Tag Archives: japanese traditions

Shishimai Lion Dance at New Year’s | KAWAGOE

January is one of my favourite months in Japan.  It is one of the driest months of the year and probably the sunniest in Winter.  Between the weather and the festive atmosphere, as New Year’s is as big in Japan as Christmas is in Ireland,  Japan is a great place to be in the first weeks of the New Year.

Shishimai lion dance performer

There are so many New Year traditions, customs and practices in Japan. Some are celebrated on New Year’s day itself, but many can still be celebrated throughout the month of January. I previously wrote about my love of the Daruma doll custom, due to it being the first New Year tradition I ever practised in Japan, but my actual favourite custom is that of Shishimai.

Shishimai bites at the head for good luck

Shishimai is a lion dance. A person dresses up in a red mask usually made of lacquered wood, with white straggly hair and wearing a green gown. The mask often has a lower jaw that can be articulated. The green gown sometimes has 2 people under it, one who wears the mask and one who manipulates the movements of the tail end.  The dance is performed at various events throughout the year, but New Year’s is the most popular time for the dance.  It is thought to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck, especially if the lion bites your head.

New Year food at Fukutomi Kawagoe

Every year you can see Lion Dance performers at various Shinto temples, but we like to enjoy the experience at my favourite kaiseki restaurant in Kawagoe; Fukutomi.  The rooms in the kaiseki are private and the lion dance performer and his companion (whose role I am not sure of!) come into the room accompanied by a traditional Japanese flute player. When my older two were smaller they were terrified of the Shishimai, but they have become accustomed over the years. The Lion Dance performer bites at the heads of the adults, or children who are not too scared, to bring extra luck for the coming year. It is a very interesting and unique experience.

One temple you can enjoy a Shishimai performance in Saitama is Choshiguchi Katori Shrine in Kasukabe. It is held 3 times a year, the winter performance for 2017 is being held on January 15th. It is a free event. It is a particularly captivating performance and has been designated an Intangible Folk Cultural Property.

What New Year’s customs do you enjoy in your home country or the country you are currently living in?

Fuku Daruma / Daruma Market | KAWAGOE & TAKASAKI 【GUNMA】

I often get asked about Japanese New Year’s traditions. There are a  lot, but one close to my heart is the ancient tradition of purchasing Daruma dolls. It was the very first quintessentially Japanese New Year’s tradition I had the fortune to try.

My first New Year in Japan, 16 years ago, was spent in Takasaki, Gunma, which is an area famous for Daruma dolls. My friends and I had the rare opportunity to make our own Daruma. They are made from papier-mâché, are round, usually red with a face of a bearded man. The dolls are to some just a toy, but to most they are more of a talisman.  They are actually modeled after Bodhidarma the founder of the Zen sect of Buddhism.

“Daruma0791” by Frank Gualtieri – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daruma0791.jpg#/media/File:Daruma0791.jpg

When you buy the doll the eyes are not painted in. The idea is to paint in one eye, usually the left one, as you start a quest and paint the other one on completion of your resolution or task. As such, they have become a symbol of perseverance and good luck. The latter is attributed to the Daruma Temple which played a big part in increasing the popularity of Daruma as a good luck charm and as a New Year’s tradition. People who are firm believers in the Daruma tend to buy one every New Year and burn the old one as per tradition.

Both pupils in to mark completion of a task or resolution

Sometimes you see Daruma of different colour. In my own prefecture of Saitama, Fukaya is known for their green coloured Daruma. Supposedly green is more specifically as a good luck charm for health.  In Fukaya, green matches the colour of the city mascot!

One of the more traditional and popular New Year events in Japan is Daruma Markets. There is one in Saitama in Kawagoe’s Kitain Temple every year on the 3rd.  However, the best is the annual Takasaki Daruma-Ichi (Daruma fair) event held on January 6th (and 7th). Daruma Ichi is the largest and most famous daruma market in all of Japan.

The annual Daruma-Ichi (or Daruma Fair) is held on January 6 and 7 every year. During this event, there are the numerous booths around the Reifudo and Darumado, displaying all sizes of new Fuku-Daruma dolls(6cm~75cm) produced by local farm families. Hundreds of thousands of people converge on the temple to buy their Fuku-Daruma dolls for the new year and have them blessed.Source: Obaku Zen School | Syorinzan Darumaji

You can read more about Takasaki Daruma in English here:
https://www.visitgunma.jp/en/sightseeing/detail.php?sightseeing_id=70

You can read more about Daruma here:
http://www.daruma.jp/about.html

Featured Image: “Daruma dolls”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daruma_dolls.jpg#/media/File:Daruma_dolls.jpg

Kawagoe Kitain Temple Daruma Market

Kitain Temple Daruma Festival | KAWAGOE

Free Resources for Setsubun

(Written January 2015) February 3rd is Setsubun in Japan, which marks the end of winter. A common tradition associated with this ancient festival is mamemaki or beanthrowing. Most families carry out this fun tradition at home, but you can also visit a temple or shrine to do it with a crowd. In Tokyo, there are temples that have famous people, often sumo wrestlers, throwing the beans from a dias out to the excited crowd. Most preschools and children community centres also mark the day with some fun crafts and activities.

The purpose of the festival is to rid your house of demons and welcome good luck for the coming year. Hence, we chant oni wa soto, fuku ha uchi “demons out, good luck in” as we throw beans out the door or at the head of the household who dresses up as a demon. To this end kids often make oni masks for the ceremony and/or for playing dress up.  If you eat the same number of beans as your age it is believed you will have good health for the year. You can read more about the festival on the KA International Moms website http://kajapan.org/general/setsubun-chasing-the-oni-away/ or on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Setsubun

DSCF3734

Yesterday, in preparation for the festival next week, the kids and I talked about setsubun. 5 year old remembers it from the last 2 years and (just turned) 4 year old is learning about it in school. They make masks and holders for the roasted beans.  We will make them at home too. We practised some origami to hold the mamemaki roasted beans, there’s a link below to make your own. The beans are easy to come by in Japan at this time of year. Many shops sell commercialised mini-packs of roasted beans or nuts some with flavours. I bought ours from a home delivery shopping service, Coop. We will make demon masks next week. I wanted to share some of the setsubun and mamemaki teaching, craft and activity resources available online. Whether you are living and/or teaching in Japan, or a Japanese living abroad, or just looking for something to do with the kids on February 3rd, you will find something fun among these free setsubun art and craft resources. Most of these ideas are most suitable for toddlers and preschoolers.

Japanese Oni ; devils, demons, trolls or ogres

Japanese demons are depicted with 1 or 2 conical horns on their heads. They are often red in colour. They usually wear tiger skinned pants.

Oni Masks

 You can draw your own, or you can use the free print outs in the links below to make a mask for setsubun. There are a number of ways you can turn the free print outs or a hand drawn oni into masks. First colour (where necessary) the demon and cut it out. If you want to make a mask that covers the face you can stick a rectangular strip of paper to each ear and tape the open ends around an elastic band.  For a “mask” that is worn above the face, as per photo in mamemaki section, you can simply stick the cut out to a head band or even a cap or make your own band out of paper.

Oni Colouring pages

Free print-outs

Huge selection of coloured setsubun print outs: http://putiya.com/html/season/02gatu/season02.html

Oni Origami

An easy origami Oni (Demon) for toddlers and preschoolers
http://www.origami-club.com/season/2/fuku-oni/oni/index.html

Mamemaki holders

Mask that sits on the head and mamemaki holder made out of a milk carton cut in half

Mask that sits on the head and mamemaki holder made out of a milk carton cut in half

Milk carton setsubun mamemaki holders
One of the most popular and easiest kid’s craft for mamemaki holders is cutting a milk carton in half, piercing a hole in each side and using pipe cleaners as a handle. In the right hand (your left!) of my son in the photo to the left.

Paper cup setsubun mamemaki holders
One of the more original mamemaki holders I saw was on Hiragana Mama’s blog; a decorated paper cup.

Origami mamemaki holders
This year we are using origami boxes. This origami box paper craft is one of my favourite practical uses of origami.  You don’t need origami paper as this easy to make box uses rectangle shaped paper such as an A4 sheet of paper.

 

These are just some ideas and resources you can use to enjoy the Japanese February 3rd end of year festival by chasing away demons.  You can read about our setsubun last year, 2014,  here.

Pampers in Japan

Pampers box given free at my maternity hospital

Among all the free stuff I got while staying at the hospital was a pampers box. The pampers box came with four nappies(diapers), a pack of wipes for delicate skin,  a sample of baby washing detergent, information and coupons for nappies and baby goods at toys-r-us and akachan honpo.

Pampers is the most popular brand used by hospitals for newborn babies in Japan.  They are also very popular among consumers even though there are cheaper alternatives available.  You can buy pampers nappies in most baby and hardware stores.  However, in my experience Nishimatsuya does not carry the brand.  You can also buy Pampers nappies in Costco and other foreign retail stores.  For the record, I actually have found Cainz to be the cheapest for Pampers nappies.

Like most of the nappies in Japan, Pampers come with a strip to indicate when the baby has urinated.  If the strip turns from yellow to blue you know your baby needs a diaper change!  I have tried other brands in Japan, but I have found Pampers to be the most absorbant and most comfortable at all ages.

When joining a baby shop’s point system you often get samples of nappies to try out.  At my maternity hospital other than the sample we got during our stay I had also received samples at antenatal classes.  These are really handy for the nappy bag for a trip out. Although, if your baby is anything like mine, they pee and poop all the time and you’ll need a nappy an hour!