Archive for the ‘Holiday’ Category

Japan’s Holiday Season

December 14, 2009


As you may recall, last year around this time we set off for a whirlwind tour of Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima.  If I remember correctly, we never got around to writing up a proper post of some traditions of the Japanese holiday season.  This school year I’ve been tutoring at lunch and last week one of my students prepared a report (in English, of course) about various customs and traditions surrounding , primarily, Christmas and New Year’s.  Here are some highlights.


Christmas in Japan is a largely secular holiday focusing on gift giving and spending time with family.  Along with Halloween it’s becoming more commercially popular each year.  Surprisingly one of the biggest traditions is eating KFC for dinner on Christmas Day.  Recently a coworker of one of our friends said “If you want KFC on Christmas, you better get up early and order it in advance.  Otherwise, you’re out of luck.”  Afterwards families usually eat some sort of Christmas cake.

Children who receive gifts on Christmas usually have their presents set next to their bed while they sleep rather than underneath a Christmas tree.

New Year’s Traditions

New Year’s is easily Japan’s biggest holiday of the year.   My student told me it is common to thoroughly clean one’s house on New Year’s Eve in order to feel clean within yourself as you prepare for a new start.  Once the work is done, it’s time to relax.  Before and for a brief period after World War II, children would often spend New Year’s playing with tako (a kite made out of paper and bamboo), koma (a kind of spinning top), and haigoita, a sort of badminton-like game where the winner gets to draw a picture on the loser’s face.  It was also common to build kamakura, a sort of igloo-like snow house for recreational use.

Nowadays people find other ways to spend freetime during the holidays.  Shopping is probably the most popular activity as many businesses advertise special end-of-the-year deals.  I imagine it’s similar to Black Friday in America after Thanksgiving, but with less stampedes.

But there’s much more to New Year’s than consumerism.  Obviously it’s a time for family and renewal.  Sometime between the 31st of December and the 3rd of January, most people in Japan take time out to visit a temple where they offer a bit of money and say a prayer.  It’s also common to send New Year’s postcards in the mail to family and friends.  However my student told me that younger people tend to send text messages over their phone rather than take the time to mail postcards.  As communication towers and satellites are bombarded with messages, it can sometimes take several minutes to send your midnight New Year’s greeting through your phone.

Puns of Good Fortune

Many symbols of New Year representing good fortune and happiness stem from puns.  Tai (sea bream) is popular because it is in season and it is a pun on the word medetai, which my student told me means “happiness.”  Similar puns exist for a vegetable called konbu and apparently ebi (shrimp) is served because of pun involving the word for “longevity.”

Also, if you have a dream simultaneously featuring Mt. Fuji, hawks, and eggplant, it is very good luck.  The reasoning again is because of puns.  “Fuji” sounds like “buji” which means “safe.”  Hawk is taka and means clever and strong.  Nasu (eggplant) is a play on the word for accomplish or success, also pronounced nasu.

My student told me about other aspects of the holiday season like decorations and food, but it’d be better to wait and explain that stuff when we have pictures available.  Perhaps in the weeks to come we’ll show you what mochi cake, noshi, and kadomatsu look like.  In the meantime, enjoy Christmas, New Year’s, and the other holidays of the season.


Wedding in Alaska

July 18, 2009


Last Wednesday Julie and I took an overnight bus to Tokyo, hopped on an airplane bound for Vancouver, B.C., spent twenty four hours at the airport waiting for our next flight, flew to Anchorage, Alaska for a wedding, flew back to Vancouver, met up with Julie’s parents, sister, brother-in-law and nephews at the airport in Vancouver, flew back to Tokyo, took a bullet train to Aomori, and then a local train back to Noheji.

It was wonderful.  In Alaska we were able to spend some quality time with longtime friends we haven’t seen in at least a few years, including the bride and groom (Kenzi and Curtis, respectively).  Friday night, after the rehearsal, we went to the home of Kenzi’s parents for some whole roasted pig, salmon, halibut, barbecue chicken, salad, rice pilaf, and lively conversation.  They live on a mountain in Chugiak with a gorgeous view of Cook Inlet.  We managed to get a good picture of it as the sun began going down at 11:30 at night.

The wedding was perfect.  I’ve been friends with Curtis for the past sixteen years and am so happy he’s found the love of his life.  His wife, Kenzi, is a wonderful person.  I hope our next visit will come sooner rather than later.

Seeing Julie’s family was also very refreshing.  We had a great time catching up and were amazed by how much our nephews have grown in the past year.

Now we’re back to work, staying plenty busy until the students go on summer vacation.

Anyway, here are some photos:

On the trip, Julie began a new hobby — taking pictures of me sleeping with my mouth open.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C

The view overlooking Cook Inlet that we alluded to earlier during the rehearsal dinner.

Looking up at another photographer before the ceremony.


Dad's dance.



Dudes of Valdez

After the reception we stayed at a hotel in Anchorage and ordered this pizza at midnight. It was one of the best decisions we made that weekend.

Anchorage airport.

'Merica Sized chips.

Playing with the nephews in Vancouver.

Our nephew Levi playing with a ball we bought for him and his brother. It changes color if you toss it.

Angela (Julie's sister) and Jack

Back in Tokyo

Pikachu Express

As always, more pictures here.

Odds and Ends

December 24, 2008


Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas Eve in Japan and we felt like an update was in order before our big trip.   Tomorrow we take the bullet train to Tokyo where we’ll stay for three nights.  After that it’s off to Kyoto, Osaka, Miyajima, and Hiroshima.  We’ll return to Noheji on January 2nd.

Since we’re not bringing computers along, we decided to write a longer entry to hold you over until we upload our pictures from this once in a lifetime trip after New Year’s Day.

Holiday Lesson Week

Julie and I just finished a crazy week of teaching.  Every lesson followed some sort of holiday theme for the duration of the period.  In my case I taught the same lesson all week long at three different schools.  Here’s how it went.  After a few minutes of sharing some of my family’s Christmas traditions, I had my students participate in a missing lyrics activity designed from an earlier lesson using the song “Good Day Sunshine.”  This time I had them listen to the song “Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer” (original Burl Ives version).  By the end of the week, I had listened to the song over 150 times.   You probably think I’m sick of the song, and I guess I am, but after a few lessons early in the week, the song stopped bothering me (at least during class).  The words and melody just sort of washed over me like white noise as I managed my class and directed the traffic of students looking for the missing words taped to the walls of the room.

After we went over the lyrics for the final time, I put on the cap, beard, and eyebrows in the picture above, pressed play on the CD player one last time, and lead the class in a sing-along.

Holiday Celebrations

Yesterday the people of Japan celebrated the emperor’s birthday.  Every student and teacher had the day off, except for the people who go to my school.  Since so many people in the community don’t have to work that day, my school puts on a sports club ceremony that’s open to the public.  It reminded me of a long-held tradition at my high school in Oregon where the male seniors dressed up like girls and performed a complicated dance routine to the teachers and underclassmen.  Although there was some cross dressing at the beginning of the ceremony, Noheji’s festival ultimately proved to be less scandalous and spontaneous.  It was obvious the students had been practicing for weeks.  The ceremony was as much an opportunity for them to get-the-weird-out and crack jokes as it was to showcase their discipline, dedication, and athleticism.

For example, in one routine, a group of students performed a modern day interpretation of Snow White and Seven Dwarves while simultaneously teaching first aid and CPR fundamentals.  Later another group of students dazzled us with a jump rope activity that included double dutch push-ups, cartwheels, and backflips.

In the afternoon I had to stay at school, but Julie went to an English Christmas party at a community center. She baked cookies for the occasion.

Language Update

At some point after our first six weeks here we picked up enough Japanese to get by in our day-to-day life.  In order to improve we’ve basically had to study on our own.  At times this has been a struggle, but I’ve come up with a new strategy.  I’ve decided if I have a webpage open, I’m going to have a Japanese textbook open too.  So far it’s worked out well.

Noheji Catholic Church

A few days ago we walked by what we assumed was a garage.  Turns out it’s a Catholic church!

Driving Safety

If you are over the age of 50, you must put one of these leaf stickers on your car.  If you have only been driving for a year or two, you must put a leaf sticker on that’s green and yellow.


See you in January!

Yoi oto shi o!

Winterizing the Apartment

December 21, 2008

Say 'hello' to Toyo-chan.


It’s December in Northern Japan.  We live in a typical apartment which means no central heating.  How do we stay warm?  Well, the heater pictured above is a huge help.  It runs on kerosene fed through a series of pipes from a tank in the back of our complex.  It’s a little pricey, but it keeps our living area warm and cozy.  We seal off the other rooms of the house to keep the heat in.

A lot of the cold creeps in through our window panes so to help combat this we’ve put up some specially made bubble wrap on the glass to act as a layer of insulation.  A special felt lines the perimeter of the window to suck in moister from condensation.  In a few days we’ll be putting up a clear plastic seal over the rest of the frame to hopefully prevent a little more cold air from seeping through the cracks.

The downside to sealing up the windows is that moisture from within our apartment will have a harder time escaping.  This will become a bigger deal in January when we receive more precipitation.  Drying clothes inside also creates a moisture problem.  What’s our plan?  Basically double-duty on those moisture absorption packets we talked about in an earlier post.  We’ll also deploy our dehumidifier to other rooms of the apartment when necessary.  For the time being, however, it’s helping to dry our clothes in a closet.

Japanese clothes dryer.

One last thing we’ve installed in our apartment to fight off the cold is a little something to remind of us home.

Happy Holidays.

Halloween Lesson

November 12, 2008


During the last couple weeks of October and even into November, I had the privilege of teaching a Halloween lesson to many different classes of elementary school students.  Even though Halloween is a Western holiday, it has become very popular among the youth of Japan.   This is exaggerated in the area where I am teaching because of the influence of the nearby U.S. Air Base on the merchandise sold at local stores.   The nearby mall in Shimoda caters to its Western shoppers with an abundance of Halloween costumes and treats, which started taking over the shelves in mid-September.

The vocabulary list for the lesson included: Happy Halloween, Trick or Treat, candy, ghost, witch, monster, bat, black cat, spider, and jack o’ lantern.

The older students learned about All Saints Day and the harvest. I was able to prompt them to come up with Halloween costume ideas, saying:

“Some costumes are scary.” (Besides the vocabulary words, they came up with Dracula and Frankenstein)

“Some costumes are beautiful.” (kimono, princess)

“Some costumes are movie characters.” (Doraemon, about 15 anime characters that I didn’t recognize, Batman, Spiderman, Superman, and The Little Mermaid)

“Some costumes are famous people.” (Michael Jackson, “Obama,” one sixth grader stated and then continued, “Yes we can!,” Beyonce)

A couple of times I was able to bring costume material for the little kids to use. I brought toilet paper and black and white trash bags. They had a blast!

Be afraid, be very afraid!