Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The End of the Year in Japan: Decorations

In Japan, houses are decorated during the end of the year to welcome the New Year. So let's take a look at some of the decorations.

Kadomatsu, decorative bamboo is placed outside entrances and Shimenawa, straw ropes, are hung on doors like Christmas wreaths to bring in good luck.

Shimekazari made of straw, paper, and tangerines, are hung in various places to thank the god of the harvest. The bamboo, pine, and tangerines also symbolize long life, energy, and good fortune.

Kagami mochi is a traditional New Year's decoration made of two round mochi (rice cake) stacked one on top of the other. They are placed in the main room of the house as an offering to the god of the harvest. It serves as a place for the god to rest.

The End of the Year in Japan: Jyoya-no-kane

Jyoya-no-kane is rung only once in each year. In many temples with a night watch bell, they start ringing the bell before the clock strikes the midnight, until it reaches108 times indicating the arrival of the New Year. Why 108 times? It is said in Buddhisim that each human being own 108 worldly desires, pains, and sufferings. By ringing the bell 108 times it gets rid of all of them and one can start the New Year with a clean slate.

The End of the Year in Japan: Toshikoshi-soba

There are many original rituals and custom in Japan. And today we have "toshikoshi-soba". Toshikoshi-soba is a bowl of noodles eaten at the end of the year. The ingredients differ with each house, but most families living in Japan eat soba during the year-end countdown.

You might wonder why is it not any other type of noodle such as; udon, or pasta or ramen? Why soba? Well, it is said that soba is thin and longer than any other types of noodle. And by eating this, it was said that one can gain long lasting life and long lasting health. Till this day the ritual and the legend has been believed and many family eat the noodle together.

How to make Toshikoshi-soba
Step1: Cut chicken meat and chives into small pieces.

Step2: Pour water into a pot and bring it to a boil. When the water boils, place in the chicken pieces and the chives. Turn off the stove when they are cooked.

Step3: In another pot, bring the water being used to cook the soba to a boil.

Step4: When the water boils, put the soba into the water and wait until they are cooked, but firm (follow the directions on the soba package).

Step5: Place the noodles into a bowl and pour in the soup made earlier with the chicken and the chives.

Step6: If you wish, you can add shichi-mi (Japanese mixed chili pepper powder) on top, and the Toshikoshi Soba is ready to be served.

The End of the Year in Japan: Susu-barai (Osoji)

As the year winds down and Christmas lights illuminate the evenings, Japan prepares for the next month's festivities as they welcome the New Year.

Susubarai (today, it is more often called Osoji), a tradition hailing as far back as the Edo period (1603-1868) is held to welcome luck and prosperity into the home. Beloved by children across Japan, this is the day to totally clean up the whole place, to sweep away the old year's luck and welcome the blessings of the gods for the New Year. Suitably, having a clean and impeccable house also makes it less likely to trip and step upon a visiting deity's toes; as even merry Ebisu might only be so patient.

Like many other traditions in Japan, this great cleaning day is one carried over from its history with the cultures and peoples of Asian mainland. As stomachs fill with holiday feasts and year-end drinks, and stockings with more shiny and glittery things, let us celebrate susubarai, and prepare for the coming New Year.

The End of the Year in Japan: Bounen-kai

Sleigh bells have rung and Santa has packed our stockings with gifts, so what's left to do until New Year in Japan? Well, we've got BONENKAI! Maybe many have already heard about bonenkai but to anyone who doesn't know, here it is.

What is this bonenkai?
It's a term used to signify "end of the year party". The term means "forgetting the year party".

Well what do you mean "forgetting the year" then?
It mostly means, "Hey its end of the year so let's just forget everything and have fun and be crazy as one can be since we can't party everyday". Since Japanese culture doesn't have many parties in their custom and everyday life, these once in a year events are concerned as a major party where one can unleash their craziness and everyone can talk to the others without the senpai-kohai (seniority based) relationship.

What do they do there?
The people attending bonenkai mostly drink, drink, and drink. But they don't "just" drink they "call" for people drinking. Calling at the person drinking is a rather new (and not necessarily welcomed) custom which started in 1985. Back then it was "ikki" which meant "chug".

Another ritual in bonenkai is "Dashimono", something like a talent show. Stores like Tokyu Hands and Don Qui Hote offers party costumes even though it's NOT Halloween and ever wonder when do people wear these? It is used at drinking party, usually but it is mostly used in this time of the year. Stuffs sold which is popular are costumes to act like popular comedians of the year, or smaller accessories like a beauty pageant ribbon with funny messages written across or fake glass, mustache and or wigs.

So you've walked through the Christmas lights around the town, you've seen couples holding hands around the town, now is the time to walk through the streets filled with over-drunk people sitting down, and to see the groups of people meeting up at the train station. December, until 12/31, Japan will go wild.

Monday, December 22, 2008

ETO (oriental zodiac)

Unlike western astrology, ETO (oriental zodiac) is a unique time counting system based on the MOON. Started in china thousands years ago, being widely used in asian territory up till nowadays. To indicate years, there are 12 zodiac amimals loop in following order: rat, ox, tiger, rabbbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar.

Just for you information, eto for 2008 is rat, and incoming 2009 is "ox".

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hello world !

I'm Ruther, official mascot of the International, your trusted guide bringing detailed information about hotels and ryokans in Japan. 

You may find interesting and useful tips and articles for travelling the country, some may not be described in any guide books or websites. 

Furthermore, I'd like to offer you great rates and packages from luxurious hotels and ryokans as they appear on the 

Whenever you want good deals to stay in Japan, visit my place here at the "Ruther's Room". Stay tuned!

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