Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Customs (Page 1 of 2)

Valentine’s Day in Japan

St. Valentine’s Day is celebrated a little differently in Japan than in the United States. The biggest difference is women give chocolates to men. The chocolates are given with two different meanings depending on the relationship between the man and woman.

“Honmei Choco” is used to describe the chocolate given to men when a woman wants to declare her love to her boyfriend or husband. Japanese women often make a Honmei Choco or chocolate treat for their loved one because nothing shows devoted love like making something special.

“Giri Choco” is used to describe chocolate given to men to convey gratitude and friendship to her boss, male friends, or coworkers. Typically, women buy chocolates from the store to give as Giri Choco presents.

A group of ladies at Dave’s work organized a potluck lunch to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It was a delicious spread of pancit, carne asada, chicken adobo, and fresh salad. I made a tray of Reese’s Peanut Butter Brownies (my Honmei Choco for Dave) for the event.

I forgot to take a picture of the delicious food and my tray of brownies, but I got a picture with my valentine.

I know what you’re thinking… “what about the women?” On March 14th, Japan celebrates “White Day.” This is an opportunity for men to return gifts to the women who gifted them chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Typically, those gifts are white in color because of the name of the day. (Flowers, candy and chocolate. Better yet, diamonds and pearls!)

Even though we live in Japan, we haven’t completely lost our tendency towards American traditions. Dave brought me flowers yesterday as he has every year since the beginning of us.

Please enjoy a Valentine’s Day filled with love and happiness. Sending you hugs and smiles across the many miles! XOXO

Hyakunin Isshu

Last week, my English student brought me a bag of rice crackers with the Hyakunin Isshu pictures and poems printed on the labels. She attempted to explain the meaning of the card game to me. However, it had been so long since she played she wasn’t sure how to explain it correctly. In the meantime, she encouraged me to enjoy the crackers with my husband while sipping a beer. I followed her directions, poured us a pint and invited Dina and Brent to join us. The crackers were actually pretty good. Only one of them had a strong fish flavor. The rest were very good.

Today, she brought me a print out with an explanation of the game. According to the information, Hyakunin Isshu is a traditional Japanese playing card game. It is typically played on the Japanese New Year’s holiday. There are 100 cards with 100 different latter parts of poems written on each card. The collection of poems was chosen by a poet named Fujiwara of Teika during the Heian period.

If you look closely, you can see the poem written on the package next to the picture.

To play the game, the cards are arranged neatly on the floor face up. The “referee” reads allow the start of a poem and the players scramble to grab the correct corresponding card with the latter half of the poem. The player who is able to accumulate the most number of cards is the winner. The referee declares the winner after correctly assessing the cards selected by each player.

Maybe once I am fluent in Japanese, I will challenge my Japanese friends to a game. In the meantime, I will enjoy delicious rice crackers with my beer! Kanpie! 

One More Sakura Adventure 

Tuesday it rained and rained. It was pretty ridiculous. If this isn’t the “rainy season” I’m not sure I’m gonna make it without owning a canoe! Haha

The clouds finally parted and Wednesday started off beautifully. Dina and I had plans to hike to Mt. Miurafuji and to visit the cemetery pagoda in hopes of catching a few remaining Sakura.

We set out on the hike I did last month to Mt. MiuraFuji and made the steep climb. Unfortunately, today was not a clear enough day to see Mt. Fuji. The blue skies want to promise you otherwise. None the less, the views along the hike were stunning. If we were going to see Mt. Fuji, it would be in the first picture.

At the top, we made the decision to head towards the Nobi train station. There was a trail and a sign pointing the way and I thought this might connect us to the pagoda faster. Simultaneously, we knew we wouldn’t see Mt. Fuji anywhere else on the hike. So, the pagoda became our next goal.

Off we set, back down the mountain.

Soon we came to a fork in the path and a sign. Google Maps helped to point us in the correct direction. We veered right at the fork.

Down we went.

It doesn’t look very steep from the top. How about from the bottom!

We continued hiking down and found a beautiful little over look. The dark spots in the photo are Sakura petals falling. It was so serene.

We were eventually dumped out into urbanization. We followed Google Maps to the cemetery. On our journey, we passed through a quaint little park and beautiful cemetery. Both with Sakura trees in bloom.

My beautiful friend! How is she not a sweaty mess?

Me… Sweat-a-Saurus Rex! Honestly, who cares about me! Look at those Sakura Blossoms!

Ok, enough with the suspense already, we made it to the cemetery. First stop, Buddha.

This view!

A few more steps and the pagoda was in sight!

The Sakura trees in bloom with the pagoda were well worth the hike. Dina and I picked up onigiri for lunch and had our own Hanami under the Sakura trees. It was perfect. Except we forgot the Sake!!

I think the first picture is my favorite. Or maybe the second…

By the time we stopped for Hanami, I was pretty hungry. I snapped these pictures after we both finished our onigiri. Oops! It was a beautiful setting!

As we returned home on the train, clouds started to roll in and so did a few sprinkles. By the time I was walking up the hill towards home, it was full on raining. I had no umbrella, just more beautiful Sakura and a chu-hi!


Sakura Chasing

On Monday, there was a break in the rain. I set out on a mission to spend the day enjoying Sakura. I set out with four locations in mind to view with a Sakura setting. The first was the Great Buddha, Daibutsu. The first picture was the one I made the trip to capture. The others were taken in the surrounding gardens and a delightful surprise. 

My second stop was at the Ōfuna Kannon Temple or also known as the White Lady of Ofuna. Visiting this temple always calms me and helps me find peace. Seeing the White Lady today with the Sakura was enchanting and serene. 

My next point of interest was at the Gumyoji Station. I have never been there before and was recommended to visit during Sakura Season by a neighbor. Google Maps help me find my way from Ōfuna Station to Gumyoji Station like a champ. 

After a short walk from the Gumyoji Station, I was along the canal where the Sakura were in full bloom. It was breath taking. 

I must take a minute and explain the Japanese custom of Hanami. Hanami is tradition of enjoying a picnic under the Sakura. As I walked along the Gumyoji canal, there were many groups enjoying an afternoon Hanami. I couldn’t help but smile and truly appreciate the way the Japanese take time to enjoy fellowship and the beautiful Sakura blossoms. Without looking creepy, I attempted to capture a few groups practicing Hanami. 

The canal stretched on for a pretty good distance. I walked from one train station to another taking as many pictures as possible! 

My final stop of my Sakura chasing experience for the day was at the Shomyoji Temple. The temple was about a 15 minute walk from the Kanazawa-Bunco train station. The temple was easy to find because the street was lined with Sakura and lanterns. 

Around the temple there were several groups enjoying the Hanami experience. 

A highlight in the temple garden was the bridge crossing over the small pod. 

A few more Sakura shots from around the gardens. 

I feel like I made the most of the non-rainy day getting out and about to see the beautiful Sakura. When you plan your visit, I hope you consider Sakura Season. I will warn you though, like most things in nature, it can be difficult to predict. 

Hina Matsuri

The February meeting of Ikebana was a field trip to the Meguro Gajoen in Tokyo to view the Hina Matsuri. Hina Matsuri are Japanese dolls dressed in traditional court attire. The dolls are typically displayed in households the month prior to Girls’ Day which is March 3rd.

The Meguro Gajoen had a special display of Hina Matsuri throughout seven rooms which were connected by the venue’s beautiful Hyakudan Kaidan (Hundred-Step Staircase). Yes, there were literally 100 steps. There was a number on each one as you climbed. Fortunately, the seven display rooms were staggered throughout the climb allowing you time to rest as you viewed the dolls.

The dolls dated back to the late 1800s and came from the Kyushu region of Japan.

One of the Japanese members of Ikebana explained to us the tradition of Hina Matsuri. When a girl is born into a family, she is usually given a Hina Matsuri display from her grandparents. It is either purchased new or often passed down through generations. It is said to bring her good luck, health, and a happy marriage. The display is set up about a month before Girls’ Day in the family home. Often, when the girl is young, she is photographed with the display. The display is promptly taken down and packed away after Girls’ Day to prevent back luck, illness or a girl from not finding a husband. She told us because she had only boys, her parents would put out the display and take a picture of their female dog among the Hina Matsuri as a joke. 

The unfortunate part was photography was not permitted of the displays. I was able to take a few pictures of the Meguro Gajoen, which was beautiful and pictures of the display case in the reception area with a modern Hina Matsuri collection.

On the top level are the bride and groom dressed in traditional kimonos (12 layers). The servants, attendants and cooks are in the lower levels. 

The Ume Blossoms in the display were real!! 

There were also beautiful Ume arrangements throughout the venue. 

Here is a picture of some of the Ikebana members.


Pictured below are mobiles with cloth animals and woven balls known as sagemon.

One of the restaurants overlooked a garden with a waterfall! 

I also need to tell you about the bathroom. There was a bridge and a wishing pond! Seriously. 

It was yet another wonderful opportunity to learn about Japanese culture and see a beautiful venue. 

Shinjuku Seven Lucky Gods

The “Shichifukujin” or Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimages are quickly becoming one of my favorite adventures. The pilgrimage reminds me of a modern day urban scavenger hunt. You must find the Seven Temples/Shrines, stamp your temple book and retrieve your cute figurine. All of this while using Google Maps, a map found on the Internet and if you’re lucky, a little bit of broken English from a monk. Or as in case today, a monk who spoke no English but was great with giving directions in Japanese while pointing at a map. I’ll come back to that story in a little bit.

This is my third Seven Lucky Gods adventure. First in Meguro and then in Zushi. Each time, I receive information about the God’s meaning. I will share what information I was given today, which may vary a little bit from what I have told you previously.

Dina and I set out this morning to Shinjuku. Shinjuku is located on the northwest side of Tokyo. It was a little over an hour away. Here was our route.

Yesterday, I marked all of the temple/shrine locations with a star so it would be easier to navigate between them. We started at the bottom and walked toward the center cluster. Then walked to the temple on the far left. Then we took the train to the two temples on the far right.

At our first temple, Taiso-ji, we collected Hotei and purchased the boat the Gods would rest upon. Hotei: God of family, peace and protection from illness and disaster.

From here we walked towards the Hozen-ji Temple. However, we were sidetracked along the way by an amazing bakery.

I enjoyed a delicious chocolate croissant. I felt super lucky it was chocolate and not red bean paste!

Around the corner was the temple.

Here we collected Jurojin. Jurojin: God of long life and protection from illness.

Our third stop was at the Itsukushima-Jinja Shrine. It was literally in the corner of an intersection. There was a Koi Pond, Tori Gate and Shrine. Yet, no person was present.

We decided to continue our journey to the fourth temple, Eifuku-ji Temple. We thought perhaps we could ask at the fourth temple where to go for the third stop.

As I learned in my previous pilgrimage, one must be bold and knock on a door or ring a bell or even just walk inside the temple. Feeling brave, Dina and I went into the temple. There was a small doorbell next to a cushion. In English, it said “bell.” So, we pushed it. Simultaneously, there was a motion detector that kept going off when we moved. Behind the closed doors, we could hear someone moving around. In fact, it sounded like he was doing gymnastics. So, we waited. And rang the bell again. And waited. And rang the bell again. Finally, a monk came out not because he was responding to our ringing. He was doing his monkly business and we startled him so badly we thought we might have helped him finish his path to enlightenment. He almost fell over. We tried not to laugh. He recovered immediately and promptly came over, greeted us, set out cushions for us to sit upon and then went to stamp our books. It was incredibly hard not to giggle. When he returned, before we could even ask how to get to temple number three, he took out a map and started explaining how to get there, in Japanese. Very fast Japanese.

To summarize, we were at the purple dot and needed to got to the small blue dot. We had been at the large blue dot in the middle of the intersection. Again, all in Japanese with finger pointing and charades.

Before leaving, we collected Fukurokuju. Fukurokuji: God of health, happiness, and long life.

The other strange part of the conversation was that the monk was so happy to give us directions he almost forgot to give us Fukurokuji. We finally asked and held up our fingers showing little God. More charades…  Ahhhh, hai!

Perhaps, the funniest part, we actually made it to the Itsukushima Temple. Here we collected Benzai-ten. Banzai-ten: Goddess of music, arts, and speech.

Plus, a few early cherry blossom pictures!

Our fifth stop was at the Inari Kio-jinja Shrine. This shrine was so tucked away!!

We collected Ebisu-jin. Ebisu-jin: God of prosperous business.

My favorite picture at this shrine was of the banana at the alter. It seems to be glowing!

To get to the final two temples, we took the train to save a little time and warm up!

Our sixth temple was at the Kyo-o-ji Temple. Here we collected Daikoku-ten. Daikoku-ten: God of grain harvest and wealth.

At this temple, there were many cute statues.

Inside the shrine, we were greeted by a monk who encouraged us to open the window and shake the mallet three times for our wish to come true. So, of course, we shook and wished!!

Our final temple was Zentoku-ji Temple. This temple is dedicated to Bishamon-ten. Bisamon-ten: God of protection from disaster and evil.

The completed Seven Lucky Gods of Shinjuku.
We never received an explanation of the boat during our adventure and so, I looked it up when we returned home. One explanation is the Seven Lucky Gods travel together on a treasure ship (Takarabune) and visit Japanese ports on New Year’s Eve to dispense happiness. Also, the symbol on the flag of the ship is the Chinese character for BAKU. BAKU is a fictional creature said to devour or prevent nightmares. Children are told to place a picture of the ship with the Gods under their pillow on the evening of January first. If the child has a good dream that night, they will be lucky all year.

It was a fun and successful day exploring another part of Tokyo. Honestly, I was pretty impressed with our navigation skills and ability to find all seven Temples/Shrines.

Washi Eggs

My Japanese student, Manami, and I meet once a week in order for me to help her with her English conversation and pronunciation. I find the time we spend together very enjoyable. Manami tells me each time how much it helps her to hear English from a native English speaker.

We met this morning and she arrived with a very special surprise. Her mother, Atsuko, who helped me make the Japanese tea box, made Washi Eggs with Dina and her daughters last Friday. Atsuko sent Dina and email inviting me to come along. Here is the sweet quote from Atsuko that Dina sent to me.

“Dina Julia has no plan today how do you think to come together, eggs are not enough but she stay home is so lonely.”

Unfortunately, they were meeting during my Friday afternoon English class so, I wasn’t able to tag along.

Fortunately, for me, Atsuko is very kind and super sweet. Atsuko made me six Washi Eggs and had Manami bring them to our session today. Atsuko is very thoughtful and they are beautiful.

In case you are unfamiliar with Washi Eggs, they are made by blowing out the yolk of an egg and then covering the hollow egg with washi paper. Washi paper is a thin Japanese paper used when making origami. The washi paper is glued to the egg and then a varnish is applied to seal the paper and create a shiny finish. The final step involves adding a small hook in order to hang the decorated egg.

One more thing to tell you. I loved my Japanese Christmas Tree with the small cell phone charms so much that I ordered a table top birch tree so I could continue to appreciate my charms throughout the year. Since it is no longer Christmas, I renamed my tree. It is now known as the “Japanese Tree of Happiness.” Here is a picture of my “Japanese Tree of Happiness” with my six Washi Eggs!

At first, the differences in the size of the egg and cell phone charms bothered me. Then I realized, the “Japanese Tree of Happiness” portrays wabi-sabi. Finding beauty and happiness with imperfection.

While Manami was here today, I showed her my “Japanese Tree of Happiness” and told her I was going to add the Washi Eggs. I sent her the picture and asked her to share it with her mom, Atsuko. Her mom was pleased to see I enjoy them and that they make me happy.

I took close up pictures so you can see the detail and appreciate the beauty. Notice the paper was cut into strips and then glue precisely in place in order to align the patterns.

I truly love and appreciate the gift I was given today. It was very special. I am adding “make Washi Eggs” to my list of things to do while living here in Japan.

Ikebana New Year

The January meeting of Ikebana was held at the residence of Mrs. Sato’s at the Great Buddha of Kamakura. This is the same location as the first Ikebana meeting I attended in September.

The January meeting was held on a Saturday enabling family members to attend. Lucky for Dave, he was my plus one!

Julia, Dina, Dave and Brent (Dina’s plus one)

Even luckier for him the meeting included a kabuki makeup demonstration, a Nihon Buyo performance, Mochi pounding and Sake tasting! Kanpie!

The Sake was served with our lunch in traditional a traditional Sake box. The Sake box is made of cedar. The cedar enhances the flavor of the Sake.

The guest performer was Minosuke Nishikawa. He has a detailed resume with extensive training, international performances, and notable awards in theater and dance. He began by introducing himself without makeup and giving simple demonstrations of Nihon Buyo.

Following his introduction, he applied kabuki makeup. He started by wrapping his hair and applying a sticky paste to help the makeup adhere to his skin and stay flawless during the performance.

Next, he applied the white face makeup.

And then he drew eyebrows.

Once his face was prepared, he donned the kimono he would wear during his performance. He had an assistant to assist him with tying his obi.

The top kimono was elaborate and required additional attention from his assistant. In the picture, his assistant is ensuring the obi and kimono are secure!

The final pieces to his costume included yellow socks, sideburns, and a hat.

He was now ready to perform the Nihon Buyo. Nihon Buyo is a traditional Japanese dance dating back to the 18th century. The dance was originally deeply rooted in worship and religion. Over time, it developed into a more creative and theatrical performance. In the performance we observed, Minosuke Nishikawa imitated a stringed marionette doll. His assistant was the puppeteer. It was impressive, unique and very entertaining.

I was able to download a few pictures from the Ikebana Facebook page of the preparation and performance.

After the performance, we had the opportunity to enjoy different flavors of Mochi and Mochi pounding. Black sesame seed, red bean, and ginger.

After letting the guests take turns, Mr. Tago Yuji, showed us all how to get the job done!

All of this entertainment and we still had lunch to enjoy! A bento box and Sake!

Another fun cultural experience made even better because I was able to share the day with Dave and friends!

Japanese Tea Box 

In early December, Dina and I signed up for a class to make (cover) a Japanese Tea Box. I had to delay sharing this experience because the tea box was a Christmas present for my mom and I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. The class was taught by a sweet Japanese lady named Atsuko and was held here on the Ikego base.

Dina and I went shopping for the materials together at the fabric store, Swany’s, in Kamakura. The box itself is provided as part of the class fee.

The first step was to wrap the inside edges with a metallic tape to match the aluminum lining.

In Japan, the tea box is part of the traditional tea ceremony. The tea box holds the items used throughout the tea ceremony. I thought the tea box would be a fun and unique gift for my mom for Christmas. Simultaneously, parents love getting homemade gifts, right? I picked out this fabric to cover the tea box.

The next part involved wrapping the tea box with batting. I was actually able to use leftover quilt batting I had from making tshirt quilts. Yes, I moved batting scraps to Japan. In my defense, it was an excellent use of the scraps!

First, the batting is wrapped around the box and then with a decent amount of tension, the fabric is wrapped around. The last part requires hand stitching of the corners.

The final part to the bottom of the box is wrapping the upper edge with a contrasting fabric. A plastic band is stapled to the edge to help hold the fabric and keep it taut.

The top is made in a similar manner. Atsuko helped me ensure the print of the fabric was centered.

The finished product!

Besides having a cool Christmas present for my mom, another positive result occurred from meeting Atsuko. Earlier this week, I was contacted by Atsuko’s daughter asking if I would be willing to give her private English lessons. She recently took a new job with an International company and needed to brush up on her English. We agreed to meet once a week for our English conversation sessions. Our first meeting was last night, (Thursday) at my house. I met her at the train station on her way home from work. As in true Japanese style, she brought me a gift. Wrapped perfectly.

And inside, little cheesecakes. Very delicious, but more like a moist coffee cake vice cheesecake.

Our first session went very well. I helped her with comprehending a work related email and we talked about her New Year traditions. I’m excited to have an opportunity to learn more about the Japanese culture, make a local friend and build my travel fund.

Coming of Age Day

The second Monday in January is known as Coming of Age Day. The day celebrates when a Japanese young person reaches adulthood. This occurs at the age of 20 because, 20 is the age of maturity in the Japanese culture. It comes with expanded rights and responsibilities of adulthood. The day of celebration dates back to 714 when a young prince was permitted to wear new robes and had his hair cut marking his passage into adulthood. It was made into a Japanese National holiday in 1948.

Interestingly, the cut off date for the celebration is March 31st. So, any Japanese person turning 20 between April 1st, 2016 and March 31st, 2017 will participate in the ceremony. The ceremony is typically held in the morning at local government offices. After the ceremony, the participants will go out with their friends and family to celebrate often stopping by the local temple or shrine for prayers and good wishes.

Women often wear traditional formal kimonos. Some men choose to wear a kimono as well, although it is more common for men to wear dark suits. I went to Kamakura this afternoon to the Tsuragaoka Hachimangū Shrine hoping to catch sight of a few new adults dressed in kimonos. I saw many women dressed in kimonos and I was able to snap a few photos. The women seemed to happily have their pictures taken and EVERYONE was snapping pictures. It was like the “coming of age” paparazzi. Honestly, whom could blame them. The girls looked stunning in their formal dress kimonos.

Kimonos & Rickshaws

Notice the length of her sleeve. The long length indicates she is single.

Kimono selfie! Again, notice the sleeve length.

Kimono with the fur…

So pretty on the bridge

My favorite shot from today


Coming of Age Day reminds me of a sweet sixteen party mixed with your 21st birthday. Although the day is a celebration, it is also meant to serve as a time for reflection on responsibility and privileges associated with becoming and adult. 

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