今月の文化 2022年 7月  土用の丑の日―パート1

The four seasons of the year each have a set day when the season changes. The last 18 days before this set date are called “doyō.” Long ago, the twelve signs of the Chinese zodiac were used to tell the dates. Thus, once every twelve days is a “day of the ox.” During the 18 day doyō period, there will be either one or two days of the ox.

Each year contains several doyō periods, with several days of the ox in them, but the most famous is the day of the ox which falls in the summer doyō. This period is so hot and there are many people who feel weak during this time, so it’s a custom to eat nutritious foods to support your body during these days. Because ushi (ox) starts with ‘u,’ it is thought to be good to eat foods that start with ‘u,’ such as umeboshi, udon, uri, etc. on these days.

今月の文化 2022年 6月  節電

This year, spring was a bit cold, and there were many cool days even in May. But as expected, the rainy season started in June and there were many hot and muggy days. Recently, Niigata Prefecture in the Tohoku area even reached 37 degrees Celsius! Other areas were also very hot, reaching 35-36 degrees Celsius.

In the US, Florida is well known for being hot, but after it rains there it becomes cool and the wind blows, and I remember it feeling very nice. In Japan, after it rains it does not get any cooloer, but it just gets even more humid and uncomfortable.

The Kanto area is also very hot, and recently the news has been saying that there is a problem of not having enough electricity. On March 33, the supply and demand reached a critical point and an energy emergency was declared. The government asked people in Kanto and Tohoku to reduce their energy usage, but the temperature has been so high that without using air conditioners people will suffer heatstroke. As a result, everyone is using air conditioners and the energy continues to be insufficient, creating a terribly difficult problem. What is going to become of this summer??

今月の文化 2022年 5月  新緑と神社

I took a photo of a beautiful shrine surrounded by gorgeous green moss and a forest. Every year there is a festival for the paper goddess during Golden Week.

Due to COVID19, they haven’t held this festival for two years, but they did a simplified version this year. They didn’t use the beautiful golden mikoshi and only used simple wooden mini box to carry the goddess this year.

Since 2020, people have had to cancel many traditional events and parties. I hope people are able to start holding fun events and traveling again this year.

今月の文化 2022年 4月 たけのこ堀り

In April, all sorts of spring foods begin to appear. You can find “spring menus” at restaurants and bars. One of the most famous of these spring foods is takenoko (bamboo shoots).

Takenoko are young bamboo shoots that spround in April. Bamboo is hard and tough, so if you boil takenoko it becomes soft and easy to eat. In mountains where lots of bamboo plants grow there are annual takenoko digging events, and you can see families going into the mountains to dig up shoots on the news.

I’ve never gone takenoko hunting, but I think fresh bamboo shoots peeking up from the ground look delicious. Apparently you can eat fresh takenoko right after taking it out of the ground, but most people boil them to remove the bitterness. Removing the bitter flavor makes them much easier to eat.

今月の文化 2022年 3月 花見の場所取り

It’s spring and the season of cherry blossoms! The blossoms have not fully bloomed yet in Japan, but since it’s getting warmer, I think the flowers will bloom soon.

As for cherry blossoms, I talked about ohanami previously. This time, I’d like to introduce a custom related to ohanami called basho tori (reserving seats). Technically, people can do hanami anytime, but if they want to have liquor and party with friends or co-workers, it’s common to do it at night.

To do hanami at night, some people go to the location early to claim their spot before hanami starts. If it’s a company-organized hanami party, usually a new employee is assigned to this “job.” If the location is very popular, he/she might have to go there the day before the hanami party to claim the location.

Every time I see news about basho tori, I think it is a terrible job to do. However, thanks to COVID, the number of company drinking parties (and other sorts of parties) has declined, so it’s not too hard to get a nice spot for hanami nowadays.

I’d rather enjoy a quiet and relaxing hanami gathering than spending lots of effort and time to take “the best location,” so I can not understand the culture of bashotori. I just hope that everyone can enjoy a beautiful night view of cherriy blossoms this year.

今月の文化 2022年 2月 猫の日

In Japanese, the (“ni ni ni”) of Feburary 22 (2/22) sounds like the “nyan nyan nyan” sound that a cat makes, so the name “Cat Day” has become popular.

This year’s Cat Day also took place in 2022, so there were a total of six “ni” sounds, making it a unique Cat Day. In Japan, several train stations gave local cats the honorary position of station master. Cat Day-themed goods were put on sale, and these cat station masters were given delicious gifts.

My friend who loves cats has visited one of these cat stations, and she says she wants to visit one again. It will be nice once we are able to free travel anywhere we like again.

今月の文化 2022年 1月 かまくら

This year, due to the la Niña effect, we were told that January would be extremely snowy. However, it wasn’t as snowy as last year. Instead, this year’s snow fell heavily on places that normally don’t get a lot of snow.

When it snows, adults are not so happy because of shoveling snow, knocking snow off of the roofs, and because driving becomes difficult. Kids, on the other hand, are usually happy about snow. When it snows, one of the things kids like to build is a kamakura. A kamakura is a big pile of snow with a hole dug in it to form a hole. Kids climb inside and play.

The inside of a kamakura is warmer than the outside, and I remember sitting in one for a long time and still not feeling cold. In Akita Prefecture, they build lots of kamakura and place blankets inside them, then place stoves inside and heat up mochi and amazake to enjoy. I’ve heard that in Yokote City, they set up altars inside of kamakura to honor the water gods.

Each kamakura glows with the lights put inside, and it creates a fantastic spectacle. I’d love to have the chance to see that one day.

今月の文化 2021年 12月 冬至

Tōji, the winter solstice, fell on December 22. Tōji is the shortest day of the year. One food strongly associated with tōji is kabocha (pumpkin). Another name for kabocha is nankin. There is a food made from boiled kabocha and azuki beans called tōji nankin. It is a sweet, nutritious, and delicious dish.

Another thing strongly associated with tōji is yuzuyu (citron bath). Yuzu are placed in the bathtub, and then we bathe in the fragrant yuzu water. There are several ways to do a yuzu bath, including using whole yuzu, yuzu sliced in half, or just yuzu peels. It is said that taking a yuzu bath on the winter solstice will keep you from catching a cold.

It will get colder and colder from now on, but by warming our bodies in a yuzu bath, and by eating delicious foods, we can enjoy the winter.

今月の文化 2021年 11月 ボジョレーヌーヴォー

There are a lot of events in November. One famous event for wine lovers is “Beaujolais Nouveau.” Beaujolais nouveau is released once a year on the third Thursday in November in Japan.I don’t drink wine, so I don’t know much about Beaujolais nouveau. However, I see flyers, reservation sheets, and wine-related decorations at liquor stores around that day.

It’s common to hold parties to drink Beaujolais nouveau together and critique the year’s Beaujolais.

Due to the pandemic, Beaujolais nouveau related events were mostly canceled, but some small events were held this year. In Toyama, an event called “Wine Train” was held from November 17th through 19th. People got in a streetcar-style train called the Man’yo Line (taking proper COVID precautions) and drank Beaujolais nouveau while enjoying the scenery.

We usually wear masks, so we have not been able to see others’ faces recently. It’s nice to be able to hold an event like this again, seeing each others’ faces and having meals with strangers.

今月の文化 2021年 10月 木枯らし

This October’s weather was weird. There were days on which temperatures reached over 30 degreed Celcius like during summer, but around October 17th, the temperature dropped significantly and topped at around 20 degrees. I felt that winter had come and skipped autumn. I was wearing t-shirts all the time in the beginning of October, so I had to rush into the closet and take out my winter clothes. I don’t think I will need autumn clothes for long this year.

When the weather begins to get cold, it’s the time when kogarashi comes. Kogarashi is a strong gust of wind from the north which comes after mid October and in November. There are specific conditions in which the wind is called kogarashi, so it doesn’t occur every year, but every time I feel a strong cold wind, I sense that winter is coming. The first kogarashi of the year is called kogarashi 1(ichi)-gou and the weather forecast reports about it. They say, “Today will be Kogarashi 1gou.” If you have an opportunity to listen to a weather forecast in Japan during autumn, maybe you can learn when kogarashi occurs that year.

Japanese Grammar Review