Wednesday, June 24, 2015

How the Japanese Celebrate Legends of the Milky Way During the Annual Star Festival

Each year on the seventh day of the seventh month, Japanese people all over the country gather together for what is called Tanabata, or the Star Festival. 

The Japanese festival originates from a traditional Chinese festival known as the Qixi Festival. It is purposed to celebrate the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are represented by the stars Vega and Altair. The annual holiday is filled with traditions and rich cultural celebrations, beginning on July 7th. 

Today, people celebrate this day by writing goals and wishes on small pieces of paper and hanging them on decorated bamboo. The various decorations and bamboo sticks are then set afloat on a river or burned after the festivities have concluded. This traditional Japanese custom is similar to Obon traditions, where people place floating paper ships and candles in rivers. There is a range of customs celebrated in Japan today for the Star Festival, depending on the region. In addition to the bamboo sticks, common decorations that can be seen during the holiday are colorful streamers, casting nets called Toami, and Kinchaku bags. The streamers are said to symbolize the “weaving of threads”, the casting net is to bring good luck to farmers and fishermen, and the Kinchaku bag symbolizes wealth.
The festival’s origins can be traced back to the legend of the Cowherd Star (Altair) as well as the Weaver Star (or Vega). The stars were said to be separated by the milky way and only permitted to meet one a year, on the seventh day of the seventh month. Another legend behind the holiday is the tale of Kikkoden, which dates back over 2,000 years ago. The legend says that there was a weaver princess named Orihime and a cow herder prince named Hikoboshi. They fell so deeply in love and were so distracted by one another’s presence that they began neglecting their jobs. The king was so furious that he used the Milky Way to separate them, only allowing them to meet once a year on the seventh day of the seventh month.  

To find the book series that inspires these stories, click here

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Chinese Are Getting Ready for this Year's Dragon Boat Festival on June 20th

Father’s Day is right around the corner, but in China another very important holiday is coming up as well. Every year on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month, the Chinese observe what is called The Dragon Boat Festival. Over the years the holiday has required several different names including the Tuen Ng Festival, the Duanwu Festival, and the Double Fifth Festival. For 2015, the fifth day of the fifth lunar month falls on June 20th, which is when the festival will take place. 

As with most Chinese holidays, there are many traditions associated with this festival, one of which is found within the name of the festival- dragon boats and dragon boat racing. Dragon boat racing is a team water sport that has been a part of ancient folk rituals for almost 2,000 years. Racing boats carved to look like dragons began as a ceremonial and religious tradition, but has since become an enjoyable and competitive form of sport and entertainment. 

The timing of the holiday is important as well. It is an ancient belief in China that the summer solstice and dragons are connected by a common energy. The Chinese traditionally connect the sun to a masculine energy and the moon to a feminine energy. Like the sun, dragons are also thought to possess a strong masculine energy. At the summer solstice, the sun is thought to be at its strongest, thus having the strongest masculine energy. Therefore, using the symbol of dragons during the summer solstice is thought to symbolize masculine energy, strength, and power at its highest point. 
Although racing dragon boats is the symbol of the holiday, there are other traditional activities done by families during this time. Some of which include hanging up icons of a mythical guardian named Zhong Kui, hanging mugwort and calamus, taking long walks, and a game of trying to make an egg stand at exactly noon- if your efforts are met with success you are thought to have a year of good luck ahead of you. Like many Chinese traditions, these activities are performed in regards to the ancient villager’s beliefs that they would ward off disease and promote good health and spiritual well-being. 

And of course no Chinese holiday is complete without eating and drinking. The traditional food consumed on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month is zongzi, a Chinese dish made of rice, stuffed with various fillings, and then carefully wrapped in bamboo or reed. Then the zongzi is washed down with realgar wine. 

To find the book series that inspires these stories, click here

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Review of Eileen Wacker’s “Blue Penguin and the Sensational Surf”

The animals who call Fujimini Island home are all buzzing with excitement because today is the grand opening of the Fujimini Island Surf School. Many of the animals are eager to learn to surf, and everyone is eager to watch Blue Penguin display the surf skills he is known for. 
The penguins are hard at work getting everything ready for the special occasion, preparing drinks and hanging ribbons to welcome their guests. The time has finally come for the grand opening, and more guests than Blue Penguin expected have shown up to watch and participate. Blue Penguin is proud of his skills and just can’t resist showing off to the crowd. Unfortunately, he is so busy showing off he doesn’t notice that a stranger has arrived on Fujimini Island and one of the animals may be in some trouble! Who is this stranger? And will Blue Penguin stop showing off in time to notice that one of his students is in trouble?

As can be expected with all of Eileen Wacker’s books in the Fujimini Island Adventure series, this story is entertaining and fun for kids, but also has an important lesson embedded within it. Blue Penguin is a great surfer and should be proud of his skills, but being too proud and showing off has a price. His students are depending on him to help them and look after them out in the ocean, but Blue Penguin is so distracted by impressing the crowd, he doesn’t notice when one of his students are in trouble. Through a cute and creative story, Wacker highlights the importance to kids about not bragging and showing off, and the consequences they can have. 

In the 7th installment of her popular series, a new character with a connection to Japanese tradition is introduced to teach kids about some elements of Asian culture that they might not have heard of outside of reading this book.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

In South Korea, After Children's Day Concludes, May 8th is For the Celebration of Parents

In South Korea, May 5th is a day dedicated to the celebration and appreciation of all the Children in the country, but just three days later it’s the parents turn for some celebration.

Each year on May 8th, people across South Korea celebrate and honor their parents. Though the holiday is not considered a national public holiday by the South Korean government, it is widely celebrated across the country and many people take this day off to be with their families. The holiday is purposed to commemorate all of the efforts parents make when raising their children, physical, social, emotional, and psychological. 

On Children’s Day, parents shower their children with love and affection to show how much they appreciate them and how special they are. So on May 8th, it is parents’ turn to be showered with love and shown appreciation. Parents make tremendous sacrifices for their children, so this holiday is the time for children to give back. 

Today, to celebrate and mark the special holiday, children will set aside the entire day to spend it with their parents- something teens rarely take the time to do. Not only do families spend the day together, but the activities they do are specifically ones that the parents enjoy. Children also give their parents gifts and flowers to demonstrate their gratitude and love. Carnations and roses are the most widely chosen flower for Parents’ Day, to mark the importance of the holiday. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

South Korea Also Has a Holiday for Celebrating Children

May 5th is not only a special day in Japan, but it is a public holiday in South Korea as well. And like Japan, South Korea also dubs May 5th as the day for the celebration of children nationwide. 

May 5th was designated as Children’s Day by the government in 1961 after The Children’s Welfare law was written into the constitution. It was thought of as a movement to respect children and look after their wellbeing. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the day became thought of as a public holiday and a nationwide time for celebration. It also serves as a day to honor adults who have dedicated their time to improving the lives of children in Korea. 

Dr. Bang is the man who originally proposed the idea of having a holiday dedicated to children. He was a writer in the 1920s and was also responsible for pioneering studies about ways to intervene and help children in need. During the 1920s he started an organization called “Saek Dong Hoi” with his friends to contribute to his cause. He believed having a day dedicated to children could be used as a way to instill a sense of independence and national pride in children. It could also be used to highlight the dignity of children and show adults their need for care and respect. 

Today, each year on May 5th, parents across South Korea will shower their children will gifts and attention to show them how loved and special they are. It is not uncommon for children to be taken to museums, movie theaters, zoos, parks and other places that children would choose to go to as a treat. Various towns and cities across South Korea will also host fun events for children and their families to partake in on this exciting day. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Japan Concludes Golden Week by Celebrating Children’s Day

The Japanese string of national holidays known as Golden Week definitely goes out with a bang, saving one of the perhaps most exciting and most widely celebrated holidays of the week for last. 

Every year on May 5th, children across Japan are celebrated during the holiday, appropriately named, Children’s Day. Although it has only been dubbed a national public holiday by the Japanese government since 1948, the holiday has been deeply ingrained within Japanese culture dating back to the reign of Empress Suiko in 593 A.D. 

Originally, May 5th was named Tango no Sekku and designated for boys, while March 3rd was the holiday for girls. But it has since been changed so May 5th is a day for celebrating all children, both boys and girls. It is a day set aside to celebrate children’s happiness and pay respects to their wonderful little personalities. It is also a day to express gratitude to mothers across Japan who carried and gave birth to the children. For this reason, it is no longer referred to as Tango no Sekku but instead Kodomo no Hi. 

All across Japan, giant carp-shaped streamers can be seeing flying outside of houses to symbolize strength and success. Inside the home, families will display dolls of famous warriors and other beloved heroes. Children are encouraged to take baths sprinkled with iris leaves and roots to promote good head and ward off any evil. And as you may have guessed, the holiday comes with a traditional food as well. No Japanese holiday is complete without a traditional food or drink, and for this holiday that food is kashiwamochi. Kashiwamochi is a rice cake wrapped in oak leaves and filled with a delicious sweet bean paste. 

Countless events are held on Children’s Day to honor children, highlight their talents, promote good health, and of course- to have fun! One event included a performance of Kyogen at the Yokohama Noh Theater, featuring 18 actors between the ages of seven and thirteen. Eager parents, teachers, friends, and family members packed the theater to witness the display of impressive skills that the children had spent nearly a year preparing. 

Kyogen is a type of comic theater that has been around for 600 years and is very important within Japanese traditions and culture. It is performed wearing traditional costumes with very distinct styles of acting. It takes much time, practice, and skill to learn the unique comic expressions, movements and uses of a fan. 

Children’s Day is the perfect way to end Golden Week because it is filled with tons of fun traditions and celebrations that the whole family can love and enjoy. 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Celebrate All Things Green During Japan's National Greenery Day

Following Showa Day and Constitution Memorial Day during Japan’s annual Golden Week, a series of national holidays beginning at the end of April, is Greenery Day. As you may have guessed, Greenery Day, celebrated May 4th, stays true to its name and celebrates all things green! The holiday can also be referred to as Midori no Hi, which literally translates to green day. 
The idea for the holiday came about after the passing of Emperor Hirohito, the same emperor honored during Golden Week’s first holiday Showa Day. Emperor Hirohito was a lover of nature and spreading of environmental awareness had always been very important to him. In fact, he dedicated much of his life to this cause and spend a great deal of time looking for ways to improve the environment, including opening the Imperial Biological Research Institute. The beloved Emperor passed in January of 1989 and the people of Japan wanted to find a way to remember him and continue the work that he was passionate about- so what better way than to create a holiday dedicated to nature and the environment! 
Originally, April 29th, which was the Emperor’s birthday, was dubbed Midori no Hi, following his death. However, the Japanese government decided Emperor Hirohito’s birthday should still be celebrated each year despite his passing, so Greenery Day was moved to May 4th and thus Showa Day was born. This way, the country can honor the Emperor’s memory and all his accomplishments on his birthday while still taking a day to celebrate nature and all things green.

Today, Japanese citizens use May 4th as an excuse to flock to their local parks with their families for some springtime fun. Cities, such as Tokyo, host dozens of events such as concerts, parades, and planting trees. The holiday is also used to address current environmental issues and spread awareness. Initiatives are taken to clean up parks, beaches, and streets. So if you are in Japan during this time, especially around Tokyo, expect to see hundreds of people sweeping and picking up trash all over town.