Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Learn About How Japan's Golden Week Celebrates All Things Green

Golden Week, the annual string of Japanese public holidays, continues to it’s third event with Greenery Day. Greenery Day, or Midori no Hi, is celebrated on May 4th, and staying true to its name, celebrates all things green! In Japanese, "midori" means green and "hi" means day.

The idea for the holiday came after the passing of Emperor Hirohito in January 1989. He was always a lover of nature and spreading environmental awareness was very important to him. He dedicated much of his time during his life to improving the environment, including opening the Imperial Biological Research Institute.

Originally, Emperor Hirohito’s birthday (April 29th) was referred to as Midori no Hi, after his passing, but the government decided they wanted to continue to honor the Emperor’s birthday as well as Greenery Day. So in 2007, April 29th was once again Showa Day and Greenery Day was moved to May 4th. This way, Japan can honor all of Hirohito’s efforts and accomplishments while still celebrating all things green!

So how does Japan getting into the spirit of Greenery Day? 

In the spirit of Hirohito’s beliefs, the holiday is used to address current environmental issues. There are initiatives to clean up local areas including parks, beaches, and streets. So if you’re walking around Tokyo during this time, be prepared to see hundreds of people sweeping and picking up trash. But this holiday is much more than picking up trash. In addition to awareness, May 4th is also about cerebration. On this day Tokyo hosts dozens of events, such as planting trees, and people flock to the park with their families for some springtime fun. 

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Japan's Golden Week Welcomes their Second Holiday Known as Constitution Memorial Day

Next in line for Japan’s Annual Golden Week, a string of public holidays that takes place every April-May, is Constitution Memorial Day. Following the week’s opening holiday, Showa Day, Constitution Memorial Day takes place every May 3rd. 

Being one of the newer holidays, May 3rd was dubbed as Constitution Memorial day beginning in 1947, when the current Japanese constitution came into effect. Using the American and British constitutions as models, this constitution renounces war and declares that there are certain fundamental rights we have as human beings. It continues to declare the Emperor as the “symbol of the state and unity of the people.” 

As Showa Day was created to encourage reflection and honor of the Showa Emperor, this holiday asks the nation to reflect on democracy and the Japanese government. 

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The anniversary of the creation of the current constitution is celebrated each year through events, ceremonies and lectures. Thousands of people attend lectures to learn about the crucial role the constitution has played within their nation’s progress over the last 50 years. 

But what truly makes this day special is the opening of the National Diet Building. It is the only day of the entire year that this building is open to the public. Join the thousands of families that flock to the building to roam the normally-off-limits halls and take pictures out front.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The Legend Behind Korea's Mysterious Jindo Sea Parting

Like with many Korean festivals and holidays, the Jindo Sea Festival is deeply set within their culture, tradition, and history. The fascinating celebration is loved for it’s magic and mystery but also for the centuries-old tale that lies behind it. Each year the East China Sea parts around the the southern tip of the Korean peninsula exposing a pathway wide enough for people to walk the 1.8 miles to get the the nearby island of Modo

A scientific explanation for this mysterious event is that natural phenomenon known as tidal harmonics, where the different tides sync up causing either extremely high, or in the case of the Jindo Sea parting, extremely low tides. However, ancient Korean legend has another explanation for the phenomenon. 

According to a centuries-old Korean tale, the parting all began with a man named Son Dong-ji near the end of the 15th century. The man was condemned to exile and sent from the mainland to Jeji Island, located a few hours south. During his journey from his home to the Island a storm swept through the Yellow Sea down Korea’s west coast- washing Son Dong-ji ashore of the village of Hoedong, which is now known as Jindo. 

There, Son lived a difficult life among the other villagers, fighting off the many tigers that inhabited the land. After years of suffering and witnessing many deaths due to the ferocious cats, the people had finally had enough and wished to vacate the island. So by raft the villagers fled to the island of Modo in search of a better life. Unfortunately, an elderly woman known as Grandma Bbong was accidentally left behind. Each day she prayed to the Dragon King of the Sea that should could be safely delivered to her family and not be deserted on this island. 

One day her prayers were finally answered when the Dragon King appeared to her in a dream, telling her that the following day a rainbow would appear in the sky and a pathway would be there to guide her across the dangerous ocean waters. The next afternoon, like the Dragon King had promised the waters parted and a crescent-shaped pathway appeared, connecting her to the island of Modo, where her family was waiting for her. Upon her arrival on the island, she died of exhaustion in her family’s arms and her last words were a prayer of thanks to the Dragon King for allowing her to be with her family one last time. 

In addition to the fun and celebration that takes place during the Jindo Sea Parting Festival, many rituals, performances, and dances are still held by the locals to honor Grandma Bbong and remember her tragic fate as well as her strength and determination.

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Each Year Half a Million Gather on Jindo Island to Witness the Korean Version of Moses' Miracle

Whether it revolves around the celebration of spring, exfoliating one’s self with mud, honoring ancestors, welcoming a new year or just being with family, Koreans love any excuse to eat, drink, and celebrate. But out of all the holidays and festivals there are a few in particular that stand out, one of those being the Jindo Sea Parting Festival. Nicknamed “Korea’s Moses Miracle”, the annual festival is as cool (and as literal) as it’s name suggests. 

Every year between the months of March and June the northern portion of the East China Sea around the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula opens up- revealing a 1.8 mile pathway connecting the peninsula to the nearby island of Modo. This natural phenomenon is caused by an event called tidal harmonics. Occasionally the harmonics will sync causing either extremely high or low tides. In the case of the Jindo Sea parting the tides become extremely low creating a ridge of land to appear. Although this actually occurs with the tides 2-3 times a year, there is only one festival to celebrate it- a four day period in April. For 60-90 minutes tourists and locals can gather to dig for clams or seaweed or simply take a walk along the magic-like pathway to the Modo island. 

Originally the celebration, then called the “Mysterious Sea Way”, remained a local secret until 1975 when French ambassador, Pierre Randi, visited Jindo Island and described the event in a French newspaper, bringing fame to the festival and calling it the “Korean version of Moses’ miracle.” 

Whether it is because of the mind blowing mystery or the centuries-old tales behind it- starting April 24th, around half a million domestic and foreign visitors gather on the small peninsula of Jindo to witness the spectacular event. 

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Golden Week Kicks Off April 29th by Honoring the Birthday of Emperor Hirohito

One of the most exciting weeks in Japan is right around the corner. Golden Week is a series of public holidays celebrated throughout Japan annually beginning April 29th. The festive week kicks of with Showa Day on the 29th.

The original purpose behind the creation of Showa Day was to honor and celebrate the birthday of the Showa Emperor, Hirohito, whose reign stretched from 1926 to 1989. After his death in 1989, April 29th was renamed Greenery day and became the holiday that marked the start of Golden Week. After much debate and effort on the part of many people, and following a series of failed legislative attempts, Greenery Day was moved to May 4th- a change that became official in 2000. It was not until 2007 that April 29th was once again Showa Day. The celebration of the emperor's birth was reinstated because the people felt Golden Week should open with a public reflection of Hirohito's reign and the accomplishments this time period was witness to. The turbulent 63-year period saw the end of Taisho Democracy, the rise of Fascism, World War II, the post-war occupation, the rise of Japan as an industrial economic power, and more. 

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! 

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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: www.ONCEKids.com and www.FujiminiIsland.com