Sunday, April 28, 2013

Japan Kicks Off Golden Week with Showa Day

Golden Week is one of the most looked forward to and important holiday weeks in Japan. It begins on April 29th with Showa Day and extends all the way through Children's day on May 5th. 

To get in the spirit of Golden Week, the Japanese begin by celebrating the birthday of one of their beloved emperors, Emperor Hirohito- also known as the Showa Emperor. He was the reigning emperor from 1926 through 1989. 

After his death on January 7, 1989 the celebration of his birthday was replaced by the holiday known as Greenery Day, which is also part of the Golden Week celebration. But in May of 2005, April 29th was renamed Showa Day and Greenery Day was moved to May 4th. 

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Emperor Hirohito's reign is so widely celebrated due to its association with the rise of Japan as an industrial and economic power. Showa Day is purposed to encourage the people of Japan reflect on their nation's recovery from a great many turbulent times that occurred during Hirohito's reign, including the rise of Fascism, World War II, and the post-war occupation. 

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Cherry Tree From the 19th Century to Today (Part Two of Two)

The symbolic importance of the cherry tree continued to evolve from ancient times through the 19th century and is still changing, even today

During the Meiji Restoration, beginning in 1868,  the cherry trees symbolized the Japanese soldiers' dedication and devotion to their nation through their sacrificial service. The significance of the cherry blossoms is clearly shown through a statement where the soldiers were told that they shall "die like beautiful falling cherry petals for the emperor." This idea represented the new nationalist goals of Japan. After the Meiji period had ended, a memorial, called the Yasukuni Shrine, was built to honor the fallen soldiers of that period. There cherry trees were planted and it is thought that the blossoms of the cherry trees are there to console the souls of the deceased. 

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The symbol of the cherry tree continues to grow and evolve alongside the constantly changing nation of Japan. In 1912, the Japanese government sent 3,000 cherry trees to Washington to represent their newly established political alliance. Since the cherry trees were held so dear to the people of Japan, giving the United States the trees communicated their desire for peace and friendship. 

As time went on, cherry trees also became a symbol for not only the fallen soldiers of the Meiji period, but also the Japanese soldiers who died during World War II. During the war, in an attempt to preserve the deflating Japanese spirit, vice-admiral Onishi Takijiro painted cherry blossoms on the uniforms of the pilots, as well as on the side of their planes. Each petal that fall from the cherry trees that are planted in the Yasukuni Shrine are said to represent each soldier who died trying to protect his country. 

For centuries, cherry trees and their beautiful blossoms have represented the spirit of Japan, filling its people with a sense of nationalism and hope, even when surrounded by death and despair. After the tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, devastating the land and the people, cherry blossoms were used to show people the light and fill them with hope through the dark times ahead. 

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Monday, April 15, 2013

The History of the Cherry Tree in Ancient Japan (Part One of Two)

The pink and white blossoms of the Japanese cherry trees in Washington D.C. are breathtaking now that they've fully bloomed after a cold beginning to spring on the east coast. To any American passing by the blossoms they would serve as a pleasant sight, but to the Japanese, their presence symbolizes so much more than aesthetic beauty. They symbolize many aspects of Japan as a nation, as well as many of of the values that the Japanese hold dear. Their love and appreciation of the cherry tree dates back hundreds of years. 

The connection between the Japanese and their beloved cherry trees stretches all the way back to 710, when the Japanese first began to plant cherry trees in residential areas, when before they had only resided in the mountains. The trees were considered sacred, for it was a common belief that they carried the soul of the mountain gods and brought them to humans. During the first few weeks of spring, many Japanese would make long journeys into the mountains to worship the trees.

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Cherry trees also serve as a symbol of the uniqueness of the Japanese culture. The first ever recorded reference to the cherry blossom was seen in 712 in the Kojiki. The Kojiki is a collection of oral accounts of the origins of Japan, nicknamed the "Japanese Spirit". During this time, the imperial courts held elegant cherry blossom viewing festivals, known as hanami. At these festivals the elite class would sing, dance, drink, and eat while enjoying the beauty of the cherry blossoms. 

During the rise of the Feudal system and the samurai warrior, the cherry blossom became associated with courage and a noble character. They were said to represent the Japanese soul, which was a man who did not fear death. 

Even today many Japanese people participate in the special cherry blossom viewings, referred to as hanami. Companies and neighborhoods organize group visits, students are even exempt from classes for the day in honor of the occasion. 

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Five Ways to Celebrate "Encourage a Young Writer Day"

In addition to National Siblings Day, April 10th is also Encourage A Young Writer day. This day is particularly important here at ONCEkids, who is all for the support and encouragement of young readers and writers. Like many other parents, we strongly believe that writing and reading beginning at a young age helps children to acquire and expand skills in self-expression, imagination, vocabulary, and critical thinking- even into and throughout adulthood. 

You can acknowledge this holiday by encouraging your young writer with five different fun and though-provoking games. So whether your child is an avid reader and writer or dreads the thought of even having to pick up a pen, these five games are sure to spark some energy and excitement in your 
child on this special day!

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1. Poetry Puzzler
This fun activity is the perfect way to facilitate critical thinking in both you and your child, not to mention serve as a great way for you two to spend some time together! To play this game, have your child write down five fun words on a piece of paper while you do the same. After you're both finished, exchange lists and write poems using the words you've been given to test imagination and definitely get a few laughs!

2.  Pass It Along
This fun, interactive game requires three or more people. The rules of the game are that each person begins a story on a piece of paper and passes is along to the next person to continue. Sounds easy enough, but there is a twist to the game to make things a little more interesting! Before passing the game, you fold the piece of paper so only the last sentence is written and the person has to attempt to correctly continue the story with only that bit of information. Once the paper has been passed all the way back to you, open it up and read the hilarious twists and turns the story has made to on its journey back to you!

3. Write a Short Story
Encourage writing and imagination in your child by having them create a short story. This will also help them to feel a sense of accomplishment, especially if you collect their stories and put them together in some sort of book or binder. 

4. Free Write 
Often times, a child or even a student will complain that they do not have anything to write about- especially if asked to write a short story. Solve this problem by having your child do a free write. The objective of a free write is to sit down and write solidly for a particular set of time, which may vary depending on your child's age. There is no plot or assigned subject during a free write, the goal is simply to write about anything and everything that comes in to the child's mind. Often times, participants are told to not even think but to just write. This activity helps to promote creative expression and remind children of the joys of writing in a world where often times writing emphasizes grammar and structure, which children find painfully boring. 

5. "If I Were…"
My personal favorite game! Help your child's imagination to run free with this next game! For this activity, have your child write down a list of people, whether they are celebrities, superheroes or their favorite cartoon character, and then have them write detailed descriptions of all of the things they would do if they were that person. This causes a child to dig deep into their imagination and use creativity to dream of a world as superman or a Disney princess. 

This little known day is set aside to celebrate the art of writing. It can sometimes seem like the focus of writing for children is typically on grammar, so this is a unique opportunity to slip in some writing which becomes increasingly important as they get old- finding their voice!

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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Chinese Respect Their Ancestors During the Qingming Festival

The people of China are all beginning their preparations in anticipation of tomorrow's celebration of the Qingming Festival. Also known as Ancestor's day or Tomb Sweeping Day, the Qingming Festival is a traditional Chinese festival. This very traditional and cultural festival is celebrated 104 days after the winter solstice and 15 days after the Spring Equinox, making it fall on April 4th this year. There are several different purposes of this day and various traditional activities are performed to acknowledge this special day. It is a time dedicated to the spring, encouraging people to stop and enjoy the greenery and beauty that this time of year brings after the long winter. 

The first, and most important, custom of the Qingming festival is the sweeping of ancestors' and loved ones' tombs. Family members reserve this day to visit the tombs of their loved ones who have passed, bringing with them wine and their favorite foods. Weeds are cleared from around the tomb and fresh soil is added in order to pay respects and show care

Another custom held dear to those who celebrate the Qingming Festival is flying kites. On this day, people across China-young and old- gather together to fly handmade kites of all different shapes and sizes. The most beautiful part of kite flying comes when the sun sets.

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Once the evening comes, it is tradition for the Chinese people to attach tiny colored lanterns to their kites before flying them, making them look like twinkling stars in the night sky. Cutting the strings of the kites and letting them fly freely is a custom that is believed to bring good luck to the kite owner. 
The traditional food of the Qingming Festival is the delicious sweet green rice ball. The custom of preparing and eating the sweet green rice balls is a ritual that dates back to the Zhou Dynasty, over 2,000 years ago! 

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