Japan Italy: Japan 4 L'Aquila

The friendship between Japan and Italy is getting closer and closer as the years go by. Today we are happy to present you an event that brings together our countries even more: Japan 4 L'Aquila.

From Mount Fuji to the Gran Sasso, a path that crosses the globe and reaches us, in a city that has much in common with Japan. In these areas where life is being reborn and returning to normal after the great earthquake of April 6, 2009, the Japan Association in Abruzzo from Fuji to Gran Sasso has organized this free cultural event to promote interculturality and solidarity between Italy and Japan.

Between 30 and 31 March, you will have the opportunity to attend four events, four artistic souls that from the Rising Sun will come to make their own contribution to the cultural renaissance of the city of L'Aquila. A voluntary and solidarity initiative that strongly highlights the sense of belonging and the pain caused by such devastating natural disasters, in Italy as in Japan.

The appeal of Japan 4 The Eagle has been received by several people, who, having learned of the initiative, have done their best to participate in it and give the city of L'Aquila a sign of hope of rebirth and overcoming pain.

Two days full of events to bring our two cultures closer together. The first event will be held on March 30th 2019 from 6.30pm at the Basilica of San Bernardino, Armonie d'Argento (The Eagle). A singing event performed by three choirs, two Italians and one Japanese. Here it will be possible to listen to the Aquilano Choir "Armonie d’Argento", the "Francesco D'Urbano" Choir of "Fara Filiorum Petri" and the Japanese "en" choir of pianist Mami Odagiri. Each of the three choirs will perform pieces from their repertoire to then join in the performance of "Furusato" a Japanese song and Inno "A San Bernardino da Siena" at the end of the concert.

A concert as a sign of friendship to commemorate and pray together for the victims of the earthquakes in L'Aquila and the grinding earthquake of the Tohoku region, hit hard in March 2011 by an earthquake that generated a violent Tsunami, causing the accident at the nuclear power plant of Fukushima.

This initiative thus becomes a bridge, a symbol of friendship and hope that unites Italy and Japan that without borders have experienced the same tragedies.

As a sign of solidarity and brotherhood with the post-earthquake boys from L'Aquila together with the children of the Izumi Kids Camp, Iwaki elementary schools, they created and painted 99 okiagari-koboshi for the city of 99. The okiagari-koboshi are dolls of papier-mache typical of the Japanese tradition, symbol of perseverance and resilience. Their characteristic is to fall and stand up again immediately. The dolls, held on display in the days of the exhibition at the Palazzetto dei Nobili, will be donated to the Dante Alighieri State High School in L'Aquila as a sign of solidarity among children of the same age who have suffered the same experiences with the wish of get up and keep smiling.

We then continue with the Japanese artist Ayami Noritake, with his artistic project "Roman Kobo Ren". On Saturday 30 and Sunday 31 March 2019, the works will be exhibited in the rooms of the Palazzetto dei Nobili, where the artist Ayami Noritake will also show her working techniques and the creative process linked to her works.

Thanks to the use of the chigiri technique-and the artist Noritake uses rice paper, typical of the Japanese tradition, to create three-dimensional paintings where a material, light and inconsistent like paper, take new forms.

On the 30th afternoon, the Japanese documentary film Yoshizaku Kaneyama, entitled "Sukagawa, a step towards reconstruction" (須賀川、復興への歩み) will be broadcast with Italian subtitles.

We can never forget the great earthquake of Tohoku that hit Japan in March 2011. The earthquake caused a violent tsunami that, in addition to devastating entire cities and wiping out thousands of lives, also caused the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Through his "docu-film television", the director Kaneyama addresses the complicated theme of this terrifying earthquake in the city of Sukagawa. It tells the various passages from pain to the rebirth of the Sukagawa community, documenting how, even in a country like Japan, used to strong and constant earthquakes, it is slow and complicated to activate a collective mechanism that leads to the rehabilitation of a city/society, affected from a natural disaster.

The event will then end in great joy thanks to the "Vaiwatts" who will hold a free concerto on the evening of March 30th!

The group, composed of musicians and vocalist Tama and Pierrot Ken, decided to give the city of L'Aquila an evening of his 2019 European tour, as a sign of solidarity and sympathy. The duo will also be joined by guitarist Daisuke Chiba, who has been working with them for years now.

From 2014 to 2017 they held solidarity concerts for Tohoku and decided to continue this experience of solidarity, arriving in L'Aquila with their passion and the hope of being able to approach two peoples through their music.

If you are in the surroundings of L'Aquila, we strongly advise you to attend these events, a wonderful opportunity to deepen the culture of Japan and be able to bring solidarity to our two nations hit so hard by catastrophes like the earthquake.


Japan Tradition: Saigō Takamori

photo credits: jpninfo.com

Saigō Takamori (1828-1877) is remembered both for his important role in the Meiji Restoration which overthrew the shogunate in 1868 and for his failed rebellion against the new government less than a decade later. Although he died a renegade, a government pardon rehabilitated his reputation and 150 years after the Meiji restoration, the spotlight is again on the last samurai.

Saigō's rise to power began in 1854 when he was recruited by Shimazu Nariakira, the daimyo of the Satsuma domain (now Kagoshima prefecture), to accompany him to the capital of Edo (now Tokyo). As a low-ranking official, Saigō was involved in bridge construction projects and roads. He managed to capture Nariakira's attention with a series of memoranda on the agricultural administration that he submitted to the provincial government. Officially he was employed in Edo as a gardener, but his duties went beyond plants. While in the capital, Saigō made contact with the main personalities who opposed the shogunate. The outdoor work offered a comfortable cover for Nariakira and Saigō to meet and talk, avoiding the obstacles they would face due to their large difference in rank.

photo credits: yabai.com

Saigō quickly built a network of loyalists from Mito (now Ibaraki Prefecture) and other domains. He won the trust of Nariakira with his simple and emotional nature, and over time the daimyo came to look for the opinions of the younger people. However, the situation began to change from 1857 when Abe Masahiro died. He elderly shogunate adviser who had helped ensure the succession of his close friend Nariakira as Satsuma daimyo. Nariakira himself died the following year and the power in Satsuma passed to his younger brother Shimazu Hisamitsu. Meanwhile, the conservative politician Naosuke had taken effective control of the shogunate, launching an important crackdown on the reformists.

Suffering from the loss of Nariakira and facing difficult political prospects, Saigō was determined to follow his teacher to the grave but was persuaded by Gessho, the chief priest of a Kyoto temple, to flee with Satsuma. However, once there, they threw themselves into the sea in Kagoshima Bay and Gessho drowned, but Saigō miraculously survived.

Over the next five years, Saigō suffered periods of exile on the islands of Amami Ōshima and Okinoerabujima. On Amami he was given some freedom and married a local woman. However, After a brief respite on his return from Amami, he was again exiled to an island after angering Hisamitsu. This period of imprisonment became an opportunity for serious reflection on his life and shaped his personality as a caring man of firm principles.

Iechika Yoshiki, Saigō’s biographer and researcher, argues that, unlike most people, he was not afraid of death. Having lost many people he loved and respected, including his parents, Nariakira and Gessho, he was not terrified of dying and saw it as a way to be reunited with his loved ones.

photo credits: nippon.com

Iechika says that Saigō believed that heaven had spared his life for a reason and that he would live to complete his divine call. This philosophy is linked to his famous motto “keiten aijin”, which means "Respect the sky and love people". According to Saigō, the questions of life and death were above human consideration and had to be left entirely to fate.

In 1864 Saigō reconciled with Hisamitsu and returned to the Kyoto political center as commander of the Satsuma army. After rejecting the anti-shogunate forces from the Chōshū domain (now Yamaguchi Prefecture) while attempting to enter the city, he was promoted to the rank of high officer. The event, known as the Hamaguri Gomon incident, was Saigō's first battle experience with an army. The same year, he became chief of staff of the shogunate army sent to punish Chōshū. In 1866, however, Satsuma and Chōshū entered an alliance mediated by Sakamoto Ryōma. Saigō took charge of the opposition forces that would eventually become soldiers of the new Meiji government.

In 1864 Saigō reconciled with Hisamitsu and returned to the Kyoto political center as commander of the Satsuma army. After rejecting the anti-shogunate forces from the Chōshū domain (now Yamaguchi Prefecture) while attempting to enter the city, he was promoted to the rank of high officer. The event, known as the Hamaguri Gomon incident, was Saigō's first battle experience with an army. The same year, he became chief of staff of the shogunate army sent to punish Chōshū. In 1866, however, Satsuma and Chōshū entered an alliance mediated by Sakamoto Ryōma. Saigō took charge of the opposition forces that would eventually become soldiers of the new Meiji government.

In January 1868, the imperial loyalists led by Satsuma and Chōshū proclaimed the restoration of power from the shogun to the emperor. The resistance of the shogunate supporters triggered the Boshin war later in that month. Although the conflict dragged on until the following year, a key victory for the Meiji troops came with the surrendering of Edo Castle in the spring of 1868. With the city and nation in danger and fighting in Edo, Saigō entered the stronghold of the shogunate with only a handful of followers, wanting to try negotiation. Surrounded by enemy soldiers, he faced the prospect of murder. The discussion and cooperation between Saigō and the leader of the shogunate Katsu Kaishū led to the peaceful delivery of the castle, as a "bloodless delivery".

photo credits: nippon.com

In Japan, Saigō Takamori, Ōkubo Toshimichi and Kido Takayoshi are considered the three great figures of the Meiji Restoration. However, according to Iechika, Saigō's success at Edo Castle was something the other two members of the trio could never have achieved. He claims that without Saigō, the Meiji Restoration would never have happened and that people today see the event favorably because of this. On the contrary, if the movement had caused a bloody civil war, it is likely that public sentiment would have been very different. Although Saigō was not the astute politician that Ōkubo was, he had a love and a spirit that the other could not match.

In 1871 Saigō joined the Meiji government and in 1873 he became an army general. However, he resigns a few later after losing a debate about his support for a military expedition to Korea. He returned to his home in the prefecture of Kagoshima, where he spent his time cultivating and hunting. However, In 1877, he was convinced to lead an army of dissatisfied Samurai in the Satsuma rebellion. Driven by government forces in the battles on Kyūshū, the army reached the last position at Shiroyama in Kagoshima. Saigō committed suicide after his soldiers were defeated. He was 49 years old.

Saigō is the likely inspiration for Katsumoto Moritsugu - played by Watanabe Ken in the 2003 film The Last Samurai. The film complains of the passage of bushidō (the way of the Samurai) through Katsumoto, as noted by the Civil War veteran Tom Cruise, Nathan Algren (the character has no direct historical equivalent).

Saigo's association with traditional values in a modernized Japan is why he was called "the last Samurai". Just 12 years after his failed rebellion, he was pardoned by the Meiji government and in 1898 a statue of Saigō and his dog was erected in Tokyo's Ueno Park. Almost a century and a half after his death, it remains a popular historical and cultural icon.

photo credits: madmonarchist.blogspot.com


Japan Travel: Ginza

Ginza: expensive, elegant and luxurious

Located in Chuō, Ginza (銀座) is Tokyo's most famous shopping area. This luxurious district was once part of the ancient Kyobashi district, which, together with Nihonbashi and Kanda, formed the core of Shitamachi, the original center of Edo-Tokyo. Built on an ancient reclaimed swamp during the 16th century, Ginza owes its name (Silver Mint) to the establishment of a silver coin mint (Silver Coin Mint) on this land in 1612.

photo credit: wikimedia.org

A devastating fire destroyed much of the area in 1872. Following this incident, the government decided that reconstruction was to use fireproof bricks to erect new buildings, and the roads should be improved and enlarged. At the same time, they should be able to connect Shimbashi station to Tsukiji. This new version of Ginza was designated as a "model of modernization" and the Irish architect Thomas Waters was given the responsibility of designing the area. In the following year, a long western-style shopping street rose with two- and three-storey Georgian brick buildings reaching from the Shinbashi bridge to the Kyōbashi bridge.

However, the high cost for both the purchase and the lease of these new buildings prevented their long-term occupations and at the same time, an issue regarding the climate arose; such buildings were not suitable for the weather conditions unique to Tokyo. To add to the issues, the design of this area contrasted with the traditional Japanese style, and as such it was not quite appreciated by visitors who were much more interested in an Edo-style town and rather than something "similar to Broadway", as described in the words of the English tour guide writer, Philip Terry.

Despite stylistic problems, Ginza managed to flourish as a symbol of "civilization and enlightenment", becoming famous for its rich shop windows. In the period between the two world wars, the habit of spending time and walking through Ginza, even with no purpose, grew very popular. As time passed, most of the European-style buildings have disappeared. Among those remaining is the Wakō building, originally built by Kintarō Hattori, with its iconic Hattori Clock Tower and its luxurious gold objects inside.

photo credits: japantimes.co.jp

Not only shopping

A key stop for shoppers in Ginza is definitely Ginza Six. Opened in the spring of 2017, it is the largest shopping complex in the district. In addition to numerous cosmetic and fashion floors, there are floors dedicated to food and interior design, a large Tsutaya bookstore specializing in art publications, a pleasant rooftop garden and a Noh theater in the basement.

No less famous is the store of the chain Mitsukoshi. While this store opened in 1930, its history dates back to 1673, when it was first established. It offers products and services on twelve floors. Fans of the brand Uniqlo will find satisfaction in this 12-storey building which offers the widest range of products in the world of this brand.

Ginza, however, is not just limited shopping. For Kabuki representations, the best place is found in this part of town. It is the Kabukiza Theater. Do not miss a trip to the Yurakucho Gado-shita Dining as well. It is one of Tokyo's most interesting dining options, located under the sky train tracks, north and south of the Yurakucho station (In Japanese: Gado-shita, "under beam"). Dozens of restaurants are integrated into the brick arches below the Yamanote line which extend for over 700m. Here you can taste world-famous Japanese cuisine, or sip special wines in the luxurious French wine shops.

photo credits: harv.world


Japan Folklore: Nippombashi Street Festa

photo credits: jnto.go.jp

In Osaka, anime and manga come to life

Every year since 2005, between early days and mid-March, the streets of Den Den Town located between Ebisucho Station and Nihonbashi are closed to car traffic for the biggest cosplay event in all of Japan: the Nippombashi Street Festa (日本橋ストリートフェスタ).

Den Den Town is the electronic district of Osaka that, thanks to its toy stores, video games stores and computer stores, has begun to attract a large number of manga and anime fans, soon turning into one of the "sacred" destinations for Otaku. Each year the festival is enhanced by attracting not only the local but also a more international audience!

photo credits: reddit.com

The Festival begins!

Preparations for the event start around 11:00 am with the roads closing to traffic. Here, above the street the main stage on which guests, cosplayers and sponsors alternate throughout the day is built.
The opening ceremony begins at 12.00 pm when a road is created for the parade of the 1,000 best cosplayers from around the world. After the show, cosplayers perform and pose for all those wishing to approach their favorite character. Many of them take advantage of the event to promote their socials accounts, writing their address on whiteboards or signs placed next to them while they are immortalized in the poses studied in advance.

Obviously the event is not open only to professionals, but hundreds and hundreds of people wear their own costume. It doesn’t matter if this belongs to pop culture, anime, manga, video games or even cartoons and characters from American comics (especially Marvel, Adventure Time and Star Wars), almost 10,000 people a year turn into their own hero! Of course, the festival is free, but if you want to participate in the parade, an entry fee of around 1,500 yen is needed.

The event is also the perfect opportunity to find unique designs by Nippombashi Street Festa and exclusive goods.

photo credits: nippombashi.jp

The cultural exchange project between Japan and France and an exceptional ambassador

From 2018, year of the 160th anniversary of friendship between France and Japan, the 「Japan-France pop culture Exchange project」was promoted in order to deepen the cultural exchange between manga, animation, music and other aspects of Japanese pop culture with the France in collaboration with the「Japan Expo」.

To disseminate the event and make it even more alive, KAMIJO, the talented Japanese artist who became particularly famous in France, was chosen as the project's ambassador.

This year the Nippombashi Street Festival will be held on March 9th and will be the perfect opportunity to immerse yourself not only in the magical world of fantasy, but also in the musical world!


Japan Tradition: Hinamatsuri

photo credits: mcasiwakuni.marines.mil

Doll’s Day

There is a special celebration held annually on the third day of the third month in Japan known as Hina-matsuri (雛 祭 り), also known as Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day. During this celebration, the misfortunes of girls are transferred to the dolls and the family members pray to the gods for their daughters’ good health and beauty.
This festival dates back to the Heian period (1650) and in Japanese culture, dolls have always been believed to have the capacity to contain evil spirits. During the Hina-Nagashi (雛 流 し, The floating doll) ceremonies, straw dolls will be placed along the course of a river to take the evil spirits away with them. This ritual is still carried out in some parts of Japan.

photo credit: monchhichi.net

The Dolls of Hina-dan (雛 壇)

The hina-dan is a platform of 7 steps covered by a red carpet with a rainbow stripe at the bottom, called hi-mōsen. The hina ningyo, ornamental dolls passed from generation to generation, are placed on this hina-dan.
On the first step, the highest step, are the dolls representing the imperial court of the Heian period, the position of emperor and the empress, behind them a small golden screen and two lanterns of paper or silk on the sides.
On the second step there are three court ladies serving sake and separated by two small round tables (takatsuki), on which seasonal sweets are displayed.
On the third step there are five male musicians who are arranged from right to left and based on the instrument they hold in this order: a musician seated with a small drum, a standing musician with a large drum, a standing musician with percussion, a sitting player with the flute and, finally, a singer seated with a fan in his hands.
On the fourth step there are two ministers: the younger is placed on the right, the elder on the left. Both of them are equipped with bows and arrows while separated by takatsuki.
Three samurai, protectors of the emperor and the empress, are placed on the fifth step. They each hold a rake, a shovel, and a broom with respective expressions of weeping, of laughter, and of rage.
On the sixth step there are the objects that the court uses inside the building.
On the seventh and final step, the lowest tier, are the objects the court uses when they are far from the building.

photo credit: trend-blog-site.com

Between kimoni, hishi-mochi and amazake

During the festival, girls wear their most beautiful kimonos or dress up like dolls. There are numerous themed parties where shirozake, a special sweet and non-alcoholic sake based on amazake (甘 酒, a sweetener obtained from the fermentation of rice), arare (あ ら れ, crackers composed by glutinous rice and flavored with soy sauce) and the traditional sweet of Hina-matsuri, hishi-mochi (菱 餅 ひ し も ち) are served.
Hishi-mochi is a cube-shaped glutinous rice mixture made up of three colored layers. Each layer holds special meanings. Green represents the grass and symbolizes health; white represents snow, a symbol of purity; and finally, rose represents the plum blossoms fighting malignancy. Together these three colors indicate the arrival of spring, when the snow melts, the grass grows and the plum blossoms start to bloom.


Bringing Japan to Italy: episode 01 - Alberto Moro

Here we are with the first episode of our new series『Bringing Japan to Italy』dedicated to Alberto Moro, Giappone in Italia Association's President.

Some weeks ago we met him during the finissage of his exhibition "Il mio Giappone" that, as he said himself, it's a great act of love towards this Nation, the Japanese culture and people.

With this first video, we are launching our new series dedicated to all those people that promot the Japanese culture and the world surrounding Japan in our Nation. Japan Italy Bridge, wants to promote this Nation on an even deeper level, together with its companies and all that concernes the land of the Rising Sun.

Enjoy!


Japan Folklore: Versailles no bara, the best-selling manga

photo credit: nefariousreviews.com

In 1972, Riyoko Ikeda created what became the manga and, later, the most famous anime of all time: "Versailles no Bara" (ベルサイユのばら, The Roses of Versailles, known in Italy as Lady Oscar). The talented mangaka, whose meticulous and elegant style has come to stand out and be considered the Shōjo Teacher, had to face her own publisher before seeing her published idea. The publisher was in fact convinced that a biographical manga starring Marie Antoinette could bore readers. Riyoko Ikeda undertook to prove otherwise and in May 1972 the first instalment of "Versailles no Bara" appeared on Shukan Margaret issue number 21, published by Shūeisha, on a weekly basis for a total of 82 episodes ended in 1973.

Between 1972 and 1974, 15 million copies were sold, thus electing Riyoko Ikeda as the queen of the historical manga.

photo credit: supereva.it

The history of the roses of Versailles and the wind that swept over them

In the last years of the Ancien Régime, the young Marie Antoinette of Austria was promised to marry the French dolphin, Luigi Augusto, nephew of Louis XV but his cousin, the Duke of Orleans plotted to kill him and usurp the throne. At the head of the Royal Guard was Oscar François de Jarjayes, a young noblewoman raised by her father, General De Jarjayes, as if she were a boy because he wanted a male heir. Alongside Oscar was a young attendant, André Grandier, nephew of the housekeeper of the Jarjayes family, to whom the General had entrusted the task of serving and protecting her. Covering her role, Oscar foiled many plots that aimed to kill the two princes, thus leading to being esteemed and considered a friend by Marie Antoinette. The capricious future queen, escorted by Oscar at a ball court, met the Swedish count Hans Axel von Fersen, of whom both women fall in love.

At the death of the King, Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI became sovereigns of France and, since the slander on a presumed relationship between Fersen and the Queen did not take long to spread, the count abandoned the country to avoid scandal and enlisted in support of the revolutionaries of America. Marie Antoinette, more and more unhappy and lonely, allowed herself to be influenced by the Countess of Polignac, an ambitious woman who became her favourite and urged the queen to squander money in frivolity. After a few years, the Count of Fersen returned to France and inevitably went back to Marie Antoinette, who, unable to control her feelings, was on the verge of a scandal. Once again the count left the country and the queen, following the birth of the heirs to the throne, decided to move away from the life of the court and retire with her children in the Petit Trianon, arousing the hatred of the high nobility. In the meantime, the famous "Deal of the Necklace" broke out, which threw the first shadows on the public reputation of the queen. Shortly after, Fersen returned from America and during a court ball, Oscar showed up in disguise dressed for the first and only time as a woman but, dancing with Fersen, realized that she could never replace the queen in the heart of the Swedish count and she decided it was probably better to live forever like a man. Following the case of the Black Knight and the further attempt to discredit the royal family in the eyes of the nobility, Oscar abandoned the command of the Royal Guard obtaining from the queen the post of commander of the French Guards regiment of Paris. André, despite being rejected by Oscar after declaring her love, he remained by her side anyway.

General Jarjayes realized that he had made a mistake in allocating his daughter to a military career and began to wish that she would marry, so the second of Oscar in the Royal Guard, Girondel, made her a marriage proposal, but Oscar did not accept, preferring her new soldiers and attempts to earn their respect. The French revolution was at the door: Oscar, who understood to love Andrè, sided with him on the side of the people and together died during the riots of the storming of the Bastille July 14, 1789. The years of the revolution lasted until Marie Antoinette’s execution on the guillotine on October 16, 1793.

photo credit: romaspettacolo.net

One series is not enough!

Twelve years after the mother series, Riyoko Ikeda decided to publish a 4-episode miniseries entitled Versailles no bara gaiden (The Roses of Versailles - Gothic Stories) whose protagonists are Oscar, Andrè and the little Loulou de La Lorencie, Oscar's niece. The episodes narrated are placed between volumes 7 and 8 of the original manga. In 1987 Eikō no Napoleon-Eroika (栄光のナポレオン-エロイカ, The glorious Napoleon - Heroic) also appeared as the official sequel, whose title "Eroika" refers to the third symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, dedicated to Napoleon. These 12 volumes narrate the events of Napoleon immediately after the French Revolution: his empire, the Italian campaign, the campaign of Egypt, the battle of the Nile, the coup d'etat of the 18th Brumaire and the French invasion of Russia. in the course of the narration, some of the already known characters will reappear, but only through flashbacks.

In 2006, Riyoko Ikeda decided to take the pencil again to create "Berubara Kids": an amusing reinterpretation in coloured stripes in which the characters of Versailles no Bara reappear in "chibi" version in key scenes. The small parody was published weekly on "Be", a supplement of the newspaper "Asahi Shimbun".

photo credit: pinterest.it

Roses die in beauty

The fascination of Versailles no Bara pushed many musicians to reinterpret the famous "Bara wa utsukushiku chiru" original song of the anime, but Riyoko Ikeda recognized the LAREINE version with license. The first CD came out on October 1, 1998 and in limited number of copies: only 500 with serial number of which the first 4 were owned by the members of the group. Fortunately, in 1998 it was re-edited and Bara wa utsukushiku chiru officially became the fourth single of the band. On February 9th 2000 the most valuable CD edition was released, containing only two audio tracks in which Riyoko Ikeda herself participated as a soprano singer and took care of the graphic design, also designing the costumes of the band for the music video.


Japan Folklore: Setsubun, how to drive away the demons of winter to welcome spring


photo credits: pinterest.it

Traditional Japanese culture has always been characterized by a constant and loving observation of the natural world, its manifestations and its seasonal cycles. Therefore, the attention given to spring, the special moment when nature awakens in all its creatures the necessity of renewal, must not marvel.

This season is celebrated in Japan with the haru matsuri (春祭, spring festival), a set of events whose beginning is marked by the occurrence of Setsubun (節 分). In the traditional Japanese lunisolar calendar, in fact, every change of season is introduced by a day called, indeed, setsubun (literally "division of the seasons"). Spring setsubun, which falls on 3 February, represents the last day of winter and the day before the start of the new season. It marks the transition from "Taikan" (大寒, big cold) to "Risshun" (立春, first day of spring) and is therefore the most favorable moment for a special "cleaning" from winter burdens, which will drive away evil spirits and favor the entrance of the new life-giving energy. This is the meaning of the traditional "demon expulsion" that takes place on this day through different rituals and customs.


photo credits: pinimg.com

Ancient rituals and family fun

The most famous ritual is undoubtedly the mamemaki (豆 撒 き), which is the launch of soy beans. In the domestic sphere it is entrusted to Toshi Otoko (年 男, man of the year), that is the man of the family of the zodiacal sign of the lunar year entering or in his absence the oldest of the house. He has the task of driving out the harmful spirits and negativities from the house and the new year that is about to start by throwing around irimame (炒 り 豆, toasted soy beans) to the cry of "Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi! (鬼は外! 福は内, "Outside the demons! Inside fortune!"). In alternative, he can hurl the beans at another member of the family who plays the part of the demon wearing a mask of oni (Japanese folklore ogres). Subsequently, each member of the family must collect and eat a number of beans corresponding to their age plus one to ensure a year of success and good health (in the popular tradition, in fact, the demons are considered carriers of natural disasters and diseases).
When the oni is expelled, it is necessary to keep the evil spirits away from the house. For this reason it is possible to see in this period of the year some very special amulets, the Hiiragi Iwashi (柊 鰯), exposed at the entrance of the houses. These are holly branches that have the head of a dried sardine skewered on the end, sometimes complemented by pieces of garlic or onion, which have the purpose of keeping demons away, scared by the thorns and the pungent odor emanating from these talismans.

In both cases it is a tradition that has its roots in antiquity. Nowadays it is possible to buy "Setsubun sets" - made of oni masks and roasted beans - in any combini, but in reality the mamemaki custom would have originated in the Muromachi period (1392-1573) and seems to be inspired to an ancient legend, whose plot is still represented in the form of pantomime in the temple of Mibu-dera in Kyoto. Here the kyogen (ancient Japanese theatrical form) titled "Setsubun" is repeated several times during the day and it is said that it is sufficient to watch it to be purified by any negative or evil spirit. Its plot follows the folk tale that tells of an ogre who, in human form, goes one day to visit a widow. Thanks to its magic hammer, the ogre makes a beautiful kimono, which attracts the widow's attention. Eager to take possession not only of the kimono but also of the magic hammer, she decides to get him drunk to be able to steal them both. The ogre, however, aware of the theft, reveals his demonic nature and attacks the woman, who defends herself with the first thing that is within reach: a handful of soy beans. The oni, wounded but again in possession of his goods, flees leaving the widow safe and sound and perhaps a little wiser.


photo credits: toyokeizai.net

Knowing how to look in the right direction

A tradition of more recent origins, born in Osaka but later spread to the rest of the country, is instead linked to the ehōmaki (恵 方 巻, scroll of lucky direction). In this case, to ensure that the good luck is on our side in the year that is about to begin, it is necessary to eat a special sushi roll in a single solution, without interruptions and in silence, facing the lucky direction of the year. The act is less simple than it may seem, considering that the ehōmaki is much more often than a common sushi roll (having to contain seven ingredients to propitiate the seven gods of luck) and is 20 centimeters long. It is not worth eating it cut into pieces, because doing so would also cut luck. To perform the ritual correctly, it is therefore necessary to arm yourself with concentration, determination and a precise compass. For those interested in experimenting with this custom, the most common ingredients to obtain for the filling are cucumber, surimi, salmon, tuna, anago (sea eel), tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette), dried kanpyo strips and seasoned (Japanese pumpkin) and shiitake mushrooms, as well as rice and nori seaweed, while the lucky direction for 2019 is East-North East.

photo credits: shinsenhino.com

Festive temples

The Setsubun can be celebrated in a domestic environment or at least in a private dimension, with relatives and friends, but it is also and above all a recurrence to be lived in community. For example, schools often organize moments of recreation for children, who wear oni masks or have fun chasing adults dressed as demons while hurling beans against them. But it is especially in the temples that it is possible to experience the collective dimension of the party, participating in the events specially created for this day. First of all, of course, the mamemaki, carried out by the monks who throw soy beans from the top of the stages on the crowd gathered for the event. In some temples more shifts are organized for this ritual, reserving some special ones for children, who in addition to the beans receive sweets or small gifts. In addition to the monks, celebrities are often present, such as sports champions, personalities of the entertainment world, actors of the kabuki theater, geisha and maiko, television celebrities, who add a note of attractive glamor to traditional festivities. Among the latter we must remember the theatrical performances, the various purification ceremonies or even the striking archery performances, in which the archers throw their arrows at targets that have demon-like features.

In short, Setsubun is the ideal day for those who wish to live in company a start of the year that helps to renew their energies and for families who have the opportunity to spend a moment of joy together, something that always remains the best talisman against all evil at every latitude.