Crash Course: Kokeshi Dolls

During our trip to Tohoku earlier this month, we encountered shops and shops of kokeshi dolls. Kokeshi are wooden dolls with heads and bodies only, traditionally made only in the six northern prefectures of Japan's Honshu Island. The history of kokeshi is a bit murky. My research shows that kokeshi were first created in the... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Hanabi (Fireworks)

Summertime in Japan is synonymous with fireworks and barely a weekend goes by without some sort of hanabi display. I'm sad to be missing our local summer festival and fireworks this weekend but we're off to Sendai at the end of the week for a brief summer vacation and I have plans to catch some hanabi up there. Hanabi (literally... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Shisa

I'm having a bit of Okinawa nostalgia at the moment. No one is more surprised by this than me, as my three years on the island were not necessarily, to quote Dickens, "the best of times". Never terribly fond of the confines of the sweaty "rock", I've nevertheless been reflecting a lot on Japan's southernmost... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Tatami

One of the things I always remind people when coming to Japan is to wear comfortable shoes. Because you'll take them off. A lot. Why? Well, one of the main reasons for this is the proliferation of tatami mats as flooring in this country. And one simply doesn't wear shoes on tatami mats. (Those things... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Kabuki

You may be a little fuzzy on noh and there's an excellent chance you haven't heard of kowakamai, but I'm betting most of you are familiar with kabuki. Granted this centuries-old performing art is not for every one (a bit too much warbling for me) but it's highly likely you'll come across kabuki at some point... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Haiku

Moonless night a powerful wind embraces the ancient cedars -- Matsuo Basho So wrote one of the most famous poets in all of Japanese history, Matsuo Basho. Basho was known for his extensive travels throughout Japan and the manner in which he chronicled them - mostly in haiku form. What's a haiku? Don't confuse it... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Origami

While my mother was visiting Japan this past month, my conversation partners and I arranged a special meeting so they could teach us origami, the art of paper folding. Having become quite taken with the cranes you often find sitting on ryokan pillows and the stunning geometric origami balls my daughter was gifted by a friend,... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Ukiyo-e

I just noticed an article online this past week that mentioned an excellent ukiyo-e exhibition at the Edo-Tokyo Museum through March 2nd. (And huzzah - the exhibit will actually move west after that!). I'm not a huge fan of art in general and before I moved to Japan I couldn't have told you the difference... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Kimono

So I've lived in Japan for nearly five and a half years and I have never worn a kimono. Well, not until a few weeks ago at least. Since sometime last year, I've been meeting once I week with two lovely women/conversation partners who pretend not to notice how little my Japanese seems to improve.... Continue Reading →

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