Japanese Culture



Konpa (コンパ) are a type of Japanese drinking gathering held by university students in a casual drinking establishment called an izakaya, and are more relaxed than the traditional nomikai. It is often suggested that this word originally came from German:Kompanie, English: company, or French: compagnie, although the exact root is unknown. These gatherings are intended for developing friendships or deepening relationships with members of the same affiliated group or with the opposite sex that benefit Japanese socially in their careers and in their lives.

When Japanese university culture was first established during the Meiji period (1868-1912)., the custom of members of the same class or dormitory drinking together to deepen their bond of friendship began. These gatherings were largely restricted to members of the same sex until after World War II when mixing between the sexes became increasingly more common. The modern manifestation of this drinking custom is the konpa of today. In recent years, young professionals continue to hold konpa even after graduation from a university, often to find a potential spouse, but the definition of konpa (as opposed to the all encompassing nomikai) restricts it to young people and is very rarely participated in after marriage.

Current practice
Konpa are heavily planned, and an appointed organizer (termed kanji in Japanese) often seeks out the location, determines a time, and sets the price for each attendee. The participants in the parties are pre-determined, and it is not typically accepted to attend or join in a konpa if one is not invited by the kanji. Attendees typically sit on the floor on a sitting cushion (see: zabuton) around a long table in a secluded area of the predetermined venue. In some cases attendees will be seated at one or several Western-style tables. As typical of Japanese drinking gatherings (see: nomikai), konpa often begin with an opening speech from a senior member or organizer and a toast. Drinks are brought in by a wait staff along with various types of snacks thought to go along with alcohol (termedtsumami in Japanese). It is typical to have a time-restricted "all you can drink" period termed nomihōdai (or nomihō for short) that is paid for by a set fee. This often comes along with a certain number of snacks, and extra items can generally be ordered for an additional price. A beer-only "all you can drink" period is usually cheaper than an all-inclusive period including heavier liquors. This system is conducive to the heavy drinking prevalent among Japanese university students, which is viewed as a way of relaxing to permit more uninhibited conversation between attendees. It is common for attendees to drink to the point of vomiting or losing consciousness. It is usually the duty of the organizer to ensure that everyone has all of his or her own belongings and that they return home safely.

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Princess Hachikatsugi​

The Princess with the Magic Bowl​

It's time for another traditional folklore from the land of the rising Sun.

This is the wonderful story of a princess who faces many hardships upon receiving a bowl which is placed on her head by her dying mother but cannot be removed. She eventually finds true friendship and love, finally finding her happiness.

This is a popular Japanese folklore that has seen many renditions over the years and has even been adapted in the popular ongoing anime series Folktales from Japan.

Click Read More for the full story.


Chip off the old block!

Kokeshi (こけし kokeshi), are Japanesedolls, originally from northern Japan. They are handmade from wood, have a simple trunk and an enlarged head with a few thin, painted lines to define the face. The body has a floral design painted in red, black, and sometimes yellow, and covered with a layer of wax. One characteristic of kokeshi dolls is their lack of arms or legs. The bottom is marked with the signature of the artist.

The origin and naming of kokeshi is unclear, with historical ateji spellings including 小芥子, 木牌子, 木形子, and 木芥子. The hiragana spelling こけし was agreed on at the All-Japan Kokeshi Exhibition (全国こけし大会) at Naruko Onsen in August 1939. A plausible theory is that "kokeshi" is derived from wooden (木 ki, ko) or small (小 ko), and dolls (芥子 keshi).

Kokeshi were first produced by kijishi (木地師), artisans proficient with a potter's wheel, at the Shinchi Shuraku, near the Tōgatta Onsen in Zaō from where kokeshi making techniques spread to other spa areas in the Tōhoku Region. It is said that these dolls were originally made during the middle of the Edo period (1600–1868) to be sold to people who were visiting the hot springs in the north-east of the country.

For the full article and a great video click Read More.


Japanese Coffee Houses

Japan is so well known for tea - both the beverage itself and the many customs and rituals surrounding it - that many people don’t know that coffee is just as deeply ingrained in daily life as tea is. Japanese people have been obsessing about the perfect cup of coffee for a long time, way before mass-market paper cup coffee joints started proliferating around the world.

A cafe or coffee house in Japan is called a kissaten. This literally means ‘tea tasting shop’, but in actuality a kissaten is a place where you can get a great cup of coffee, a light meal, a delicious piece of cake - or indeed a cup of black tea. Traditional green teas are not served as a kissaten. These days kissaten can be called cafés, or caffes if they’re going for an Italian feel. But you still get what you’ve always been able to get a a good old kissaten.

Neither of the two kissaten I’m introducing to you here are famous or unusual in any way. They are just small, comfy neighborhood joints. You probably don’t want to go out of your way to visit them, since you will very likely run into a similar place closer to wherever you are…if you hurry.

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Why Halloween Became a Thing in Japan

Many moons ago, Halloween was not a thing.

Well, it was if you were foreigner, but Japanese people just didn't really get it. Now, more and more, they do, and are putting their own spin on it. So what happened?

The two things that have really made Halloween in Japan are Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan. And they've done this in the last decade. Tokyo Disneyland held its first Halloween event in 2000, and each year it's gotten bigger and bigger. Ditto for Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. Prior to this, Halloween in Japan used to only mean foreigners wearing funny customs in bars and drinking on public transportation. But Tokyo Disneyland and USJ provided an easy way for Japanese people to enjoy Halloween. Even before Halloween caught on, it seemed like it would be a logical fit for Japan, being the country that gave the world cosplay. There isn't widespread trick-or-treating (and where there is, it can be highly organized), but more and more kids are going to Halloween parties and dressing up.

Then there's an increasing amount of merchandising, which ranges from small pumpkins (normal sized ones are incredibly expensive), cakes, cookies, ice cream, and more. You now see Halloween decorations in stores and even on some TV shows—things that you never saw a decade ago. The holiday is slightly different in Japan and it's not a national event yet, but each year, it's more and more popular. You can see the birth of a new holiday right before your very eyes. But it's not as simple as Japan importing an American holiday or just playing dress up. Japan-based game localizer and writer Matt Alt, co-author of Yurei Attack!, calls Halloween a "kid's version" of the Japan's traditional spooky season, which is in August. (Full disclosure: Tuttle, which is republishing one of my books, publishes Alt's book.)

That month, there are the Obon holidays, when the spirits of the dead visit household shrines and when families clean the graves of the deceased. This is what people traditionally are supposed to do—though, I've only cleaned the family grave a few times—when they return home. These days, some people go on vacation or just relax at home for a "death free" Obon. Still, the spooky notion remains, with people telling scary stories on TV. During the hot, sticky month, people traditionally tell spooky stories to send chills down their spines. Yurei, or vengeance spirits, often appear in these stories. Yurei Attack!'s co-author Hiroko Yoda says that the lesson behind yurei is that if you mistreat someone, they will come back to haunt you. "It's a karmic thing," she says. Yurei, however, are indiscriminate. Alt calls yurei "spiritual landmines" that are relentless and determined to kill pretty much whomever is in their way, and it doesn't matter if you are completely innocent or not.

The West has a wide variety of ghosts—from terrifying, vengeful ghosts to, well, friendly, cute ghosts. Yurei are not cute. They are not friendly. Because of that, Alt points out, you pretty much never see "Yurei" marketed on toys. Instead, toy companies use "obake" (ghost), which seem softer. What's more, Obon isn't marketable in the same way Halloween is and doesn't exactly inspire a slew of merchandise.

In the West, Halloween is closely connected to death, with its roots in festivals of the dead as well as All Saints' Day. But in Japan, it isn't seen that way; it's a holiday imported from America. It doesn't have the close connection to death like Obon, thus making it somewhat abstract in Japan. That doesn't mean it cannot be scary in Japan—there is an uptick in the number of haunted houses during the fall now. Though, like the Resident Evil attraction now at USJ, they're not centered around yurei. There's still a clear distinction.

Hana-saka Jii-san

The Old Man Who Made Flowers Bloom

This is the story of a kind old man who makes withered trees bloom. This folkstory sees a kind old man rewarded with wealth and good fortune for his kindness and what happens to those that strive for greed and selfishness.

Click Read More for a wonderful story.


The art of growing miniature trees

Bonsai (tray cultivation) is an ancient Japanese art of growing miniature trees by using containers. Dwarfing is often confused with this practice. However, dwarfing is actually a practice that is used for research purposes to create miniatures of plant species. Bonsai grows smaller trees from normal seeds and stock. Pruning, potting, root reduction, grafting, and defoliation are techniques that Bonsai artists use to create trees that have similar shapes and styles of full-sized mature trees.

There are many different styles of bonsai trees. The distinctions come from the different shapes that are formed by the trees' branches and all have different names. Many of these styles are shaped to imitate features of the natural world, like cascades and waterfalls. Bonsai is meant to be used to encourage contemplation, instead of being used to produce food, medicine, or yard or park-sized landscapes, like most other practices of plant cultivation. Bonsai's focus is on growing and shaping trees in containers over long periods of time. It is an art that can take a good deal of time and training to master..

During the 1970s, Bonsai experienced a resurgence in global popularity. Three periodicals began publication at this time. These magazines were called Bonsai Sekai, Shizen to Bonsai, and Satsuki Kenkyu. The first Gafu-Ten (Elegant-Style Exhibition) was held in 1975 and helped to promote Bonsai to regular people. This was the same year that another convention called the Sakufu-ten (Creative Bonsai Exhibit) was held. The Sakufu-ten was the first of its kind as it allowed the actual growers of the bonsai trees to display their work to the attendees of the exhibition event and be credited by their own names. This show was organized by a man named Hideo Kato and was held at Tokyo's Daimaru Department Store. The first World Bonzai Convention was held in 1980 in the city of Osaka. These events lead to global acceptance of the art of Bonzai. Today, there are more than one thousand books on the subject. They are published in over twenty-six languages and can be found in more than ninety nations around the globe. It is also the subject of dozens of magazines and the basis for many clubs and organizations.

Bonsai is accepted as a beautiful art form and a great way to find relaxation and refocus the mind. It is a unique art that is enjoyed by many people in Japan and around the world.

Read More for a couple of stunning examples.

Warashibe Chōja

The Straw Millionaire

The legend of the Straw Millionaire (わらしべ長者 Warashibe Chōja), also known as Daietsu or the Daikokumai is a Japanese Buddhist folk tale about a poor man who becomes wealthy through a series of successive trades, starting with a single piece of straw. The story was likely written during the Heian period. It became popular during the Muromachi period.[4] The legend has become a common anecdote in Japanese popular culture.

To read this legend click Read More.


Japanese Woodblock Prints

Ukiyo-e (floating world) is a specific style of Japanese painting produced by woodblock prints which was popular between the seventeenth and twentieth centuries. This style mostly featured landscape, theater, pleasure quarters, and history motifs. There are other styles of Japanese woodblock prints, but Ukiyo-e is the most popular. The themes of this artwork are conceptions of evanescent worlds, fleeting beauty, and the impermanent realm of dreamy entertainments. The subjects in ukiyo-e are divorced from all of the boring and mundane responsibilities of everyday life. This art encourages people to live in the moment and to turn their entire focus on the pleasure that is provided by the moon, cherry blossoms, snow, maple leaves, wine, and song. According to the artists of this movement, people should refuse to be disheartened by the burdens of everyday life.

The Ukiyo-e art form achieved popularity in Edo (now Tokyo) in the latter half of Japan's seventeenth century. The first Ukiyo-e artworks were pictures of Hishikawa Moronobu in the 1670s. These pictures were all monochromatic. The first prints were made with only India ink, but gradually, people started painting them manually with brushes. In the eighteenth century, Suzuki Harunobu came up with a new technique to use polychrome printing and created a new techniques called nishiki-e.

The great thing about ukiyo-e art was that it was very affordable to purchase. This was because the artwork could easily be mass produced. The art was mainly intended to be sold to townsmen. These were people who were not generally wealthy and could not afford to buy original paintings. City life, especially scenes and activities that took place in the entertainment district, was the focus of the first ukiyo-e artwork. Huge sumo wrestlers, enticing courtesans, and famous actors were depicted performing appealing activities. Later, landscapes gained popularity as subject matter for sanctioned artwork. The appearances of political figures or people who occupied more prestigious positions in society were rarely seen in ukiyo-e works.

Midway through the eighteenth century, new techniques were invented that allowed the images to be printed in full-color. The images that were produced during this period of time and later are still sold on many modern postcards and calendars. The biggest artists of this period were Utamaro, Hokusai, Sharaku, and Hiroshige. Kitagawa Utumaro was famous because of how he depicted beautiful women who were found in the tearooms, pleasure quarters, and shops around Edo. He is also renowned for designing many of history's most gorgeously-illustrated books. Katsushika Hokusai was famous for the natural scenes he depicted. His series 'Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji' is very well-known in Japanese culture and started an entire landscape ukiyo-e style. He produced one of the most recognizable pieces of art in all of Japanese culture, which depicts a massive wave rolling over hapless fishing boats (The Great Wave of Kanagawa).

Ukiyo-e prints are still a huge part of Japan's cultural identity. Many elements from well-known pieces are incorporated in modern works. Reproductions of ukiyo-e can be found with ease and for reasonable prices at souvenir shops. They are perennial favorites of visitors to Japan.

Click Read More to see how this art is made.

Shita-kiri Suzume

The Sparrow with the Clipped Tongue

Shita-kiri Suzume (舌切り雀 shita-kiri suzume?), translated literally into "Tongue-Cut Sparrow", is a traditional Japanese fable telling of a kind old man, his avaricious wife and an injured sparrow. The story explores the effects of greed, friendship and jealousy on the characters.

To read this traditional story click Read More.