We know Tokyo as the capital city of Japan. The bright, neon-lit city is the first image that pops in our head at the mention of the country’s modern vibes. But at the mention of authentic Japan and Japanese culture, Kyoto is where we think of. These are the reputations of the two cities. But did you know, Tokyo wasn’t always the capital city? Back in the day, Kyoto was the one that held the title. So why was there a switch from Kyoto to Tokyo as the capital city of Japan? We have the answers you’re looking for.
Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan
Kyoto wasn’t called Kyoto back in the day. Just like other Japanese cities, it had a few names. One of it was “Heian-kyo” (平安京). This translates to “metropolis of peace or seat” in Japanese. Another name for Kyoto was “Saikyo” (西京), which means Western capital.
Originally, Kyoto only consisted of the Imperial Palace and the areas surrounding it. But now, as we know it, it’s grown much bigger. Some believe that Kyoto’s architecture was designed to resemble Xi’an City during the Tang Dynasty. The grid-like streets and rectangular enclosures were hints of that.
Kyoto was the capital city of Japan for more than a millennium, after its inception in 794AD. It’s one of the oldest cities of Japan, after all, so it only made sense that leaders have settled down there and created history. In the 8th century, Emperor Kanmu was the one that decided Kyoto to be the capital. Rulers after him would have the city as the seat of the Imperial Court for centuries, until the 19th century. Kyoto was gradually losing its prominence as an administrate centre. A change was required.
How the oligarchy influenced the change
Now, we’re not going to delve deep into history. We’re going to just touch on it. The Tokugawa Shogunate, as we know, was the last feudal Japanese military government. They reigned from 1600 to 1969. In the early years, then-Edo now-Tokyo was the spot for their military government. The Tokugawa Shogunate became so powerful to the extent that the Emperor was below them.
The Meiji Restoration got back the Emperor’s position in politics and culture. In 1968, the Tokugawa Shogunate was no more. At the time, the ruling emperor was merely 15, so the power was given to the oligarchs. They decided to stay in Edo instead of going back to the then-capital city Kyoto because of its convenient location and easy access to the West for trade. Edo was given a new name: Tokyo, the “Eastern Capital”.
Edo, from village to castle town
The name “Edo” means “estuary”. It was originally a mere village during the Kamakura Period (1185 to 1333). The village’s location was perfect for the establishment of headquarters. It had access to busy lands and sea routes. When the Tokugawa Shogunate established in Edo, it was the beginning of Edo’s rapid growth. Edo Castle became their base, with moats and bridges surrounding it. By 1720s, Edo’s population drastically boomed and had a major economic growth.
And we skip to today. The emperor wasn’t the one that decided the change of capital city to Tokyo, but this incident marks a crucial time in Japan’s history. It was inevitable that Tokyo became the main area for trade due to its accessibility. From there, technology, Western clothing and architecture began to influence the city. Just like how Kyoto grew in size, so did Tokyo to include its surrounding regions.
Capital city: Kyoto or Tokyo?
Now, Kyoto is still known as the “Western Capital” and Tokyo as the “Eastern Capital”. The move of capital city to Tokyo affected Kyoto deeply, but now the city’s thriving with its own unique personality that contrasts that of Tokyo. Kyoto will always be a symbol of old Japan, and Tokyo’s a symbol of the country’s evolution and development. Kyoto will always be thought of as the heart of Japan for it’s storied and important history.
Say goodbye to knits and cardigans, and hello to linen dresses and straw hats! Summer is just around the corner. The weather has warmed up enough for us to have picnics in the park and midday strolls. Japan’s natsu (夏, summer) has more to offer than that. In fact, this is the season where all the festivities and events happen. Sure, it gets pretty humid and hot during Japanese summer, but it’s all worth it when you know what you’re going to get. Here are the 10 best things you can do in Japan in summer!
1. Go to the beach
What’s summer without the beach? If you’re wondering what to do in Japan during the summer season, one of the best things is going to the beach. In Japanese, beach is hama (浜), but people understand when you say bīchi (ビーチ). Regardless of which city you’re in in Japan, there’s always a lovely beach nearby. But if you’re really looking for the best beaches in the country, the southernmost part is where you should go. Okinawa’s beaches are top quality. The umi (海, sea) is crystal blue and the suna (砂, sand) is soft like a pillow.
2. Attend local festivals
The best part about Japan’s summer is the local festivals. You wouldn’t even be wondering what to do in Japan when every other street has rows of yatai (屋台, shop stand). These street stalls have everything from street food to local games. You can participate in them to win prizes! These local matsuri (祭り, festival) can go on all day for a weekend or even weeks. If the heat is too much for you to bear, you can pop by in the evening when it’s cooler. A lot of locals would attend these festivals wearing traditional clothes. It’s both entertainment and cultural immersion!
3. Watch the fireworks
Summer is when you can buy fire crackers in stores for yourself, and watch the firework shows on display. There’s nothing quite like watching hanabi (花火, fireworks) in Japan during the summer. They’re a big deal here. Families, friends, couples and colleagues come together to watch this spectacular show. Usually, Japanese people watch the firework show after visiting the local festival. If you’re planning to watch the fireworks in Japan during the summer, be sure to bring a mat and some snacks!
4. Refresh yourself at a beer garden
The heat and humidity during Japanese summer can get rather rough. But don’t worry, Japan has thought of a solution for that. In summer, beer gardens pop up everywhere in the country so you can refresh yourself with a swig of bīru (ビール). These beer gardens don’t only sell beer. There are other alcoholic beverages like cocktails. For non-drinkers, there are non-alcoholic drinks like soft drinks as well. They’re very family-friendly as well, so parents out there, you’re welcome to join the beer garden party!
5. Swim at water parks
If you’re not much of a beach person but still want a soak, go to the water parks in Japan in summer! Wōtā pāku (ワォーター・パーク) is a huge activity that the Japanese locals do during the summer in Japan. You can not only swim (泳ぐ) but also slide down the fun water slides, lie down on big floaties and enjoy the wavepool! Because it’s such a popular thing to do in Japan in summer, it can get pretty crowded. I would advise to go during a weekday instead of a holiday or weekend.
6. Jam at music events
Whether you’re a music lover or not, you have to attend a music event in Japan during the summer. They’re all anyone ever raves about. These エベント can be both indoors and outdoors. The ones I’ve attended have been in the mountains or at big open spaces. Music events are the best for making new friends and enjoying the summer nature. And, of course, enjoy the ongaku (音楽). Who knows, you might discover a new artist or two while you’re at it.
7. Beat the heat in Hokkaido
Not all of us are fans of the heat and humidity. I know I’m one of them. I have some news for you: you can beat the heat by going up north to Hokkaido. This prefecture is the furthest away from the equator compared to the rest of the country.
It’s much cooler up there. Some even say it’s not humid at all!
When in Hokkaido during the summer, you can go around the hana (花) gardens and parks. The field of bloomed flowers is a sight just as spectacular as the powdered snow Hokkaido is known for.
8. Cool down with shaved ice
Other than beer, there’s another way to refresh yourself: kakigōri (かき氷). Translated to shaved ice, locals love this summer dessert. There’s bound to be a store or two at the street stalls at festivals that sell this. You can get any kind of flavour and topping for your kakigōri. There’s usually syrup poured on top of the shaved ice with common toppings like corn. Depending on the store, you can get interesting ones!
9. Watch fireflies
Head out of the city centres in Japan to the countryside. These areas are best for firefly watching. Both locals and travellers alike head out to inaka (田舎), or rural areas, to catch some fireflies in action. If you’re not sure exactly where to go and how to get there, you can book a tour that’ll do the heavy lifting for you.
10. Wear a yukata
Last but not least, the activity you can do in Japan during summer is wearing a yukata (浴衣). This is a version of the kimono (着物), the traditional wear of Japan. It’s made from a lightweight cotton fabric that’s used only during the summer. You can wear a yukata to a local festival, any temple or shrine. Or you can just walk around the street to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture. What better way to experience a country than to put yourself in their shoes.
Get ready for Japanese summer!
These ten activities are just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more you can do in Japan in summer. You might even think you don’t have enough time to do them all! Which summer activity are you excited to do in Japan?
We’re living in a strange, strange time. The new decade started off with a global pandemic. Even after a year into it, we’re still working at home, wearing masks and sanitising our hands every other second. The usual sources of entertainment are gone, and we’re left wondering what we can do to keep ourselves entertained.
Japan was always coming up with another event every other weekend, pre-COVID. Tokyo, especially, is a city that feeds off the night. You might think it’s not possible to enjoy the country without them. But I have some news for you. Tokyo is just as entertaining without the massive crowds. It’s a city that has it all. In fact, it’s the perfect time to get a new perspective of this busy city.
Take a look at the 5 things you can do to have fun safely in Tokyo during COVID-19, both indoor and outdoor activities.
1. Binge watch Japanese TV shows & movies
What better way to stay safe during the pandemic than to stay at home? Even cuddled up on your sofa, you can enjoy the city by binge watching some programs filmed and inspired by it. Take your pick from Japanese drama, movie and anime (アニメ). Your days are going to be filled in no time!
Don’t worry if you think you’re missing out on Japanese culture. You’re getting plenty from these Japan-made entertainment. Even if your Japanese isn’t 100% yet, there are so many platforms online that offer English subtitles. They’ve got you covered.
Especially anime, if you haven’t gotten into it yet, why haven’t you? This genre of animation is unique to Japan. People from all around the world travel to this island nation after being hooked on anime. There’s thousands of anime in your favourite genre — any genre, really.
2. Pick up simple cooking of Japanese cuisine
Everyone loves food. Nothing can beat a good dish, except for a home-made one. Pick up cooking — why not, right? You have all the time in the world, and it’s a skill that’ll benefit you for life. I suggest picking up some Japanese cooking skills when you’re in the country. Where else is better?
You won’t feel like you’ve missed out much of the local food in Tokyo. You’ll get authentic local ingredients from the neighbourhood supermarket. Some Japanese restaurants do that, too!
The easiest thing you could start off with is making sushi. Get a sushi rolling mat from any 100yen shop, rice, seaweed wrappers and fillings of your choosing. Then, get creative! Experiment to your heart’s content.
The next thing you could try is ramen or udon. It’s the broth that’s the key to these dishes. Look up broth recipes online and try a few until you’re content with your ramen dish!
Even before COVID-19, I’ve been making takoyaki at home, and they taste just as delicious. Just get yourself a takoyaki machine and you’re all set.
3. Stroll in the less populated parks (and areas)
I get that it can get unbearable when you’re stuck at home all day every day. So go out and get some fresh air. Not only Tokyo but the whole of Japan is full of green parks and wide open spaces. Take a stroll in your nearby park or just around the area. A bit of nature is always good for the mind and soul.
Try to avoid busy areas like Shibuya and Shinjuku. Even during the pandemic, these areas can still be jam-packed. Play your part by not contributing to the crowd and staying safe.
4. Eat out at smaller eateries
I love cooking, but even I find it a chore if I have to do it every day, especially on days I just want to rest. It’s always nice to have the convenience of dropping by a restaurant for a meal occasionally.
You can still practice social distancing when dining at a restaurant. Pick restaurants that aren’t usually crowded. The best thing you can do is dining at your local ramen shop. Not only are you avoiding crowded areas but you’re also supporting small businesses that might be struggling during this time.
5. Get a bicycle
Some of us still have to commute to school or work. Usually, the train is the ideal choice for commute. But Japan trains are known to be extremely packed during peak hours in the morning and evening. It’s the worst time to be packed like sardines right now. Avoid those kind of crowds and get a bicycle to commute. It’s the best way to practice social distancing in public.
Your bicycle is not only useful for work but also for errands like going to the grocery store and also for exercise. You can make the most out of your bicycle. Those who don’t need to commute to work can use the bicycle for a leisurely cycle in the park. There are a lot of cyclists in Japan, so you’re not going to be alone!
The COVID-19 outbreak has affected everyone. Our personal lives and professional lives took a hit. But we can’t always be down in the dumps. Since this is the new norm, we have to make the most out of it. Start with theses 5 activities to get you back in the positive attitude!
Even after a year into the pandemic and with the vaccines rolling out, we have to stay vigilant. Stay safe while having fun, everyone!
Japan has such a unique culture. Even after over a century of opening the country up to the rest of the world, there are still some aspects of Japanese culture that are still intriguing to the rest of the world. Culture holds a strong significance in Japan’s identity, and that’s what makes the country so great.
Whether you’ve travelled to this island nation or not, there are always a few culture facts you’ve missed out. Here are 10 Japanese culture facts that will blow your mind!
1. Gambling is illegal
Sorry, gamblers, but gambling is illegal here in Japan! Or at least most forms of gambling are. There are a few exceptions to this law and that includes betting on horse racing and specific motorsports. Public sports, lottery and football betting are possible, but they are under a different set of special laws.
But there’s a bright side: pachinko. This game is similar to gambling, but it’s not officially gambling. Pachinko is a type of pinball-like slot machine. You buy the balls, slot them into the machine, and the balls you win can be exchanged for tokens and prizes. Those can be exchanged for money. Pachinko itself has a very shady feel in popular media that makes it equated to playing the slot machines and other things that feed addicition.
However, since 2018, casino operators have been bidding for legal licenses to operate in some of Japan’s resorts. So, gambling could be expanding in Japan in the near future.
2. People are paid to push others into trains
This is one Japanese culture fact that I had the (dis)pleasure of experiencing. During rush hours, the train platforms (電車ホーム)get jam-packed with commuters. More than half of Tokyo’s population uses public transportation, and this city is the most populated in the world! Trains operate more than 100% overcapacity.
So instead of increasing the frequency of trains, the city hires people to push other people into the trains! You’re packed like sardines in a can.
3. Slurping is polite
I’ve been taught that making any noise when eating is rude. In Japan, it’s the opposite when it comes to slurping your noodles. In fact, you’re actually encouraged. When you slurp your noodles in Japan, it’s a sign that you’re enjoying your dish. This is seen as a way to compliment the cook.
Back in the day, Japanese people slurp their noodles so that they can eat their noodles while it’s still hot. You can still savour the flavours without wasting any time. Over time, it’s become a crucial dining etiquette in Japanese culture.
4. Eating alone is common
In a lot of countries, eating alone inside or outside might get you some strange looks. In Japan, it’s completely normal. It’s common to eat alone. In fact, it’s so common that a number of restaurants in Japan offer single-seating areas like at the counter or just a table for one. I think I’ve benefited from this Japanese culture fact. Now, I don’t mind eating alone. I actually enjoy it!
5. Entrance slippers are a sign to take off your shoes
In some countries, wearing your shoes into the house is acceptable. In Japan, it’s a big no-no. Never wear your outdoor shoes into homes, regardless of whose home you’re entering. In some public areas, you’re required to take off your shoes, too.
In that case, keep a lookout for slippers at the entrance. If you’re going to places like temples, shrines, restaurants and ryokans (旅館), there’s a chance you have to take them off. Leave your outdoor shoes at the entryway, which is usually the space before the step above to the grounds of the building.
6. You are a year older based on the traditional Japanese age system
A Japanese culture fact that I found interesting is that everyone is a year older when they’re born. This is known as kazoedoshi (数え年), which means “counted years”. You age a year older on New Year’s Day. This traditional system was still commonly used until the 1950s, when the modern age system (manenrei, 満年齢) was adopted by more people.
The manenrei law was actually passed in 1902, but the traditional age system was so common for decades past that!
7. You can’t be fat
Some say it’s a myth, but it’s actually a Japanese culture fact. Despite having overweight sumo wrestlers in Japan, it’s not encouraged for others to be fat. In 2008, there was a law that passed called the Metabo Law, which is aimed to reduce the obesity rate and other metabolic disorders in the country.
People between the ages of 40 and 74 have their waist sizes measured annually. But contrary to that, there’s no legal punishment for being overweight, just suggestions from their physical to seek medical attention about potential obesity.
If your measurements are not below 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women (between the ages of 40 and 74), then you’ll be referred on for “lifestyle intervention”. This is where you’ll get advice from professionals regarding nutritional diet and exercise. So you won’t be fined for being fat. You’ll just have to live a healthier lifestyle.
Even though it’s a very restrictive and appearance based judgement, celebrities and others have combated fat shaming and promoted healthy body acceptance in recent years and progress is being made.
8. Eating, drinking and smoking while walking is rude
I admit I’m one to go against this culture fact every now and then. It’s quite normal to be sipping coffee while walking, or munching on a bag of nuts. In Japan, walking while eating or drinking is considered rude and discouraged.
It’s seen as low-class behavior. If you buy a drink from a vending machine or a snack from the konbini (コンビニ), you’re expected to stand nearby the machine or store and finish your food.
It’s the same with smoking. Nowadays, there are designated smoking areas in public spaces, so if you’re in need of a puff, look out for markings on the floor for them.
9. Christmas is a romantic holiday
Christmas isn’t as huge in Japan as it is in other Western countries. In Japan, only 2% of the population are Christians. However, the Japanese do celebrate this holiday with decorations and events, but it’s more of a romantic holiday.
Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are reserved for couples to have a date night, fancy dinner and giving special gifts to each other. It’s kind of like Valentine’s Day.
10. Taking power naps on the job is encouraged
I know for many that if they were to fall asleep at their jobs, they’d get fired. In Japan, it’s okay to take a power nap or two in between work. This is a Japanese culture fact that’s new to a lot of us, isn’t it? Naps are encouraged because the Japanese believe that this can improve your work performance and speed. It’s also a sign that you’ve been working hard!
Which Japanese culture fact is most surprising?
So, which of these Japanese culture facts surprised you the most? Which ones are you most excited to witness or experience for yourself? Japanese culture defines Japan. It’s amazing to see a few of them from centuries or decades past still being practiced to this day. As you learn the language your understanding of Japanese culture will come naturally. Get a subscription for Nihongo Master and start your journey to Japanese fluency today!
Many who have stepped foot in Japan will notice the array of displays of food with exceptional detail and texture in glass boxes. The first question that pops into mind is: is it real?
Known as the sanpuru (サンプル, sample) by the Japanese, these food replicas are a glance into what to expect at the restaurant — from the actual bowl to toppings and side dishes included. The details of the food replicas can even boil down to the bubbles of oil in a ramen bowl. If a picture says a thousand words, an actual 3D model of the meal will speak volumes.
With exquisite detail and deceptively real appearance, the Japanese food replicas should be considered a high-level work of art. Let’s look at the rich history and cultural influence behind these magnificent, delicious samples.
The original capital city of Japan, Kyoto, is the birthplace of the very first known plastic food replica. This art dates back to 1916 during the Taisho Period and the mastermind, Sojiro Nishio, who initially created wax sculptures of human body parts for doctors and medical students to use for study. Later on, he was approached by a restaurant to make wax models of their dishes.
Another iconic name linked to the origin of Japanese food replicas is Tsumoto Sudo, an anatomical model maker in Tokyo. Various eateries also approached to create wax models of food and that was when there’s a slight significant boom in the food sample business.
Yet the most famous story is not of the two but of Takizo Iwasaki who called the Gifu prefecture his home. The story is that he had made a wax model of the famous Japanese omelette rice — it was so realistic that his wife and other people who’d seen it couldn’t tell it wasn’t real. The original omuraisu (オムライス, omelette rice) is still on display at his company, Iwasaki-bei.
The food replica industry only took off in the 1930s, two decades after the first known creator of the “sanpuru”. Some restaurants had the idea of displaying actual foods but then decided to opt for these fake food replicas to keep the pests away.
Initially, these food replicas are made of wax. Unfortunately, the matter had its weaknesses — wax is not the best matter in heat, and there have been cases where the wax food replicas melted in the showcase when they were under direct sunlight. Later in the 1970s, these wax replicas are now made of resin — it’s durability has significantly improved and opens up more doors for the creative hands to add in miniature details that would’ve been impossible with wax.
The first replica workshop is by the famous creator Iwasaki himself and it is said to be the leading company in the industry, claiming more than half of the Japanese food replica market. Gujo Hachiman and Sample Kobo are close competitors. All three workshops specialise in different types of food replicas, though, but they’re more than capable at replicating anything.
The process of the food replica first requires a mould. As these replica workshops want their crafts to be as detailed as possible, they would request the restaurants to send them a sample — more commonly a real dish frozen and shipped to these workshops. The moulds are filled with PVC, baked at extremely high temperatures and then airbrushed and painted to match the original dishes.
Why does it exist?
The food replicas are without a doubt part of the Japanese’s culture now. Its existence has positively impacted the country in more ways than one — be it as a marketing strategy for the restaurants to draw customers’ attention or even just for its uniqueness alone.
Most diners appreciate the food replicas as it gives an accurate sense of what the meal will look like and the size of it. Most of us are pulled by the sight and smell senses, and having a blown-up menu of 3D food models is more likely for one to be drawn to that eatery.
Many foreigners who have seen it have the link of these food replicas and Japan engraved in their minds, and hence shining the country in a more intriguing light. There has been a continuous buzz on the food replica topic everywhere around the globe, and tourists who come to visit have been known to have “see the Japanese food replica for myself” on their bucket list — if it’s not already a priority, that is.
At the end of the day, everyone can agree that this groundbreaking creation that began to exist more than a century ago is nothing short of a work of art. Everything from the workmanship and detailed craft to the popular usage and worldwide appreciation calls for endless praises. If this modern-day, food is being replicated in Japan, what other mind-blowing creations can we expect in the future from this innovative country?
I bet you’ve heard about the Japanese sakura (桜, cherry blossoms). The flower and everything that comes with it takes up a huge part of the Japanese tradition that is extremely prominent to this very day. When it’s almost “sakura season” — a phrase that you often hear in Japan — every local has some sort of preparation to welcome the blooming of these pale pink blossoms. Foreigners that come to Japan have adopted similar practices during the sakura season.
What does matter is that sakura is a thing of the past, present and future of Japan. Let’s delve into everything you need to know about sakura — including the significance and practices that come along with it.
What is Sakura?
So what exactly is sakura? The word “sakura” is the Japanese name for a specific type of flower that grows on cherry blossom trees. Some might argue that it’s not any type of cherry blossom; it’s only the prunus serrulata, which is the Japanese cherry that is native to Japan as well as Korea and China. In the eyes of the Japanese, these cherry blossoms are the most beautiful Japanese flowers.
Unlike the cherry trees, cherry blossom trees don’t produce fruit but instead bloom beautiful flowers. Blooming only once a year, there are quite a few types of Japanese cherry blossom trees spread all across the country. One particular variety that’s the most popular is the Somei Yoshino, a type of natural hybrid that produces pale pink flowers. Sakura became such an iconic image for the country that some people even call it Japan’s informal national flower.
What does sakura symbolise in Japan?
The blossoming of these delicate and radiant flowers doesn’t just symbolise the beginning of spring; sakura holds quite the significance, with a rich history and identity in Japanese culture.
Initially, sakuras were used to predict the year’s harvest. Farmers kept an eye out for the blooming of sakuras to indicate to them the ideal time to plant their crops. Throughout time, it has become the representation of the Wabi-sabi philosophy — a Japanese aesthetics that centers itself on the acceptance of imperfection and temporariness while acknowledging the beauty in them — as well as Shinto ideals of impermanence and renewal.
The blooming of the sakuras symbolises human mortality to many Japanese people; just like the flower, it is beautiful and brilliant during its strongest bloom but withers when the time comes, reflecting its fragility. There’s a Buddhist notion of “mono no aware” which has a loose meaning of bringing awareness to the impermanence of things which leads to the heightening awareness of their beauty — such notion is directed to the fragile sakura blooms. This reminds us of how short and precious life is.
Other countries have the start of their school year in autumn, but the Japanese school year begins in April — during the cherry blossom season. That’s because sakura is a symbol of good luck and hope.
Not only is it a cultural significance in Japan, but sakura is also a huge influence in the economy as well. Because of its deep roots in Japanese tradition, shops of various kinds fill their shelves with sakura-themed products — from food and drinks to wares and clothing.
A lot of Japanese art that features sakura in them carries the various symbolisms of the flower. This huge significance of sakura in Japan also brings about countless activities, events and festivals that centers around the blooming of these cherry blossoms.
When do sakuras bloom?
The “sakura season” — which refers to when the sakuras are in bloom and the sign of the start of spring — can be quite random. Regardless, it is such an anticipated season each year that there are tons of cherry blossom forecasts months before the expected bloom! This tracking of the blooming progression of the cherry trees is called the “sakura zensen” which translates to the cherry blossom front.
The sakuras are only in full bloom for about a week or so — adding to their magnificence and exclusivity. It doesn’t all bloom at once, though. The magical bloomings of these pink flowers are spread across a few months, from March to early May, throughout the diverse landscape of the country’s main islands. The Hawaii of Japan, Okinawa, is the first part of Japan to see the blooms of sakura in January, though. Then comes Tokyo, the capital city, that will be graced by the sakura blooms. The cherry blossom trees in northern Japan, Hokkaido, are the last ones to bloom — they’re expected to be in full bloom in May.
Because it’s so spread out across a few months, travellers wouldn’t have to worry so much about catching the perfect flight for the ideal week of sakura blooming — whichever time you are in Japan, as long as it’s within the months of March to May, you’re bound to see some pink blooms on your trip!
The “hanami” culture
Hanami (花見) is the activity of having a picnic underneath the cherry blossom trees, and it also has a long history behind it. This blossom viewing activity initially started way back in the Nara period, around 710-794. It only became a huge festivity when Emperor Saga and the Imperial Court started throwing picnics and parties, especially for flower-viewing in the Heian period, around 794-1185.
The Japanese people picked up this activity rather eagerly, and as the years go by, it became a Japanese tradition where every local celebrates every year. Regardless of social status and hierarchy — from samurais to commoners — all of the people of Japan would go out and celebrate the blooms of these pale pink flowers.
This hanami culture is extremely present to this very day. And that’s not even the best part — even people of other cultures and traditions practice this social activity each spring in Japan. While it started as a local Japanese cultural event to observe the symbolic sakura during their short but beautiful blooming period, it is now a not-to-be-missed tradition of spring in The Land of the Rising Sun — regardless of race, religion and background. You’ll see groups of Japanese as well as foreigners under the blooming sakura trees with picnic mats and cans of alcoholic beverages, but what’s even more amazing is that in recent years, these groups start to intermingle and socialise with each other! Who would’ve thought that pale pink blossoms would bring people together when any other occasion wouldn’t be able to?
Where to hanami?
Of course, the question is then: where is the best place to take part in hanami? The short and simple answer is, anywhere in Japan! The country is flooded with cherry blossom trees, so many that you’ll come across at least a few on just your walk from your accommodation to the station.
But if you’re looking for the ultimate hanami experience, there are a few go-to locations for the all-out hanami culture.
Tokyo gets one of the first few blooms in all of Japan, so travellers tend to stop by the capital city when seeking out cherry blossoms. For first-timers of hanami in Tokyo, get the full atmosphere at Yoyogi Park — it’s arguably the best spot to drink till you’re drunk from midday while bathing in the pinks of the sakura. It’s a huge park in the center of the city — you’ll be able to go anywhere from here; maybe to a bar to continue your drinking adventures?
Ueno Park is another one that I highly recommend; it can get quite crowded and overpacked on the weekends, so the best time on weekdays to have a bit of breathing room.
The next biggest city in Japan is Osaka, which also has its fair share of awesome hanami locations. Kill two birds with one stone by heading over to the Osaka Castle Park — not only will you get your hanami game on, but you’ll also be able to sightsee and visit the famous Osaka Castle. Can a hanami experience get any better than that?
Coming from the biggest sakura enthusiast ever, trust me that you’re better off searching for a local park nearby for the most authentic hanami — my favourite spot in all of Japan is a small river just by my house, with walking paths next to the stream and cherry blossom trees lining the whole stretch.
Sakuras aren’t just beautiful pale pink flowers that take over the landscape of Japan in the months of spring — they have quite a background and significance in the Japanese culture. From being the symbol of life to a celebration that brings people together, there is no doubt that these cherry blossoms are here to stay and continue to dominate the spring season of the Land of the Rising Sun — and they’re more than welcome to; we all love a full, blossoming sakura spring!
One of the first few things that pop to mind when one mentions Tokyo is…Disney! Japan’s capital city is home to not one, but two Disney Resorts right next to each other — and one of them is the only one in the whole world!
Don’t get too excited just yet; because the Tokyo Disney Resort is so unique, it’s the priority of Disney enthusiasts and travellers worldwide. It is, after all, one of the most famous attractions in the country! Because of this overwhelming popularity, these theme parks are packed to the brim with people, every single one of them hoping to have their Disney dreams fulfilled.
It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy. Unfortunately, we live in the real world and not some fairytale — happily ever afters doesn’t just fall out of the sky. We’ve got to put in some effort to make our dreams come true. But… I’m your very own fairy godmother, and this is your manual to having the best time of your life at the Tokyo Disney Resort!
Tokyo’s Disney Resorts
As mentioned earlier, Tokyo Disney Resort consists of two Disney theme parks: Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea. The two aren’t the same and have a completely different ambiance — and of course, rides. In a nutshell, Tokyo Disneyland is your classic fairytale; Tokyo DisneySea is the coming-of-age version of that.
You might think that the location of these Tokyo Disney Resorts is obvious — duh, it’s in Tokyo. Why name it that when it’s not?
You’re, in fact, wrong. It’s not even in Tokyo at all! The Tokyo Disney Resort is located to the east of Tokyo, in Urayasu of Chiba Prefecture. It is a short train ride from Tokyo, though — about 20 minutes from Tokyo Station and 30 minutes from Shinjuku Station.
That’s one takeaway of Tokyo you have already: the train system is efficient as hell.
Now, let’s take a look at Tokyo Disneyland. Here’s a fun fact: this Disney theme park is actually the first-ever Disney park to be built outside of the United States! Everything from the design and structure is built in the same style as the Magic Kingdom in Florida and Disneyland in California, so you’ll get the full authentic magical experience even on the other side of the world.
On the 15th of April 1983, its magical gates opened, and to this day, this Disney Resort holds the title of the third most-visited theme park in the world (the first two being also Disney parks in the U.S.).
While it mimics the American Disney parks, there are some special features in this one. It is in Japan, after all, so take note of a few hints at Japanese culture here and there. One great example is the food; it’s noticeably different from the U.S. You’ll be in for a treat for an infusion of American and Chinese flavours with Japanese cuisine — sounds intriguing, right?
You’ll get steamed buns filled with teriyaki chicken, shaped like the iconic Mickey Mouse’s head, in Adventureland. There’s also a traditional Japanese dish called donburi fused with the American flavours of taco meat.
Don’t worry, the food at Tokyo Disneyland is not all traditionally infused; you’ll be able to get your fix of classic popcorn, or even spice it up with soy sauce flavoured ones if you fancy.
Remember when I said there’s one Tokyo Resort that’s only one in the world? Well, that’s Tokyo DisneySea. This theme park opened on the 4th of September 2001 right next to Tokyo Disneyland, and is the fourth most-visited theme park in the world!
Tokyo DisneySea has a unique theme — can you guess from the name of the park? This theme park has a nautical exploration theme. There’s nowhere like DisneySea anywhere in the world; a combination of Disney, maritime rides and attractions, and Japanese-infused American nibbles.
I call this theme park the adult version of Tokyo Disneyland, because unlike the other, Tokyo DisneySea serves alcohol!
There are plans for expansion to this park to include the famous Frozen and Tangled areas for 2023! Oh, and let’s not forget Peter Pan, my personal favourite Disney character.
When To Visit
Want to avoid the crowds? It does get very crowded — these parks are popular amongst locals and tourists alike. March and August are the months of the Japanese school holidays, so if you want to avoid the young crowd, it might be best to avoid these months.
Other months like February, October and December are also best to avoid. In these months, the weather can get unpredictable like rain and warnings of natural disasters. In these cases, rides can get interrupted and, to the extreme, park closure.
Where To Stay
It’s every princess’s dream to stay in a huge, magical castle — I know it’s mine. The Tokyo Disneyland Hotel is pretty similar to that, with themed rooms, extravagant decor, and impeccable service. You pay what you get, and this is the top-class, five-star everything.
If you’re not all that bothered about the royal treatment, there are multiple hotels around the vicinity that aren’t as costly as the main Disney Resort hotels. Boutique hotels like Ibis Hotel provide free shuttle buses from the hotel to the Disney parks — an extremely convenient service for when you’re exhausted from a day’s adventure and just want to hit the sacks ASAP.
Tips & Tricks To The Disney Resorts
Here’s where I sprinkle my magic. Just being at the resorts is good enough, but why miss out on making your experience more magical and unforgettable than what Disney promised?
Make full use of your time at the park. Every minute counts, especially when there are hundreds of others aiming to do the same thing as you. How you ask? Well, I have some tips and tricks for you based on my very own personal experience — tried and tested, and succeeded!
Buy your tickets in advance
I know some of you out there are the spontaneous, adventurous kind. No planning and just going for it. Well, I’m a planner. And for Disney Resorts, you have to plan. Get your tickets in advance — trust me, you do not want to be in the queue of people who buy tickets at the gate. All you have to do is just wait till the gates open.
You might need to have your booking tickets printed out as well; Japan is pretty traditional when it comes to things like that. If you forgot to do it on the day, don’t worry. There are stations at the entrance where you can print them out for free! Or alternatively, go to a konbini (コンビニ, convenience store) near you (but not at the Disney Resort — the konbinis have no printer whatsoever).
Plan your rides in advance
I’d prioritise this tip over anything else: plan your route in the theme park. What rides do you want to go on first? Which are must-go’s and which ones you aren’t so bothered about, and which ones are extremely popular?
Factor in waiting time for each attraction — which may vary depending on the popularity of the ride — and where the rides you want to go are. Take that Disney map and a pen, and start planning. Don’t think it’s silly; you’ll be so glad you did afterward. It’s all about strategy, and not missing out on the rides you are dying for just because you got held up in a queue for a ride you don’t even particularly want to go on.
Make full use of the Fast Pass
If you don’t already know, there’s a FastPass system where you can get a ticket with a timestamp on it to return to the attraction and use the priority Fast Pass lane. It’s one of the best ways to maximise your time at the park, so include that in your planning!
Not all rides are eligible for FastPass, but most of the top-rated ones are. You’re only allowed to hold one FastPass at a time, so as soon as you’ve used your previous FastPass, go on to the next one!
Bring your own bento (if you want)
This one is not really a do-or-die rule, but it will save you some time and a few pennies. There’s nothing wrong with going all out and trying the tasty Disney treats, but they are going to cost quite a bit. On occasion, restaurants will have a long queue.
Do it the Japanese way: bring a bento (弁当, lunch box). Not only are you going to have a few extra bucks in your pocket, but you’re also participating in the local culture!
Shop after the attractions close
I know, I know — you want that cute souvenir for yourself and your family. Save that shopping for the end of the day. Don’t waste your precious time at the park just to be in the shops all day.
It’s not well-known, but Disney shops open an hour after all the other attractions close. That means you’ll have plenty of time to browse through all those cute items with peace of mind and without sacrificing your time for rides!
I’ve not only saved your time at the park but also your time researching about the Tokyo Disney Resort — see, I told you, I am the fairy godmother! Fair enough, being at Disneyland and DisneySea alone is magical enough, but if you take my advice, your time at the parks will be one of the most memorable, enjoyable and unforgettable experiences ever!
Spring in Japan is beautiful — many travellers plan their trip to Japan around that time of the year to witness the blooming flowers as the weather warms up. What you don’t know is that you’re missing out on heaps of excitement that takes place only during Japanese winter!
Winter in Japan is magical — winter illuminations, snow-covered slopes and trees that mimic that of a fairytale are just the tip of the iceberg. The Japanese celebrate winter like no other despite the cold and snow, because it’s also the time for winter events and ice sculptures! Let’s not forget about the onsens, bathing outdoors in natural hot springs.
If these don’t make you want to venture Japan in winter, here is a list of places in Japan that will definitely convince you otherwise.
Hello, monkeys! Just two hours north of Tokyo, you can find wild Japanese macaques chilling in their very own thermal spa, up in Nagano. They inhabit the Jigokudani mountainsides and roam the extensive terrains freely, and part of their territory includes the Yokoyu River valley.
While the park is only reachable on foot through the dense forest of about a mile, I promise it’s worth the trek — I mean, who doesn’t want to get up close and personal with bathing macaques? It’s definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
Shirakawago Village is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site due to the conservation of the unique architecture of the houses — some have steeply sloping roofs constructed without nails that enables them to cope structurally with the heavy wind snowfalls. The area transforms into a Japanese winter wonderland in mid-December, when snowfalls begin and the Gassho-zukuri farmhouses take on a snow-covered picture-perfect look.
The most popular village, Ogimachi, has the biggest and most number of traditional farmhouses dated back over two hundred years ago! On top of it all, Shirakawago also has winter illuminations worth staying and booking in advance for, because it is a popular event.
3. The Blue Pond
Have you ever seen the sky on the ground? The Blue Pond, located near the town of Biei in Hokkaido lets you witness just that. The lagoon-like pond that holds sky-blue coloured water was created when excavations were made to prevent mudslides from eruptions of Mount Tokachi from reaching the town.
Because of that event, the hollow left behind from the digs filled with water. The pond contains traces of chemicals that turn its waters a rainbow of different blue hues throughout the year, and during winter the scenery is so magical as the blue pond is accompanied by the whitened tree branches.
Found up north of Japan is Hokkaido, the coldest city in all of Japan! Because of that, Hokkaido experiences all kinds of spectacular phenomenons in winter, and one of them is the drift ice. The Sea of Okhotsk along Abashiri City is known to be the southernmost point to witness the drift ice, just like in the Arctic. There is also a sightseeing ship that allows you to watch the dynamic drift ice in close proximity, but only during a limited time of the year.
Winter can bring out the most spectacular natural sights. One of them is the winter phenomenon that is at a popular ski resort in Northern Japan called the Zao Ski Resort. Hundreds of Zao’s ice trees, also known as Juhyo, covered the slopes of the ski resort. These unique and amazing snow monsters are a work of art made by nature.
Visitors of the ski resort can even ski and snowboard around and by the trees. In the evening, the snow monsters are lit up and put on a mystical winter scenery.
Most of the places that experience a winter phenomenon are usually found in the colder regions of Japan, like Hokkaido. This one is more accessible from Tokyo, and it is the Icicles of Misotsuchi. They are gigantic icicles created by the flowing water over the cliffs upstream from the waterfall in Chichibu area in Saitama prefecture, located right next to Tokyo.
Not only is this an extremely beautiful natural sight on its own, during the peak season, but there will also be special light-up events held that lighten up the icicles in a blue-ish hue, giving them a mystical feel.
Kamakura is not only linked to the city that is known for its famous and huge Buddha statue, but also referred to the dome-shaped snow sculpture that is a traditional winter item in Japan.
Held in the northern part of the country, the Yunishigawa Kamakura Festivals takes place at the Yunishigawa Onsen Town in Tochigi Prefecture, where hundreds of dome sculptures in all sizes line up, lighting up the dark night sky with orange glows.
The event runs for about a month from February to March, and even though the Kamakura domes are the main attraction, there are also other several fun snow activities offered in the vicinity.
Who doesn’t love a good onsen? Bathing in natural hot springs is an enjoyable way of relaxing, and locals and foreigners often take the time out to go to them as it also has health benefits. In winter, the surrounding of the onsen is filled with snow and ice, and the air is chilly. Yet, as you dip into the onsen, you’re warm and toasted amidst the cold winter.
Ginzan Onsen is one of the most picturesque places to go for a winter onsen. Located in the Yamagata prefecture, the small mountain town is full of historical ryokans and traditional onsen inn lined along the banks of the Ginzan River.
Stay overnight at one of these, and even consider one with a private onsen, to enjoy the full experience. Public onsens are also available for those not looking to spend the night. If you’re not feeling up for the full immersion, a public foot spa is also available.
Winter in Hokkaido is really cold, but instead of being down in the slumps because of the weather, the capital city, Sapporo, hosts the world’s famous Sapporo Snow Festival for a week-long that turns the whole city into the dreamy winter wonderland, covering three major sites — the Odori, the Susukino and the Tsu Dome. With ice sculptures and illuminations, over two million visitors, local Japanese and travellers, attend the event every season!
Each site cover a different thing: the Odori hosts the most spectacular and biggest sculptures, and you’ll be able to get a great view of them from the Sapporo TV Tower; Susukino has the smaller ice sculptures that are distributed between the karaoke bars and other entertainment establishments; The Tsu Dome offers loads of snow-related activities for both adults and children.
Who would’ve thought that a train ride would be a place to visit and do during winter? Yet the JR Tadami Line makes the cut. This rail service runs for over eighty miles through the most spectacular parts of Fukushima and Niigata prefectures, and can you imagine these landscapes covered in snow?
It’s extremely beautiful and jaw-dropping, it’s no doubt that this train ride will quite literally take your breath away. The best part of it all, although it might seem like a drag on other days, is that the train isn’t those express, fast ones. So you’re in for a plentiful time of admiring the scenic vistas through the carriage window.
Winter can be cold and sometimes depressing, but each season always has something to offer. Japan is especially best in winter, providing a mix of tradition and modern events, natural and man-made sights, and activities that can be enjoyed by all.
From resort activities like skiing and snowboarding near the Zao monster trees, dipping in the hot water of the natural hot springs in Ginzan, to getting a picturesque trainride across parts of beautiful Japan, there is no reason to not enjoy the cold and snow in this amazing country.
I come from Singapore — it’s so peaceful and quiet when it comes to natural disasters. Boy, was I in for a treat when I moved to Japan, where these dramatic forces of nature are the norm. Here, there are days where the people in it are overwhelmed by feelings of fear and distress instead of exhilaration and euphoria. The ones that bring those emotions out are frequent natural disasters including tsunamis, disrupting daily lives and even tragically take some away.
Japan is not randomly chosen nor volunteered to be acquainted with these sizeable waves. There’s something that makes this island nation different from others to be on the recurring receiving end of such natural forces.
In this article, we’ll look at Japan’s tragic relationship with tsunamis, why tsunamis are so frequent in Japan, and what to do when you’re at risk of a tsunami strike — regardless of whether you’re in Japan or not.
Japan and tsunami aren’t new to each other — they have quite a history, unfortunately. Since 684, there have been a total of 141 waves that are classified as a tsunami — with a total of about 130,000 deaths total.
Back in 1741 was the strongest tsunami ever recorded. This huge wave was caused by a volcano north of Hokkaido Island with a magnitude of 6.9, reaching a height of 90 meters and taking 1,607 lives along with it. While it may be the biggest one, it wasn’t the one that took the most number of lives — that’s the one in 1498 with an earthquake of 8.3 magnitudes that caused a tsunami of 10 meters and killed 31,201 people.
Even with those two, the one that really affected Japan was the tsunami in 2011, where agriculture, development and the economy were seriously damaged. On March 11 of that year, an earthquake of 9.1 magnitudes unleashed a tsunami of 55 meters tall in Japan. Can you imagine how big this tsunami must have been to reach 11 further countries! There was a total of 15,894 deaths in Japan and thousands more in other countries.
The damages the tsunami caused added up to USD$235 billion, the costliest natural disaster in world history!
Reasons Why Japan Have Frequent Tsunamis
Do you know what people say about being in the right place at the right time? Well, Japan is located in the wrong place…all the time. This island nation is along the “Pacific Ring of Fire”, which is an imaginary horseshoe-shaped zone that is on the rim of the Pacific Ocean. On this ring, you’ll get the most activity for earthquakes and volcano eruptions.
To make matters worse, Japan is smacked on top of four shifting pieces of Earth’s crust known as the tectonic plates that mash and collide.
Because of these two factors, Japan has about 1,500 earthquakes every year even though some of them don’t go any bigger than 3.9 magnitudes.
How Are Tsunamis Created?
So how exactly are tsunamis created? These huge, tall waves need some serious energy to be so big.
Normal waves are formed when energy passes through the water, and that causes it to move in a circular motion. One way waves are formed is by the wind when there’s friction on the surface of the water and causing a continual disturbance, resulting in surface waves. Another type is the tidal wave that is made by the gravitational forces of the sun, moon and earth.
Tsunami waves are not formed by surface or tidal waves — they are created when there are huge disruptions, including but not limited to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and landslides that occur under the sea. When this happens, large volumes of water move together at full depth at a speed you didn’t think water could.
The water then absorbs the energy of these disturbances, then they travel inland with the constantly piled of large volumes of water. By the time it reaches the shore, can you imagine how big the waves can be?
The drawback, referring to the water from the shoreline receding, is one of the warning signs that a tsunami is approaching the shoreline. Just because it’s a warning doesn’t mean you have a lot of time — it can be a few seconds to a few minutes before the full tsunami moves inshore.
Tsunami Warning Categories in Japan
Because Japan is so prone to tsunamis, they have set up measures in case one does happen. There are three warning categories that are exclusively for a tsunami, and each one has actions to take based on the height of the tsunami.
The first category is the Tsunami Advisory, where the tsunami is expected to be up to only 1 meter in height. When this warning is issued, anyone who is exposed offshore may be caught in strong currents into the sea. Fish farming facilities as well as small vessels like boats may be washed away or capsized.
The second category is the Tsunami Warning, with the expected height of 1 meter to 3 meters of the tsunami. The tsunami waves for this kind are expected to hit hard, so low-lying areas will be damaged and buildings will be flooded. People are advised to evacuate the coastal as well as river areas to higher ground or a tsunami evacuation buildings — those who are exposed will be caught in the strong currents.
The third and last category is for tsunami waves over the height of 3 meters: Major Tsunami Warning. This warning is for a type of tsunami that is expected to completely destroy wooden structures, deeming it to be extremely strong. Similarly, people are strongly advised to evacuate coastal areas as well as river areas to higher ground or a tsunami evacuation building.
Even though there are tsunami warning systems, they might not be issued early enough for evacuation — especially when it’s the Major Tsunami Warning since this is when the wave of the tsunami comes at extreme speeds inland.
Some of us may be lucky enough to be living in a country where tsunamis never happen — some others are not. Whether you’re living in a country prone to tsunamis or even just traveling to Japan, it’s best to know what to do if one does strike.
Do not panic
First and foremost: don’t panic. When we’re overwhelmed with such emotions, we won’t be thinking straight and end up making rash decisions. Keep calm and recall the procedures to take for a tsunami strike.
Keep in mind that tsunami waves can crash inland at unexpected times — even if you see it far out the sea, chances are they’re moving really fast. I know your first instinct is to take your belongings with you, but don’t panic pack — your life is the most precious thing, so leave as soon as you can!
Higher, not further
Our instincts would want us to go further, but instead of doing that, go higher up. Tsunami waves can reach heights of more than 10 meters and tsunami evacuation sites, usually not that high up either, can be dangerous places to be in this situation.
If you are seeking refuge at the evacuation site, that is still okay too. They’re made especially for that reason: to be a safe place in times like these. When you are at one, do not leave the site. A tsunami is not just one single wave but a series of them. The intervals between them can be seconds or even hours apart, so wait it out until the tsunami warnings are fully completed.
Rivers are threats, too
Don’t think that just because you’re not by the ocean, you’re safe. Rivers and other coastal areas are at risk too — floods are highly to happen as the waves can travel up to smaller streams. Seek refuge at higher ground or a tsunami evacuation site.
While it’s unfortunate that Japan has the highest threats for a tsunami, it’s unchangeable. What we can change is how we react to it to save our lives and the lives of others. Don’t let the proneness to natural disasters in Japan scare you off from visiting (or even living) in the country — this island nation is beautiful and peaceful, with tons of measures prepared and precautions taken to combat these natural disasters.
Who doesn’t love food? We all love food — whether it’s a specific type of cuisine or you just love to eat. The Japanese cuisine has boomed internationally and is now one of the most popular types in the world! Ramen and sushi, anyone?
Washoku (Japanese cuisine) is not just the noodles and seaweed rolls that we all know — there are principles that make them what they are. And if you don’t already know, there are various traditional Japanese cuisine that uphold these principles strongly to this very day.
So what are these principles and traditional washoku types? Read on to find out!
What is “washoku”?
So, what exactly is washoku (和食)? Well, let’s break down the kanji, shall we? The “wa” (和) has the meaning of “harmony” and also “Japan” — you would already know this if you have read our article “The Various Names of Japan”. The “shoku” (食) refers to “food”. So, both kanjis combined literally means “Japanese food”.
A brief background on how the word came about: Japanese cuisine wasn’t always called “washoku”, as the term only came about in the Meiji Period (1868-1912). Before the time, there wasn’t any other types of cuisine, so Japanese cuisine was the norm. The Meiji Period was the time the Westernisation happened, so the introduction to Western cuisines (洋食, youshoku) required the people to identify their own local cuisine — and thus washoku was born.
Principles of Washoku
Washoku isn’t just a classification for any food that is created in Japan — although, most of them are. There are a few fundamentals that a washoku meal has to abide by. These principles are constant throughout them all, just like how rice is basically the heart of any washoku (or Japanese) meal — it’s a staple piece.
The four main principles of washoku are seasonality, regionality, balance and aesthetics. Let’s take a look at each of them individually.
The Japanese are very particular about seasons. They pay attention to the changing weather and nature — I mean, they even have holidays based on the mountain and sea (read our Japanese Holidays write-up about them!).
With four very distinct seasons in Japan, they are clearly reflected in the washoku dishes that are served during the time. You’ll generally get root veggies in winter and wild plants in spring. Summer sees the pickled veggies and autumn calls for chestnuts.
Special washoku dishes like osechi ryori (おせち料理) greets a coming new year and is the special New Year’s meal, complete with various symbolised ingredients.
Japan is huge. There are a few islands that make up the mainland, and a few thousands of other islands surrounding it! If you’re curious about all the various types of islands, give our Nihongo Master Podcast a listen — one of the episodes cover the Island Life of Japan!
Anyway, with so many various parts, they each have their own unique way of making a specific dish or using specific ingredients that you can only get from there. So, on top of a general washoku of the nation’s cuisine, regionality plays quite a role.
You’ll get wonderful crab dishes up north in Hokkaido, because the seafood there is nothing but the best or go down south to the subtropical Okinawa to get your fair share of umibudo (海ぶど), seagrapes that the Okinawa prefecture is known for. And because of that, the ingredient is included in quite a number of other dishes to make their own regional washoku.
Another important principle of washoku is balance. Some cuisines rely on enhancing flavours using tons and tons of ingredients. For washoku, it’s all about not overdoing it, but not under-doing it either. It focuses quite a bit on natural flavours and how every dish complements the others.
It’s also not just about flavour, it’s also about the nutrition. There’s a saying of “ichi ju san sai” (一汁三菜), referring to “one soup and three side dishes” — they not only accompany a bowl of rice, but also provide a well-balanced meal with the nutrition we need.
Last but not least is the aesthetics. Have you ever noticed how every Japanese meal is served so presentably? If you’ve ever spent some time in Japan, you’ll realise that whenever a waiter serves you your food, every ingredient is displayed in a way that not only grabs your attention but also complements the rest of the stuff on the plate.
Not only that, the Japanese especially pay attention to the tableware they use — and for washoku, more often than not, lacquerware is often the go-to choice. If you want to know more about lacquerware, a traditional Japanese craft with quite a history, give our Nihongo Master Podcast a listen — specifically the episode “The Art Culture of Japan”.
Traditional Japanese Cuisine
Ramen and sushi aside, does everyone know the traditional kinds of washoku — the ones that date back centuries and with a purpose? If you have, that’s wonderful. If not, this section will be extremely informative and educational to you!
Even though this traditional washoku originated in the early days of Japan, they are still alive to this very day — there are more kaiseki (解析) restaurants than one can count. And let’s not get started on shojin ryori (精進料理) — with such a strong religious hold, there’s no way it’ll go anywhere.
To talk about them is a whole new article on its own — which is exactly what is going to happen. Keep a look out in the next few weeks for an article all about the traditional Japanese cuisine, including the two mentioned earlier!
Who would have thought that a whole nation’s cuisine has a couple of rules that they abide by? I guess every country has some sort of guideline, but most of them are more about what ingredients used rather than what they symbolise. Japan is all about symbolism, aren’t they? Even the food they create means one thing or the other!