Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Time to start cooking "osechi"

Christmas was over and it's time for many housewives in Japan to prepare to welcome the New Year. I would say not all, but many of them cook a set of traditional dishes for New Year.

We call it "osechi " which is supposed to be prepared in advance before the arrival of the new year. You may find it very interesting that each dish of "osechi" has a good reason behind its name and it somehow symbolizes good health, good fortune and prosperity.
That is the significance for us to have "osechi " during the first three days of the new year. 

And like my mother did, of all "osechi " I start by cooking "kuromame". It is slow simmered black soybeans. 

Why do we eat them on this occasion?

It's like a pun because the word "mame" means bean, but it also means dilligent."
"Mame(beans)" and "mame(diligent)" in Japanese have different written characters, but the same sound.  So people wish to be diligent and healthy throughout the year by eating "kuromame".

Monday, October 17, 2016

Come in from the rain!

Yesterday evening, when I heard the rain, an idea came to me.  I went outside and from just out the windows picked some Japanese anemone flowers, that were at their best.

The weather report said we would have heavy rainfall all night. I easily imagined that the rain would flatten the tall flowers.

So I saved some, arranged them and left them just by the front door last night.

It was so good to be greeted by them standing up straight in the basket when I opened the door this morning.

What a gorgeous start to the day!

Friday, October 14, 2016

Landmark of the park

This Fountain Tower was built in time for the 10th Kansai Area Prefectural Union Joint Exhibition of 1910 at Tsuruma Park in Nagoya.

 It has a combination of Western and Eastern styles.  That is very remarkable when we see the Roman-style marble pillars for the tower and the Japanese-style rock structure in the ponds.

The tower is 10.2m high and the diameter of the top flat circular board is 2.5m.  The paving stones  were recycled from demolished street car railway track beds from downtown Nagoya.   The floor of the upper platform is covered with marble stones. What’s more, a type of famous Japanese ceramics called Bizen ware is used for decorative handrails or banisters.  Most of the stones in the ponds were from Kiso River, a prominent river for people in this region for centuries.

When we look at those eight narrow water spouts sticking out from the top flat circular board,
you will see the water from each spout hits the board below and trickles down into the ponds. That eventually generates splashes and mists of water.  It was, indeed, well designed and delighted the visitors. So it became a symbol of Tsuruma Park.

The designer was Mr. Teiji Suzuki, an engineer and professor, known as the "father of modern architecture in Nagoya."  He designed more than 40 buildings including private residences in and around the city of Nagoya.  Those buildings were pretty much modern with a beautiful balance of western and eastern tastes and drew people's attention.  Unfortunately, only 23 remain today  and the rest of the buildings were demolished or destroyed  mostly by bombing during the second world war.   It was just fortunate that the fountain tower was safe.

Interestingly, in 1973 the fountain tower at Tsuruma Park  was once removed from this spot due to a new subway construction. The new subway line was planned to run just under the fountain.
With 60 years passing by since its construction, the city was afraid that building the subway might cause damage to the old fountain tower.  4 years later it was restored again exactly as it was before.

The fountain tower was designated as a municipal cultural property in 1986 and will continue to be a symbol of the park.

(images are from the web)

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Monday, October 03, 2016

How did it start?

Tsuruma Park was constructed in 1909 as the first public park in Nagoya.

It was in 1868 when the three-hundred-year-long samurai governance came to an end.
That was a drastic change for the whole society.
After opening the door to foreign countries, the new government was very much concerned about modernizing the country.  Industrialization was its primary purpose.

It is very interesting to note that Tsuruma Park was originally constructed as an industrial exhibition venue and not as a recreation ground for citizens. It was a good chance for Nagoya to take more steps forward to develop its local industries such as ceramics, lumber, and automotive looms and so on.

The exhibition was a well-known and distinctive project throughout the country and had been held every three years since 1884.   It was the city’s great honor to host this exhibition in Nagoya. The 31 prefectures participated and about 30 pavilions and buildings were constructed in the park, six times as big as the present Tokyo Dome Baseball Stadium.

During the three-month period, more than 2 million people visited the exhibition.
This number was very striking when the population of Nagoya was marked at 400,000 at that time.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

An episode from history


Please take a look at these three Japanese kanji characters.
It used to be a name of a place.

It reads “tsu-ru-ma”, which means “a place full of water.”
These are the original characters for the place called "Tsuruma".

In fact, villagers of this area were often bothered by floods from a small, winding river.

However, in 1910, when the city of Nagoya decided to make their first public park at this place by reclaiming the site, they wanted to keep the original name but with different kanji to make a better impression on all the visitors to the new park, that is “鶴舞" (Tsuruma) park.

They use the kanji for "crane” and “dance”, but they still have the same reading.
In Japanese culture, a crane is a symbol of happiness and longevity and it sounds just perfect for the first public park in Nagoya.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Pair of Muddy Boots

My daughter came home to stay overnight on the way to Ena, a mountainous town in Gifu, which is the prefecture next to ours.

She was on a business trip with her colleagues to a stone wholesale company. Her landscape company does business with them.

Do you know how GOOD it is for a mother to see her daughter home with her backpack?
Besides, she was carrying her helmet and a pair of muddy boots!  Good job.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What I thought about the Respect For The Aged Day

September 19th, the third Monday of September,  was a national holiday named the Respect for the Aged Day.

Various public ceremonies were held in many cities and towns throughout the country.
Our school district held a ceremony at an elementary school gymnasium and invited every person aged 70 or over in our area.

That day I helped at reception with the woman's organization that I am a part of.  Dance and band performances by elementary and junior high students delighted the guests.


Japan is becoming an aged society.

There were 34.61 million people as of last week aged 65 or over. This was 27.3 percent of the total population, according to a report.

There are many discussions about this, such as the large tax burden on the younger generation, a quality and quantity of nursery houses for the elderly, and the amount of pension and more.

A Japanese life expectancy has been ranked very high but we have to consider how elderly people pursue a healthy life without being bedridden for the rest of their life.

At the same time, men and women who retired from their companies at the age of 60 or 65, should be promised another regular job so as to keep their enthusiasm toward life as long as they are healthy.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Radio Exercises in Tsuruma Park

Tsuruma Park in Nagoya was the first public park in the region. It was established in 1909.
The existing modern and classic buildings and monuments tell us many stories related to the origin of this park and life in Nagoya in the early 1900s.

The boy statue in front of us is one example.
He is frozen in the middle of doing calisthenics, called “rajio taiso”, which literally means “radio exercises”.

“Rajio taiso” has a long history of 88 years, from the first broadcast of exercise routines over the radio by the Japan Postal Insurance Bureau.
“Rajio taiso” is a kind of rhythmic exercise to music on the radio. The program starts at 6:30 in the morning every day and goes for 15 minutes.

The insurance bureau started this project so that people would be more conscious of maintaining good health since the Japanese life expectancy was quite low at that time. Strictly speaking the idea for radio broadcast calisthenics came from the US.  The exercise consists of 13 different but easy movements to stimulate almost all of your muscles -- even the inactive ones -- to get your blood circulating.

It was included as a regular group routine at elementary and junior high schools.
Later, in the 1950s, it was aired on TV as well as on the radio several times a day; it became very popular among adults at offices, factories and also at many other workplaces.
Currently, it is reported that 20% of the entire population, or around 27 million people, and 76% of elementary schools, still do radio exercises.

Regardless of age, almost all Japanese people can perform the 13 movements if they hear the music or sometimes simply by humming it. Here in Tsuruma Park, somewhere between 100 and over 350 people, usually seniors, gather around the Sougakudo bandstand for “rajio taiso” every morning throughout the year.Tsuruma Park is the perfect place for a “rajio taiso” gathering, and it has been this way for 50 years.

If you would like to join in doing “rajio taiso”, you don’t need to apply.
All you have to do is to get up early.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ahead of time

Just last week on February 3 , we celebrated ”Setsubun", the Bean-Throwing Festival in our homes, at shrines and in temples throughout Japan.

It is one of our seasonal, happy events, which drives away evil from our homes and brings in only good fortune and good health to every household by throwing roasted soybeans.

Meanwhile, according to the Japanese traditional calendar,  February 3 marks the last day of winter and we name February 4  "Risshun", the first day of spring.

Though I know we will have some more cold and freezing days until the real spring arrives here, it is exciting to have some signs of spring not only in nature but also in everyday objects, such as a flower arrangement on an alcove, a hanging scroll and even some cups and saucers that depict spring.  That way we enjoy some signs of spring in homes much in advance.

What's more, very often at a department store, we will find a seasonal food item with an appealing presentation such as "wagashi."  These are Japanese sweets and reflect each season in their shapes and colors. Defined wagashi is such a delight to our eyes and finally to our mouth.

All these things are something we have been practicing  for centuries and we learn this  from our parents and grandparents  as a common practice in our daily lives.  I do love choosing  a hanging scroll at our alcove when our traditional calender marks the arrival of season a little bit earlier.

Somehow we enjoy the signs of the season ahead of time.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

An awe-inspiring experience


My final tour for 2015 was for four pleasant young adults from Mexico.

I showed them around two spots they wanted to visit.
The first spot was Atsuta Jingu shrine, which has a 1900-year-long history. They were impressed very much by the spiritual atmosphere in the huge wooded grounds.
I explained the basic history of Atsuta shrine and how regularly visiting shrines is part of daily life in Japan.

They seemed to enjoy the divine atmosphere just as they might appreciate the spiritual places in their home country.  And there, we had a strange experience when we drew an omikuji -- a slip of paper which tells your fortune -- at the shrine.


 Omikuji give some useful advice that you should keep in mind in your everyday lives.
 Interestingly, it tells you what your lucky color is too.

 While I was translating the content of the fortunes for each of the four, they found out they were somehow wearing the exact colors that their fortune predicted for them. Purple, silver, dark blue and green.

 Amazing! Was it just a coincidence? But wait! Coincidence rarely occurs to four people together at the same time. No matter what, it was an awe-inspiring experience for them.

"The deities of Atsuta shrine are welcoming you."

They really liked that this happened to them. I was happy for them, too.