Destination Japan

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Read this in: German

I think the whole thing with Japan is Mila’s fault. Mila Superstar, who does not know her? Although the animated series was from the 1970s, it simply mesmerized me. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the anime was so successful in other countries than Germany. But in Germany triggered this series and other series in the 90s as Sailor Moon or Pokemon from a Japanese cult. Suddenly, there were Japanese mangas to buy, which you had to translate yourself painstakingly before. And at the age of 5, I was extremely disappointed that there was a volleyball club only from the eighth grade. This sports anime with a Japanese ponytail girl inspired me a lot. So I could make up my dream to play in the Japanese volleyball national team.

What remained is the fascination for Japanese culture. In 2005 my classmates tried sushi for the first time on a school trip to Berlin, as I had done it myself several times myself at home. Fortunately, my parents and relatives supported my passion for Japanese culture by giving me books and going to museums and Japanese cultural festivals. I would like to share this knowledge with you now – for your next trip to Japan.

The golden week

Japanese are more familiar with hard-working employees, who spend a lot of overtime, but also enjoy nature. Regularly on the weekends or in the Golden Week between April 29 and May 5, the Japanese make trips to the mountains. Already in the Edo era between 1608 and 1868 there was a culture of travel within Japan. Probably for the reason that Japan was strongly isolated from the outside world at that time, a flourishing travel culture developed at that time, which continues even today. Even near major cities such as Tokyo, there are green oases with numerous hiking trails and cable cars in the mountains to allow the weekend tourists as comfortable as possible hiking trails.

Even souvenirs in Japan should not be missed – each region has its own specialties such as specially prepared rice cakes or even their own mascot. In the Gunda region, for example, the Daruma is a popular souvenir. This little mannequin made of papier-mâché is a good luck charm. If you have a concrete desire, you paint the right eye of the figure. If the wish has been fulfilled, one completes the figure and also paints the left eye. A Daruma gets up again when you try to upset him. And so the little figure should motivate the owner to go on and on like the little figure. In the Kumamoto region, the local mascot Kumamon and their numerous merchandise articles, from brushes to soap dispensers, have a lot of fans in the whole nation.

Freetime is not that easy

While most of us have one or more hobbies besides school, university or work, in Japan this is not so easy with the hobbies. Since good academic performance and a good school are extremely important for the reputation of the family and the professional career, hobbies usually only have time in the form of AGs within the school. While public schools have a 5-day week, but often do not enjoy a high reputation, private schools often have a 6-day week. In addition to school, many Japanese students also attend private schools in preparation for exams.

In Japan, recreational fun is such a thing, because the most important thing is not the individual, but the group – be it the company for employees or the student for making his parents proud. It was only at the end of the 1980s that a trend towards the use of leisure time developed again, which was frowned upon after the end of the Second World War. Due to the economic boom of the time, amusement parks developed throughout the country. Similarly, sporting events such as sumo or baseball are very popular. Even arcade halls or Purikura photo booths enjoy great popularity. But also activities such as computer games, listening to music or television are among them.

Other activities such as ikebana, the Japanese floral art or calligraphy have been around for many centuries. And even in the sports the Japanese like to play, there is an exciting mix of Japanese traditional arts like archery or Kendo and Western influences like tennis or the already mentioned baseball.

Hustle and bustle in Tokyo – as many live there only in very small apartments, leisure is often spent outside and in the entertainment districts of the city.

Outside your home

Unlike in most Western countries, many people live in very small spaces, especially in the large cities of Japan. While you like to meet at home, it is completely different in Japan. Dancing, karaoke or games like soccer or baseball are played often in public. Meet in parks that often cost entry or in popular areas of the city. But not only football is played or danced. Even karaoke boxes, which can be rented for small groups, enjoy great popularity. And even love often takes place outside of one’s own four walls. Since many young adults live with their parents until their wedding or even families live together in confined space in clairaudient apartments, in many larger cities there are Lovehotels with a squeaky-green design. There you can discreetly rent a room by the hour. Not only young couples, but also couples use this time for two.

Whether Manga or Anime – cute mascots can be found in every corner of Japan, even in restaurants or on food in supermarkets

More than just doodles

Some people immediately think of Sailor Moon, Pokemon and many other 90’s series when it comes to Japan. And some parents probably cursed them at the time, because the children were constantly sitting in front of the telly or gambling on their gameboys. I have to admit that personally I am very grateful to Pokemon, because I was completely alone and new to a school in 5th grade and my new friends lived 8km away, but so the sport was never too short thanks to an almost daily bike tour , The reason: Only the big brother of a friend owned an N64 and we wanted to see our Pixelwesen sometimes in 3D with the game Pokemon Stadium.

Of course, the American occupying powers who brought their comics to the country after World War II also had a major impact on manga culture. This is how Manga became the element of the speech bubble. But much earlier, there were illustrated Eda literature and caricatures that enjoyed great popularity. The term manga dates back to the 1920s and 30s.

Hidden animes

Animes are not only the newer series since Sailor Moon, but also classics like Heidi are animes, which originate from Japanese character feathers. But anyone who believes that every Japanese is an anime fan is wrong. As in Germany, the manga and anime community is more of a subculture. Nevertheless, many young people cherish the desire to mangaka, so manga artist. And the voice actors of anime are also celebrated there like pop stars. Which manga becomes anime, decides in Japan a committee – particularly successful manga become anime. Rarely is there more than one season. Only a few manage to become a perennial favorite, such as the pirate series One Piece or the criminal cases of detective Conan, which can also be read and seen here in Germany.

If you’re new to anime stuff, you can start by trying on the works of Studio Gimbli. Their films such as “The Castle in the Sky”, “Princess Mononoke” or “How the Wind Rises” tell stories from ancient Japanese mythology and some German half-timbered romance. Brave heroines and unbelievable aircraft play an important role in these films as well as the romantic sceneries. These movies are perfect for anyone who does not like the black and white thinking of Disney movies. Because with Miyazaki films many an enemy becomes a friend or vice versa. The world is not just black and white and these films, actually children’s films, also show adults that the world is not just good or bad.

Anime style in the Western world

With the animes and manga, other Japanese influences came from the 90s in the US and Europe. In Germany, for example, there are now small communities that organize cosplay, and dress up as their favorite characters from anime, games and manga, often building their own disguises in weeks of manual work. Other subcultures like the Gothic Lolitas with their playful, doll-like looks have found their way to Germany. After all, Japanese culture has also influenced artists all over the world like Gwen Stefani or like the band Tokio Hotel and the look of singer Bill Kaulitz.

The fact that Fujisan is known rather than Fujiyama outside Japan is actually only a translation error. From Shoji Lake you can capture the volcano wonderfully as a photo.

The Fuji-san and a difficult language

Fuji-san, that’s what the Japanese call their volcano in the heart of Japan. He is not only the highest mountain in Japan, he is also worshiped as a god. Why Mount Fuji outside of Japan is better known as Fujiyama is hard to trace. However, many researchers assume that it is due to a misinterpretation of Kanji (Chinese character) 山 for mountain. In Japan, one writes in three scriptures, the syllabary Hiragana and Katakana and additionally in Kanji, Chinese characters, since many words have multiple meanings such as the word Hana は な, that with the kanji 花 and 華 both flower, beauty, upswing and playing cards or ikebana can mean. As the kanji 鼻 it is also read hana and now means nose, snout or snout and also sense of smell and pride. Since the two syllables Ha and Na also have other meanings, it is understandable that Japanese help the Chinese characters to get through everyday life.

More than just one font

Unfortunately that does not make writing easier. While hiragana is often used in literature for elementary school students, such as manga magazines aimed at a young audience, as well as Chinese characters, this help falls away from adolescence. So in six years of elementary school, Japanese people have to diligently learn many, many Chinese characters. This often starts already in kindergarten. Anyone who knows the characters from China as a foreigner, unfortunately, is not particularly at an advantage when learning Japanese. While writing was reformed and simplified in China in the 20th century, traditional Japanese characters have remained the same in Japan. These are still found today in Taiwan.

In addition to drawing the kanji is that each kanji has two readings – one Japanese and one Chinese. Anyone who thinks that Chinese is a fake picture is wrong. Although there are some characters that can be remembered like donkey bridges. These include 山 for mountain and 花 for flower, in which one can guess a few pictures. Or also 口 for mouth and 人 for human. But often the kanji are based on simple basic kanji like this one for the mouth or the human being and consist of many elements. Often it also takes 10 brushstrokes or more for a kanji. Again, the sequence of strokes is of enormous importance – you can not paint his characters somehow.

Video games in Japan are not just for the home – there are also numerous arcades where you can play machines with friends. Even today there are many of them in Japan.

From pixels to computer game worlds

Japan has played a major role in the development of computer games. To this day, nothing has changed that Japanese game manufacturers have been setting global trends for decades. In particular, the video game manufacturer Nintendo has created many characters with cold potential – be it Super Mario or Pikachu from the Pokemon game series, which were icons beyond the games.

Actually created for a young audience, games meanwhile also shape our everyday life. This is not least due to the smartphones, which invite to small games on the way to work in the waiting room at the doctor – Mobile Gaming is a trend that increasingly displaces the classic PC games and console games. Controversy is constantly being discussed about the effects of game consumption in modern society.

The festivals in Japan often have a lot to do with the change in different phases of the year. Much of Japan is about nature and seasons.

Celebrations for dolls and flowers

Japan is a country that lives with the seasons. You do not only notice this in traditional Japanese clothing, but also in the Japanese cuisine or just in the festivals or holidays, which are celebrated in the change of the seasons. Already in the Edo period festivals and holidays played an important role, since there was no fixed day off in western society like ours and some free time could be enjoyed by the festivals. Therefore, the variety of Japanese festivals is so rich that they are difficult to summarize all in one blog post.

The most important festival in Japan is probably the New Year celebrations that start the New Year cycle. Unlike in the Western world, where you spend Christmas with your family and celebrate New Year’s Eve, Japan is the other way around. Christmas meets with friends or dates. In Japan, strawberry cake in the Christmas colors white and red is characterizing for Christmas – there one thinks this is for Christmassy, while one approaches the German or British gingerbread rather difficult.

Christmas with strawberry cake

Also popular in Japan is KFC at Christmas, as the American soldiers stationed there did not get turkey there and reminded Hühnchen of the US Christmas. Even today you have to pre-order weeks in advance if you want a Christmas meal at KFC.

The New Year is spent with the family. You eat traditional food together, see the first sunrise of the new year together and then walk together to the shrine. There are also 5 seasonal festivals, the secku, which mark the beginning of various annual sections. These include the peach blossom festival (momo no sekku), which marks the beginning of the warm season, or the iris festival (tango no sekku), which marks the beginning of the rainy season.

Sakura, the time of cherry blossom, is a popular festival for picnics and excursions. That is another reason why the cherry blossoms are a popular photo opportunity in Japan.

Celebrations for boys

Another important festival in Japan is the boys’ festival, which will be celebrated on May 5, in the aforementioned Golden Week. The Tango no Sekku goes back to the fact that at that time, as a cleaning party, one sacrificed sword-blade leaves to the gods. These sheets were used to make dolls and hang them over the house entrances. That should avert war and misfortune. This custom changed with the rise of the sword of the sword in Japan. So it became part of the festival that the boys were given weapons, armor and helmets that day. Important for this is the bushido cult, which should bring the virtues of a warrior closer in this festival. This festival, in which you give boys with weapons, should under no circumstances encourage violence. Rather, it should convey that a warrior must be strong, but on the other hand also patient, diligent, dutiful and loyal. These are all virtues that are still found today in Japanese everyday life and play an important role for Japanese.

Shinto shrines are relatively easy to distinguish from Buddhist temples. The shrines characterized that their entrance is marked by a red archway.

The belief in nature

When we recently visited a Japan exhibition, we got the conversation of two young men. One tried to explain to the other, why the Japanese can have two religions at the same time. This seems contradictory to many western countries, but Buddhism and Shintoism have been able to coexist well for centuries. And that’s not the way it is: the Japanese do not choose when to choose which beliefs better. No, it is rather the case that every faith has its theme in everyday life – while Shinto celebrates festivals often, Buddhism is responsible for funerals.

Torii (Japanese 鳥 居) are called the entrance gates to Shinto shrines. They are often painted vermilion.

This subdivision is also very important when celebrating festivals, as often the two religions of the country play an important role in celebrations such as summer festivals, which are mostly devoted to regional shinto deities. These festivals are very popular in Japan – they often wear Yukata, thin summer kimonos, set fireworks, visit the festival with many food stalls and entertainment options. Often relocations with portable screams and Yamato, traditional Japanese drums, take place.

Unexpected delicacies

Hard to believe, but apart from sake, Japan is also known today for high-quality whiskey with a fine taste. In 1923 Japan became the first Asian country to produce whiskey. Japanese whiskey is characterized by its very soft taste, as it is – as is often the case in Japanese culture – very accurate. In 2016, this was even rewarded with an award for the world’s best whiskey, which the “Sherry Cask 2013” from Yamasaki cleared away.

If you prefer traditional, you can try sake, which is now often found outside of Japan in sushi bars and Asian restaurants. This is usually drunk warm and served in ceramic bottles that are heated in a water bath. The rice wine is brewed from rice, water and yeast and usually has 15 to 20 percent alcohol. This typical traditional drink is probably already based on the introduction of wet rice cultivation in 300 BC. Back. Not only as a drink, it is important in Japanese culture, but also as an offering, as it is part of almost every Shinto festival. From the 15th century, the Japanese rice wine developed more and more to consumption and commodity.

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