Mid -July is a time to give a midsummer gift or Ochugen to bosses and teachers.
This custom is practiced to express gratitude for their daily support.
When receiving the packages from a delivery company, a lot of Japanese people put a seal on a delivery slip.
Usually round in shape, personal seals or hanko with the engraving of the family name are dipped in red ink
and pressed on documents for daily use instead of a signature.
Hanko can also be required together with signature for many official documents regarding important personal matters
such as registrations of marriage and divorce.
Besides hanko for day-to-day use,
people have hanko for opening a bank account.and jitsuin for such dealings as purchasing or selling real estate or automobiles.
Jitsuin is an officially registered seal carrying the highest legal weight.
It is usually made to order using material that does not degrade easily,
and kept track of to avoid great potential for abuse. On the other hand,
everyday-use hanko is widely available. It includes cheap seals offered at \100 shops.
In Japan governments and influential groups like temples have relied on seals since ancient times,
but it wasn’t until a law passed in late 19th century establishing a national system for registration that personal seals became broadly used throughout the country.
Nowadays signatures are becoming more commonly accepted,
but many types of official forms still require affixed seal.
Affixing your seal to a document has great significance,
as it means you have confirmed and approved the contents.
Such culture can be seen in Japanese business world. Making a decision is an example..
In the process of decision making,
a written proposal is circulated around the company for obtaining approval .which is indicated by person’s affixing his seal.
This process may seem time-consuming by Western standards.
Even so Japanese society seems to stick to “hanko culture” for the time being.
The month of June in Japan starts with the tradition of changing into summer clothes.
Even footwear like slippers are switched to cooler ones at this time of a year.
People usually put on room slippers after taking off their shoes.at genkan, an entrance area lower than the main floors of the house.
It separates living space from the outside.
Every house in Japan, whether in Japanese style or in western style, has genkan.
Removing the shoes at genkan is related to Japanese climate of high temperature and high humidity in summer.
In the ancient times the raised flooring was used for storing rice harvested to avoid high humidity.
The storehouse was considered so important that people took footgear off to keep the place clean.
Later the raised flooring was set up for the living place.
To avoid to getting the floor messy and dirty, they removed the Japanese –style sandals indoors.
They sat on the floor in the daytime and slept there placing simple futon at night.
The practice of removing footgear indoors was kept after tatami matted floors were widely used in 17th century.
Japanese “slippers” are flat in-house footwear and daily use items all over Japan.
Slippers firstly appeared in Japan in the beginning of Meiji era (1868-1912) when the country opened itself to the world and more people visited from outside.
They walked straight into the house without taking their shoes off.
Japanese people worried that the tatami mats would get dirty and damaged.
The slipper was devised to settle the problems and to welcome people with different culture background.
Below are etiquette for shoes and room slippers in Japan :
1 In the parts of the house that aren’t covered by tatami, people wear slippers, but No SLIPPERS worn on tamami-mats.
Houses built in Japan today often have very few tatami-floored rooms, though. .
2 A pair of slippers is used specifically for the toilet only. Make sure you slip them off after leaving there.
3 After taking off your shoes at genkan, TURN your shoes so that they face the outside of the house.
It might sound too strict, but “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”
The month of May in Japan starts with the week containing three public holidays
: Constitution Memorial Day celebrated on 3rd, Greenery Day on 4th and Children’s Day on 5th.
Originally, May 5th was a festive day for only boys but it is now for both boys and girls..
People celebrate Children’s Day by displaying special dolls, putting up carp-shaped streamers and taking a sweet flag bath.
It is also a traditional custom to eat Chimaki (Japanese rice cake wrapped in bamboo leaves)
and Kashiwa-mochi (rice cake stuffed with sweetened red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves).
to pray for a child’s growth and happiness.
While the former is mainly served in the west of Japan, the latter is mostly enjoyed in the eastern Japan.
The oak leaves are not edible, but they give a nice fragrance to the mochi wrapped in them.
Since oak trees called Kashiwa in Japanese don’t shed old leaves until new leaves grow,
they symbolize prosperity of one’s descendants.
Generally used for Kashiwa-mochi, are two kinds of red bean paste,
i.e. mashed sweet bean paste and smooth sweet bean paste.
Red bean paste known as Anko in Japan is made from red beans mixed with a lot of sugar to create very sweet paste.
It has been the staple of Japanese sweets for a long time and is still enjoyed on happy occasions like Children’s Day,
as red was traditionally believed as a color that chases away evil,
which gave red beans the same power, and considered festive.
Below are Japanese annual events and Anko sweets:
*March 3rd : Hina-Matsuri (a festival for girls) :
Sakura-Mochi (sweet pink-colored glutinous rice filled with Anko and wrapped in a salt-pickled cherry leaf)
*May 5th : Children’s Day
*Around the week surrounding Vernal Equinox Day in March and Autumnal Equinox Day in September:
Ohagi ( a sticky rice ball covered with sweet red bean paste).
*Toji or “winter solstice” in December
Eating boiled pumpkin with Anko and taking yuzu-yu (a yuzu citron bath) on the day is believed to prevent catching cold.
Besides theses, there are many varieties of Japanese sweets with Anko filling.
Many Japanese, young and old, love them. Foreigners, especially Westerners might find them
too sweet. It’s not a matter of preference. It depends on what you are used to or not. Anyway, it deserves to have a bite!
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April is a month of a fresh start in Japan.
A lot of new employees in a newly-made business suit
and students in a brand new school uniform are seen passing through big stations like Shinjuku and Shibuya in Tokyo,
commuting to work or go to school..
On the northwest side of Shibuya Station,
there is the world’s busiest pedestrian crossing.
called “ The Scramble crossing” A popular spot for tourists.
An estimated number of 3,000 people cross it each time the signal changes.
The traffic lights all turn red, stopping traffic, and at the same time pedestrians from all sides flow into the massive intersection,
forming the stream of bodies, passing without colliding.
They seem to know how to remain well-behaved in the crowded place,
but many don’t realize they have a strategy for not running into others.
For some reasons, the Scramble started and works well.
It might be related to Japanese culture. People get used to tighter space.
They are daily crammed like sardines into train cars on their way to workplace or school.
Crowded or not, the pedestrians are considerate toward others and respect harmonious interactions.
In addition, the development history of Shibuya might be one of the main reasons.
The city became a big place in Tokyo with the developments of the north-west Shibuya done by the Tokyu Group in 1960s
and the Seibu Group in 1970s respectively.
The north-west Shibuya are covered with a large number of stores and restaurants,
and the Hachiko statue, a very well-known meeting place in front of the station,
which caused the disproportion between pedestrian volume and available infrastructure in those days.
Thus the Scramble started in the mid-1970s to cope with over 3 million pedistrians per day.
What makes foreign tourists overwhelmed is the organized chaos seen at the Scramble crossing.
It’s really something that they can’t experience in their country.
This moment can be watched from Tokyu Department store train level. Free and enjoyable attraction!