This nighttime cultural experience in Hokkaido combines nature, storytelling, and digital art to immerse visitors in the stories of the Ainu.
Lake Akan on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido is known as one of the clearest lakes in all of Japan. Surrounded by the pristine forests and mud volcanoes known as bokke of Akan Mashu National Park, this crater lake is particularly well-known for its round balls of marimo green algae, which grow larger here than almost anywhere else in the world. The same area also houses a small village of one of Japan’s indigenous peoples, the Ainu, who have partnered with Canadian multimedia production company Moment Factory to offer an unparalleled glimpse into Ainu culture through the Lake Akan Forest Night Walk Kamuy Lumina.
▼ Lake Akan and its lush forests in Kushiro, Hokkaido
As fans of the recently ended manga series Golden Kamuy may know, the term kamuy refers to a divine being in Ainu mythology, similar to the Japanese kami. In Ainu culture, myths and epic sagas (yukar) about the kamuy are passed down through the generations. This emphasis on oral tradition and storytelling plays a large part in the Kamuy Lumina experience.
This year marks the third offering of the nighttime walk since it was first offered in 2019 after three years of meticulous planning in close consultation with the local Ainu. Since then, over 50,000 visitors have taken part in the experience, and a portion of all proceeds also goes to the Maeda Ippoen Foundation in Kushiro to protect the surrounding wildlife. While this year’s experience was supposed to begin on May 14, the start date was delayed until June 18 after it was discovered that the breeding season of the kumagera (black woodpecker) …continue reading
Remember the famous scenes from The Notebook, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Chasing Amy? Yes, those scenes. We wish! In movies, rainy days are primarily signaled by passionate kissing in the rain. Well, I don’t know about you, but my life doesn’t work that way. In my world, rain means melancholy days, moldy interiors and candy-floss hair. And now that June is here, I hate to be the one to say it but the dreaded rainy season will very soon be upon us.
In a typical manner, however, our host country has its own quick remedy for most things bad — including never-ending rain. It’s called Teru Teru Bozu and it looks like a tiny Casper. Almost.
So, what is it?
Teru Teru Bozu or “Japanese rain-prevention dolls,” as I like to call them, are traditional handmade dolls made from tissue paper or cloth, usually white and ghost-like in appearance, and hung outside doors and windows in Japan in hope of sunny weather. You’ll see many of them especially during the tsuyu (rainy season) and on special occasions, such as outdoor festivals or harvest events.
The words teru (照る), meaning “to shine” and bozu (坊主), referring to a Buddhist priest (or someone gone bald), call to a priest’s magical powers (literally: shine, shine monk) to prevent rain. In particular, Teru Teru Bozu are popular with Japanese children who are first introduced to them in kindergarten or daycare through a beautiful, yet slightly creepy nursery rhyme that became popular in 1921. The rhyme calls Teru Teru Bozu to bring back the sunny days, promising that if the wish is fulfilled, lots of sake will be granted, and if not, its neck will be chopped off. What can we say — children’s songs back in the days were …continue reading
Pets in rich countries are increasingly pampered and treated as prized family members. On the streets of Japan, this contemporary phenomenon manifests daily in the form of people pushing a stroller occupied by one or more furry family members wearing warm sweaters and perhaps even diapers.
This almost human treatment has progressed so far that pets are being afforded funeral rites previously limited to human beings within the last couple of decades.
Is there not something within the doctrines of the native religion Shinto, or else the imported but more dominant religion Buddhism, that might explain this more “humane” treatment?
Shinto and animals
Some of the earliest Japanese myths introduce the kami of hunting and fishing. There is also a kami that protects humans from animals. Occasionally animals appear as messengers of the kami. In short, in Shinto, animals are either food, foe or they work for you.
Even today, there are literally tens of thousands of shrines dedicated to the worship of these animal controlling deities. If you have ever visited a Suwa Shrine, you have contributed to the upkeep of the kami of hunting. Most foreign visitors have seen the seven gods of good fortune and noticed that one, Ebisu, has a big fish slung over his shoulder.
Maybe you have stopped at Ebisu in Tokyo and toasted your good fortune with his eponymous beer. In short, according to early native Shinto mythology, animals are not friends. They certainly don’t rate human treatment. So if there is a Japanese religious reason to offer pets funerals, it doesn’t come from the Shinto tradition.
The once ubiquitous promotional tool snuffed out like a… What do you call those stick thingies again?
There was a time when walking into just about any place of business such as a restaurant or hotel, you’d be greeted by a bowl full of little paper folders containing a row, or rows, of flammable tipped sticks. Useful for pretty much all your fire-based needs, these matchbooks were once a great way for companies to add a little subtle advertising into your life.
▼ They were also great plot devices in movies
But it just dawned on me that I probably haven’t seen a matchbook in well over a decade at least. They just seemed to vanish so subtly over time that it largely went unnoticed. In fact, the only reason it came to my attention was a recent tweet by Japanese match producer Nittosha.
▼ “The books of matches that we’ve made for about 49 years will be discontinued at the end of the orders received in June. And with that, the light for making matchbooks will be extinguished from Japan… Thank you for using them at various shops as cheap, easy to carry ways for reliable advertising. It feels pretty lonely…”
At first it may sound like Nittosha is being overly melodramatic, but their passion for matches might make more sense in historical context. In the latter half of the 19th century, just as Japan’s Meiji Restoration was gaining momentum and various cultural imports were entering the country, matches became a huge business. Production facilities were set up mostly in Hyogo Prefecture, where Nittosha was also founded in 1923.
By the first half of the 20th century, Japan had grown into one of the biggest exporter of …continue reading
Spring is over and summer has officially started! After being stuck and unable to move around freely for the past few years, this summer, it’s all about positivity and feeling bold and free. One way to express yourself and show off good vibes is through your outfits, of course.
From popular colors like bold orange and yellow to trending materials like sheer and crochet, be the first to update your outfits with the best-selected items below. Let’s all enjoy the exciting season in a fashionable way!
1. Sheer, see-through blouses
Sheer and see-through is the first trending material this summer. This easy-to-style material gives off a feminine and relaxed feel to an outfit. By layering it with a smart blazer or jacket, you can also create a smart, impressionable look. One thing is for sure, everyone can do with a white sheer blouse in their summer wardrobe.
If you want to style your sheer, see-through blouse to the next level, try coordinating it with a short crochet (trending material alert!) vest. The crochet vest by Grl is definitely given our approval.
The period between the 19th and 20th century claims to be the most progressive epoch in the development of the arts. From the flourish of woodblock prints between the 17th and19th centuries impressionism, surrealism, art nouveau and art deco emerged paving the creative path toward early modernism.
This week, we will take a look at three ongoing exhibitions in Tokyo covering these significant eras: Hokusai’s priceless collections of prints and sketches from the British Museum, art deco literature and decorative interiors, and the lovely drawings from The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.
Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) is no stranger to art enthusiasts around the world. He lived for almost 90 years and is proclaimed to have produced over 30,000 paintings, sketches, woodblock prints and images for picture books.
Suntory Museum of Art is presenting “Hokusai from the British Museum―together with masterpieces of painting from collections in Japan” until June 12. It showcases about 110 selected works from over 800 pieces of the British Museum’s finest pieces by the great master. There is also a corner for collectors’ ancient works and writings, including materials about becoming an art connoisseur. The collectors and scholars made Hokusai’s works available to the British Museum and built the foundation of the collection.
Visitors can see Hokusai’s emblematic works, such as Under the Wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave, about 1830-33) and …continue reading
The underground world of mafias is one that most people actively avoid on the public streets but are secretly excited to read about.
Movies and books about the criminal activities of gangsters showcase their lavish lifestyles, exciting day to day adventures, and occasional heroic deeds, giving them redeeming qualities that make them almost relatable.
However, in reality, these movies and books rarely depict what the life of a Yakuza or triad member is really like.
Are you interested in learning more about these mafias? We’ve curated some interesting information below about both mafia groups for you to read to your heart’s content.
Who Are Yakuza?
The Yakuza is an internationally recognized Japanese criminal syndicate that has a long and rich history in Japan’s society. They have been around for centuries but rose exponentially in prominence after World War II.
During their historical roots, they were involved in heightened criminal activity such as turf wars and undertaking protection responsibilities for money. They eventually gained favour with the Japanese government through cooperation and saw freedoms with certain gang activities.
Post-war, the number of the Yakuza rose by more than 100% throughout Japan. Their activities heavily expanded into gang wars, sophisticated gambling efforts, loan sharking, drugs (only certain groups), and smuggling goods.
Over the years, the Yakuza have evolved from being a feared criminal organization to becoming a (begrudgingly) accepted part of Japanese society. The structure of the Japanese mafia is often referred to as being similar to a family, with its familial tiers, or a business, with its hierarchical power structure.
In recent years, the Yakuza have branched out from their mostly Japan-centralized criminal activity to locations around the world, such as in the U.S. For example, one of their favourite investments is luxury golf courses.
Kintsugi (golden joinery) is a distinctively Japanese technique of restoring broken pottery and ceramics using urushi (lacquer) with metallic powders to give the appearance of gold and silver lining where the cracks once were.
The original technique has been meticulously preserved for centuries to prolong the life of ornate pottery pieces. Nowadays, kintsugi is a widely available and trendy hobby enjoyed on your own or with the help of guidance from a master at a workshop or class in Japan.
Moreover, it’s pretty easy hobby to pick up, so here’s everything you need to know to start the timeless Japanese art of kintsugi.
What is kintsugi?
The decorated scars on the piece of kintsugi pottery are thought of as scenery; rather than pretending that the scars do not exist or trying to conceal them, they are accepted as part of the piece’s history and thus are renewed in new harmony.
Kintsugi has been practiced since the Muromachi era (1336–1573). During this time, tea ceremonies were part of everyday life and were an essential aspect of all formal meetings and rituals in Japanese feudal life. The tea sets themselves were each very ornate and one of a kind. Accordingly, this meant that the pieces were extremely expensive and irreplaceable, causing many Japanese people to choose to repair their pieces rather than throw them away.
The pieces were far too precious just to be put back together with dull resins, so more aesthetic means of repair had to be considered. Hence, kintsugi became a widely practiced artform thereafter, synonymous with the Japanese notion of wabi-sabi and mottainai (roughly: waste not, want not).
“Is there any need to stay once the movie’s ended?” Ami Suzuki commented on panel show.
One of my earliest experiences of culture shock after moving to Japan wasn’t having to use Japanese style toilets, or constantly being complimented on my ability to use chopsticks — it was during my first trip to the movie theatre. As the credits started rolling, I did what I expected everyone else would be doing — I stood up to leave, only to have my Japanese friend tug on my sleeve to make sit me back down. “It hasn’t finished yet,” she whispered, and as I looked around, every other person was still sat in their seats, eyes glued to the credits rolling up the screen.
It was only when the last of the credits faded away and the lights came up that everyone started gathering their things to leave, but that moment always stuck with me. Bear in mind that this was before the days where post-credit scenes were really a thing, too.
Ever since then, I’ve dutifully stayed sitting until the credits have finished in full (with the exception of the movie Cats, where my friend and I made a beeline to the exit the moment the movie ended).
I thought I was the only person who didn’t stay and watch movie credits, but it turns out I have an unexpected ally in legendary ’90s J-pop idol Ami Suzuki.
Suzuki recently made headlines after an appearance on TV panel show Girl’s Barking Night. The show features a male host with a panel of female celebrity guests, and the topics discussed on the show usually provide a good opportunity for …continue reading
I am probably one of the few Indians brave enough to visit an onsen in Japan. Where I am from, it is unheard of in our culture to bathe naked among strangers—or even friends and family. We’re taught from a young age to respect our bodies by covering up. Most Indian families encourage modest dressing too. Any clothing item revealing too much skin is a big no-no. Because of my upbringing, I had a tough time initially adjusting to the onsen culture in Japan.
My first onsen experience took place in Hakone in 2017. My sister and I were backpacking around the country and wanted to experience a part of Japanese culture firsthand. Visiting a hot spring together has always been on our travel bucket list, and now that we were in Japan, we could finally tick it off the list.
I admired how free and comfortable they seemed with their bodies.
I found the onsen experience very eye-opening. It was the first time for me to see women being comfortable with nudity and using the place as an opportunity to bond with their friends and family. I admired how free and comfortable they seemed with their bodies. This experience inspired me to build a similar relationship with mine. It wasn’t something that happened overnight, though. I had to broaden my perspective and rethink some of my beliefs.
The more time I spent in the hot spring, the more comfortable I felt in my own skin. Along the way, I learned a few valuable lessons about body positivity, which I would like to share with you.
We’re more conscious of our bodies than those around us
It took me a couple of trips to the hot spring to realize that the only person who was overly conscious of my body …continue reading