Thursday, April 10, 2014

Japanese Prepare for the Summer Harvest with the Takayama Festival

Like most places, Japan has a deep love and appreciation of spring. The arrival of the warmer weather, sunshine, and blossoming of nature after the harsh months of winter is something that just makes everyone want to celebrate. The Japanese celebrate all season long with a wide variety of festivals and holidays. And one of them is just around the corner! Starting April 14th and extending till the 15th, the Japanese will be participating in the exciting festival known as the Spring Takayama Festival. 

Although the origin of this holiday is unknown, it is thought that the celebrations date back to during the time of the Kanamori family’s rule

The festival is centered around a shrine known as the Hie Shrine, which can also be referred to as the Sanno Shrine. This alternate name for the shrine is also the reason behind the other name for the Spring Takayama Festival, which is the Sanno Festival. During this time, the people of Japan are meant to pray for good fortune and a good harvest. Another Takayama festival follows in October, the Autumn Festival, which is purposed towards giving thanks for that year’s harvest.

In addition to the Hie Shrine, floats and puppets are big part of the festival celebration. Skilled craftsman work tirelessly to make exquisite puppets made from wood, silk, brocade, and embroidered cloth. The creators show off their creations with extravagant puppet shows for eager crowds. 

The large floats built for this holiday are so impressive that the festival is famous for the floats alone. The craft, style and decoration for the floats dates all the way back to the 17th century. They are built and decorated to perfection with glided wood and detailed metal-work, then covered with stunning embroidered drapery. The floats are all lined up and then at dusk as many as 100 lanterns are lit on top of the floats and they are released to roam the city throughout the night for everyone to see and enjoy. Seen as a “cultural asset” to the completion of the float parade, the marionettes perform their shows on top of the floats as they explore the city. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Japanese Video-Game "LovePlus" Challenges Societal Norms Regarding Love and Relationships

Japan has been a longtime player in the world’s video-game industry, but now they are challenging digital entertainment with a new kind of video-game. The new game is much more than a form of entertainment- raising all kinds of questions around the definition and emotion of love and the meaning of a “real” relationship. And why are these questions being raised by a video-game? Well because they are dating-simulation games, the most popular being a series called “LovePlus”.

Like something right out of a science-fiction movie, LovePlus allows the players to begin a relationship with a virtual on-screen character. The relationship is played out through “dialogue trees” where you can have a back and forth conversation and Nintendo’s portable DS and 3DS allows you to take your virtual girlfriend anywhere you like. The technology is advanced and intelligent enough that if you promise your “girlfriend” a date on Friday and you blow it off, you are likely to hear about it from her later. Players say that after a while she truly feels like a real person, and a real girlfriend. He can laugh with her, make jokes, have emotional conversations, and more, just like with an actual girlfriend- except it takes place over a screen. 

During your initial discovery of this new video-game you’re likely to be skeptical and find it somewhat bizarre, like many Westerners have, but creators and promotors of the new game hope that they can evoke a different response and perspective in people. They look at the game as a challenge to societal norms and the definition of what a relationship is. For some people it raises questions like does love and a relationship have to involve a physical relationship or can it be built on conversation and just the pleasure of their company? 

Players of the game have reported that starting with a virtual girlfriend helps them to build their communication skills, confidence, and emotional connections. They claim that acquiring and working on these skills through their virtual relationship ultimately resulted in making them better players in the real-life game of dating. Men who have since gotten into a real relationship or even married say that their virtual experience helped them to pay more attention to the smaller details, like their wife's outfit or haircut, and more interested in conversation. So a video-game can actually make a guy a better partner? Maybe this is a video-game I could put some support behind! 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Japanese "Instant Curry" Is Only Second to Ramen Noodles for Their National Dish

When I think of the dish curry my thoughts usually travel to India, as I imagine many people’s would- but it is actually also a huge dish throughout Japan. So popular, in fact, that it is regarded the second of their two national dishes- the other being Ramen of course! I find it so surprising that the Japanese love for curry is so strong that it puts it ahead of sushi! For the people of Japan, summertime and spicy food go hand and hand. And we can’t have hot and spicy without some curry powder! 

Curry was most likely introduced to the Japanese by the Anglo-Indian officers of the British Empire. But like many nations do to imported dishes, they changed it and added ingredients to it to make their curry something special and uniquely Japanese. 

Rice curry has been on the scene in Japan since the turn of the 20th century, but was originally a dish only the rich could afford. Like all Western food, it was a cuisine that was considered to be exotic and a luxury. Proper curry sauce would be carefully prepared and served by a professional chef using curry powder imported from England. 

But since the mid-1900s, curry has become a dish that everyone in Japan can enjoy. Curry dishes can be found on menus ranging from the most inexpensive restaurants to the high end restaurants- and many places like to get creative with what they do with their curry. At some places you can find a dish known as kare udon, udon noodles in curry-flavored soup, or kare pan, dough stuffed with curry paste, breaded, and deep fried- yum! 

But the most widespread love for curry in Japan came from the more recent invention- instant curry. We know how the Japanese love their Instant Noodles, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that after the creation of ready-to-eat curry dishes, the dish’s popularity exploded across the country. 

Curry’s place within Japanese culture is a result of its delicious taste but also because of the role it has played as a staple of the Japanese armed forces and school lunches for hungry children. So it's not only a delicious summertime treat but also very useful! 

Learn about more Asian culture, food, and traditions at

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Meet the 'Fujimini Cast' and Author at the Book Soup Event on Sunday, April 6th

We are all very excited this week here at OnceKids because Sunday, April 6th is the Multi-Cultural Family Event at Book Soup. Starting at 11am award-winning author, Eileen Wacker, will join stars Jason James Richter and Anita Vora for this fun family event. You may know Jason James Richter from the beloved movie series Free Willy and Anita Vora from the award-winning film Life of Pi. The two celebrities gather with our own Fujimini author, Eileen, at Book Soup in West Hollywood in celebration of the newest release in the Fujimini series “Blue Penguin and the Sensational Surf”, which also features the talents of George Takei. “Blue Penguin and the Sensational Surf” is the seventh book in the beloved Fujimini Island series. You can buy the printed books but they are also available in the form of the popular ebooks and animated books. 

The new addition to the fun, Asian-inspired series tells the story of the penguins on Fujimini Island who are hard at work preparing for the grand opening of their Fujimini Island Surf School. Blue Penguin is excited to show off some of his best moves to his eager students, but a unfamiliar face is among them in the crowd. Who is this stranger and why has he come to Fujimini Island?  

Author Eileen Wacker talks about Fujimini Island and the Book Soup event saying, “Fujimini Island, where the stories take place, is a safe and fun environment where children like to learn. We offer the same friendly settings at our events. We invite children and their families to have fun, and take some time to play during their day.” 

Learn more about Blue Penguin and the stranger on the Island, as well as the other books in the series, during Book Soup on Sunday from 11am to 12pm. The family-oriented event not only offers book signings but story read-alongs, games, coloring, videos and more.

The seven-book Fujimini Island series has won family-friendly and technology awards by Moms Choice Awards, Clarion Forward, Readers’ Favorite, Zealot Readers, and Quill Book Reviews. You can learn more about them at our websites: and 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Chinese Honor Their Ancestors During the Qingming Festival

On April 5th ancestors all over China will be remembered by their families and loved ones during the holiday known as the Qingming Festival. The festival, also called Ancestors Day or Tomb Sweeping Day, presents an opportunity for the Chinese to visit the grave sites of their deceased loved ones to remember and celebrate them. 

It is traditional for participants to sweep the grave sites clean and then present tea, food, wine, and chopsticks as a sign of love and respect. After the dead have been honored, the celebration continues with fun family outings. Families will fly kites in the shapes of animals, attend festivals with singing and dancing, and enjoy the new spring weather. This is also a day seen as the perfect time for young couples to begin dating. 

The festival is seen as a time to reflect and honor on the accomplishments of those who came before them and, above all, a time to be with family and cherish those close to you. In Southeast Asian nations, including Singapore and Malaysia, the holiday has been taken very seriously and the rituals followed faithfully all the way back since the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In addition to the traditional celebrations, Malaysian communities celebrate the festival with a huge family gathering and a visit to a Buddhist or Taoist temple. 

The creation of the festival can be attributed to the Tang Emperor Xuanzong, dating back to over 2,500 years ago. He observed that wealthy Chinese families were holding dozens of extravagant ceremonies to honor their ancestors, which was costing a lot of money, so he declared that the 15th day after the Spring Equinox would become the new official day for the remembrance and celebration of ancestors. 

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's New in the World of Kpop

Korean pop music is an explosively popular genre of pop music with fans all of the world and Youtube videos that rack up millions of views. And with extreme popularity comes rapid change and many rising stars. Its hard to keep up with all the craziness of the Kpop world but every once in a while I like to check in with some of my favorite artists, and check out some new ones, just to see what’s new in all that is Korean pop music. And with this awesome genre there is never a dull moment. 

For example, popular and successful producer Crush announced that he will be making his own debut with his first single. The producer has helped many artists rise to fame throughout his career, but on April 2nd it’s his turn to test himself as not a producer but an artist himself. His talent has already been recognized through several successful collaborations with artists such as Gary and LOCO, but this will be his very first try at a solo career. So good luck to him and based off of what I have heard, I have no doubts that he will make it as a musician. 

Speaking of collaborations, Chunji from TEEN TOP will be teaming up with the all-girl group TINT for their next track “Wolves Don’t Know”. The song describes the challenges some girls face when dealing with a guy that they feel doesn’t understand their perspective or where they are coming from, using the concept of Little Red Riding Hood as a central theme. To complete the masterpiece and act as the guy’s perspective, they sought out the talent of Chunji. He expresses his excitement about the project saying, “I am joyful to be able to participate in TINT’s new song and I hope the song receives a lot of love.” 

The day that fans have long awaited is here! After four years of waiting, singer Jo Sung Mo is finally making his comeback with the release of a brand new album, appropriately titled, “Wind of Change”. The album is amazing right from the first track, which remembers back to one’s first love. Creatively titled, “Una Ya”, the song can have multiple meanings. It could be referring to a woman’s name or, if directly translated in Korean, it could mean “you are me.” The upbeat and beautiful album presents the perfect comeback, so I encourage you to take a listen to this talented artist’s work!

Click below to listen to a sample of the girls' group TINT with their track titled "Love at First Sight"

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Japanese Welcome Spring after a Long Winter on Vernal Equinox Day

After a long winter, the Japanese look forward to a day off on March 20th in celebration of Vernal Equinox Day, or Shunbun no hi. This public holiday is celebrated annually on the day when the sun crosses the equator making day and night equal in length. On this day everyone is encouraged to celebrate all living things and welcome the arrival of spring through the appreciation of nature and all the beauty it holds. 

With the arrival of spring comes the arrival of new beginnings. In addition to being with family and in nature, people use this time to “renew their lives” and have a fresh start with the new season. In order to do this, people will thoroughly clean their homes and make some important life changes they have been putting off, such as acquiring a new hobby or finishing something they started. 

For farmers, the vernal equinox is also a very important time. They use the holiday to pray for good luck and fortune regarding their crops during the upcoming season. 

During the Vernal Equinox also comes a time known as Higan. Higan is a seven day period where the Japanese pay respect to their ancestors. During this time it is popular for Japanese to visit their ancestors and loved ones’ grave sites and pay homage to them by cleaning their graves and leaving gifts to show respect. Taking advantage of the day off, many Japanese will also return to their childhood homes to be with their family.