今月の文化 2020年 1月 鏡餅

Hello everyone. This year was the first New Year’s holiday since the era name changed from Heisei to Reiwa. The new year is Reiwa 2.
How was your New Year’s holiday? I caught a cold again this year, so the middle of the month was pretty rough.

Anyway, this month I’d like to introduce a common New Year’s decoration called kagami mochi. KAgami mochi is a stack of two white mochi cakes on top of each other. The bigger mochi goes on the bottom, and the smaller mochi goes on top of it. This decoration is said to invite in the new year’s god (toshigami). They are usually put up around December 28th in anticipation of the new year.

Kagami mochi is usually displayed on the kamidana or in the front hall of a house. Decorations placed on the 31st are called “ichiyakazari” (“one night decorations”), but just one night seems too short to welcome the toshigami, so it’s said to be best to put them up before December 30th.

On January 11th, an event called kagamibiraki occurs. This is the event of eating the kagami mochi. Eating the kagami mochi which the toshigami inhabited is said to bring good luck in the new year.

Kagami mochi is not just two pieces of mochi; a daidai (bitter orange) is usually also placed on top of the mochi. Daidai are said to grow on their trees for 4 to 5 years without falling off. For that reason they are placed on kagami mochi as a symbol of longevity and prosperity.

今月の文化 2019年12月


Christmas is over, and the next big event is New Year’s Day! In December, Japanese supermarkets start to sell Christmas and New Year’s decorations. On the 26th they take down all the Christmas decorations.

One of the things you have to do before the new year is clean your house. The big day is called “oosouji.” This means “big cleaning day.” People do this big cleaning at their workplaces and schools. My workplace did this cleaning on the 25th.

The custom of performing a big cleaning has been around since a long time ago. It used to be part of the preparations to welcome the god Toshigami-sama in new year. In the Edo Period, people performed this cleaning on December 13th. All the houses had a fireplace and used wood as fuel, so their ceilings were covered in charcoal soot. Charcoal is called “susu” in Japanese, so this cleaning was called “susuotoshi (dropping the charcoal to the floor)” or “susuharai (sweeping charcoal)”

Is it common to perform a big cleaning in your country too? I think the AC and kitchen fans are the hardest places to clean thoroughly. It’s also really hard to do everything in one day, so we should clean bit by bit everyday. 😊

今月の文化 2019年11月


2019 will end soon! It’s already December. I feel like this year was short. Do you feel like it was fast too? We need to think about what do we need to do before 2020 arrives. We only have one month left.

This month, I had a chance to participate in making senbazuru, so I will talk about senbazuru this month. Sen means a thousand and tsuru (zuru) means crane, so senbaduru means a thousand cranes. We make a thousand crane using origami and tie them up.

People make senbaduru when people close to them get sick and suffer for a long time. The crane is a symbol of long life, so people make cranes in hopes that the person gets better soon and lives for a long time. “A thousand” is a metaphor for “a lot,” so it doesn’t necessarily mean precisely one thousand.

You can find origami for senbazuru at stores like 100 yen shops, so it seems like making senbazuru is still a common custom today.

One important thing to consider is the feelings of the recipients. Many people make senbazuru to send to areas which were damaged in natural disasters. Senbazuru are pretty big things, and they require lots of space to store them. Even throwing them out can cost money. We all have the feeling that we want to do something, or that we want to encourage others, but I think we should stop to think about what kind of support is most needed.

今月の文化 2019年10月

October will end soon! This year, we had an extra day off in October, so I felt that this October was a bit shorter than other months. This month, I will talk about a well known event called Halloween. Like Christmas, Halloween didn’t used to be a common event in Japan in the past.

Halloween was introduced to Japan by a company called Kiddy Land, which is famous for the character of Kitty-chan (aka Hello Kitty). Kiddy Land started selling Halloween related goods in the 1970’s.

hen the first Halloween parade took place in 1983, not many people knew about Halloween. The reason that Halloween became such a famous event in Japan is Tokyo Disney Land and Universal Studios Japan. Tokyo Disney Land started putting on Halloween events in 1997, and Universal Studios Japan started in 2002. Since people started using cell phones and SNS around that time, this fun and cool foreign event started to become very popular in Japan.

Nowadays, there are all kinds of Halloween events all over Japan. Mostly these are in the form of parades or flea markets which sells horror-related goods. I have been to such an event, and I think that goth accessories and cosplay costumes were the most popular items sold.

The actual Halloween day is often a weekday, so Halloween events are held during the same weekend or the weekend before Halloween. During these events, many people stroll through town wearing impressive costumes, so the ordinary towns look different on that day. Unlike in America, children don’t wear costumes or say “trick or treat” at their neighbor’s houses. It’s more of an adults’ event. Adults wear costumes and throw themed parties. Like Christmas, cultures and events change their forms when they are imported to other countries. It’s interesting, but at the same time it can be a bit disappointing too.

今月の文化 2019年9月

Hello everyone!
It’s September, but it has been quite hot. It’s finally grown cooler recently, so it’s getting nice outside.

In autumn, you can see a lot of fruits at stores, such as pears, grapes, and figs. I like fall foods, so I will talk about Japanese pears this month.

Pears are eaten in many countries, but the shapes and flavors vary in different countries and areas. Pears from Japan are called “wanashi.” Unlike Western pears, wanashi are round. There are a few types of wanashi. The two biggest categories are akanashi (red pear) and aonashi (blue pear.) Akanashi are more popular that aonashi in Japan. The major akanashi brands are “Kousui” and “Housui.” Akanashi are brown and round. Aonashi are bit more pale than akanashi and are colored yellowish green. The major aonashi brand is “Twenty First Century Nashi.”

私はアメリカで「赤梨」の方を見た事があります。味も日本で食べた「赤梨」とよく似ていました。「Asian pear」として売られていました。
I’ve seen akanashi in the US, where they are called “Asian pears.” The flavor is similar to Japanese akanashi. Akanashi are sweet and their texture is juicy and tender. In contrast, aonashi have a lighter flavor with a hint of sourness. They have a refreshing flavor.


I prefer aonashi over akanashi, but I haven’t seen many kinds of aonashi recently. I wonder if aonashi have declined in popularity? At grocery stores, I see a lot of Kousui and Housui. I see Western pears too, but those are a bit expensive.

What kind of pears do you like?

今月の文化 2019年8月


Hello everyone!
August is famous for Obon and summer vacation, but I already talked about both of them. This month I will introduce something related to Obon.

前回ご紹介したように、お盆というのはあの世(other world)に行った霊がこの世(this world)に帰ってくる時期の事です。お盆の時期と言うのは、人々にとってあの世が少し近くなる時期だという事です。それに加えて、8月と言うのは残暑が強くてまだまだ暑いですから、人々は怖い話をして気分だけでも涼しくなろうと考えました。そのような理由から、8月には「怪談話」をする事が夏の風物詩(ふうぶつし)になっていきました。


As I talked about in the Obon post, Obon is the period which ghosts come back to this world from the other world, called “anoyo.” Therefore, the Obon season makes people feel that anoyo is closer to them for a short period. In addition, since August is still pretty hot, people believe that telling ghost stories will give them a chill. Ghost stories are called kaidan. For these reasons, holding kaidan telling parties, called kaidan-kai, became a common summer custom in Japan. Kaidan means talking about something which doesn’t exist in this world, such as ghosts, yokai, and the like. If you look up “yurei” or “yokai,” you can find a lot of results including “the 3 greatest kaidan” or “the most famous ghost stories of Japan.”


When I was a student, I went to many local haunted spots with my friends and participated in kaidan-kai. I was curious about the stories, but at the same time, I was scared and felt a chill. Do people have any customs similar to kaidan-kai in your countries too?

今月の文化 2019年7月

Hello! Right now it is the rainy season, called tsuyu, however this year has not been too bad. I wish every year were more like this, but that’s just wishful thinking.

July is the most popular month for students because of summer vacation! Summer vacation starts in elementary school. The amount of vacation time varies from school to school. Most schools start summer vacation in the 3rd or 4th week of July and end in late August. The new semester starts at the beginning of September.

In the US, summer vacation usually starts in June, so I felt it was very long. What did you do during summer vacation when you were a kid?

In Japan, children gather at parks, shrines, or temples at around 6 am and do radio calisthenics. The kids can get stamps or stickers on their activity cards when they do this. If they get many stamps/stickers, they can get a prize from their schools. My elementary school had a pool, so I used to go there everyday for free pool activities. There also were public pools and a public warm water pool in my town, so I went there with my friends.

There are lots of activities to do if you are in the countryside. I gathered many shiny stones/branches/flowers from around my house. I went to look for beetles, and practiced jump rope, played on the swings, and explored by bike the parts of my town which I hadn’t yet discovered.

I had a game system called “Family Computer” (known as NES in English). So my friends gathered at my house and played Super Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong with me. We didn’t have AC at that time, so we used a fan. A bunch of sweaty kids looking at a TV monitor all together in one room sounds gross, but it’s one of my nostalgic memories.

Now that I recall, I think that elementary school summer vacation was the longest and the best. I wonder what other countries’ kids do during their summer vacations…

今月の文化 2019年6月




Hello everyone

This year’s June wasn’t too bad. It was cool and comfortable. A lot of prefectures have officially said they have entered the tsuyu season, so most of Japan is experiencing tsuyu now.

The humidity and temperature will go up in July, and that will make us hesitate to go outside.

This month, I will introduce you to a Shinto event: Chinowa kuguri. A chinowa is a big circle made of a kind of reed called chigaya or kaya. Chinowa kuguri means making a chinowa and walking through it to wish for good luck. Some place do this twice a year, and some do it only in the summer.

The event originates in Japanese mythology. Once upon the time, the god Susanoo-no-mikoto asked Somin-shourai to let him stay at his house for one night. Somin generously let Susanoo use his house. In return, Susanoo told him, “To avoid bad luck, you should tie a small chinowa on your hip.” Somin-shorai did this, and was able to avoid many bad things. People copied the custom and started tying chinowa on their hips, hoping to have a peaceful life. During the Edo Period, the custom changed from wearing a small chinowa to passing though a big chinowa.

Chinowa-kuguri is performed in order to purify yourself from the first half of the year and to wish for a peaceful second half of the year. Chinowa-kuguri is a part of an ceremony called Nagoshi-no-harae, held every June 30th.

The way you pass through the chinowa depends on the specific shrine. One basic way goes like this: first, you bow in front of the ring and step though starting with your left foot, then pass through and walk back taking the left path. Then you do the same thing with your right foot and take the right path back. If you were to see the ritual from above, it would look like people were making a figure 8 by walking through the chinowa. Some shrines require you to do it 3 times (left-> right -> left) and other shrines require to do it only one time (just left.)

When going through the chinowa, people often say specific sentences in their head, but what you say also depends on the shrine. Usually, shrines have a written description by the chinowa, so you can follow the instructions.

今月の文化 2019年5月

A new era started on May 1st. This year is called Reiwa Gannen (Gannen means first year.) The next year will be Reiwa 2nen. This year started as Heisei and it lasted until April 30th, so it’s a bit confusing.

For the past 31 years, December 23rd was a national holiday because it was the emperor’s birthday. What do you think will happen to this holiday this year since we have a new emperor? Do you think the national holiday of the emperor’s birthday will go away? Will the new emperor’s birthday, February 23rd, become a new holiday? If that’s so, since the new era started on May 1st, we won’t get an emperor’s birthday holiday this year.

The emperor’s birthday has changed every time the emperor has changed. However, the Meiji emperor’s birthday and Showa emperor’s birthday are still holidays today.

The Meiji emperor’s birthday was November 3rd. After he passed away, November 3rd became a non-holiday. People liked the Meiji emperor a lot, so they wanted to continue to celebrate his birthday. 15 years after he passed away, in Showa 2 (1927), his birthday came back as a holiday, and it was called Meiji-setsu. In Showa 22 (1947), the name was changed to Bunka no hi (Culture Day).

The Showa emperor’s birthday was April 29th. After he passed away, people discussed making his birthday a non-holiday. However, April 29th falls in the middle of Golden Week and it would cause a lot of negative feelings to cut the series of holidays. They changed the holiday name to Midori no hi (Greenery Day) because the Showa emperor liked nature, and kept it as a holiday.

Greenery Day was changed again in Heisei 19 (2007) in order to “remember the terrible years of Showa and to create a better future.” The name was changed to Showa Day. May 3rd is Constitution Memorial Day and May 5th is Children’s Day, so May 4th automatically became a national holiday. Greenery Day was moved to May 4th, so the major part of Golden Week, May 3rd to 5th all became holidays.

The Heisei emperor’s birthday will become a non-holiday this year, but someday the law might change the holidays might change their dates. Calendar makers have to keep their eye on the changing holidays!

今月の文化 2019年4月

April 30th will be the last day of the Heisei Era. We will have a new emperor on May 1st, and the new era is going to be called Reiwa. Heisei will end after 31 years. It is the first time in a long time that the emperor has resigned before passing away, passing the emperorship to a new person.

This year’s Golden Week will be famous for the longest holiday season, thanks to the enthronement ceremony. A lot of hotels in Japan are booked full already by tourists.

Usually, Golden Week contains only 4 holidays: Showa Day, Constitution Day, Greenery Day, and Children’s Day. If a holiday falls on Sunday, the next day (Monday) becomes a substitute holiday. Also, if Saturday and Sunday are in between these holidays, it becomes a week long holiday.

This year, May 1st has become a temporary holiday for the enthronement. I wrote about this in September 2018’s blog post, but if there is only one day between holidays, that day becomes an extra national holiday. This Golden Week’s holidays will fall on 27th (Sat), 28th (Sun), 29th (Showa Day), 30th (National Holiday), May 1st (Enthronement Day), 2nd (National Holiday), 3rd (Constitution Day), 4th (Greenery Day), 5th (Children’s Day), 6th (Substitute Holiday). That’s the reason we have a 10-day long holiday this year!

In Japan, the new semester starts in April, so Golden Week is a good time for students to relax. However, for those families who have young children or elderly parents to take care of, the long holiday can be worrisome because preschools and day care centers may be closed on these days.
It’s good that we get more days off, but the most important thing is to create a good society in which everybody can enjoy his/her holidays.

Japanese Grammar Review