What are your thoughts when you start working?


Nihonbashi Since I have started my part-time job at a Japanese Udon chain, I am now exposed to a much more Japanese environment than ever before. So far I have worked at foreign owned companies in Japan or then at a very American style local employer. Even though I have worked for more than 11 years in Japan, these days I am learning a lot about different behavior and rules. Of course one can argue that now because I work in the food industry, which has very little in common with life science and chemical environment that I have been active so far, therefore my observations only seem to be new. I personally doubt, because my husband is doing the same observations.
For me the most impressive new rule is to recite the motto of the company every day in the morning including the guidelines of the company. This daily ritual forces everyone to remember what the goals of the employer are and the expectations for the employees. Due to privacy reasons I am not able to provide the lines that I say every morning, but I have been introduced to Gosei, which is used in some companies in the food industry. The origin of Gosei comes from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, but is presently used as well by the The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF). The goal in the past was that every evening the cadets were expected to meditate over the questions below.

Hast thou not gone against sincerity
Hast thou not felt ashamed of thy words and deeds?
Hast thou not lacked vigor?
Hast thou exerted all possible efforts?
Hast thou not become slothful?

I can tell you for sure that my thoughts and intentions at work have changed and my customer focus has increased immensely. I thought I knew how to appreciate my customers, but I think I was pretty shallow compared to now. I am sincerely grateful to have the opportunity to experience my self selected apprenticeship and learn so much daily. My recommendation for you is just to try to recite these lines in the next few mornings. I am sure you will see a difference too.

Brought to you by a happy student,

Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

P.S. Let me point out even though I am a pacifist, Gosei showed my an option on how to give my best daily.

Do you know the Hakone Ekiden?


Tokyo To be honest I am not into sports, nor spending hours in front of the TV during daytime. Furthermore I love the New Years Holidays in Japan, but I guess I am one of the few ones, who is not glued to the TV during the New Year Holidays in Japan. Still I see it as worthwhile to introduce you to Hakone Ekiden, because I came across a marvelous article that explains the excitement of this race, which got even me hocked on. So what is exactly Hakone Ekiden? Based on the information on Wikipedia:

“Hakone Ekiden (箱根駅伝), which is officially called Tokyo-Hakone Round-Trip College Ekiden Race (東京箱根間往復大学駅伝競走 Tōkyō Hakone kan Ōfuku Daigaku Ekiden Kyōsō), is one of the most prominent university ekiden (relay marathon) races of the year held between Tokyo and Hakone in Japan on 2 and 3 January. The race is telecast on Nippon Television.”

If you were in Japan early January you would notice that a high number of Japanese are spending two days in front of the TV. Actually the roots of this race is quite old when it started in 1920 (based on the info on Wikipedia). Shizo Kanaguri (father of the Japanese marathon) came up with this idea. Actually the first original ekiden, the Tokaido Ekidentohokyoso (東海道駅伝徒歩競走) was held earlier in 1917 between Sanjō Ōhashi, Kyoto and Ueno Shinobazunoike in Tokyo. The inspiration of this race was to celebrate the 50 years since Tokyo became the capital. In contrast to today, this race was much longer between Kyoto and Tokyo (516 km) and was held for three days.

A recent marvelous article from the Guardian describes the fascination of the race, when I have to say, that from next year onwards I will be watching at least a part of it as well. I hope you can feel the excitement as well and get the Hakone Ekiden bug as well like most Japanese.

If the link does not work above, just try:
http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/the-running-blog/2014/jan/08/hakone-ekiden-greatest-race-on-earth

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Heart-moving history between Japan and Vietnam


Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam Usually I do not recommend or review TV programs, but I have to make an exemption for yesterday’s TBS program of “The Partner’. It describes a an actual story happening about 100 years ago in Fukuroi Shizuoka connected with Hanoi in Vietnam. Although the TV program does not represent 100% the actual facts of the story, basically it is still good example of how a brave Vietnamese Phan Bội Châu was a member of the independent movement for Vietnam, trying to find a way of how to get rid of the French forces during colonialism.
The TBS story is around a big monument at the Jorinji temple (常林寺, じようりんじ) in Fukuroi in Shizuoka prefecture, when a Japanese business man in present time is given the task in Hanoi to find real treasure in connection to a picture of a monument. If the Japanese business man can provide the Vietnamese counter partner with a treasure, then a business contract will be signed. To give the story a bit more emotional touch an international marriage is included in the storyline as well.
The events take place in the aftermath of the Russian-Japanese war. Sakihama Taro a local doctor built a lasting relationship with Phan to help him find a way to overcome colonialism in Vietnam. As one of the means to initiate change was bringing in young Vietnamese to Japan in order to study. Overall a total number of 200 students from Vietnam came to study in Japan, including one member of the Nguyen imperial family. Due to global new alliances Japan was forced due to its connection with France to deport the Vietnamese. Left without funds to go back to Vietnam a physical sick Sakihama gave his savings of at that time of 1700 Japanese Yen (in comparison the monthly salary of a school teacher at that time JPY 18!) to Phan and his group. At the end Phan was able to go back to Vietnam, but when he came back to Japan years later to thank for all the support received in the meantime Sakihama had died. Although Phan came with some money to Japan this time, it was not enough to create a monument to show his gratefulness to Sakihama and so the villagers chipped in. Not mentioned in the movie, the actual events did not allow Phan to see an independent Vietnam in his lifetime.
More details on the monument to remember the international friendship found in at the Jorinji temple in Fukuroi can be found in Japanese. My goal is to go to this temple to pray for this heart-moving international friendship within this year.
For sure I recommend you highly to watch the movie, even with the rather sweet simple story connected to today.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Addicted to Shisa


Shisa, Naha Since I came across the first Shisa at a restaurant with Okinawa cuisine, I have to say they stole my heart. I cannot even count anymore how many shisa “couples” I have at home. My passion became so great that now for me a home without shisa seems to me rather cold. On a recent trip to Okinawa last month, I had the opportunity to catch up with many of these beautiful guardians. I had learned in the past that you can recognize a female shisa by the closed mouth, but it seems the distinction is not so clear based on Wikipedia: “Some Okinawans believe the male has his mouth closed to keep bad out of the home, while the female has her mouth open to share goodness. Others believe the female has her mouth closed to “keep in the good”, while the male has his mouth open to “scare away the bad”.” No matter what the gender was, I could not resist taking lots of pictures and I am posting some of it below. Open mouth version:

Shisa, Naha

Closed mouth shisa (in my opinion a female shisa):
Shisa, Naha

All shisa have in coming that they have to look somewhat scary to ward off bad influence:
Shisa, Naha

An example of a shisa sitting on a roof for protecting a home:
Shisa, Naha

Modern, kind of cute shisa:
moderne Shisa, Naha

Rather scary, rough shisa standing up, which is rather unique:
Shisa, Naha

Not all shisa have to be as a full body, portrait versions exists as well:
Shisa, Naha

Rather overgrown, wild shisa:
Shisa, Naha

Looks for me like a shisa version that had too much awamori:
Shisa, Naha

Which is your favorite shisa? For me there is no favorite as I cannot help myself, because I fall in love with all of them.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Japanese blue is Western green?


Street in Tokyo Every Non-Asian Japanese language student will be confused at some point about the different meaning of the color green in Japanese. All of the sudden a traffic light, fruits or vegetables might be pronounced as blue (青い) in Japanese, although they seem clearly not to be blue! So why is actually something green colored actually called blue? Originally green was considered a shade of blue and did not need special distinction in communication. Based on Wikipedia not until the Second World War did Japanese educational materials distinguish between different colors of green and blue. In daily life I come across both namings, but two occasions still confuse me. I still struggle to get used to say that I like blue vegetable juice when the mix seems greener than spinach to me. Another example is the traffic light, when you drive or walk on blue. Below is the actual example of the description of the blue traffic light in this year’s official Japanese safe driving handbook.

safe driving book

Although some mishaps occur in daily life, but I have to say it is much less dangerous when the “go sign” can be misunderstood than the “stop sign”.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Sendai: A hidden gem!


Detail of Zuihoden When talking about destinations to visit in Japan, usually Sendai does not pop up, although it is the largest city in the Tohoku region. The city has everything what is needed to make a stay truly interesting from historical sites, great food, a cool Shinkansen to ride and a truly welcoming society. During my life of more than 10 years in Japan this city never was the destination for any private trips, but recently a friendly soccer match of Uruguay and Japan brought me to the area.
Sendai is mainly known for Date Masamune (powerful daimyo), who brought the city in the 1600 to its glory. The picture below shows Date Masamune at the remains of the Sendai Castle site.

Date Masamune

Within the city there is as well the final resting place of the Date clan Zuihoden, which contains as well 20 truly loyal solders who committed seppuku due to the death of their leader Date Masamune. The actual graves can be seen below in the picture, placed just beside the actual tomb of Date Masamune.

20 loyal warriors

For me one of the most impressive sites in Sendai was the Osaki Hachimangu shrine. The shrine had been built under Date Masamune. Apart from the impressive architecture, which is now an National Treasure, I was impressed that this site had until around 1945 a real horse on site representing the deity connected to Hachiman. In July 1945 Sendai experienced many air raids and destruction of many sights now being rebuilt. The Shrine is the oldest example of Azuchi-Momoyama architecture and impressed me deeply with the unique rather dark color.

Osaki Hachimangu, Sendai

Sendai is known for its delicious style of Miso. At this shrine I saw for the first time offerings of miso.

offerings of Sendai miso

Apart from offerings for gods, great food can be tasted like amazing soft tongue (picture below) or “okuzukake”.

beef tongue

Okuzakake is a local dish originating from Miyagi prefecture. We were lucky as we were in Sendai in the middle of August, because it is the period when outside of Tokyo the Obon season is observed. Obon is the period to worship the souls of ancestors. In Sendai there is a custom of offering zunda-mochi and okuzukake during Obon. The actual picture of the dish with the soy beans rice cake sweet is below. I have to say it truly tasted delicious, although the picture cannot really reflect the reality.

Zunda-mochi and Okuzukake

Okuzukake was originally a vegetarian dish. It contains eggplant, snap beans, taro, carrot and some local vegetables in season, abura-age (fried soy curd), Umen noodles (thinner style udon noodles). The picture below shows a good overview of the expected ingredients.

explanation

Sendai is definitely worthwhile a trip. You might even encounter some great warriors like Yoroku Morino from the past!

Yoroku Morino

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

So what is typically done during the New Year in Japan?


year of the snake japan I really love all the traditional New Year celebration in Japan. Apart from the already introduced Osechi Ryori there are so many things to enjoy and to do. Although there are many activities to be done, all is enjoyed in a leisurely pace. The first step towards New Year starts already before the year end. Originally with a truly big cleaning the home should sparkling including the darkest corners latest by December 31. The goal of all this cleaning is to welcome the deity of the new year the Toshigami-Sama (年神様). This originally had religious significance, as it was believed that the God of the New Year visits each household which welcomes them. Of course with these expectations to have a god or potentially several gods coming home for a visit, the house has to shine. In addition to Toshigami-sama there is another group of gods that can be expected coming to respective, suitable homes: The Seven Gods of Fortune (七福神 Shichi Fukujin). Usually they arrive on their treasure ship as depicted below. These seven gods can be visited as well at their respective shrines at the New Year (article with pictures will follow).

Seven Gods of Fortune

Then after midnight with the start of the year typically soba is eaten, but at our home the traditions are a bit different. We have home-made udon. To make udon from scratch is rather time-consuming, but having something so delicious to start off the year, no matter how hard the effort, it is still my favorite way to welcome the New Year.

home made udon

Another activity at the start of the new year is to write some calligraphy with a personal motto. In my case I have used a rather aggressive approach: Furinkazan (風林火山) which actually means “Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain”.

Japanese writing

Takeda Shingen (Sengoku period daimyo) became famous with this battle approach: “Move as swift as a wind, stay as silent as forest, attack as fierce as fire, undefeatable defense like a mountain.” Personally I prefer some adaptions for a more peaceful approach of “either acting quickly or relax like being in a forest, plus not being afraid of taking actions or otherwise being unmovable when no action is necessary”. It might be a too free personal adaptions, but I still like the concept.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)