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Cherry Blossom Queens

29 May

Did you know that there are Japanese 桜 (cherry blossom) trees in Washington DC?
And that they have an annual Japanese-style cherry blossom festival when the flowers bloom in the spring?

And did you know that those trees were a gift to America from Japan about sixty years ago?

Well…did you know that both Japan and America crown a Cherry Blossom Queen every year?
It isn’t a beauty contest type of competition. Each state in America and each prefecture in Japan enters a young woman into the competition based on community service that she has done.

And then the country’s Cherry Blossom Queen is chosen by a random draw.

Every year the U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen comes to Japan and meets the Japanese Prime Minister along with the current Japanese Cherry Blossom Queen.

Last year, the 2012 U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen was an African-American woman for the first time.
She made headlines in Japan!

The 2013 U.S. Cherry Blossom Queen, Mary Anne Morgan, just came to Tokyo and met Japanese Prime Minister Abe and 2013 Japanese Cherry Blossom Queen, Chiori Kobayashi yesterday.

Hanami

24 Mar

Yesterday, we went to 上野公園 (Ueno Park) for 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing). 桜 (Cherry Blossom) season has just begun. Having a picnic under the trees in bloom is a popular pasttime in Japan. Ueno Park is a very popular place for Cherry Blossom Viewing in Tokyo … so it was very crowded yesterday when we went. Here are some photos I took:

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100 year old Japanese trees in America

25 Mar

Did you know that there are 3,000 Japanese さくら (Sakura (Cherry Blossom)) trees in Washington DC, America?

Japanese Sakura in Washington, DC (photo from Yahoo! News)

Did you know that those trees were a gift of friendship to America from Japan? And that the first two trees were planted near the White House by the then American “First Lady” and wife of the Japanese Ambassador to America?

I knew all of that already and I also knew that there are Japanese-style 花見 (“Cherry Blossom Viewing” parties) in Washington DC every spring when the flowers are in bloom.

But I didn’t know that Japan gave the trees to America in March 1912. One hundred years ago this month.
And I also didn’t know that the first two trees (the ones planted by the wives of the then U.S. President and Japanese Ambassador) are still standing in the same spot the were planted in Washington DC in 1912.

So, this year’s 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing) in Washington DC is special because it’s the one-hundredth anniversary of the gift of the trees from Japan.

The さくら (Cherry Blossoms) are already in bloom in Washington DC because of unusually warm weather in America now.

Another event to help mark the occasion took place in New York City earlier this month.
2012 March 1-6 was called “Japan Week” in NYC.

I don’t know much about this event but from looking at their website, it appears that visitors could experience a lot of Japanese culture that week in New York.

A woman playing the "Koto" (Japanese harp-like instrument) at "Japan Week" in NYC.

Tokyo Marathon and spring beer

26 Feb

The 2012 Tokyo Marathon was held today.

Twenty-nine year old Michael Kipyego of Kenya, Africa came in first place with a time of 2 hrs 07.37 seconds.
藤原新 (Arata Fujiwara) came in second just a few hundredths of a seconds later.

Arata Fujiwara of Japan and Michael Kipyego of Kenya show their silver and gold medals, respectively.

I don’t enjoy running…or even jogging, for that matter. So I can’t imagine running a 42 kilometer (26.22 miles) marathon!

Do you like to run or jog? Have you ever run a marathon? The Tokyo Marathon?

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Now that it’s getting closer to the end of winter and 花見 (“Cherry Blossom Viewing”) season will be here before long, many Japanese brewers have begun selling beers in cans decorated with 桜 (Cherry Blossoms).

Mother Nature wants to be sure we haven’t forgotten who’s boss

11 Apr

花見 (“Cherry Blossom Viewing“) is a centuries-old Japanese tradition. Every spring, Japanese people have a picnic with friends and family under the 桜 (Cherry Blossom) trees.

Japanese people have always loved the pink Sakura (Cherry Blossoms), as can be seen in many things in Japan such as haiku poems, ukiyoe (woodblock prints), paintings, Sakura-flavored snacks, tea and 日本酒 (Japanese sake rice-wine).

I wrote a post last year explaining a bit about Japan’s love of 桜 (Sakura flowers) and 花見 (“Cherry-Blossom Viewing”).

Basically, the Sakura are beautiful and fragile and they are in bloom for only a short time before they fall to the ground in a way that looks like beautiful, gentle pink snowfall…it’s called 「桜吹雪」 (“Sakura-fubuki” (Sakura snowfall)).
They symbolize the beauty, fragility and brevity of life itself.

But this year, due to the disaster last month, the Japanese government has asked people to use 自粛 (self-restraint) this “Cherry Blossom Viewing” season.

Does it seem odd to you that the government would ask that of people in Japan?
I have heard that many people from other countries were surprised to learn that the Japanese government would request people to refrain from Cherry Blossom Viewing or at least to do it quietly and reverently this year.

But in Japan we have no problem with such a request. In fact, even if the government hadn’t asked, most people in Japan probably would have done so anyways.
In many cases 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing) leads people to drink excessively and sometimes become a bit loud. But this year, so soon after the huge disaster in the 東北地方 (Tohoku Region) and with so many up there still trying to recover from it, no one is in the mood to celebrate.
Many people are electing to skip Cherry Blossom Viewing this year, and those who are doing it this year are doing so quietly and with more reflection.

Today my wife and I went to a temple with a small lunch to enjoy a quiet 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing).
Here are some photos that I took:

Some junior high school students walking to school. The school year has just begun in Japan.

Can you see the Sakura petals falling in 桜吹雪 ("Sakura snowfall")?

Many Sakura petals on the ground.

Back of 大仏 (Buddah)

Not long after we returned home, our house shook pretty hard from a big aftershock that was a 振動 5 (Level 5 of the Japanese earthquake scale (with goes to “7”))! It was a 振動 6 (level 6 (out of 7)) at it’s epi-center in the Sendai area! It was then that I realized today is the one-month anniversary of the 2011 March 11 Sendai Earthquake!

桜まつり

5 Apr

Yesterday we went to a park for 花見 (Cherry Blossom Viewing), which has been a springtime tradition in Japan for centuries.

Just as most people in Japan do, we had a picnic under the trees.

There was a traditional Japanese dance performance.

It was a bit cold and overcast in Tokyo today…but the five of us were together, the sakura trees looked beautiful, and my wife made a delicious lunch for us. So we had a good time!

At festivals in Japan, there are almost always booths like this selling snacks and food...like these バナナチョコレート (chocolate-covered bananas).

What types of festivals are popular in your country?  Do sakura (cherry-blossoms) bloom were you live? Have you ever been to a 花見 (Cherry-blossom viewing picnic)?

April Fools

1 Apr

Today is April Fools Day.

On this day it has been a common practice for centuries for people to play a practical joke on others.
And if someone believes that joke or prank is true, then they are the “April Fool”.

Many major newspapers, magazines, TV shows, and websites often join this holiday and print a false news article that is usually quite preposterous and unbelievable…but many people “fall for the joke”.
They sometimes give hints in the article that it’s an “April Fools” joke, such as listing a false person’s name such as “Lirpa Sloof” (“April Fools” spelled backwards) as a news source, or listing a false product serial number such as “20100401” (2010/04/01…today’s date).

And then either the next day or somewhere in the same day’s publication, they’ll announce that it was only an “April Fools joke”.

On the “Museum Of Hoaxes” website, they a list of “The Top 100 April Fool’s Day Hoaxes Of All Time“.

Here are some of the best hoaxes that I’ve paraphrased from their list:

#59: Daylight Savings Contest
1984 April 1: the Eldorado Daily Journal newspaper of Illinois, USA announced a contest to see who could save the most daylight for daylight savings time….whoever succeeded in saving the most daylight would win. Only pure daylight would be allowed—no dawn or twilight light, though light from cloudy days would be allowed. Moonlight was strictly forbidden. Light could be stored in any container. The contest received a huge, nationwide response. The paper’s editor was interviewed by correspondents from CBS and NBC and was featured in papers throughout the country.

#47: Internet Spring Cleaning
1997 April 1: An email message spread throughout the world announcing that the internet would be shut down for cleaning for twenty-four hours from March 31 until April 2.
The cleaning would be done by “five very powerful Japanese-built multi-lingual Internet-crawling robots (Toshiba ML-2274) situated around the world.” During this period, users were warned to disconnect all devices from the internet.

This joke was an updated version of an old joke that used to be told about the phone system. For many years, gullible phone customers had been warned that the phone systems would be cleaned on April Fool’s Day. They were cautioned to place plastic bags over the ends of the phone to catch the dust that might be blown out of the phone lines during this period.

#20: The Twenty-Six-Day Marathon
1981 April 1: The Daily Mail in London, England ran a story about an unfortunate Japanese long-distance runner, Kimo Nakajimi, who had entered the London Marathon but, on account of a translation error, thought that he had to run for 26 days, not 26 miles.

#15: Metric Time
1975 April 1: Australia’s This Day Tonight news program revealed that the country would soon be converting to “metric time.” Under the new system there would be 100 seconds to the minute, 100 minutes to the hour, and 20-hour days. Furthermore, seconds would become millidays, minutes become centidays, and hours become decidays. They received numerous calls from viewers who fell for the hoax. One frustrated viewer wanted to know how he could convert his newly purchased digital clock to metric time.

#12: Flying Penguins
2008 April 1: The BBC of England announced that camera crews filming near the Antarctic had captured footage of penguins taking to the air. It even offered a video clip of these flying penguins, which became one of the most viewed videos on the internet.
Presenter Terry Jones explained that…(these penguins) flew thousands of miles to the rainforests of South America where they “spend the winter basking in the tropical sun.”

#8: The Left-Handed Whopper
1998 April 1: Burger King published a full page advertisement in the USA Today newspaper announcing the introduction of a new item to their menu: a “Left-Handed Whopper” specially designed for the 32 million left-handed Americans.
Thousands of customers had gone into restaurants to request the new sandwich. Also “many others requested their own ‘right handed’ version.”

#4: The Taco Liberty Bell
1996 April 1: The Taco Bell Corporation announced it had bought the “Liberty Bell” monument in America and was renaming it the “Taco Liberty Bell”. Hundreds of outraged citizens called the National Historic Park in Philadelphia where the bell was housed to express their anger.

Taco Bell's April Fool ad about the "Taco Liberty Bell"

#1: The Swiss Spaghetti Harvest
1957 April 1: The BBC in England announced that thanks to a very mild winter…Swiss farmers were enjoying a bumper spaghetti crop.
Huge numbers of viewers were taken in. Many called the BBC wanting to know how they could grow their own spaghetti tree. To this the BBC diplomatically replied, “place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

Have you ever been fooled by an “April Fools” joke? Have you ever fooled anyone with one?

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On a different note, yesterday I noticed a few Sakura trees blooming here in Tokyo.
Next weekend we plan to go 「花見」 (“Cherry Blossom Viewing”).

Here are a few photos I took yesterday:

Spring customs

13 Mar

I don’t remember most of the lesser known American holidays, so correct me if I’m wrong.
But, as I remember, in America there are some spring customs but no legal holidays.

First, February 2 is “Groundhog Day” in America.
A groundhog is a type of マーモット…

A groundhog.

Not to be confused with 「モルモット」, which means “guinea pig” in Japanese.

A guinea pig.

In America, on Groundhog Day people watch a groundhog to see if he leaves his burrow or not.
If he does, that’s supposed to mean that spring will start soon…if he returns to his burrow after sticking his head out, that means the cold winter weather will continue longer.

At least that’s how I remember it. It’s an odd custom.

April 1st is called “April Fool’s Day“.

On this day in America, people play practical jokes on each other…if someone falls for one of these practical jokes, then he’s labeled a “fool” for the day–the “April Fool“.

Also Easter, I believe, is on the first Sunday of April.
This is a religious Christian holiday.
Many people in America, Canada (and maybe some European countries too) paint Easter eggs and “the Easter Bunny” gives baskets of chocolate to children.

School students get a week or so “Spring Break” holiday from school…but it’s not the end of the school year yet (as it is in Japan). Summer Break is the end of the U.S. school year.

In Japan spring is different.
Here, the school year ends in March and begins after spring in April.
Students in Japan who will be starting high school or college must take Entrance Exams. (My second daughter passed her Entrance Exam and will be starting high school next month).

At almost the same time as Groundhog Day in the U.S., Japan has Setsubun on February 2nd every year.

In March, Japan has Doll Festival on March 3rd, and White Day on March 14th (tomorrow). But those aren’t legal holidays (I mean, they’re not days off).
But around March 20th is 「春分の日」 (Spring Equinox) is a legal holiday. This year, Spring Equinox is Sunday, March 21st…so it’ll will be observed the next day—Monday, March 22nd will be a day off.
Many people visit their family grave on this day.

A big holiday season in Japan occurs in spring. It’s called “Golden Week“.
Golden Week is technically May 3rd – May 5th (「憲法記念日」 (Constitution Day), 「緑の日」 (Greenery Day), and 「子供の日」 (Children’s Day) respectively)…but often 「昭和の日」 (Showa Day), which is on April 29th, is included.
So, some people get Golden Week holiday from April 29th – May 5th.

And, of course, a very important springtime custom in Japan is 「花見」 (Cherry-Blossom Viewing).

お花見地図

9 Mar

It’s getting close to 花見 (“Cherry-Blossom Viewing“) time in Japan.

Every spring, during the short time that the pink Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) are in bloom, Japanese people enjoying hanami (“Cherry-Blossom Viewing“).

This ancient Japanese tradition is basically a picnic under the Sakura trees.

Japanese people will often join a “hanami” party more than once during the period the flowers are in bloom…because people will often join a party with friends, another with co-workers, and another with their family.

It’s very enjoyable to sit under the delicate flowers as they fall from the trees in the spring breeze like a pink snowfall and enjoy good food and beer and conversation with friends and / or family.

Sakura is a symbol of Japan and it’s appreciated for it’s beauty and also that it’s gentle and is gone soon after it blooms…like life itself.
Quite a contrast from a strong thorny flower with a long life like a rose.

Anyways, “MAPPLE” is probably the most famous map company in Japan. And on their website they have a 「お花見地図」 (“Cherry-Blossom Viewing Map“).

On this map, you choose an area of Japan from the list on the left (it looks like this):

And then the map will highlight that area of the map of Japan with images of Sakura trees that are color-coded to indicate whether the sakura flowers in that area are “in full bloom”, “just beginning to bloom”, “not yet”, “almost all past”, or “finished”.

There’s a key in the upper-left corner of the site that indicates what the colored trees mean:

If you can read Japanese, you can click here to see the 「お花見地図」 (“Cherry-Blossom Viewing Map“).

Have you ever gone on a 「花見」 (Cherry Blossom Viewing)? Did you enjoy it?
Will you go this year?

Yokoso Japan!

14 Jun

「ようこそジャパン」 (Yokoso Japan!) means “Welcome to Japan!“, and is the Japan National Tourism Organization‘s official slogan of their campaign to attract foreign visitors to Japan.

「Yokoso Japan!」 logo

「Yokoso Japan!」 logo

Here are some of their Yokoso Japan! campaign ads.

Most of the scenes in this first one are of Tokyo (there are a few shots of Osaka, etc…but most of it is Tokyo):

These show many parts of Japan:

Do they make you want to visit this beautiful country?