Tanabata, the legend and modern times

Tanabata: on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month we celebrate one of the five gosekku (五節), the most important festivals of the year. This is also one of my favorite parties because it is extremely romantic.


The Seventh Night

The legend tells of Princess Orihime (the star Vega), devoted daughter of Tentei (the King of the sky) who spent her day weaving on the shores of the celestial river Amanogawa (the Milky Way). However, her heart was sad because she had not yet known love. Then Tentei introduced her to Hikoboshi (the Altair star), a young herder of the heavenly planes who lived across the river. The love between the two exploded immediately, but the passion distracted them from their duties by unleashing the wrath of Tentei.

He divided them by returning his daughter to the opposite bank of the river. Orihime, destroyed by pain, wept a thousand tears. Tentei, struck by his daughter's great love, allowed the two lovers to meet on the seventh night of the seventh month only if they worked diligently throughout the year. The sky, in this special night, must be clear, otherwise crossing the silvery river would be impossible. In fact, if it rained it would swell and the vigor of its waters would prevent the flock of magpies from creating a bridge with their wings to allow the two lovers to hug again.

Tanabata Tanabata

photo credits: Daisuke, せんと

From Shichiseki to Tanabata and the customs of the festival

Tanabata was not the original name of this holiday. In ancient times it was known as Shichiseki, deriving from the reading of the Chinese kanji, from which it originates. In fact, the festival was imported from China by Empress Koken in the Kyoko Imperial Palace in the Heian period. It then spread throughout Japan in the Edo Period and has since become one of the most popular festivals.

Tanabata tanzaku

photo credits: Mark, tototti 

The decorations of the Tanabata

Between July 6 and August 8, according to the region, the streets are filled with zen-washi (paper lanterns) and people wear yukata (浴衣). The latter is a very informal kimono with wide sleeves and flat seams, made of cotton, without lining and therefore suitable for the summer. But the tanzaku (短冊) are the real protagonists of this enchanted night. Strips of colored paper that symbolize the silk threads woven by Orihime and on which prayers or wishes are written. Later these are tied to bamboo branches, considered the main symbol of the Tanabata. In this way, the wind, blowing through the leaves, brings with it the desires and realizes them!

Tanabata Tanabata

photo credits: savvytokyo.com, Hiroshi

As many auspicious decorations appear in the parades during the matsuri. There are Kamigorono (special paper kimonos) that protect against illness and accidents. We can also find toami, fishing nets whose exposure would bring good luck in fishing and in crops. Not to mention the fukinagashi, colored stripes like the fabric that Orihime wove. We then continue with the beautiful orizuru (origami) especially in the shape of a crane, bringing health, protection and long life to families. The kinchaku, small bags that bring good business and wealth. We also have the famous kusudama, oval-shaped ornaments composed of a series of origami sewn and glued together. Then we come to the kuzukagos, garbage bags that symbolize "cleanliness" (understood as purity) and prosperity.

photo credits: savvytokyo.com, Naomi Nakagawa

To each region its date

As we said, the date of the Tanabata varies according to the region. In the Kanto region, The Tanabata of Hiratsuka, in Kanagawa prefecture, takes place between 4 and 6 July. In the region of Chūbu in Ichinomiya, in the Aichi prefecture, it is celebrated between 24 and 27 July. finally, in the region of Tōhoku, in Sendai, in the prefecture of Miyagi, it takes place between 6 and 8 August.

Tanabata tanzaku

photo credits: japancheapo.comEriTes Photo

Even if love is a feeling that always deserves to prevail, during this time of the year the idea of ​​raising one's eyes to the sky and desiring with all one's heart something with the hope that it will come true, is always exciting. Each Tanzaku is special and it is wonderful to read people's dreams and wish them to be heard. This, in fact, is one of the many moments of altruism that can only be shared in Japan.

And you? What dream do you keep in your heart? Whatever it is, find the way to come true! And if you are around Milan, we recommend you to come and celebrate the Tanabata from TENOHA Milan. Ready to hang your tanzaku? We have already done it!


photo credits: timeout.com

Focus on: Japanese street food

If you love Japan you surely love its culture for food and in particular Japanese street food.


photo credit: jackwilson

Perfumes, colors and flavors mix on the streets of Japan. Whether it's special events or an ordinary day, the traditional street food stalls, commonly called Yatai, offer culinary wonders. Sweet or savory, these delicacies are not normally found in restaurants or have a much more intense taste cooked by the street vendor.

All the tasty on-the-go dishes are particularly cheap, but always of the highest quality. The selection that the Yatai offer often varies between the seasons and also between the regions of Japan. Despite this, the list of delicacies is so vast that I prefer not to dwell on talk: let's start this special sensory journey immediately!

Some of the most famous street food

street food

photo credits: jmettraux


Especially widespread in Osaka it is also known as "Pizza of Osaka". The お好み焼き literally okonomi = what you want, yaki = grilled, is the Japanese version of a classic pancake. However this dish is not sweet but based on cabbage flakes, flour and eggs, with the addition of ingredients like meat and fish. Everything is cooked on a hot plate. There are variations in Hiroshima and Tokyo, but this sort of "omelette" has become famous also thanks to the anime "Ai shite Naito" (愛してナイト), known by us as "Kiss Me Licia". Do you remember Yaeko's father (Licia), Shige-San (for us Marrabbio)? In fact, he was the owner of the okonomiyaki-ya, the typical okonomiyaki restaurant!

street food

photo credits: favy-jp.com 


Imagine being able to eat a soft cloud and you will have Wataame or Watagashi (綿あめ), the sweet Japanese cotton candy. This simple delicacy loved above all by children can be found everywhere. In fact we find them at the Yatai, where you can see their realization, or buy it ready-made and packaged in colorful packages and often decorated with manga characters.

photo credits: jpninfo.com 

Yaki Imo

Yakiimo or Ishi Yaki Imo (焼き芋/石焼き芋) is a small authentic autumnal treasure of the Japanese tradition. Made with satsuma-imo, a Japanese sweet potato with a caramel flavor, it cooks in a wood-fired oven and is served wrapped in brown paper. It is easy to identify the yatai that offers this specialty. In fact, if you prick up your ears, you can hear songs that spread through the streets to attract customers!
Long ago, yaki imo ya san (焼き芋屋さん, as they are called roast potato vendors) crossed the city streets with carts. However, today it is easier to see them moving on small trucks.

japanese street food

photo credits: littlejapanmama.com


The crepes, originating from France, soon spread also in the Rising Sun. in fact, towards the end of the 1970s, they became the sweet snack on the go, especially in the Harajuku district. The classic batter is cooked on the hot plate and filled with nama kurimu (delicately sweet whipped cream), chocolate, ice cream and fruit, variegated with various syrups, folded into the typical cone shape and served wrapped in paper for easy consumption.

photo credits: nonilo.com


Imagawayaki (今川焼き) is a dessert that is often found for sale at festival stalls. Based on the region its name varies in Ooban yaki (大判焼き) or Kaiten Yaki (転焼き). However, "wagashi" (和菓子) is the original name of this dessert that spread during the Edo period. The batter, made from flour, eggs and water, is poured into a special plate and filled with red beans (azuki). Over time, many variations have become widespread that provide a wide variety of fillings. In fact we can find vanilla cream, cream and fruit jams, curry, meat, vegetables and potatoes.

street food

photo credits: italianfoodacademy.com 


These irresistible round rolls stuffed with meat (niku) usually pork (buta) and steamed, are an institution in Yokohama! Their name however varies from Nikuman (肉まん) in the Kanto region to Butaman (豚まん) in the Kansai region. Savored alone or accompanied by soy sauce, they are a perfect snack, a must try!

photo credits: jetsettingfools.com


Ikayaki (いか焼き, イカ焼き or 烏賊焼, baked or grilled squid) is one of the Japanese's favorite street snacks! They are usually accompanied with soy sauce, teriyaki or a traditional sauce that typically includes rice wine, miso paste, ginger and soy sauce. What makes these squids tender and plump is their quick preparation and are served immediately off the grill.
Finding ikayaki is quite simple: local markets, shrines and festivals always offer this delicacy!

japanese street food

photo credits: zojirushi.com

Yaki Tomorokoshi

In Japan, Yaki Tomorokoshi (焼きうもろこし) is one of the seasonal street food that can be found at fairs and during festivals. It consists of a grilled panicle, covered with a mixture of sweet soy sauce and spicy pepper.

photo credits: favy-jp.com

Choco Banana

An extremely simple yet unique dessert: choco bananas are a must for Japanese festivals! Delicious frozen bananas covered with any kind of chocolate and decorated with sugar or hazelnut grains. Serve on a stick, the choco bananas can make us westerners smile thanks to their equivocal shape, but once you taste them you won't be able to do without them!

photo credits: matcha-jp.com


The paradisiacal scent of Taiyaki (たい焼き) is unique and it is impossible to resist it! Their shape is typical "a pesce" ("tai", stuffed with cream of red beans or cream, but also many seasonal variations such as sweet potatoes and chestnuts!

street food

photo credits: Hayley Casarotto


Takoyaki (たこ焼き fried or grilled octopus) are fried balls of batter filled with octopus, green onions, ginger and pieces of tempura. They are then seasoned with an Otafuku sauce, minced aonori seaweed, mayonnaise and katsuobushi (dried and smoked striated tuna flakes). It is a specialty of Osaka cuisine, but the sellers of these delights can be found in almost every country.

street food

photo credits: hubjapan.io


Yakisoba (焼きそば, sautéed spaghetti) are one of the quintessential comfort-foods of Japanese cuisine and one of the best-selling snacks from stalls during festivals! The dish consists of stir-fried noodles with pieces of pork. Accompanied by various vegetables such as cabbage, carrots and onions and seasoned with a special sauce that gives them the typical spicy flavor. On the street you can even find them served in a hot-dog style inside a sandwich and seasoned with mayonnaise and pickled ginger!

street food

photo credits: pellgen (@1179_jp)

Ayu No Shioyaki

The Ayu no Shioyaki (鮎の塩焼き) are pieces of typical Japanese fish grilled and seasoned only with salt. These are then impaled on the skewer and represent a summer must that recalls the peace and energy of the rivers.

photo credits: e-sumida.gr.jp

Kare Pan

Kare pan (カレーパン) is an unusual and tasty snack consisting of Japanese curry wrapped in a slightly sweet, breaded and fried dough. The curry used is very different from what we know here in the West. In fact, it is dark in color and has a more delicate flavor that is well suited to this particular recipe.

street food

photo credits: e-sumida.gr.jp


A charcoal grill, rice flour, water and a myriad of flavors are the foundations of Senbei (せんべい). Also known as Japanese rice crackers, nobody can resist. Sweet or savory, the crunchy senbei are of various shapes and sizes and for 300 yen. A must try snack!

photo credits: M's photography


Outside the Shintoist temples, the dango vendors (団子) peep! These firm, round glutinous rice flour and water dumplings are typically served on a skewer and there are different types. An-Dango are the most popular in Japan based on sweetened anko. Instead, Bocchan Dango are the most famous and aesthetic. In fact, we are used to seeing them almost everywhere online and in Anime. They are available in 3 colors: the first is colored by red beans (red), the second by eggs (Yellow), and the third by green tea (green).
The Chichi dango instead are slightly sweet, while the Goma dango have sesame seeds and can be either savory or sweet. Then we pass to the Kinako dango based on toasted soy flour and to the Mitarashi dango covered with a glaze of sweet soy sauce.

street food

photo credits: Justin C.


It would be a heresy to define kakigōri (き氷) as a granita: it is something more special, with a soft consistency like snow! The chopped ice is flavored with a fruity syrup (strawberry, cherry, lemon, green tea, grapes, melon, sweet plum) and sweetened with condensed milk. There is an original version of Kagoshima, the shirokuma (白熊, literally "polar bear"), flavored with condensed milk, small colored mochi, fruit (mandarin, cherry, pineapple and raisins) and sweet bean paste (azuki).

street food

photo credits: yutaka.london

Candy Fruits

Candied fruit is among the most widespread on the roads of the Rising Sun. Ichigo Ame (candied strawberries), Mikan Ame (candied Japanese mandarin), Ringo Ame (candied apples) and Anzu Ame (candied apricots) are irresistible. If you are a sweet lover you cannot miss it. Juicy fruits dipped in caramelized syrup and skewered by a skewer to be eaten on-the-go while your eyes are filled with the wonders of Japan!

These street foods are only a hint of all that Japan can offer. However, if you get hungry while you are walking down the street because a good smell has tempted you, then do not hesitate! Run to taste these specialties and let us know what you think!

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

Every festival in Japan is overly attractive, especially the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri. Traditions so different and distant from ours that they deserve to be lived at least once. Colors, vivacity, and spirituality are mixed in a vortex of emotions that only the Rising Sun is able to offer.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: matcha-jp.com, gaijinpot.com

The intangible cultural heritage of sacred origins

For more than 700 years, Hakata Gion Yamakasa has been celebrated in the Hakata (Fukuoka) district from 1 to 15 July. Designated as "intangible cultural heritage" by the Cultural Affairs Agency, this festival has its origins in the 13th century when a plague epidemic struck the city. The population turned to the Buddhist monk Shoichi Kokusgu to pray for the plague to end. The monk was let up on a platform and was transported throughout the city by sprinkling the streets with sacred water. At the end of the tour, the platform was thrown away and the plague disappeared completely.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: Pascal, otsukarekun

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri: The unmissable demonstration of strength

In the period in which the festival takes place, the frenzy pervades the streets of Hakata discrict. In fact, more than one million people are preparing to attend the celebrations consisting of a chariot race!

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: japanbullet.com, goodlucktripjapan.com

The participants, who in this case are exclusively men, are organized in 7 Nagare (teams): Daikoku, Higashi, Nakasu, Nishi, Chiyo, Ebisu and Doi. On 1 and 2 July, each district carries its own richly decorated cart, the Kazariyama, which remains on display for a week. Thus the Oshioitori is celebrated, that is the purification of the members of the 7 Nagare. After the prayer, these teams then move from the Kushida temple and go to Hakozakihama beach. Here they take sand to applaud the setting sun. Each of them wears a Mizuhappi (a short jacket), a Shimekomi (the loincloth) and a Tenugui (a band on the head that changes color according to the role played).

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: shin7d

Training for the Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

Consisting of a race with wagons in which the winner will be those who have traveled 5 km in the shortest possible time, the participants must be ready for the grand finale. It begins with the Nagaregaki, the moment in which each team raises its wagon for the first time along the streets of its own district.

The next day is the time of the Asayama and the Tanagaregaki: the elderly receive the respect of the youngest and are able to sit on the Kazariyama transported in the opponents' neighborhoods.
The next day it is still the turn of the Oiyama-Narashi which starts precisely at 3.59 pm. This is a sort of general rehearsal in which the race is timed, thus increasing the tension and the spirit of competition that now begins to meander through the Nagare.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: shin7d, tak_orange

The last 3 days are the most challenging. During Shudan Yamamise the Kazariyama crosses the Naka river entering Fukuoka. During this event, the mayor and city personalities take a 1.2 km ride on the wagon. The penultimate day is that of Nagaregaki, the last training. Finally, on July 15th at 4.59 am Kushida-iri begins. The first wagon fires fast, followed by the second after 6 minutes and all the others every 5 minutes. The 5 km run will decide the winning team.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: tak_orange

Reach Hakata

The festival takes place in the Hakata district of Fukuoka. Kushida Shrine is a five-minute walk from Canal City Hakata or Gion Subway Station. Alternatively, you can reach Hakata station within a 15-20 minute walk. It is convenient to walk 10 minutes from JR Hakata station to the Kushida Shrine. Or you can get there with the Kûkô-sen subway line, get off at "Nakasu Kawabata" station and walk for 5 minutes.

Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri Hakata Gion Yamakasa Matsuri

photo credits: japancheapo.com, otsukarekun

Japan Folklore: Oni

Oni, yōkai in Japanese folklore

From a benevolent creature to an evil one. This is the slow transformation of the Oni (鬼), the Japanese mythological creatures that we Westerners call "demons", "trolls" or "orcs".


photo credits: tateandyoko.com

Before the Heian era, the Oni were good spirits able to ward off evil. However, during this era, they were relegated to the role of guardians of hell or torturers of damned souls. An example of this is the aka-oni (red demon) and the ao-oni (blue demon) described in the Buddhist tradition, which take on a negative connotation and become spirits to be kept away. In fact, they are considered as carriers of misfortune or agents of natural disasters.

Their appearance is certainly not reassuring. In fact, they are said to have animalistic and monstrous features, sometimes with many eyes and colored skin (red, blue, black, pink or green). They can also be clawed, wear tiger skin and carry kanabō (金棒, literally: "metal stick", a spiked war bat used in feudal Japan by the Samurai).


photo credits: forhonor.ubisoft.com

Demon Get out! Luck get inside!

In the Nara era, to avert the disasters that these spirits could provoke, people used to practice oniyarai (追儺), a ritual aimed at driving out the demon.

On the last day of each year, a person used to dress in the demon's clothes and was chased away with peach bows and reeds. Over time this custom turned into the Setsubun celebrations, in which people throw soybeans out of the house saying: "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! "(Oni out! Luck inside!).

Despite being considered evil spirits, in tradition, there are still traces of their benevolent nature. We find these during the parades when some men wear the Oni costume to ward off bad luck. They are also depicted on the tiles of some buildings for the same reason.


photo credits: tripsavvy.com

The many curiosities of modern culture

Today we meet these demons not only in folkloristic stories and nursery rhymes for children but also as protagonists of proverbs! In fact, it is said that "Even in the eyes of the oni tears arise" (鬼の目にも涙) to indicate that even the hardest heart sometimes feels pity. Another proverb is "The wife of an oni becomes an oni divinity" (鬼の女房鬼神がなる) which refers to our "disciple surpasses the master".

Of course, it was unthinkable not to use such a particular figure in animes and mangas! There are endless references to these spirits, and one of the most famous and well-known is Lamù, the main character of Rumiko Takahashi's manga. But it is not the only one. In fact, even in The Blue Seal by Chie Shinohara the Queen of the Oni is the protagonist. There is also Shutendoji by Gō Nagai whose work title refers to the legend of an oni of the same name.

Among the most played and entertaining horror/adventure video games we cannot forget Ao Oni. Here the main antagonist is a blue demon whose anime adaptation was broadcast in Japan between October 2nd, 2016 and January 8th, 2017. The 13 3-minute long episodes were also streamed in Italy under the title Aooni The Blue Monster (あおに〜じ・あにめぇしょん〜). Despite its simplicity, Ao Oni is terrifying thanks to the background music that gives the videogame the right scary atmosphere!

Ao Oni

photo credits: giantbomb.com

Japan Travel: Odaiba

photo credits: gotokyo.org

Odaiba, the artificial island of shopping and entertainment

The first time I saw Odaiba was thanks to the Natsuko Takahashi animated series, "Tokyo Magnitude 8.0" (東京マグニチード). In the anime, the protagonists go to a robot exhibition on the island, beautifully detailed in its reproduction. At that moment I had the idea to insert in our editorial calendar an article about this place so technological and colorful!

Odaiba (お台場) was born under the Tokugawa shogunate at the end of the Edo period in the form of 6 small artificial fortified islands. The purpose of these islands was to protect and contrast possible attacks against Tokyo by the ships of the Commodore Perry fleet.

More than 100 years later, in the early 1980s, the small islands were joined together to create a huge residential and financial district. The project suffered a major slowdown due to the outbreak of the "bubble economy" in 1991, leaving Odaiba almost completely abandoned. It wasn’t until the second half of the 1990s that the large unified artificial island became one of Tokyo's most famous tourist attractions, with populated hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, shops, and the Yurikamome elevated railway line.

photo credits: wikipedia.org

Two sides of the same island: West Odaiba, East Odaiba

West Odaiba is home to large parks and shopping centers. Among the most scenic, we find the Odaiba Seaside Park which extends on the north coast and where a replica of the Statue of Liberty stands right on its beach. The first of the island's largest shopping centers are located here. It’s the Decks Tokyo Beach in which you can visit Madame Tussaud's wax museum. The second shopping center is Acqua City with its two floors dedicated to catering, various shops, a multiplex cinema, a wedding chapel and the Sony Explora Science Technology Museum: a science museum that explores "light", "sound" and " entertainment. "
(For all information on the museum, you can visit the official website, in English: https://www.sonyexplorascience.jp/english/)

photo credits: anaintercontinental-tokyo.jp

Not far from Acqua City is the Fuji TV Building, one of the most bizarre buildings in Japan. From the ultra-futuristic style. This 25-story building was designed by the architect Kenzo Tange and completed in 1997. Headquarters of the Fuji Television Network, making it particularly attractive is the titanium silver sphere on top of it. Thirty-two meters in diameter, inside this element there is a viewing platform open to the public that offers a complete view of Tokyo and Mount Fuji.

photo credits: gaijinpot.com

Further south lies the Diver City Tokyo Plaza, Odaiba's third-largest shopping mall designed to be the "theatrical space of the city". It is an almost mandatory destination for foreign visitors in Tokyo because it offers a wide selection of Japanese themed souvenirs in many of its shops and as many authentic Japanese restaurants.

If you think shopping malls are enough, you're wrong. And with Palette Town that Odaiba wins everything. Much more than a simple aggregation of shops, it is a real mini city. Its towering Ferris wheel, known as Daikanransha (大観覧車) can be seen all over the island thanks to its 115m of height as an undisputed sign of fun and joy. Palette Town offers numerous attractions whose focus is Venus Fort, the realm of shopping. Venus Fort was opened in 1999 and was designed to take on the features of 17th century Europe, complete with an artificial sky painted on the roof that follows the alternation of day and night as if you were really in the open air.

Just below Venus Fort is the Sun Walk, which offers a collection of shops for pet lovers. Here you can not only eat at the Dog Cafe but even rent a dog for an hour to take it for a walk. Palette Town also includes the technological showcase of Toyota Mega Web, the entertaining lounge for leisure time and one of the most popular entertainment venues for live events: the Zepp Tokyo (ゼップ東京).

photo credits: scottshaw.org, shutoko.jp

Odaiba Est is entirely dedicated to exhibitions and sports.

Of great importance is the Tokyo Big Sight (Tokyo International Exhibition Center), one of the main arenas and convention centers of the nation. It is here where the fencing, wrestling and taekwondo events will be hosted during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Opened in 1996, the Tokyo International Exhibition Center stands out thanks to its iconic Conference Tower made up of four inverted pyramids. The entire Tokyo Big Sight complex has numerous restaurants, cafes, a grocery store and a sales corner dedicated to Big Sight goods.

photo credits: mystays.com

Next to it there’s the Panasonic Center, a showroom for new products and new Panasonic technologies. On the first floor is the Atrium Exhibition where sponsorships of events and all the advertising campaigns of the electronics giant take place all over the world. Also on the same level is the Wonder Life-Box where visitors are presented with the new technologies of the future and the company's latest products. The second-floor houses RiSuPia, an interactive museum focused on hidden mathematics in nature and science. Extremely beloved is the Nintendo Game Front where all the latest Nintendo games are present with the chance to try them! Here is also the Cafe E-Feel for a gourmet break thanks to its wide range of coffees, desserts and light meals.

photo credits: expology.com

In this part of the neighborhood, there is also the Tennis – no – Mori Park, a huge center dedicated to the game of tennis with 48 courts. Also present was the Ariake Coliseum stadium, an indoor sports arena in the Ariake Tennis Forest Park which can hold up to 10,000 people.

photo credits: tokyo20ty20ty.com

Reaching Odaiba

Reaching Odaiba from Tokyo is easy! You can opt for the boat thanks to the Tokyo Water Bus or the Tokyo Cruise. Alternatively, you can take a taxi or just hop on the Yurikamome train, the TWR Rinkai Line or the Japan Railways. However, if you love walking, then don't think twice: the Rainbow Bridge is for you! An 800-meter long bridge that is not opened at night and in case of bad weather or festive events.

photo credits: mywowo.net

Do you think this will be enough to visit Odaiba? There are really many inputs. Like all the rest of Japan, every corner takes on an enormous charm that increases from time to time discovering the complex details that have made it.

Japan Tradition: Kanda Matsuri

The festival held on odd-numbered years

photo credits: dydo-matsuri.com

In the middle of May on every odd-numbered year, the Kanda Matsuri (神田祭) takes place in Tokyo’s Kanda. Together with the Sanno Matsuri and the Fukagawa Matsuri, Kanda Matsuri is one of the three most important Shinto festivals being held in Tokyo. It is also one of the three largest festivals of Japan together with Osaka’s Tenjin Matsuri and Kyoto’s Gion Matsuri.

The origin of Kanda Matsuri dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu ruled over Edo, now modern day Tokyo. It is for this reason that Kanda Matsuri is also sometimes known as Tenka Matsuri (Tenka meaning shogun).
The celebration of this festival also doubled as a demonstration of prosperity under the new regime.

photo credits: xin beitou, Atsushi Ebara

At the same time, the Sanno Matsuri took place to celebrate the new political center and its rulers. Because of the long and extravagant preparations, competition between the two festivals grew, and eventually, it was decided to celebrate them in alternate years. Under this new rule, Kanda Matsuri was to be celebrated in the middle of May on odd numbered years , while the Sanno Matsuri would be celebrated in the middle of June on even numbered years.

Today, Kanda Matsuri is celebrated in honour of the gods residing in the Shinto shrine called Kanda Myojin that can be found nestled among modern buildings in one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in Tokyo, Chiyoda ward. The shrine is dedicated to 3 deities: Daikokuten, the god of good harvest and matrimony, Ebisu, the god of fishermen and businessmen and Taira no Masakado, a revered samurai of the 10th century who was deified.

photo credits: rove.me, bill ben

Celebrating prosperity and good fortune

Like most other festivals, shinto rites are an essential part of the preparations. On the eve of the main procession, the kami (gods) of the shrine are invited to enter the three finely decorated mikoshi (portable shrines) through these rituals. At 8 a.m. on the day of the festival, these mikoshi are paraded through the streets of Kanda, continuing down to Nihonbashi, followed by Otemachi, and finally Akihabara, before returning to the temple at around 7 p.m. This procession is typically accompanied by an immense crowd of people, along with musicians, priests riding on horseback and many other participants wearing colorful, traditional clothes.

photo credits: nlgwest , Kemy Shibata

At the same time, there is a smaller three-hour long secondary procession being held. This is attended by men on horseback dressed as samurai, characters from folk stories, musicians, and dancers who depart from Arima Elementary School in the early afternoon and proceed north towards the Kanda Myojin shrine.

The next day following the festival is dedicated to the procession of mikoshi from various neighbourhoods in the Kanda and Nihonbashi district. Each of them contains an ujigami, guardian deities who, on this occasion, are housed in mikoshi to bless the residents of the area as they are paraded through the streets.

photo credits: Eugene Kaspersky

Many small curiosities

Those who were born and raised in Edo were called “Edokko”. Edokko had a peculiar personality and they were said to be very open and cheerful people. All these characteristics were, and still are, reflected in the Kanda Matsuri, a festival full of energy.

The procession with all its main elements also recalls the celebrations for Tokugawa's victory in the battle of Sekigahara, which cleared the path to the shogunate that led to a long period of peace and prosperity in Japan. Originally, townspeople would dress up and give thanks to the shrine through lavish performances of Noh theater.

photo credits: tokyoexcess.blogspot.it, xin beitou

During the Edo period, the parade with its beautiful decorations would pass by Edo Castle, giving common people a rare chance to enter its grounds.
Most of the original floats, which had been used since the early days of the festival, were destroyed in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and in the bombing of WWII.

photo credits: viajejet.com, fastjapan.com

Japan Tradition: Aoi Matsuri

The Hollyhock Festival

photo credits: mutabi.wordpress.com

One of Kyoto’s three most well-known festivals, Aoi Matsuri (葵祭) takes place every year on the 15th of May. The name of this festival derives from the hollyhock leaves that participants in the festival’s parade carry with them as they walk down the designated route. In Japanese, “Aoi” (葵) refers to the “alcea rosea” or, as the namesake of this festival, the “hollyhock”. This plant produces brilliant colours and beautiful flowers, and its leaves are believed to have the power to prevent natural disasters.

The main attraction of this festival is a grand parade that involves more than 500 people dressing up in the aristocratic styles of the Heian period (794 - 1185 CE).
This annual parade starts from the Imperial Palace, and the participants will walk down the road until they arrive at Kamo Shrine. This name refers to the shinto sanctuary complex that consists of Kamigamo shrine and Shimogamo shrine.

photo credits: amanohashidate.jp, Nobuhiro Suhara

The Origins

The festival first started during the reign of Emperor Kinmei (539 - 571CE), when a period of heavy rains ruined the harvest and an epidemic spread through the country.

It was believed that these tragedies came about because the Kamo deities wanted to punish the people. Thus, the emperor sent a messenger to the temple with offerings and to perform various rituals in order to appease these deities. Part of these rituals also required the riding of a galloping horse.

photo credit: Alex Hurst, Clement Koh

This became an annual event with the intention of preventing further disasters. However, during the reign of Emperor Monmu (697 - 707CE), it was suspended due to the huge amount of people joining to watch the rituals. In the 19° century, Emperor Kanmu established the seat of the imperial throne in Kyoto and this represented the beginning of the Heian period in Japanese history. The emperor recognised the Kamo deities as protectors of the capital and reestablished the Aoi Matsuri as an annual imperial event. The festival was sometimes discontinued in some periods of Japanese history, especially during World War II, but it was actively resumed in 1953. The Saiō-Dai tradition in this festival was also initiated in 1956.

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The characters of the Festival

There are two main characters in the Aoi Matsuri: the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger.
The Saiō-Dai is a woman chosen from the sisters and daughters of the emperor to dedicate herself to the Shimogamo Shrine. The role of the Saiō-Dai is to maintain spiritual purity and represent the Emperor at the festival. Today the Saiō-Dai is chosen from all unmarried women of Kyoto. She wears twelve layers of silk robes (jūnihitoe), finely colored in the traditional style of the Heian court. To maintain ritual purity the Saiō-Dai has to go through several ceremonies of purification before the festival’s parade.

photo credit: Hong Seongwan

The Imperial Messenger, on the other hand, conducts the procession of the festival by riding a horse. During the Heian period, he would be a Fifth-Rank courtier holding office of middle or lesser capitan. He was also typically a man destined for high office. His role was to read the imperial edict and present the emperor’s offerings. During the Heian period, the Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger would be accompanied by ten dancers and twelve musicians.

photo credits: Hisanori

Celebrations Today

The parade starts at 10:30 a.m. on May 15th at Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. It then slowly departs for two important stops: the Shimogamo Shrine, where the procession should arrive at 11:15 a.m., and the Kamigamo Shrine, where they will arrive at 3:30 p.m. The Saiō-Dai and the Imperial Messenger perform their rituals at these stops. The Saiō-Dai pays her respects to the deities, while the Imperial Messenger intones the imperial rescript, praising the deities and requesting their continued favor.

photo credits: Slugicide, find-your-jpn.com

Japan Modern Culture: Studio Ghibli

photo credits: ghibli.jp

Raise your hand if you didn’t fall in love with Howl, the sorcerer with his wandering castle, or who has not felt tenderness for Kaonashi, the Faceless of "The Enchanted City" ... If you are among those who love the productions of Studio Ghibli too, then you are in the right place!

The Hot Wind of the Desert

June 15, 1985: Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma decided to found 株式会社スタジオジブリ or Studio Ghibli Inc. whose name was chosen by Miyazaki with the intention of "creating a whirlwind in the world of Japanese animation". The roots lie in the passion for aviation of the Japanese director and screenwriter, in fact "Ghibli" is not only the warm wind of the Sahara desert but, during the Second World War the Italian reconnaissance plane Caproni Ca.309 was nicknamed "Ghibli". Curious, isn't it?

At first no one thought that the project would been very successful, so to minimize the risk of failure, 70 temporary entertainers were employed and the office of the studio consisted of a 90 square meter office rented in Kichijoji, Tokyo.

photo credits: sgcafe.com

A success after another

Studio Ghibli began its official production with "Laputa - castle in the sky", "My neighbor Totoro" and "Grave of the Fireflies”, three animated pearls acclaimed by critics. However, at first, these three wonderful pieces did not achieve the same success they accumulated over time.

It was "Kiki's Delivery Service” that achieved great results in 1989 becoming the success of the year at the Japanese box office. This allowed for permanent contracts to be introduced into production and to hire new staff. By now the Studio had almost 300 people working and they began to think of moving to a new location just during the production of Porco Rosso, whose quality was not excellent due to the crowding in office.

In 1992 the new study, whose realization was followed in first person by Miyazaki who drew the final appearance, was ready. They were finally ready to move to Koganai (Tokyo). Computer-generated imagery (CGI), which allows a digitized two-dimensional image to be handled in any kind of three-dimensional view, was introduced with "Pom Poko".

In 1994 and 1995 "Whisper of the Heart” was released. At the end of the 90s and the early 2000s the Studio Ghibli signed one of his most beloved masterpieces, achieving the deserved success also outside Japan: Princess Mononoke (1997), Spirited Away (2001) and Howl's moving Castle (2004), directed by Hayao Miyazaki.

In 2006 was the turn of Gorō, son of Miyazaki, to direct the film Tales from Earthsea and, two years later, Studio Ghibli became the only Japanese animation studio to use exclusively traditional drawing techniques for their own productions.

Unfortunately, in 2013, on the occasion of the 70th International Film Festival of Venice, following the presentation of Studio Ghibli’s 19th animated film "The Wind Rises", Miyazaki announced his retirement, with consequent displeasure of the fans. The producer said that his advanced age no longer allowed him to follow the long accomplishments of his films and so, on November 8th 2014, the Academy awarded him with the Oscar for his career.

2015 was a strange year for Studio Ghibli: Hiromasa Yonebayashi, director of "Arrietty” and "When Marnie Was There” left the production. During a conference in Tokyo, Miyazaki announced his commitment to a new project whose production could have required more than five years of work. In fact, in 2017, through an interview with producer Toshio Suzuki, we discovered that the new feature would have been an adaptation of the 1937 Japanese novel "Kimi-tachi wa do ikuruka?" by Genzaburo Hoshino.

We just have to wait for the surprises that years of experience and passion will gift us!

photo credits: tokyotreat.com

Ghibli Museum

Reachable with the JR Chuo line for the delightful town of Mitaka, the museum presents a variety of rooms that mix the vintage and steampunk style overflowing with references to Japanese folklore and everyday life. Inside, there is also a cinema where unpublished short films of about 15 minutes are screened.

Moreover, at different times of the year, special exhibitions are set up for limited periods of time! Getting tickets for the Museum is not easy as they are not sold in the venue. Reservations must be made some time before through the Lawson ticket offices online or in the Lawson convenience stores on the Japanese territory, or at specific ticket offices abroad where the tickets are placed at available only for 4 months a year.

For any specific information and for all updates, you can check the official website, also available in English here: http://www.ghibli-museum.jp/en/

photo credits: forbes.com

Exhibition of Studio Ghibli in Tokyo

The "Toshio Suzuki and Studio Ghibli Exhibition", the first exhibition after 3 years of the study at the EDOCCO cultural exchange center, Kanda Myojin Temple in Tokyo, inaugurated on April 20 and it’s running until May 12. It’s a must for anyone who wants to be catapulted into the enchanting world of Ghibli. You can admire the illustrations and documentation revealing the behind the scenes of the plots and production processes of these masterpieces from its foundation until today.

A large merchandise section is also available, including special ema and omamori created in collaboration with the temple itself. Enthusiasts will also find themed menus at the EDOCCO café such as the "Makkuro na kuro goma ohagi no ocha set" in homage to Makkuro Kurosuke (Soot Sprites) or the "Tonari no Kakigori ”inspired by My neighbor Totoro.

It is possible to buy tickets for the exhibition both on-site and online at a cost of 1,300 ¥ for adults and ¥ 800 for students. Official website: https://ghibli-suzuki.com/

photo credits: amu-zen.com