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January 18 2013

Originally shaped Ema at Fushimi Inari Taisha - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Ema, Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine, Kyoto
At any Shinto shrine, you will see booths selling wooden votive plaques (ema), with various drawings and shapes, often with unique designs made especially for the shrine. Usually, these plaques have the same shape, almost rectangular, but a very few shrines have special designs: at the Fushimi Inari Taisha from Kyoto, the shrine famous for the thousands of torii, you will find ema shaped like… torii gates. Some of the most beautiful ema I have ever seen, they are used like any other votive plaques and the wishes are written on them, as you can see in today’s photo.

January 15 2013

mario in feudal japan - via WTF Japan Seriously
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Hundreds of statues with hats - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Jizo statues, Osaka

In many Japanese Buddhist temples, you will notice rows of dozens or even hundreds of cute stone statues, “dressed” with bibs, various hats and beads… Usually the garments are red, because in the Japanese tradition red is the color used to ward off evil spirits and to cure illness.

At the first glance, it is quite a cheerful view, filled with cuteness. But actually it has a very sad role: the statues are representing Jizo Bosatsu (Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva), the guardian of children in the Japanese tradition… The Jizo statues are cute, because they are made to resemble the protected children, but the garments are usually offered by grieving parents, as part of the prayers for the lost children… However, there’s also a slightly brighter side: sometimes, the garments are offered by parents as thanks to Jizo for saving their children from a life-threatening illness.

January 12 2013

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仕込みiPhone 3号機 - YouTube wtf japan seriously

January 11 2013

Tokyo Sky Tree's giant shadow - via A Japan Photo per Day -

View from Tokyo Sky Tree, Sumida

Tokyo Sky Tree, opened to the public in May last year, with its 634 meters is the tallest tower and the second tallest construction in the world. But why the builders chose to make it 634 meters tall? They wanted a height to be easily remembered and, by using old Japanese numbering, “634″ can be read as mu-sa-shi, the name of the old Musashi Province - which included the tower’s location, the Sumida ward from Tokyo.

While visiting Tokyo Sky Tree, one of the views I enjoyed a lot was from the first observation deck (located at the height of 350 meters) towards the Sumida River. The tower’s giant shadow cast over the city is quite impressive and you can easily identify the first observatory, the second observatory (located at 450 meters) and the 184 meters antenna.

January 10 2013

weird hairstyle from japan - wtf japan seriously
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Eating roasted mochi at Dondo Yaki - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Dondo Yaki, Matsumoto

In Japan, many religious events, especially the Shinto ones, are ending with a popular party, usually with some specific food. This is by no means a trivialization, everything simply becomes friendlier and more enjoyable… That’s a part of Japan’s charm!

That’s what happens at Dondo Yaki 「どんどやき」, a festival which takes place all over Japan during the first half of January. The event is the ceremonial burning of the last year’s good luck charms (like omamori, Daruma Dolls) and decorations (Shimenawa, Shimekazari or Kadomatsu), burning that signifies the desire to go on and cutting with the past.

And after the charms are burned, mochi rice cakes are cooked on the embers of the fire - it is said that eating them will bring you good luck and protection against illness - and they are delicious too…

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January 09 2013

yakitake japan - show about bread
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Yokozuna Restaurant Shinsekai - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Yokozuna Restaurant, Shinsekai, Osaka

Japan is renowned for its restaurants… there are many fancy and expensive restaurants, but for the regular traveler they are not very important. What is really important is the great number of regular priced restaurants and the fact that this is one of the few countries where you can eat at any restaurant and you don’t have to worry about the food and the cleanness. Plus, you can be sure that you will be served with the utmost care…

The area of restaurants from Shisekai, near the Tsutenkaku Tower in Osaka, is a good example of a neighborhood filled with inexpensive restaurants with good food, like the one from my photo, called Yokozuna. Here you can taste a great variety of kushikatsu (katsu is a deep-fried meat cutlet, and kushi means “skewers"). If you don’t want meat, you can also try kushikatsu variants with mushrooms, seafood or vegetables (potato, onion, pumpkin), served as is or with tonkatsu sauce. Delicious!

Reposted byEpitaph Epitaph

January 08 2013

Japanese Koi and some photo tips - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Japanese Koi

The common carp was domesticated in Japan at the beginning of the 19th century and soon several ornamental varieties were bred. 100 years later, at the beginning of the 20th century, these colored carps, called nishiki-goi - “brocaded carp” - or simply koi ("carp") were already presenting a wide variety of patterns and colors, so after being presented at an expo in Tokyo, the koi became popular all over Japan.

Today, the Japanese koi is popular all over the world, while in Japan it’s almost impossible to find a garden pond without koi. Interestingly, though, koi are still just regular carps: if allowed to breed without control, they will revert to their original, bland color… Even in Japan, I saw some ponds full of koi, where 90% of them where without any interesting color or pattern.

In many gardens there are vending machines selling food for koi and if you want to photograph them, these are good places, because koi are gluttonous, so you can photograph them swarming.

Photo tips:
- In order to capture their beautiful colors, be sure to have with you a polarizing filter. That way you will reduce the water glare and you will be able to see deep into the water (in my photo you can see the coins from the bottom of the pond).
- Use an aperture of at least f/7.1, it will give you sharpness and even better colors and contrast. If you have enough light, it is better to have an even smaller aperture (I usually prefer f/8).
- However, the polarizing filter will severely reduce the amount of light entering the camera, so you will need to increase the exposure. Here’s a trade off: that’s why I took this photo with just f/7.1, the shutter speed was 1/60s, a bit too long for some fast moving koi, and I didn’t want to increase the ISO.

January 05 2013

Chinowa - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Imado Shrine, Asakusa, Tokyo

One of the most common customs after the New Year is to buy omamori, small amulets for protection or good luck that can be bought from Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. In fact, the Japanese tradition places a great deal of emphasis on protection against bad luck and the small omamori are not the only artifacts created especially for this purpose.

Other examples are huge rings, over 2-meters-diameter, like the one in this photo, made from braided reeds called chinowa and decorated with shide (the Shinto strips of zigzag paper). These are raised twice a year at the entrance to the shrines and by passing through them, the visitors receive purification and protection against misfortune.

January 03 2013

Japanese customs and traditions - 7 Lucky Gods Pilgrimage - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Hashiba Fudo-in, Asakusa, Tokyo

As I was writing a few days ago, I attended a couple of times to the New Year’s Japanese traditions, starting with the Joya no Kane and continuing with the Hatsumode. But the most special experience was to follow, like many Japanese people, a 7 Lucky Gods New Year’s pilgrimage.

There are many versions of this pilgrimage in Japan, only in Tokyo I know of 20 such routes: groups of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples from the same neighborhood, each dedicated to at least one of the Lucky Gods, are grouped together in a single route. Visiting all of them can take a couple of hours or more and sometimes it can be quite tricky to find all the locations, even though the area is often marked with especially made maps.
But it is a very rewarding experience if you want to feel the local touch…

Here is a photo taken at one of the temples from the most famous pilgrimage route in Tokyo, the one in Asakusa. The temple is called Hashiba Fudo-in and it is dedicated to Hotei. You can see in front of the temple votive plaques with the 7 Lucky Gods and to the left of the photo you can also see the dedicated map…

December 29 2012

Hagoita - via A Japan Photo per Day -

If you’re watching Jidaigeki “period dramas” or other Japanese historical movies about the Edo period, you may have noticed brief scenes with girls playing a kind of badminton. That is a traditional game called Hanetsuki, played with hagoita, rectangular wooden paddles often decorated with colored paintings.

In time, hagoita became a lucky charm and also a decorative collectible item. So today hagoita have been designated as traditional products of Tokyo and they are a lot more sophisticated than the original paddles, adorned with intricate details and textures made from washi Japanese paper and silk, representing kabuki stars or geisha…

December 28 2012

Kumade - via A Japan Photo per Day -

One of the most popular customs of the New Year in Japan is to buy good luck charms for the year to come. At the same time, the old charms and decorations are brought to temples and shrines to be burned in a ceremony called Dondo yaki.

One of these lucky charms is the kumade, a rake said to bring wealth and good fortune, decorated with various auspicious elements. The kumade from today’s photo, photographed at an old Sake store from Yanaka, Tokyo, is one of the richest I have seen. Here are just a few of its elements: the mask, called Otafuku, known as the “Goddess of mirth", is used in the Kyogen theater and signifies happiness and prosperity. The gold coin replicas are considered good luck in business, the crane is a symbol of longevity in Japan (said to live 1000 years), the turtle is also a symbol of good luck and longevity (said to bring 10000 years of happiness), the red koi are representing perseverance and strength and the pine twigs are symbolizing long life…

December 27 2012

Kagamimochi - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Traditional Japanese New Year Decoration, Kagami mochi

After the Kadomatsu and the Shimekazari, another traditional Japanese decoration is usually placed inside the house, in the kamidana, but you will also find it in stores, restaurants and institutions.

This is the Kagamimochi, a simpler decoration, made from two rice cakes (mochi) of different sizes, symbolizing the past year and the year to come. The two mochi have the same shape as the old copper mirrors (kagami) used during the Muromachi period, hence the name: kagami-mochi. A Japanese type of bitter orange (daidai) is placed over the rice cakes, which symbolizes the continuity of the generations and long life, because a kanji writing for daidai 「代々」 can mean “generation to generation". So, the kagamimochi symbolizes the family’s continuity over the years.

Here’s a photo from a traditional Japanese house with a beautiful kagamimochi displayed together with the statues of two of the Seven Gods of Luck (Shichifukujin), Ebisu (God of good fortune, commerce and honest work) and Daikokuten (God of wealth and prosperity).

December 26 2012

Shimekazari - via A Japan Photo per Day -

Traditional Japanese New Year Decoration, Shimakezari

As I wrote yesterday, the Japanese traditional decorations can bear multiple meanings, each element having its own symbolism. More than this, even the place where the decoration is placed has its own role…

Here’s shimekazari, a small rope made from rice straws, a decoration placed on the exterior of the door or gate, with the same role as the shimenawa from the Shinto shrines - to keep the bad spirits away…

The rope is decorated with a large variety of auspicious items, the most popular being the daidai (Japanese bitter orange), the lobster and the pine twigs. The shimekazari from my photo, taken in Takadanobaba, is a bit special, with a twig of Japanese holly, which symbolizes longevity, because it is green throughout the year. There also an origami crane, which symbolizes long life…

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December 25 2012

Kadomatsu -  via A Japan Photo per Day -

Traditional Japanese New Year Decoration, Kadomatsu

The New Year (Shogatsu) is the most important celebration in Japan, so the preparations begin immediately after Christmas. For Christmas, the decorations are identical to those used in the Western world, but for the New Year people are enjoying the Japanese traditional decorations.

Every time when I visited Japan during the New Year’s period I was delighted to see them, because these are not simple decorations, each element is a symbol of something: they are protecting against evil spirits or against bad luck, or they are welcoming the Kami bringing prosperity and good luck for the next year.

Let see a few of them…

On the sides of the entrance to houses, institutions, shrines or temples, you will see kadomatsu 「門松」, “gate pines", decorations made from 3 diagonally cut bamboo pieces and pine or ume twigs, tied together with a straw rope. The bamboo symbolizes strength and growth, while the pine symbolizes long life. Kadomatsu has the role of welcoming toshigami, the God of the New Year. Toshigami brings prosperity and good luck in the next year to the families (or the businesses) protected by kadomatsu.

Here’s a pair of kadomatsu photographed in front of a traditional house from Asakusa, Tokyo.

December 26 2012

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Kore wa Zombie desu ka - Tanabata - YouTube wtf japan seriously
Reposted byWeks Weks
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