn’t have that many people. There’s a special service for this actually. These actors will cheer for you, greet your other guests, and greet you just like your own family.

4. Guests get gifts

In Japan, sometimes guests get gifts during the wedding. The bride and groom will give back to the wedding guests whether it’s in the form of a physical gift or money. It’s believed that a gift is given as a way to share happiness on top of giving back. 

5.  There are horns on the bride’s outfit

Wedding outfits are important in Japanese weddings. The groom is usually in all black, wearing the traditional kimono and pleated hakama trousers. This is topped off with a family haori jacket. 

The bride is in a white kimono and accessories. The most eye-catching of the outfit is the elaborate headgear that’s voluminous. Sometimes, it can be a wig, sometimes it can be a big hat. Regardless of what it is, it’s often decorated with horns that are very well hidden by a white veil. This represents jealousy and hiding it shows that she will not be jealous.

6. You can marry a virtual program in Japan

You read the title right. In Japan, you can marry a virtual program. You can marry your anime pillow, a stuffed animal, or even a hologram. A guy recently married a hologram of Hatsune Miku, who is a worldwide famous singer. He had a proper wedding and all, with his family, friends and colleagues. 

7. Japanese weddings are expensive…for everyone 

This is the one I hear most often. Japanese weddings are expensive not only for the couple but for everyone. Guests are expected to bring wedding gifts in terms of cash, and depending on where they are in the country, the amount differs. It can be up to 50,000 yen for relatives! There’s a phrase commonly used for this type of thing: “poor from celebrating”.

It is very different from European and American weddings where wedding gifts come in the form of housewarming items.

8. The wedding day is not the anniversary date

Usually, a wedding is celebrated during the registration of a marriage. So your wedding day is your anniversary day. This is pretty common worldwide. In Japan, it’s not always the case. You can register one day, and celebrate your marriage a year after! It’s common in Japan to have the wedding ceremony after the registration of the union. However, the anniversary date is then the registration date and not the wedding day.

9. Japanese law states that married couples must have the same surname

In some countries, like in Europe and America, surnames can be double barrelled. For example, if Mary Johnes married Bob William, she could be Mary William-Johnes, or Mary Johnes-William.

In Japan, there is a law and incredible social pressure for women to take their husband’s last names. Family lineage is extremely important in Japan, and record keeping is very strict. As everywhere, a woman must completely change her name on all legal documents and with all government institutions, which is a laborious task that new generations are fighting to change. 70% of Japanese people want the ability to keep their own names, but it keeps getting voted down in the government. In rare instances, a man will be the one to take the women’s name, this usually includes the man being officially “adopted” into that other family and losing all ties to his own legally. This is done typically when the woman’s family has a higher standing or more money.

10. Common-law marriage is not a norm

In many countries, common law marriages are the norm. You don’t have to get married but you can still come under the same laws as a traditional marriage for situations like taxes and housing.

In Japan, there’s no such thing. You’re not accepted as a marriage unless you have the whole shabang of a traditional wedding. You can’t get the same rights as a traditional marriage if not. For example, you won’t be able to sign off on any medical related issues because it’s difficult to prove the family relationship as a spouse. 

Which cultural fact surprised you the most?

Japan still follows traditional customs when it comes to marriage, as you can tell, even though the country is pretty modernised in other parts. These are just a few things you have to take note when dealing with a Japanese marriage, whether you’re going into one yourself or attending a ceremony. Regardless, which Japanese marriage cultural fact is the most important surprising to you

Who are the The Avant Garde Trio? 3 of the most Famous Japanese Fashion Designers!

Who are the The Avant Garde Trio? 3 of the most Famous Japanese Fashion Designers!

(NM Podcast Recap! S2E7)

One of the things Japan is famous for is its fashion scene. Japanese fashion designers conquer runways all over the world. In our Season 2 Episode 7 of the Nihongo Master Podcast, we looked at theJapanese fashion triumvirate: Yohji Yamamoto, Issey Miyake and Rei Kawakubo. 

These three Japanese fashion designers are not only experts at seamlessly fusing traditional and modern, but they have unexpectedly made quite an impact on the Western fashion industry. You can’t really sum up Western fashion of the late 20th century without acknowledging the contributions by this Japanese avant garde trio.

This trio was repeatedly mentioned during my fashion school classes, highlighted for their unapologetic fusion of Japanese ideals in modern fashion. “Made in Japan” now carries a newfound prestige, and we have these fashion designers to thank for.

Here’s a recap of what we talked about Japan’s avant garde power trio!

Yohji Yamamoto

The first fashion designer of the Japanese avant garde trio to reinvent Western technical and aesthetic values who we looked at is none other than Yohji Yamamoto. This pioneer of the 1980s Japanese New Wave didn’t, either. In fact, he studied law in university!

Now one of the most distinguished fashion designers of the industry, Yohji Yamamoto is known for his excessive usage of the colour black and the free-spirited concept portrayed in his crafty tailoring and androgynous silhouettes with a notion of concealing rather than revealing the body.

Yamamoto has his reasons behind the intentional usage of black, other than his perspective that black is a combination of colours. Black is modest and arrogant at the same time, black is easy and lazy but also mysterious. What’s better than black? 

Yamamoto’s designs are made to be timeless, and instead of putting the garment on the body, he puts the body on the garment. A typical Japanese approach that is used religiously by Yamamoto is to start a design with fabric, rather than silhouette.

Apart from the dark, androgynous image he sets, Yohji Yamamoto is also especially famous for collaborations. Some might say he’s one of the first few designers who celebrates collab culture and gives access of high fashion to the masses. Y-3, anyone? This Adidas-Yohji Yamamoto collaboration that began in 2003 is one of the most successful collabs to this day, altering the perspective of menswear fashion and giving the male market an opportunity to play around with shape and movement just like the ladies.

Issey Miyake

Our next fashion designer is the one that has ruled the pleats trend for decades now. Issey Miyake was the first out of the three to showcase in France. Not only that, he was the first to restructure sartorial conventions, blinding in contrast to the conventional ways of Western designers such as Yves Saint Laurent, Coco Chanel and Chistian Dior. Instead of obliging to the Western concept for women’s clothing of fitted silhouette and exposure of body contours, Miyake proudly introduced loose and baggy designs, free of traditional construction.

And just like his compatriot, Miyake has roots deep in traditional Japanese design philosophy, which is evident in all of his creations, and converting them into fashion-forward, modern Western pieces. Miyake didn’t think of his lack of western heritage in the world of Western fashion as a disadvantage, but an advantage. He introduced a new definition of aesthetics, and not by creating aesthetics itself, but by crafting it into a way of life (iki kata in Japanese) — the garment flows where the body moves.

And to this day, Issey Miyake’s brand — even though the mastermind himself has retired — continues on the legacy of approaching garment construction in original ways, prioritising the user first. If you think about it, that way of doing things is more of a product designer’s approach — and it obviously works out. He did once say, “I make tools. People buy my clothes and then they become tools for their creativity.”

Oh, and remember when I mentioned at the start that Issey Miyake is the pleat master? He’s Einstein when it comes to original fabrics, and the whole pleat thing came from his most commercially successful collection to this date, 1993’s Pleats Please. Instead of going for the traditional method of permanently pressing pleats before cutting out a garment, Miyake did the opposite — he cut the garment out twice the size, put it together and then started pleating. 

And that’s only one of his creations. Another one worth mentioning is A-POC, or “A Piece of Cloth”, which is a concept by Miyake and his team, involving a long tube of knitted jersey which one can cut without wasting any material. Now that’s fashion of the future.

Rei Kawakubo

The last of the three avant garde designers, but most certainly not the least, is Rei Kawakubo — also known as the founder of Comme des Garçons. She once said she never intended to start a revolution, but she did — and we all have no regrets. If I could sum up Kawakubo’s aesthetics into three words, it would be: monochromatic, asymmetrical and voluminous.

With that said, Kawakubo is similar to Issey Miyake — in a sense of focusing on perfectly imperfect cuts and asymmetrical lines in her designs — and also to Yohji Yamamoto — with the dramatic usage of black. I guess you could say that she ties the trio all together, making the Japanese avant garde aesthetics coherent, but still very much a broad category.

As Kawakubo studied art in university, her collections for Comme des Garçons weren’t based on trends, but rather artistic concepts which create designs of unorthodox silhouettes that use exaggerated amounts of fabric. These all play a part in offering women to look “like some boys”… 

This is about providing comfort and mobility. But most of all, Kawakubo’s designs scream to the girls who don’t want to succumb to the wants of men, seduction, approval and all. Unlike Yamamoto and Miyake, Kawakubo’s designs play around with exposing the body without them being sexy.

And then we have Dover Street Market. Kawakubo and her CEO (who is also her husband) created the multi-brand retail store that was originally in London on…Dover Street. Now with stores all around the world, the idea of it is to bring people from everywhere into one beautiful chaotic space. They succeeded — established and up-and-coming designers are free to display and sell their works as they please. Kawakubo still remembers her Japanese roots though — Dover Street Market goes through tachiagari. While in Japanese it means “start” or “beginning”, for these multi-brand retail stores, it’s the revamping of the space and basically giving it a fresh start.

Vocab Recap

We used a few fashion-related Japanese words in the episode. Here’s a list of them:

Abanga-do (アバンガード) — avant-garde, a French term to refer to works that are unorthodox and experimental 

Sekushi (セクシー) — sexy

Kuro (黒) — black

Koraborēshon (コラボレーション) — Collaboration

Puritsu (プリツ) — pleats

Iki kata (生き方) — way of life

Ifuku no kōzō (衣服の構造) — garment construction, ifuku translates to “clothes” and kōzō kinda means framework

Otokoppoi / otokomitai (男っぽい・男みたい) — to look like a boy, which is basically Kawakubo’s brand name

Feminizimu (フェミニジム) — feminism

Tachiagari (立ち上がり) — start or beginning

Conclusion

And that’s an intro to the ultimate Japanese fashion designer trio: the dark, androgynous and still sexy approach of Yohji Yamamoto; Issey Miyake’s revolutionary fashion concepts and construction; and Rei Kawakubo’s inspiring feminism in fashion.

I’ve only just scraped the surface of fashion in Japan, but if you want to know more about these three designers, give the full episode a listen, over at the Nihongo Master Podcast page!

15 Unique Japanese Souvenirs To Buy in Japan

15 Unique Japanese Souvenirs To Buy in Japan

I don’t know about you, but shopping is time consuming for me. That includes souvenir shopping. When travelling, we’re trying to explore the country and city that we’re in. Shopping should take up the least of our time.

But when in Japan, souvenir shopping can be overwhelming and time consuming, because there are so many things to consider when buying souvenirs for friends and family back home. Not to fret, we’ve come up with a list of the 15 most unique Japanese souvenirs to buy in Japan!

These items can range from very cheap to a more exclusive price, so there’s a bit of everything for everyone! Keep on reading to find out more!

Traditional Clothing

1. Kimono/Yukata

One of the best souvenirs you can get from Japan is definitely the traditional wear! There are two general types: a kimono and a yukata. A kimono is the standard one you see everywhere, but it can cost quite a bit to get an authentic one. A yukata is a summer version of the kimono, so for those of you who live in tropical countries, this is perfect. I think yukatas are definitely cheaper, but you’ll never know! Some thrift shops offer both for a bargain!

2. Geta and Zori Sandals

Why not complete the kimono or yukata with a geta or zori? These are traditional sandals and definitely unique to Japan. The best part about these sandals is that they make a very unique clip-clop noise when you walk.

It can be a thoughtful gift for your friends or family. You can also get one for yourself as a way to remember Japan! Oh, take note: these shoes can be a little tricky to walk at first, but you’ll get used to it, for sure.

Japanese Art

3. Ukiyo-e Woodblock Prints

One of the most unique souvenirs you can get from Japan is a ukiyo-e artwork. Ukiyo-e is a kind of Japanese artwork popular during the Edo period. This style of art uses woodblocks to make the prints. It’s said to be the world’s oldest form of colour copying!

You can get all sorts of pictures in the ukiyo-e form, everything from kabuki actors to the scenic landscape of Mount Fuji.

4. Calligraphy Sets

If you have an artsy friend, get them a Japanese calligraphy set. One of Japan’s art forms is calligraphy, drawing kanji characters in cursive handwriting. Not only is this a perfect souvenir but it also adds a personal thought into the gift when presenting it to your artsy companion. 

5. Bonsai

If your friend or family member has a green thumb instead, get them a bonsai tree. Or at least, a bonsai planting kit. This can range anywhere from 10 bucks to 100 bucks, but I personally have seen souvenir, travel-friendly kits sold at sightseeing spots. Bonsai is becoming a popular choice of souvenir! 

Japanese Crafts

6. Sensu

If you’re on a bit of a budget for souvenirs, try getting sensu, which is a kind of Japanese fan. This is sold everywhere, from small local shops to 100-yen shops nationwide! It’s often carried around and tucked into kimonos and yukatas, making a perfect traditional souvenir for a bargain price!

7. Origami

If you’re on even more of a budget, get some origami paper. Japanese origami is so popular and it’s so light and cheap, it’s perfect for a souvenir. You can find them in most stationery shops and souvenir shops, and their price range can vary. 

8. Chochin

Want to bring a bit of Japan back home to your house? Get a chochin, which is a paper lantern. You see them outside of Japanese local food shops, emitting red light. It’s not common to have it in the house, but hey, it makes a perfect decoration for back home. 

Cultural Items

9. Inkan

Get a customised souvenir for your loved ones by getting an inkan. These are stamps that the Japanese use instead of signatures. You can pre-make your inkan at shops like Don Quijote! It’s not as cheap, as it can cost about 30 bucks. But it’s definitely worth the money!

10. Omamori Charms

A convenient souvenir to get is omamori, which is known as good luck charms. You can find them at any temple or shrine. There are various types of omamori, ranging from wishes for health and longevity to relationships and love. 

11. Furoshiki Cloth

Get a furoshiki as a souvenir for your friends! They’re cheap, convenient and light to bring back home. This is a large cloth to wrap around items so you can carry them around. Oftentimes it’s used to wrap bento boxes. I used mine as a nice tabletop for my side table back home, and it got so many compliments!

12. Noren Curtains

Whether it’s for yourself or for others, noren curtains make the perfect souvenir! This is a curtain-like fabric that splits into two and is hung in front of entrances of stores. You can use it in your home as room dividers, at your home entrance, or even as curtains if you wish!

13. Bento Box

If you know a friend who likes to bring home cooked lunches to school or work, why not get them a bento box as a souvenir? This is perfect, because bento boxes can vary in prices too. You can definitely get affordable ones even at 100 yen shops, or you can go to bento craft shops where they are handmade from exceptional materials.

Traditional Toys

14. Kendama

Get some toys for souvenirs! The best one to get is the kendama, which is played using a ball that’s attached to a stick with a rope. You have to catch the ball in cups before spearing it with the point of the stick!

15. Beigoma

Another game you can get as a souvenir is a beigoma, which is just 3cm in diameter. It’s played by spinning, done by wrapping a 60cm cord around it then releasing the cord to spin on the surface. The aim of the game is to knock off another beigoma! So you’ve got to get two!

Get your perfect souvenir!

I bet, with this list, you’re never going to be unsure about what to get as a souvenir from Japan ever again! There are so many to choose from for various types of people, so go get shopping!

Kimono: what is it & why it’s so important

Kimono: what is it & why it’s so important

This traditional Japanese clothing is quite ubiquitous. The word and style of “kimono” is obvious to everyone that it belongs to the Japanese. Once it was a  basic piece of clothing, but it now has become a fashion symbol not only in Japan but also worldwide. But did you know that the kimono has a very culturally rich history? Every piece of kimono is significant to the wearer and there are various types of it to suit different occasions. 

To the untrained, naked eye, you can’t see the difference, but with this article, you just might. Here’s all you need to know about the kimono — its history, significance, and what the piece of cloth resembles today.

What is the kimono?

So first thing’s first: what is the kimono? A kimono is a traditional wear for the Japanese. The word “kimono” is made up of the kanji characters 着 (ki, “wear” in Japanese) and 物 (mono, “thing” in Japanese). When you combine them together, you get “thing to wear”.

These are usually full-length robes sewn in a T-shape manner. They are often made of different pieces attached together for the various forms. Depending on the style and type of kimono, there are multiple factors that are included — pattern, style and types of parts are just a few things to note.

History of the kimono

During the Heian period, about 794 to 1192 AD, this is when the kimono was first created. The kimono was just a simple garment for the people to wear conveniently. Just like the kimono we are familiar with now, it consisted of straight cuts and made to fit every size and body type.

The kimono rose to popularity during the Edo period (1603-1868). The Japanese wore it proudly, regardless of age, social status or gender. Many were wearing the same type of clothing, so some became more experimental with the kimono designs. People started customising. 

This was also the time where the geishas and kabuki actors featured the kimono in their craft.

However, not long after the Edo period, the fifth shogun Tokugawa banned the people of Japan from wearing the kimono and flaunting the expensive types. But the Japanese people were smart, and designed some that could only be seen as luxurious if you’re really close to the fabric. 

Skip a few centuries and when the Meiji era (1868-1912) came around, the government ordered the citizens to wear Western clothing instead. This was part of the country’s fast-paced Westernisation. The kimono slowly disappeared from everyday streets. People were wearing Western clothing like suits to work. 

But the kimono wasn’t gone. People were wearing them at home, during formal occasions and festivals. These customs are still upheld today.

What Does The Kimono Symbolise?

There are no two kimonos that are the same. Every kimono is unique. A small alteration in a kimono represents something. It can be a significant change in meaning or it can even be a subtle one. But no two kimonos symbolise the same thing.

Material is one of the major factors that affect the symbolism of kimono. Traditionally, Kimonos were traditionally made of handmade fabrics and also decorated by hand. Usually, these are silk, linen and hemp. The lower class was more often seen with kimonos made of cheaper fabric like cotton. The upper class wore kimonos made of more expensive fabric like silk and satin. These were used to express their social status. Today, status and class don’t matter as much. Synthetic fabrics like polyester and rayon are even used now!

The motif of the kimono is also used to communicate social status. These motifs are also a way to express personality traits and other characteristics. Designs can come in forms of symbols and patterns. Popular motifs are inspired by natural elements like blossoms, birds and leaves. It’s similar to traditional Japanese art like woodblock prints. Some motifs are also specially made for a clan or royal family. 

Another factor is colour. The first two differentiated classes back in the day. Colour symbolises the kimono’s characteristics. A great example is a blue kimono, which is seen as a repellent against insects as the colour comes from indigo. Indigo has long been used to treat stings and bites, hence the connection is made there.

Wearing The Kimono Today

Wearing a kimono now and back in the day are for various different reasons. It all began as just essential clothing for the Japanese. It then evolved into a way of communicating and representing social status and one’s personality traits and features. 

Nowadays, though, all levels of social status and hierarchy from the kimono might as well be considered gone. Silk was considered luxury because it was a premium fabric to get. Now, silk is just as easy to buy as cotton. 

When wearing kimono in the present day, it’s a sign of respect to the Japanese people’s traditional roots. Most of the time, kimonos are worn during formal events and occasions.

The current generation is seeing many interpretations of the traditional kimono presented in a myriad of ways. There’s a new modern take on the kimono, involving everything from the wrapping method of the kimono and prints to the silhouette and structure.

Would you wear a kimono?

So as you can see, the kimono has come quite a long way – from significance and meaning to design and reason to wear. It has a significantly rich history encompassing various types of them. We have an article just about the various types of kimono – check that one out! 

One thing’s never going to change is that the kimono will always have a strong symbolism in the Japanese culture. 

Ways to Say “It Looks Like” in Japanese! そう, ようだ, みたい, らしい

Ways to Say “It Looks Like” in Japanese! そう, ようだ, みたい, らしい

Podcast Recap: s2 e4

How many times have we felt that the food from a restaurant looks delicious? Or met someone new and they looked younger than they actually were? It’s such a natural thought that we don’t think twice when we form the sentence.

Now, how do we say that in Japanese? In our Season 2 Episode 4 of our Nihongo Master Podcast, we took a look at how to express that something looks or seems like something, as part of our language series Study Saturday. 

Just like how we can express one thought in more than a few ways in English, it’s the same in Japanese. In that episode, We ran through the various “it looks like” grammar with its usage, and practiced the new grammar a with a few role-playing scenarios.

This article will be a summary of what we discussed in the podcast episode. While we’ll highlight the grammar points and summarized the vocabulary words we used, the example situations and scenarios are excluded from this post. You’ve got to tune it to the full episode to know more!

1. ~sou (〜そう)

The first grammar point we looked at is “~sou” (〜そう). We started off with the most basic one. When you have something new happening before you, you would already have a judgement in mind: “it looks delicious” for food, “it looks beautiful” for the dress, and “it looks like it’s going to rain” for the weather.

If you’re guessing an outcome, you can use the grammar point ~sou and attach it at the end of the sentence. If the end of the sentence is an i-adjective, you take out the い at the end and add the そう. For example: 

“The food looks delicious.”

食べ物を美味しそう。

If it’s a na-adjective, take out the な and replace it with そう:

“The dress looks beautiful.”

ワンピスを綺麗そう。

If it’s the negative form, change it to the negative form first before switching the い out for さ before adding the grammar point:

“The food doesn’t look delicious.”

食べ物を美味しくなさそう.

“The dress doesn’t look beautiful.”

ワンピスを綺麗じゃなさそう。

You’re thinking, how do we use it for verbs then? All we got to do is take any verb’s stem form and then add the grammar point:

“It looks like it’s going to rain.” 

雨が降りそう。

2. ~mitai (〜みたい)

The previous grammar point doesn’t attach to nouns, however. But there’s another grammar point to use in place of it, and that’s ~mitai (〜みたい):

“Looks like a student.” 

学生みたい。

This grammar point can not only be used with nouns but also verbs and adjectives as well — no changes to any of their root forms whatsoever:

“It looks like it’s going to rain.” 

雨が降るみたい。

There is a difference in nuance with mitai, however. Sou is just a guess of outcome, whereas mitai is basically saying, “it looks like that, but it’s actually not.” So “ame ga furisou” is saying that you’re guessing it’s going to rain, whereas “ame ga furu mitai” says that it looks like it might rain, but it’s not going to.

3. ~you da (〜ようだ)

Remember the sentence “gakusei mitai”? It implies that he looks like a student but is actually not. We can sometimes switch out mitai with ~you da (ようだ), Now, with this grammar point, it’s stating matter-of-factly what it looks like.

“It looks like he’s a student.” (Rather than “he looks like a student”.)

学生のようだ。

We add the particle の for nouns and na-adjectives only; i-adjectives and verbs remain as it is.

4. ~ppoi (〜っぽい)

“It looks like” can also be figurative. Say you want to describe your friend as childish. In Japanese, it translates to “looks like a child” or “childlike”. The grammar we use for it is ~ppoi (〜っぽい):

“You’re childish.” 

あなたは子供っぽい。

5. ~rashii (〜らしい)

The previous grammar point is interchangeable with another grammar point: ~rashii (らしい)…most of the time. 

If you switch the ~ppoi with ~rashii for kodomo to make 子供らしい, it’s a whole different meaning — kodomoppoi implies that one is similar or acts like a child (and can refer to someone who is not actually a kid), whereas kodomorashii has to always talk about a child, and that he has the characteristics of a child — lively, active and all.

Here’s another example:

“He looks like an adult, but he may not be.” 

Otonappoi (大人っぽい) implies that someone who looks or acts like an adult.

“He looks like an adult because of the characteristics.”

Otonarashii (大人らしい) is someone who has the characteristics of an adult — grown-up and matured.

Vocab Recap

In our podcast episode, we had roleplaying scenarios in Japanese, so we introduced a lot of new words. Here’s a recap of them:

Oishii (美味しい) — delicious

Wanpisu (ワンピス) — dress, you can also use the katakana form doresu, but that refers to fancy dresses

Kireina (綺麗な) — beautiful

Furu (降る) — to pour

Kodomo (子供) — child

Otona (大人) — adult

Genki (元気) — happy

Niatteru (似合ってる) — to suit (an outfit)

Ureshii (嬉しい) — happy

Kutsu (くつ) — shoes

Haku (はく) — to put on

Onaka ga ippai (お腹がいっぱい) — to be full (not hungry)

Tsukuru (作る) — to make

Umai (うまい) — delicious

Tsukiau (付き合う) — to go out with

Wareru (割れる) — to break (it can also be used to mean, to break up with someone)

Shokuji (食事) — meal

Joudan (冗談) — joke

Let’s list what we have just looked at:

~sou is used for guessing an outcome, usually based on what you personally think ~mitai is used to say it looks like something, but usually isn’t

~you da is saying it looks like something based on the situation

~ppoi is used to say it’s kind of like something

~rashii is used to refer to having the characteristics of something

Now you’re a pro at expressing your thoughts on how something looks in more than one way — five, to be exact! And as you can see, these grammar points can be used in various situations to pass judgements about everything under the sun!

Check out Nihongo Master Podcast Season 2 Episode 4 for the full episode to this grammar point, and tune in every Saturday for new episodes of our language series! 

Everything you need to know about 3 Common Kimono!

Everything you need to know about 3 Common Kimono!

The kimono is one of the most significant Japanese cultural wear to date. If you don’t know what a kimono is, check out our previous article about all the things you need to know!

So what you might not know is that there are a few types of the kimono. They vary for occasions, and each type is different in components and ways of wearing. You definitely don’t want to accidentally attend a formal wedding in a casual yukata, do you?

We’ll look at the general parts of a kimono, the top 3 types of kimono, and where you would wear these various types of them.

Parts of a kimono

The kimono is most often considered as a whole piece of garment that is a simple robe. While it may be true to a certain extent, the term actually refers to the entire outfit rather than just one piece of clothing. The outfit consists of intricate parts to make up the kimono. Let’s take a look at some of the names of the main parts: 

Sode (袖) refers to the sleeves of the kimono. The sodeguchi (袖口) is the armhole, and the sodetsuke (袖つけ) refers to the inner armhole of the garment. Kimono sleeves can come in a few different lengths. It’s believed that the longer and brighter sleeves are worn by younger maidens. The simpler sleeve styles, usually black and normal length, should be worn by married or older women. 

The lower part of the sleeve that’s unsewn is known as the furi (振), which can be swung about freely. Performers like kabuki actors take advantage of this form of the kimono for their acts. There’s also a hidden pouch inside the furi part of the sleeve known as the tamoto (袂).

Only on the female kimono, there’s a small opening under the sleeve called the miyatsu-kuchi (宮津口) for the female kimono. This is used to adjust the fit of the kimono.

Eri (襟) refers to the kimono collar. The ura-eri (裏襟) is the inner lining part of the collar while the tomo-eri (とも襟) is the top piece of fabric,used as a protecting part that’s easily replaceable ifstained or damaged. 

The inner lining of the kimono is called the do-ura (銅羅). In a female kimono, it’s usually a simple lining. The male kimono is often seen with more decorative patterns. This comes from the concept from ancient times where the men would flaunt their wealth based on the inner lining of the kimono. The lower lining has a different name called the suso-mawashi (裾回し).

1. Yukata

One of the most popular types of kimono is the yukata (浴衣). This is a casual type of kimono made of thinner fabric like cotton, linen or hemp. That’s because it’s specially designed for summer use.

Unlike the other kimono types, the yukata doesn’t have an inner layer. It can be worn directly on your skin and tied off with the obi. The yukata is often worn with the traditional Japanese wooden sandal called the geta (げた).

When to wear?

Back in the day, yukata was worn for different reasons. The word literally translates to “bathing cloth”. That’s because the yukata was exclusively worn by the upper class as a bathrobe after they had taken a bath. 

Now, the yukata is quite famously known as the most informal wear of all the kimono types. Unlike the rest, you can wear the yukata to sleep! 

The most popular event to wear the yukata is to outdoor events like summer festivals and fireworks displays.  

2. Furisode

The furisode (振袖) is recognisable by its long sleeves and bright colours and motifs. It’s arguably the most glamorous of them all. This is made on purpose to symbolise the energy and beauty of youth. This type of kimono is exclusively worn by women, and more specifically unmarried women. Sleeves can be as short as 114cm to as long as 124cm!

When to wear?

The most common time to wear the furisode is during the Coming Age Day ceremony. Happening every start of the year, this is a celebration that marks the coming of age and maturity of young girls and congratulating them. The celebration is for both men and women, though. 

Other occasions to wear the furisode is a wedding ceremony. You’d probably see more girls wearing this during a traditional Japanese wedding. The bridesmaids and female guests will put on their elegant furisode for the occasion. 

3. Tomesode

Last but not least, there’s the tomesode (留袖). The best way to differentiate this type of kimono from the rest is by the motif position. This type is distinguished by having the patterns only below the waistline. There are two types of tomesode: one is the coloured one called the irotomesode (色留袖) and the other is the black coloured one, known as the kurotomesode (黒留袖). 

The kurotomesode is the most formal type of kimono. It holds the family crest at five different places: one on each sleeve, two at the front of the chest area, and one at the back. The kurotomesode can only be worn by married women

Unlike the kurotomesode, the irotomesode can be worn by unmarried women and they’re not as formal as the other. 

When to wear?

The kurotomesode is one of the highest levels of kimono. Because of that, it is only worn during the most special of occasions, like the mother of the bride or groom at a wedding.

As for the irotomesode, it’s not so strict. But it is still on the higher end of the kimono spectrum. It’s still worn during special occasions but not as exclusive as the kurotomesode. Other members of a wedding will put on this type of kimono. 

What kimono type do you want to try?

These are only three of the many types of kimono. It’s so interesting to see how motifs and colours affect the use of the kimono, don’t you think? What kimono type do you want to try when you come to Japan?

Bento Boxes: Japan’s Amazing Cuisine Culture!

Bento Boxes: Japan’s Amazing Cuisine Culture!

Nihongo Master Podcast Recap: s2 e5

In Season 2 Episode 5 of our podcast episode, we’re all about that packed lunch in a box, also known as a bento (弁当). When I was growing up, a lunch box wasn’t the coolest thing you could bring to school.In Japan, however, the situation is totally different — opposite, in fact. 

Lunchboxes are the norm, and if you don’t bring one, you’ll be the one getting looks. Bento culture is a thing — not only does it save you a few bucks throughout the day, bentos are often curated with a balanced diet in mind, the ideal nutritional value and lots of love. 

This article is a recap of what we talked about in our podcast episode: how this bento craze came about, what it signifies, the various types of bentos there are, and just a few do’s and don’ts when making one for yourself. For the full info, tune in to the original episode!

History of Bentos

Packed lunch in Japan has been around for about ten centuries, dating back to the Kamakura period of 1185 to 1333. The word “bento” comes from a slang word of the Chinese Song Dynasty, “biàndāng”, to mean “convenient”. In the early days, people carried around sacks of cooked and dried rice to eat at work.

The Azuchi-Momoyama period (1568 – 1600) was when the iconic lacquered boxes were produced. These boxes were used to store and hold food, and oftentimes they were used for occasions like hanami (cherry blossom viewing), koyou (autumn leaves viewing) and outdoor tea ceremonies. They were like really fancy picnics.

The bento craze was full on during the Edo period (1603 – 1868) — it became an essential part of not only outdoor events but general travel as well. There was even a type of waist bento called koshibento that was used to carry around onigiri rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves!

Bento only became more popular as time went by, and by the time the Meiji period (1868 – 1912) rolled around, it was a staple for everyone, from students to workers. This was also the time when rail systems in Japan were booming, and a type of bento box made of aluminium started selling at stations. Bento became a status symbol over the next couple of decades, depending on what nutritional food the bento consists of and how it’s prepared.

Then, in the 1980s, plastic boxes were used in place of metal ones, thanks to the amazing creation of microwaves that eliminated the need for heat resistant boxes. Wooden bento boxes were used less as well. We also have to thank the convenient konbini scattered everywhere in Japan for the boom in bento popularity.

And so that brings us to today — bento is used for basically every occasion under the sun.

Types of Bento

We looked at a few types of bento boxes. The first one is the Makunouchi. Makunouchi is what one refers to when talking about a traditional Japanese bento. Popping up in the Edo period, this type of bento box includes small onigiri with sesame seeds sprinkled on it and a couple of side dishes to go along.

The next bento type is probably the oldest one on the list — sageju is a type of bento that was used back in the Azuchi Momoyama period for outings, fully equipped with wares like dishes, chopsticks and sake cups. It’s like a neatly-packed, multi-functional box with everything you need for a picnic. Lacquered wooden bako is often used for this type of bento.

Then there’s the eki-ben, probably second to makunouchi when it comes to popularity. Dating back to the Meiji era, this type of bento is the one that’s sold on train stations during the blooming days of railway systems. The first ever eki-ben sold is believed to be in Tochigi Prefecture back in 1885, at a station called Utsunomiya Station.

The original eki-ben was just a simple meal — an onigiri with bamboo sheath wrapped around it. It evolved to become a part of local tourism, with lunch boxes made using local ingredients, featuring local specialties and sometimes promoting local aspects of the city on the box itself.

Significance of Bentos 

A bento is more than just a packed lunch box. It takes up a huge part of Japanese culinary culture that it’s quite significant. For Japanese people, bento is like a form of communication between the maker and the eater. You can feel the thought and care, and literally see the effort put in to making the bento just for you.

In Japan, some parents and partners get out of bed in the wee hours of the morning just to orchestrate the perfect onigiri shaped to your favourite cartoon character, or cut the nori in cute shapes. 

Do’s & Don’ts

Back in the day, bento wasn’t solely a meal to be eaten; it was a whole experience that tingles all the five senses. While there is tons of content out there dedicated to help you curate the perfect bento, I have a few do’s and don’ts to set you off on the right foot.

First off, make sure you prepare a bento with popping colours. And while you’re choosing the food, harmonise the flavours — don’t have all the varieties be strong in flavour; have some delicate ones that complement each other.

Above all, you have to think about crafting the perfect balanced diet with the right nutritional value. Have some food that is cooked, some raw (if you fancy) and even pickled — variety is always welcome.

The first don’t is to never have both rice and bread in one bento — it’s never good to have too many carbohydrates, and plus, it makes the bento look dull with the neutral colours.

Depending on the situation, try not to make a bento which contains food that needs to be heated up. If you’re making for your kid, there’s a solid chance they don’t have a microwave in class. But if your partner’s office has one, then that should be no problem at all.

Also, opt for food that doesn’t really have a strong fragrance!

Vocab Recap

We introduced a few new vocabulary words in the episode, so here’s a quick vocab recap in the form of a list:

Hoshi-ii (干し飯) — cooked and dried rice, but it literally translates to “dried meal” 

Bako (箱) — box

Hanami (花見) — cherry blossom viewing

Koyou (紅葉) — autumn leaves

Koshibento (コシ弁当) — waist bento

Onigiri (オニギリ) — rice ball

Makunouchi (幕内) — a classic Japanese bento

sageju (さげじゅ) — a type of bento that was used in the old days for outdoor events 

Eki-ben (駅弁) — bento sold at train stations

Ensoku (遠足) — school outings 

Kyara-ben (キャラ弁) — character bento 

Okazupan (おかずぱん) — savoury bread 

Okashipan (お菓子ぱん) — sweet bread

Iro (色) colour

Aji (味) — taste

Gyoza (餃子) — fried dumplings

Korokke (コロッケ) — similar to the French dish, croquette 

Onigirazu (おにぎらず) — sushi sandwich

Now you’re a bento expert — from the different types of bento and how the culture came about, to the tips and tricks to making the perfect bento! If you’re interested in knowing more about bentos and Japan’s crazy bento culture, tune in to Nihongo Master podcast Season 2 Episode 5!