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.

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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

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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.

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Ah, Osechi Ryori!


DSC_0371

Days have already passed since the change to the year of 2013 and the marvelous Osechi Ryori is already digested. As I had promised earlier, I am posting the actual picture of this years feast. It was as delicious as expected and it was more than two truly hungry people can eat. Traditionally special rice wine is drunken with Osechi Ryori, but at our home we have a different tradition. Usually we either select a one of a kind champagner or white wine, meaning we are only willing to pay that much for this special beverage once a year. This year it was a special white wine from New Zealand, which tasted perfectly with the rather sweet and strong-tasting food.
The actual Osechi this year had three layers:

osechi overview

Most impressive this year was the quality of the fish or vegetables. I will not forget the softness of the bamboo sprout!
Osechi top layer

Additionally the fish cakes (red and white) and the small sweetish fishes are my favorite each year.
Osechi lower layer

The good news is that I have to wait now less than one year for the next Osechi Ryori.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

Ooops…


Wherever I go, I have a small camera with me, because it allows me to share with others an interesting scenery or simply immortalize memories for myself. Let me share with you a few pictures that I took recently, who showed some “oops” effects in Japan.
During the still rather cold season in February I came across some couples getting married at Meji-Jingu. While I was admiring the wonderful kimono’s I unwillingly took a picture of a newer aspect of Japanese culture: Wearing heat-tech underwear with a Kimono. Ooops, I did not expect to see this.

By chance I came across the situation below, when the window display was already supposed to be finished at the newly opened Diver City shopping center in Odaiba, but I guess, someone forgot to add all the parts to the display. Ooops, arms missing…

Sometimes the use of English language can be interesting in Japan. I really wonder what is actually closed on the picture below (instead of “do not enter” the wording “closed” was used). Ooops, I cannot see the closed structure…

I hope you enjoyed as well the selection of some Japanese “ooops” in daily life.

Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (伊藤シビル)

My top five favorite spots in Japan


A year ago I had started with this blog and throughout this year I truly hope I could bring you closer to Japan, its culture and society, plus its unique business style. As a celebration for the 1st birthday of this blog, let me introduce you to my top 5 favorite spots in Japan. While some might be part of the typical tourist agenda, some sports are a bit further away from the beaten path.

1. Nara
Todaiji has a deeper meaning for me, because on my first trip to Japan it was the spot where I decided to come back to Japan. Simply because I felt at home. Since then whenever I have big events or changes in my life, a visit to my favorite Buddha is a must.

While the statue was consecrated in 752, the wooden structure burned down a couple of times due to local wars with the final construction during Edo Period. This wooden structure is still the largest wooden structure in the world.

2. Doi (Hotel Fujiya):
Quiet country side, good view of the ocean, marvelous food… do I have to say more?

3. Kumano Nachi Taisha Grand Shrine
The serenity of the environment fills my heart with a strong peaceful feeling.

While on the top you can admire the waterfall, I enjoy as well the walk from the bottom up to the shrine, because it gives you a good sense that thousands of people for hundreds years had been traveling this road to pray.

4. Itsukushima: popularly known as Miyajima (Shrine Island)
Staying at Itsukushima for a day is wonderful, because it allows you to experience the shrine with many different tidal settings.

Furthermore the view from Mount Misen (535m on Itsukushima) is a must!

5. Kurashiki
This old city captured my heart with its old parts, but as well with the Japan’s first museum for Western art: Ohara Museum of Art.

Thank you very much for all your time spent reading or commenting on this blog. I am looking forward to give you further insights to Japan.

All the best from a very happy

Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)

Tokyo in Spring


Today my goal is to send you some Spring feelings to you from two parks in Tokyo (walking distance from Hamamatsu JR station): Hamarikyuonshiteien park and Shibakoen. While for most people Spring is directly connected with cherry blossom in Japan, personally I prefer plum or apricot blossom. The reason is simple: When after the cold winter finally the sun starts to feel a bit warmer, the delicate flowers seem like a miracle and give me hope that soon the comfortable season starts again. When then weeks later finally cherry trees are blossoming, I am already sure that Spring is here and feel less of an excitement. Isn’t plum blossom just wonderful?

Powerful pink:

Two color combination from afar.

Then the closeup of the above.

Another wonderful creation in pink:

Delicate blue (possibly Blue Daze – Evolvulus):

Powerful red flower (Camellia Japonica):

Although Spring means for many that hayfever season has started, I have no intention to create bad feelings, just enjoy these Spring pictures from the comfortable indoors and let’s welcome the warmer temperatures.
Additionally let me point out that even though recently the number of pictures has increased, let me reassure you I have no intention to switch to a photo blog.

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