Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas in Asia: How the Chinese Celebrate the Holiday

Our last stop for Christmas in Asia is Christmas in China. Although Christmas has some presence in China, it is not as widely celebrated or acknowledged as it is in Korea or Japan. Most shops, schools, and offices remain open- as it is not considered an official holiday. Despite this, some elements of a Western Christmas can be found in China around this time of year. 

Large shopping centers and department stores are often decked out in Christmas decorations in acknowledgement of the holiday. Everything from Christmas trees, to lights, to other various decorations are put up around the end of November to bring on the season. Even a few homes get into the spirit of Christmas, hanging Christmas lights around the outside of the house or putting up a small tree inside. China even has their own version of Santa Claus, who spends his time visiting hotels and malls across the
country. Rather than being accompanied by elves, the Chinese Santa travels alongside his sisters- women dressed in red and white skirts. Traditionally, the Chinese Santa does not leave presents or accept treats of milk and cookies but he will pay a home visit to take pictures with excited children. 

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Despite the small size of Christmas in China, emphasis on the holiday is increasing each year. Many families now gather together on Christmas Eve for a special dinner with friends. Close friends and family often will exchange cards or small gifts. Hotel restaurants and Western restaurants will almost always feature a traditional Christmas dinner and other festive treats during this time. Many Chinese people love to go on shopping sprees during the November and December months. Another seasonal favorite, ice skating, is available at special locations that are set up exclusively for the Christmas season, such as at Weiming Lake at Peking University in Beijing. 

Christmas in Asia: How Koreans Celebrated the Holiday

Although Korea is officially Buddhist, today about 30% of the South Korean population is Christian. Korea has become known as the only East Asian country to recognize Christmas as a national holiday. Despite many similarities to how Christmas is celebrated in the West, Christian Koreans still put their own cultural spin on the beloved holiday. 

Christmas, or Sung Tan Jul as it is called in Korea, is considered primarily a religious holiday, so although some families do put up a Christmas tree and exchange presents, most of the celebration revolves around attending mass on Christmas Eve or Christmas day. 

Santa Harabujee is very popular among Korean children, handing out presents to children wearing a red or blue suit. Around the holiday season, many stores employ Santas to give out chocolates and candies to shoppers. Some families celebrate Christmas dinner with gatherings at the home but traditionally many Korean families prefer to go out for dinner. Christmas is seen as a holiday for love and romance, making it one of the busiest times of the year for restaurants. 

A major difference that sets Christmas in Korea apart from Christmas in the West is that
much of the time, Christmas represents a time of celebration with friends and lovers, especially for younger people, while New Years is the time for family. Presents are exchanged on Christmas Eve and rather than receiving piles of presents, it is customary for people to each receive one present, often times a gift of money. 

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas in Asia: How the Japanese Celebrate the Christmas Season

Although the most important holiday of the season in Japan is New Year's Day, Christmas is still something on the people's minds this time of year. In Japan, certain Christmas symbols, traditions, and practices are carried over from Western Christmas traditions and given an "Asian flare", while others are unique to their culture and traditions.

Much like in the United States, the ideas of having holiday spirit and the gift of giving is a very strong concept during the Christmas season for the Japanese. Participating in worship and giving to the sick and poor is the main focus of Japanese Christians around this time of year. 

Christmas day also shares many similarities to what your family's typical Christmas may be. Family members gather together over a turkey dinner to exchange cards and gifts. A Christmas tree can still be found in the house, decorated with an abundance of lights and ornaments. A special corner of each house is reserved for a Nativity scene- even mistletoe and evergreens are a symbol that Japanese Christians hold dear for this holiday. Hoteiosho, a Buddhist monk who is the Japanese equivalent of Santa Claus, showers the well behaved children with presents on Christmas morning. 

Even though many Western customs carry over to this holiday, there are still many Asian traditions that are woven into the season. The Japanese incorporate their rich tradition through their unique Christmas cakes, fried chicken, and Daiku. Their traditional Christmas cake is made from sponge cake decorated with miniature figures of trees, flowers, and Hoeiosho or Santa Claus. In addition to turkey, fried chicken has become a traditional meal for the holiday meal. The music favorite of the season, the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, Daiku, can be heard playing in many houses  and at many holiday get togethers. 

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Is Thanksgiving Really Just For Americans?

Thanksgiving, one of our most cherished holidays, has always been considered to be a uniquely American holiday. But several other countries, cultures, and religions have their ways of celebrating the season and giving thanks. 

Take China, for example. Each year, the Chinese celebrate the harvest and give thanks to friends and family through their Moon Festival. Many traditional foods also circle around this holiday, but rather than the famous pie- the Chinese consume delicious round "moon cakes". These cakes are exchanged between family and friends as a token of appreciation and symbol of love. If you are looking for another way to express your love during this time, you're in luck! The 15th day of the 8th lunar month is also known as Women's Day. Sit beneath the moon with your significant other and enjoy the moon together, which the Chinese believe is the biggest and brightest on this day. 

In Brazil, the Ambassador enjoyed his experience of a traditional American thanksgiving so much that he decided to bring the idea back to his home. It has become a day to expressed thanks and gratitude for friends and family through a giant  annual harvest. 

Ancient Rome also historically had a fall celebration that closely resembles our Thanksgiving tradition. This festival, known as Cerelia, was celebrated in honor of the goddess of corn. It was custom that on this day, grains, fruits, and animals would be presented as a token of gratitude to the goddess. Then, friends and family would celebrate with music, dancing, and- of course- lots of food!

As we know, Korea is also no stranger to the thanksgiving tradition. Koreans have their own thanksgiving celebration, referred to as Chuseok. But instead of turkey and stuffing, this holiday calls for a dish known as Songpyon, made up of rice, beans, sesame seeds, and chestnuts. Friends and families gather together to eat, talk, and enjoy each other's company
while also giving thanks to their ancestors. 

So even if they don't exactly have a pumpkin pie, turkey, and plate of stuffing at their table, many other cultures have their own ways of giving thanks and appreciation among the people they care about- that aren't too different from ours after all! 

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

10 Festivals In Asia That Will Change Your Life (Part Two of Two)

Asia is a popular tourist destination for many reasons, including its mouthwatering food, beautiful sights, and remarkable infrastructure- but thousands of people flock to the countries of Asia each year for another reason as well- their festivals. 

Countries across Asia such as Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, India, and more are host to spectacular festivals and parades on an almost monthly basis. Every festival brings something fun and culturally significant to the table, but we have a handful of festivals that prove so unique and exciting, you'd have to be crazy to not add them to your to-do list. The first five, mentioned in our previous blog, include the Naadam Festival in Mongolia, the Full Moon Party in Thailand, the Lantern Festival in China, the Mud Festival in South Korea, and the Ice Festival in China. The next five are equally as remarkable as the first and might just have you pulling out your calendar to plan your next trip! 

6. Cherry Blossom Festival
Here at ONCEkids, we are huge fans of this festival, and it seems like many other people are too because it has made number 6 on our list of life-changing Asian festivals! In Japan, the cherry blossom has become a metaphor for the nature of life and is an extremely important aspect of their culture. So visiting one of Japan's parks during the Cherry Blossom Festival, which coincides with their blooming season, will not only let you take in the beauty of the tree and it's blossoms, but also connect you with Japanese culture and tradition. 

7. Diwali
Also known as the Festival of Lights, this event is one of the most beautiful and culture rich times in India. It will take your breath away to witness candles and lanterns being lit and released as far as the eye can see. This festival is not only extraordinarily aesthetically pleasing, but it also possesses a deep connection with Hindu culture. The lights and fireworks are used to represent the continuous triumph of good over evil.

8. Thaipusam
The next festival on the list is certainly not for the faint of heart! This event is much more for observing and learning rather than participating but remains equally life-changing! Like the Full Moon Party, this religious celebration takes place during a full moon in January, to celebrate the birth of Murugan, who defeated the evil demon Soorapadman. During this festival, tens of thousands of tourists gather at the Temple at Batu Caves to witness the ceremony. 

9. Holi
Many of the parades, holidays, and festivals in Asia have an underlying historical significance, and this holiday is no exception! The Holi Festival has ancient origins and, like Diwali, is purposed to represent the defeat of evil through good. On this day, it is tradition to hug one another, wishing them a 'Happy Holi'. Oh and did I mention to throw paint and colored powder at each other also? You heard me right! This festival is home to the Carnival of Colors, where there is singing, dancing, and chasing each other with dry powder and water guns filled with colored water. The Indian festival is sometimes referred to as the Festival of Love, because it encourages people to forgive and forget, to laugh and play, and to feel careless, something many of us do not always have time for in our day-to-day lives. 

10. Songkran
Instead of mud, the Thai New Year (known as Songkran), likes to use water! This last festival is so cool because it is literally one giant water fight. So get some old clothes and shoes on and get ready to get soaking wet then covered in flour! This new year's celebration really stood out to me for how unique it is and also because its all about just letting loose and having a ridiculous time, something we all should indulge in every once and a while! 

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

10 Festivals In Asia That Will Change Your Life (Part One of Two)

Various countries across Asia are known for their delicious food, breath taking architecture, and innovative tecnhnology- but many people aren't aware of another special feature these countries have to offer. 

They are also home to hundreds of festivals and parades each year, ranging from spiritual and ritualistic festivals to food and music festivals. People travel from all over the world to take part in these fun and exciting events and to witness Asian culture at its most pure.

Every festival has something unique to bring to the table, but there are 10 of them that have something you absolutely cannot miss. So whether you are a college student in your early twenties or in your mid fifties, the following festivals should be on everyone's bucket list. 

1. Naadam Festival
This first festival is for the sports lovers! A spectacle sometimes referred to as "Mongolia's Olympics", covers all the bases of the nation's sports, including horseback riding, archery, and wrestling. This festival, which takes place over the summer, is purely for entertainment and purposed to represent the joy of the harvest. 

2. Full Moon Party
If this event keeps popping up- it must be something I need to add to my to-do list! Like I wrote about in one of my previous articles, the full moon party is a monthly event in Thailand where thousands of people from all different corners of the world gather to party, drink, eat, and dance to music under the full moon. And according to STA Travel, it is an experience that everyone at some point needs to have. 

3. Lantern Festival
Ah, another one of our favorites! Lanterns are a decoration seen used in many Asian celebrations, due to their beauty and cultural significance. But imagine the beauty of dozens of lanterns in the sky and replace it with thousands of lanterns and you have a slight idea of how incredible China's yearly Lantern Festival is. On the night of February 13, head to Taiwan, or even Shanghai and Hangzhou, to witness one of the spectacular finale to the Chinese New Year celebration. 

4. Mud Festival 
If you aren't afraid to get pretty dirty, the mud festival is the perfect way to let loose and have some child-like fun during your time in Asia! If you're thinking to yourself mud wrestling isn't really your thing so you probably wouldn't like it- stop right there! In addition to mud wrestling, there are also countless activities for those looking to have a relaxing time, including a giant mud tub and a mud massage zone. The Boryeong mud of South Korea is known for it's healing properties and benefits, contributing to why it is the festival with
the highest international attendance. For those looking to get the full experience, join in events such as  mud sliding, mud swimming, and a mud marine course for the adventurous. Wow, that's a lot of mud! 

5. Ice Festival
Despite it's freezing temperatures, winter is considered one of the best times to visit Harbin- and trust me, being a little chilly would be well worth it to be a part of the annual Ice Festival. This winter event is thought of as one of the most exciting and romantic destinations on earth, where you can see and do things that unique to that area
of China. Stay in a super cool ice hotel, tour the safari-style Siberian tiger park, go dog sledding, drink in the ice bars of Snow World, or stick with the traditional- skating, skiing, or riding a snow mobile. And don't forget the best events of the season- the Ice Lantern show and Snow Sculpture Art Expo, where you get to witness the creating and displaying of some of the world's most jaw dropping ice and snow sculptures. The annual festival begins after Christmas and lasts until the beginning of February, so be sure to start planning your trip! 

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Keep an eye out for the next 5 Asian Festivals that will change your life in the part two segment!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

How K-pop Group Girls' Generation Beat Out Icons Like Miley Cyrus at YouTube's First Music Awards

Whether it is for her powerful vocals or questionable choice of attire (or lack there of), Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" seems like the most popular thing going in cyber space at the moment, but last night's results at YouTube's first award show proved otherwise! 

Awards such as Eminem's Artist of the Year came as no surprise as the audience clapped loudly and showed their support, but when "Video of the Year" was given to Girls' Generation, many audience members reacted with surprise or even confusion. 

This all-girls, K-pop group may not be as widespread in the U.S. as Justin Bieber or Lady GaGa, but in Asia it's a whole different story. 

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Often referred to as the Asian version of Spice Girls, this talented group sings, raps, has pop-like beats, and coordinated dance moves- a combination that has sent K-pop fans running wild. Fan hysteria has only increased since the release of their music video "I Got a Boy", which was the video nominated for YouTube's award ceremony. 

In addition to their catchy lyrics and admirable dance moves, the nine-member group's style and glamor has also caught attention. Always featuring coordinated and stylish outfits, the girls are beginning to become fashion icons as well as pop icons. 

Although the wild fire of Girls' Generation hasn't quite spread to the United States, we can only expect its rapid arrival after winning "Video of the Year" at YouTube's first music awards. So get ready to start seeing a lot of these nine talented girls as they make their way overseas!

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Click Below to View the Girls' Generation Music Video, "I Got A Boy", That Caught the Eye of Americans During the YouTube Music Awards: 

Monday, October 14, 2013

How Asia Is Getting into the Spirit of Halloween

Halloween is considered one of the most popular holidays in the United States, but did you know that other countries celebrate it too? Countries around the world have ways of honoring and remembering the dead during this time of year. Various countries across Asia like to get in the spirit of this spooky holiday, but not in the traditional costumes-and-pumpkins way we might think. 

Each October 31st, people across China celebrate Halloween, or Teng Chieh, by offering food and water to the dead. They also light lanterns with the belief that they will help to guide deceased loved ones as they make their visit to the "land of the living" in Halloween night. 

The Japanese also include lanterns in their fall holiday customs. The lanterns are traditionally colored red and are hung in every house. These red lanterns are also placed on boats and float through rivers to guide the spirits of the dead back to the homes of their families for the night. It is also traditional for Japanese families to participate in what they refer to as the Obon Festival, where they clean the gravestones of their ancestors and prepare special dishes to honor and remember them. 

Halloween is not widely celebrated within Korea, but offerings of food and flowers are still made to their ancestors to show respect. 

Hong Kong remembers their lost loved ones through a traditional festival known as the Festival of the Hungry Ghosts. During this time, pictures of fruits or money are burned with the belief that these images will reach the spirits of the dead and provide comfort. 

Although many of the Halloween traditions in Asia are different from those in the United States, many of the Halloween traditions we know and love have begun to catch on overseas. For example, Western-Style Halloween recently arrived in Japan. Now around this time of year, decorations such as jack-o'-lanterns can be seen around town and in shop windows and every year Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan puts on
extravagant Halloween shows and events. Trick-or-Treating is still not a common practice in Japan, but costume house parties are becoming increasingly popular. 

Besides the traditional and culture-rich Festival of the Hungry Ghosts, Hong Kong also likes to celebrate the more commercialized side of Halloween. Each year bars all across Hong Kong are decked out in Halloween decorations in an attempt to increase local interest in the holiday. Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park also host a Halloween Bash each year to promote and celebrate the holiday.

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Chinese Celebrate the Arrival of October With National Day

With the arrival of October we welcome a season of color changing leaves, pumpkin picking, apple cider, halloween, and light jackets- but in China the coming of October 1st means the arrival of National Day. Lasting from October 1st to the 7th, National Day is thought of as one of China's "Golden Weeks". 

This 7-day stretch makes this the longest Chinese public holiday after the Spring Festival, so people love taking this time to travel. It is also a very popular time for tourists to come to the country to witness the display of patriotism, so if you ever want to visit during this week make sure to plan ahead! The much anticipated week is purposed to commemorate the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. 

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Although the People's Republic of China was technically founded on September 21st of 1949, the ceremony to celebrate this revolutionary formation was held in Tiananmen Square on the first day of October, passing the "Resolution on the National Day of PRC" the following day. 

Curiously, even though National Day was not declared a holiday until 1949, the term appears within writings and the Chinese language as far back as the Western Jin Dynasty, which lasted from 265-316 AD. 

On this day, people love showing their national pride through spectacular parades and parties. The Military Review and Parade at Tiananmen Square is held every five years- with the 5 year anniversaries being smaller parades and the ten year anniversaries being very large and more heavily celebrated. 

For people across China unable to make it to Tiananmen Square, there are also many other activities including flag-raising ceremonies, dancing, firework displays, and art exhibitions in many of the towns and cities. For lovers of bargains and discounts, the 7-day holiday is one of the best times to shop, so get your wallet ready! 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Koreans Celebrate Thanksgiving Their Way with Chuseok

One of America's favorite past times, Thanksgiving, is a time of gathering with family, sharing stories and laughter over mashed potatoes and turkey. This time of year is associated with many traditions that reflect American culture- but did you know that Korea has a Thanksgiving as well?

Like in America, Korean Thanksgiving, known as Chuseok, is also full of deep tradition and culture. Unlike American Thanksgiving which is one day, Chuseok stretches across three. The preparation begins the day before Chuseok and extends till the day after. 

One of the most important traditions associated with Chuseok is Beolcho, the clearing of weeds around the grave of ancestors and Seongmyo, visiting the graves of the ancestors. It is considered a duty and expression of respect and devotion to the family. Another tradition
that adds spark and excitement to the holiday is Ssireum, Korean wrestling. During Chuseok the strongest people in each village are selected to compete in a wrestling match. The last one left standing is considered the village's strongest man and rewarded cotton, rice, or a calf as his prize.

 The Korean circle dance, or Ganggangsullae, is another critical aspect of the Chuseok celebration. During this ceremony women dress in traditional Korean clothing, Hanbok, and dance in a circle singing and holding hands. This tradition is very significant in Korean history, dating all the way back to the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Clothing worn and food consumed is also very specific during the Chuseok holiday. Chuseokbim is the custom in which the head of each household would buy brand new clothes for everyone in the house, even the servants.

Like  turkey's importance in America, Korea also has a food that is representative during Chuseok. Songpyeon, the food of Korean Thanksgiving, is a ball of rice or rice powder filled with sesame seeds, beans, rice beans, and chestnuts. While they steam, pine needles are added to the top to create a beautiful and mouthwatering fragrance. It is tradition that whoever makes the best songpyeon will meet an attractive spouse, if single, or give birth to a beautiful daughter, if married or pregnant. 

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Chinese Welcome the New Season with the Mid-Autumn Festival

Beginning on the 15th day of the 8th lunar month, China welcomes one of its most beloved and anticipated festivals, the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival. Deeply imbedded with rich Chinese tradition and culture, it has often been dubbed as one of the most important of the traditional Chinese events. Not only that, but it is also one of the most fun and exciting! 

The holiday is also subject to several other titles, including the Moon Festival, Mooncake festival, and the Lantern Festival. 

Three fundamental concepts revolve around this special day; gathering, giving thanks, and praying. These three ideas have been a critical component of the Mid-Autumn festival and carried throughout the centuries since it's origin during the Shang Dynasty

One of the most important parts of the festival, as you may have guessed by the different names it's given, is moon worship. In ancient China it was believed that there was a connection between the moon and water that provided you with rejuvenation. Due to these beliefs, it became very popular for women to give offerings and worship the moon on the night after it was full. 

Modern day celebrations still involve offers of rice and wheat being made to the moon, but it also has introduced many new activities over the years. Some of these include parades of lanterns of various sizes, colors, and shapes as well the displaying of handcrafted lanterns, an art form that is heavily emphasized on this day despite its unfortunate decline in popularity in recent years. 

One of the most popular and important activities during the Mid-Autumn Festival is the creation and passing around of moon cakes. Originally, moon cakes were "sacrificed" to the moon during this time as a thank you for that year's fall harvest, since the ancient Chinese people believed the full moon was heavily connected to the changing seasons and
agriculture.  Today, they are still offered to the full moon but also just eaten in celebration with friends and family. The inspiration for the shape of the cakes comes, of course, from the shape of the moon but also from the idea that a circle symbolizes the coming together of family. In addition to enjoying the cakes amongst each other, people also give them as gifts to friends to wish them a long and fulfilled life

To learn more about the cultural and diversity taught at Fujimini Island, please click here.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Update on on the Chaotic World of K-Pop with News From Yoon Mi Rae and Other Stars

As usual, the K-pop world is all a buzz with news of singles, music videos, and general updates pouring in by the minute. Its always an exciting day when it has to do with this increasingly popular genre. Rising stars, such as Girls Generation, Yoon Mi Rae, G-Dragon, and more rack up millions of views on YouTube from viewers and fans around the world. With these talented artists stepping on to the scene, K-pop is a trend that is sure to keep getting trendier.

As of a few days ago, the beautiful and talented Yoon Mi Rae scored a place at number one on the K-Pop Hot 100 thanks to her emotional and heartfelt new track "Touch Love". Due to her chill-inducing vocals and touching piano ballad, this single can definitely be expected to have a place on the Hot 100 for quite some time

For any American fans of Vixx, today is your lucky day! The K-pop boy band has just recently announced two stops in the U.S. during their "Milky Way" tour this fall. First the group will hit Dallas on November 8th at the Grand Prairie Theatre then make their way to
Los Angeles for another performance at the Club Nokia on the 10th. So if you're a Vixx fan or even a K-pop fan in general, make sure to buy your tickets before they sell out!

For GI (Also known as Global Icon) fans, the wait is finally over! The all-girl K-pop group has recently released a music video for their hit track "Don't Lie". Thanks to some killer dance moves and catchy lyrics, the music video is already blowing up the internet.

Click below to watch Yoon Mi Rae's hit single "Touch Love"!

Friday, September 6, 2013

World Heritage List's Addition of Mount Fuji Calls for Increased Preservation Efforts

Standing at a staggering 12, 389 feet, Mount Fuji, located on the Honshu Island, wins the title as the highest mountain in Japan. Besides it's height, the mountain is also loved and recognized for its impossibly symmetrical peak and breathtakingly beautiful snow caps. Because of this aesthetically pleasing uniqueness, the mountain is often the center of many art pieces and photographs. It is also the destination of thousands of eager tourists from around the world.

In addition to being deemed one of Japan's Three Holy Mountains (alongside Mount Tate and Mount Haku), on June 22 2013, Mount Fuji was also added to the World Heritage List as a Cultural Site. This recognition has had many positive components to it, such as increased national pride and tourism, but it has also contributed to a rising problem Japan has been dealing with regarding the preservation of the mountain's natural beauty. With the curiosity of thousands of tourists comes a price for the environment, such as mounting trash, poor air quality, and constant "suburban sprawl". 

Though overwhelmingly grateful about the recognition, it is hard for the Japanese people not to feel some concern over whether the popularity this title has sparked will ultimately lead to the destruction of what made a national landmark in the first place. Officials have made countless efforts to improve and maintain the quality of the environment without reducing traffic of tourists. Low-waste toilets have been installed on various points on the mountain, hybrid buses shuttle the visitors to the trails, and thousands of volunteers work to pick up trash left behind by tourists. An additional effort has recently been put in place this summer where climbers are asked to pay a fee, which will all be donated towards the effort to preserve the natural beauty Mount Fuji has to offer. 

When asked about his opinion on the matter, the head of Whole Earth Nature School, Keisuke Tanaka, says that donations should be used to "improve trails and toilets and add
waste treatment facilities and multilingual signs." He also believes the government should step in and begin to limit the number of people allowed to visit the landmark. 

Since making the cut for the World Heritage list, more and more measures are being taken to make sure people are treating this place with respect and care. New guidelines have been released stating that hikers must submit their plans in writing and are required to carry the proper equipment at all times. This is not only to protect the environment, but also to keep people safe!

It is crucial for people to work together towards the preservation of the beautiful nature Mount Fuji and other international landmarks have to offer! 

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Japanese Tea Ceremony Centers Around the Popular Green Tea

Tea is the most consumed, and one the most popular, beverages in Japan. It also holds a very significant place within their history, tradition, and modern culture. Tea holds such value among the Japanese, that there is even an entire ceremony dedicated to the preparation and serving of tea, the Japanese tea ceremony. Though several different types of tea are included within the ceremony, it centers around green tea- the most commonly consumed type in Japan.

The green tea family is home to five different types of green tea. These types include Matcha, or powdered green tea, Konacha, residual green tea, Hojicha, roasted green tea, Genmaicha, green tea with roasted brown rice, and Ryokucha, the classic green tea. 

Matcha, the powdered green tea, is the main green tea used within the tea ceremonies. This tea allows for only the highest quality leaves. It is prepared by drying and milling the leaves into a very fine powder, then mixing with boiling water.

Konacha, the residual green tea, is made up of tea buds, tea dust, and small leaves that remain after processing. Though considered a lower grade tea, it is still well-liked and considered a great compliment to certain dishes, such as sushi.

The roasted Hojicha tea is loved for its sweet, almost candy-like aroma. This is caused by the heat from the roasting process triggering the leaves to undergo chemical changes. It is also characterized by its distinctive reddish-brown color. 

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Genmaicha, or green tea with roasted brown rice, is perhaps the most unique type, serving as a popular alternative to the classic green tea. Its unique flavor is produced by combining of the roasted grains of the genmai brown rice with tea leaves. This mixing is also responsible for its yellowish color.  

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Even within Ryokucha, the standard green tea, there are different grades of the tea depending on how they were harvested. Gyokuro, is considered to be the highest grade. These leaves are picked during the first round of the harvest and protected from the sun before harvesting. The next highest grade is sencha. These leaves are picked during the first round of the harvest but unlike gyokuro, they are not shaded from the sun. The leaves retrieved later in the harvest season are referred to as bancha, and considered to be a lower grade of tea. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Significance Behind Japanese Tea Ceremonies

A few weeks ago, I indulged myself with a visit to the beautiful and impressive gardens of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. Referred to as the "Crown Jewel of Duke University", this site featured acres and acres of breathtakingly stunning assortments of flowers, trees, fountains, statues, and ponds designed to perfection to represent gardens from around the world. 

Without even a hint of exaggeration, these gardens were able to transport me to places far from North Carolina or anywhere I'd ever been before. And one of those places was Asia. One of the several gardens featured was an area dedicated to traditional Japanese and Chinese trees, flowers, and architecture. I was amazed by the little Japanese maples, the Japanese-style bridges, the Bamboo forest, and more. But what sparked the most curiosity, enough so that I felt the need to research it upon returning home, was the model of a traditional Japanese tea house. 

Hearing of these tea houses and even having an opportunity to visit one or two was not enough to satisfy my growing curiosity, I wanted to know more of the deep rooted significance within the culture and the rich history behind these peaceful and aesthetically pleasing establishments.

During my research, I found that Japanese tea houses serve as structures specifically designed to hold their traditional tea ceremonies. The room within the structure is referred to as the chashitsu, which literally translates to "tea room". 

A Japanese tea ceremony is a cultural ceremony involving the preparation and presentation of green tea, or chanoyu. The rigid and traditional steps involved in making and serving the tea are considered an art form, it's performance being called otemae

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The seriousness of the ceremony can vary from a simple welcoming of guests, a chakai, to a very formal gathering, a chaiji. A chakai is viewed as a sign of hospitality, that includes "thin tea", or usucha, followed by a small meal. Chaiji is much more formal and complex, lasting up to four hours. These presentations include a full course meal, followed by dessert and a selection of thin tea as well as thick tea, or koicha.   

The powdered green tea was first seen being used in Buddhist rituals within the monasteries. By the 13th century, tea began to be viewed as a luxury and symbol of status among the warrior class. Over time, the ritual and steps associated with the preparation and consumption of tea developed into a very spiritually significant practice involving the sabis and wabis principles, sabi representing the material side of life, while wabi represented the inner experiences of humanity and spiritual life. 

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