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.

photo credits: regex.info

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


Japan Travel: Character Cafes

Japan is the richest land when it’s about magical places, in every sense! Even stopping for a snack can become a unique experience when you immerse yourself in a fantasy world like that of the "Character Cafes" scattered throughout the territory. What are these places? Particular types of themed cafes that allow customers fond of comics and animation to savor incredible kawaii dishes in a room totally inspired by a specific character.
There are temporary concept cafes that open about every two months, but fortunately, there are also permanent ones and they are a fundamental step for anyone who wants a bit of sweetness.

Fantastic Character Cafes and where to find them

PomPomPurin Café

photo credits: dangonews.com, straitstimes.com

Entering the PomPomPurin Café is like entering the room of this sweet big dog, a famous Sanrio character. You are welcomed by the yellow and brown of the furnishings, a quiet and relaxing place where you can enjoy sweets, drinks and specialties of various kinds. Inside the café there are "photo corners", dedicated points to take a picture with your favorite pudding! There are also limited edition goods that can only be purchased at the in-house shop.

photo credits: thechibirain, littlemomiji, klawsbykatya, xxakira0412xx

Official Website: http://pompom.createrestaurants.com/jp/
Address:
TOKYO: 〒150-0001 Shibuya, 1-7-1 Jingumae, CUTE CUBE HARAJUKU 3F
OSAKA: 〒530-0012 Kita, Shibata, 1−1−3 Hankyu Third Avenue South Building
NAGOYA: 3 丁目-32-6 Sakae, Naka Ward, Aichi Prefecture 460-0008
YOKOHAMA: Yokohama City Nishi-ku 2-1-5. YOKOHAMA SOTETSU SQUARE

Final Fantasy Eorzea Café

photo credit: favy-jp.com

Final Fantasy Eorzea Café is a small sanctuary for all fans of the famous Square Enix game FFXIV. Eorzea takes its name from the region where the video game takes place. Its interiors are beautifully decorated and the café in Akihabara also has a bar where you can order alcoholic beverages.
The food and drinks served at the bar are constantly changing, just like in the game! By ordering different drinks you can receive a collector's coaster and the restaurant has a point collection system with which special goods can be won, in addition to those that can be purchased at the dedicated sales corner.
Reservations must be made at least two hours in advance if you wish to find a place in this space.

photo credit:japantravel.com

Official Website: https://www.pasela.co.jp/paselabo_shop/ff_eorzea/
Address:
TOKYO: 2F, 1-1-10 Sotokanda, Chiyoda-ku,
OSAKA: 4F Pasela Resort, 1-4-27 Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-fu

Cinnamoroll Café

photo credit: sanrio.com

Cinnamoroll, a white puppy with long ears, blue eyes, and a curly tail, is one of the most adorable characters of the Sanrio brand. The environment of this café creates an extremely relaxing atmosphere thanks to its delicate colors and its irresistible dishes. Here it is possible to taste the Omu rice, the Stroganoff fillet, the special Shortcake and some seasonal dishes. There is also a shop with limited edition goods.

photo credit: rainbowholic, Japan Italy Bridge, rietiru 

Official Website: http://www.cinnamorollcafe.com/shinjuku/
Address: Shinjuku Marui Annex 3 Chome-1-26 Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0022

Gudetama Café

photo credits: digjapan.travel, picsunday.com

Gudetama is a lazy egg who thinks that everything is mendokusai (a pain) and never has any motivation. And he is the protagonist of the cafe located on the seventh floor of HEP FIVE, a shopping center near the Umeda station in Osaka. Recognizable thanks to its designs, this café offers an exquisitely evolving menu that reflects the lazy and unmotivated nature of its character, in an environment that combines all the shades of pastel yellow with large plush toys by Gudetama in its classic lazy poses.
Cups, magnets and gadgets of various kinds are available to be purchased to bring with you the memory of the most lethargic experience ever!

photo credits: gudetamacafe_hepfive, cafe_shirokuma

Official Website: http://gudetama.createrestaurants.com/jp/info.html
Address: 〒530-0017 Osaka, Kita-ku, Kakuda-cho 5-15, HEP FIVE 7F

Peter Rabbit Garden Cafe

photo credits: japantravel.com, blog.we-are.com

Through the winding streets of Jiyugaoka in Tokyo, a small garden café is hidden, inspired by the stories told in the world of Beatrix Potter whose protagonist is Peter Rabbit. The atmosphere inside the cafeteria is very welcoming and inviting. The blue and white checkered tablecloths cover every table that is decorated with the author's books that you can read and draw on and, sitting next to the customers, you can find the stuffed animals. The wooden floors and furniture give warmth to the environment while various photographs are hung on the walls. On the shelves we find flowers, woven baskets, gardening tools and small objects that evoke images of the picturesque English countryside. Every dish on the menu is carefully designed and, of course, there is a small section dedicated to souvenirs if you want a small piece of sweetness to keep as a souvenir.

photo credit: nemui_ohirune_shitai, luv_barbie_pink, lolitandthecity, curetofficial

Official Website: http://www.peterrabbit-japan.com/cafe/
Address: 1 Chome-25-20 Jiyugaoka, 目黒区 Tokyo 152-0035

Pokémon Cafe

photo credit: digjapan.travel, jw-webmagazine.com

Have you ever dreamed of shouting "Gotta catch'em all!"? You may not be able to do it literally, but the most loyal fans will find joy at Pokémon Café. Opened in 2018 and associated with the Pokémon Center DX, this restaurant is spacious and bright, furnished with simplicity and minimalist decorations, with wooden floors and large tables.
As in any self-respecting character café, Pokémon-themed food and drinks are available, in addition to the seasonal menu available only for a limited period of the year. The unique gadgets always attract collectors. In fact only here is it possible to find poke-thermos, Pikachu stuffed animals in a cook version and the famous Pokéball-shaped cups! Unlike other cafes, online booking is required in advance as the seats are highly sought after.

 

photo credit: nane0v0, xx.asu.pika.025.xx, hanrutmoe

Official Website: https://www.Pokémoncenter-online.com/cafe/
Address: 2-1-2 Nihombashi | Nihombashi Takashimaya SC East Bldg. 5F, Chuo 103-0027, Tokyo

Shiro-Hige’s Cream Puff Factory

photo credit: tripadvisor.com, trip101.com

A solitary sign with 3 small painted Totoro signals the existence of this small café in the quiet neighborhood of Daita, hidden among many plants and tree trunks. Adorable puffs inspired by the famous Studio Ghibli creature are served in various flavors. From traditional vanilla and chocolate to seasonal matcha, white peach and Adzuki beans. But if your stomach demands something more, just go up to the second floor, to the Toto Café where tasty pasta dishes are served with iced coffees.

photo credit: onetheycallbela, eliseaki, cooki3zz

Official Website: http://www.shiro-hige.com/main/
Address: 5-3-1 Daita, Setagaya 155-0033, Tokyo

Shirokuma Cafe - Polar Bear’s Café

photo credit: tripzilla.com

Shirokuma-san, the big polar bear who stars in the manga written by Aloha Higa and owner of a bar that welcomes animal and human friends, is also the inspiration for this cozy café. Lots of masterfully modeled bear-and-panda shaped dishes will inspire customers to take lots of photos, captivated by their beauty and tenderness. The restaurant is cozy and guests can pose for many souvenir photos with adorable cartoon characters, while children can have fun in the corner dedicated to them, full of toys and a television! Do not miss the small shop where you can find soft stuffed animals, notebooks, t-shirts, bags, stationery and bento boxes.

photo credit: chillintokyo.wordpress.com, airvarie

Official Website: http://www.shirokumacafe.net/.en/
Address: Tokyo-do Shinjuku-ku Takadanobaba 2-1-2 TOHMA takadanobaba 1F

Alice in Wonderland Café - Alice's Fantasy Restaurant

photo credit: materialicious.com, yanderette

Five restaurants inspired by the Lewis Carroll novel have permanent locations in Japan.
Each of them is extraordinarily engaging and transports visitors to the different scenarios of Alice's world. There are five themes to choose from: the maze, fantasyland, the fantastic book, the magical land, and the old castle. The menu is strictly inspired by British cuisine. To enter the wonderland it is necessary to book online or you can do it in person by going to the restaurant a few days before.

photo credits: samuelponce.cl, satokomorimoto, mydreamsofdisney, kiki_0_0

Official Website: http://www.alice-restaurant.com/
Address:
ALICE IN LABYRINTH (GINZA, TOKYO) 104-0061 東京都中央区銀座8-8-5 太陽ビル5F
ALICE IN FANTASYLAND (UMEDA, OSAKA) 530-0012 大阪府大阪市北区芝田1-8-1D.D.HOUSE1F
ALICE IN FANTASY BOOK (SHINJUKU, TOKYO) 160-0021 東京都新宿区歌舞伎町1-6-2 T-wingビルB2F
ALICE IN MAGICAL LAND (NISHI-SHINJUKU, TOKYO) 160-0023 東京都新宿区西新宿1-5-1 新宿西口ハルクB3
ALICE IN AN OLD CASTLE (IKEBUKURO, TOKYO) 171-0022 東京都豊島区南池袋2-16−8 鈴和ビルB1

Vampire Cafe

photo credit: dd-holdings.jp, ginzavampire

A macabre atmosphere, red velvet curtains, and luxurious chandeliers catapult customers into Medieval Europe, into a real "vampire house". Inside the café, there is even an altar, a coffin and a cross struck by a beam of light to allow total immersion in the gothic world of the legends concerning the creatures of the night. Of course, the menu is also thematic: dishes and cocktails with unique names belonging to the Italian and French cuisine and are served by staff in a vampire costume.

photo credit: prtimes.jp, ginzavampire

Address: 7F, La Paix Bldg., 6-7-6 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Moomin House Cafe

photo credits: yelp.com

The Moomin, despite belonging to the Finnish tradition, have also found a way in Tokyo to welcome fans into their world. The environment recreates the natural woods in which the Moomins live, giving the café that relaxing and timeless aspect whose goal is to allow everyone to have a place to get together and where they can witness many fun moments. Big puppets live in the café and keep company to the lucky visitors who are able to sit next to them. The dishes are tasty and as always perfectly presented to pamper the heart of those seeking a moment of tenderness.
The most famous menu is the "Souvenir Moomin House Pancakes" because the pancakes are served at the table along with ceramic figurines as a souvenir to take away with them.

photo credit: moomincafe.jp, japantravel.com, moomincafe

Official Website: https://benelic.com/moomin_cafe/
Address: 1F Tokyo Soramachi, 1-1-2 Oshiage, Sumida-ku, Tokyo

Square Enix's Artnia Cafe

photo credits: sweetkammi.wordpress.com

Located in Shinjuku, Artnia mixes its being Square Enix's official goods store with the café whose dishes are based on the company's prestigious game series. Inside, it’s divided into 3 areas: the "Fancy Area", the area dedicated to the merchandising of Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy and Kingdom Hearts, the real "Café & Bar" that occupies most of the space and the splendid "Luxury Area” located behind the bar and designed in black granite. This luxurious area is a real museum containing replicas of the sagas, statues, works of art and jewels, but it is the fountain that rises in the center to be the real attraction of Artnia. It contains a red crystal suspended inside a waterfall that pours into a pedestal with all the spheres of Materia of various colors.

photo credits: favy-jp.com

Official Website: http://www.jp.square-enix.com/artnia/index
Address: 1F Shinjuku East Side Square, 6-27-30 Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo

Maid Café

photo credits: cat.m.mayberry, theginger1nch, maidreamin

Better known as "Meido Kissa", the maid cafes are places where customers are served by Victorian-style waitresses, with their clothes full of lace. These maids have the specific task of satisfying customer requests, so the customers are called "Masters" if they are men, or "Princess" if they are women. These places are mostly concentrated in Akihabara and are always full of extremely accurate details. Once inside, a Maid will accompany the visitor who can only stay for 1 hour to the table and will have to choose whether to drink, eat or another of the available proposals. Moreover, the waitresses interact continuously with the customers and if these are not very talkative, then they will start to do ballets and sing little songs. They are very fun and carefree environments, for a more original break than usual!

photo credits: wheresmy_dang_food, ranamajid007, pegsfordays, debydraws, m00nvixen

Some of the most popular Maid Cafes:
At-Home Café, 1-11-4 Sotokanda Mitsuwa Bldg. 4-7F, Chiyoda 101-0021 Tokyo, https://www.cafe-athome.com/info/
MAIDREAMIN, head store: Sumiyoshi BLDG.6F 3-16-17 Sotokanda Chiyoda-ku Tokyo 101-0021 https://maidreamin.com
MELCAFE, 4 Chome-9-9 Nipponbashi Naniwa-ku Osaka-shi, Osaka http://mel-cafe.com


Japan Modern Culture: 令和 ReiWa, the new Era

令和: ReiWa, the new Era

Exactly one month ahead of Prince Naruhito's accession to the throne, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced the beginning of the new Era for Japan.

Reiwa, formed by the kanji 令 (rei) "auspicious", "ordered" and 和 wa "harmony", "peace", reflects the spiritual unity of the Japanese people, because "culture is born and nourished when people take care of each other lovingly" explained Prime Minister Shinzo Abe immediately after the announcement.

photo credits: asia.nikkei.com

Time passes following the Era of the Emperor

In the Japanese culture, the periods of time throughout history are subdivided according to the system of "eras", gengō (元号): it involves the use of two kanji that represent the hopes, ideals and good intentions for the period to come, followed by the number from the year of the emperor's mandate. According to this system, from 1989 the current era is Heisei 31 (平成31), or the 31st year of the Heisei Era (31 years of "achieving peace" under the guidance of Emperor Akihito). From May 1st, 2019 we will be officially in the Reiwa Era (令和1 - Reiwa 1).

photo credits: tg24.sky.it

The roots of Reiwa

Unlike all previous eras whose names were inspired by Chinese literature, Reiwa has its roots in Man'yōshū, 万集 "The Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves", the oldest collection of Japanese poetry that has survived till today. The authors belong to all walks of life: members of the imperial family, peasants, soldiers, artisans and monks. This choice breaks an over 1300 years old tradition and has a highly symbolic value for Modern Japan. We are wishing for an era of hope and unity and, above all, an era aimed at the preservation of nature. Reiwa will face a path aimed at harmony and to give strength to a nation that in the course of history has always raised up with pride in every adversity and that has never been pulled back.

But how was this name decided?

The choice was made between a list of 30 proposals prepared by Japanese and Chinese literature and history experts appointed by the government for this important task. The traditional procedure requires the Government to make the final choice in a cabinet session, after which the chosen name is revealed to the Emperor in office and he prepares the decree for the proclamation of the new Era.

photo credits: kelo.com

Naruhito, Emperor of the Throne of Chrysanthemum

First born of the current Emperor of Japan Akihito and Empress Michiko, Naruhito (皇太子徳仁親王) became the crown prince to the throne following the death of his grandfather, Emperor Hirohito in 1989. Known for his countless charitable works and a series of absolved imperial functions, he will become the 126th Emperor of the Throne of Chrysanthemum (the oldest ever interrupted monarchy in the world) on May 1st, 2019 following the abdication of his father on April 30th, 2019.

The blank pages of a new beginning

The word Reiwa is so full of serenity, even in its pronunciation! The harmony, the peace, the balance that characterize a the people of a nation like that of the Rising Sun thus finds its fulfillment. Just a few days ago, I had a fixed idea in my mind: "a new beginning", I even wrote a thought entitled "Start of a new chapter", and having woken up with the announcement of this new Era, shook me positively. Furthermore, after hearing Prime Minister Abe's speech, my heart was filled with hope. I like the proposal for greater openness to work for those coming from abroad and I believe that this can bring a prosperous future for Japan worldwide.
The spirit of cohesion, solidarity and peace may seem an utopia, but it must start from the small things, from us and then spread like the waves produced by a pebble falling into the water.


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

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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!

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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

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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.