Crash Course: Mon (or Kamon)

Chances are you've come across a mon (or kamon) during your time in Japan, even if you weren't aware of it at the time. Mon are symbols used to identify different families of clans in Japan, similar to the coat of arms of European aristocracy. From the chrysanthemum crest of the royal family to the Tokugawa's hollyhock,... Continue Reading →

Crash Course: Tanuki

My husband is a big knickknack collector. Somewhere in a storage unit in California, there are way too many boxes of snow globes, Eiffel Tower key chains, Russian matryoshka dolls and dozens of mini flags (with stands of course) from our many and varied travels. I always seemed to be fighting an endless battle against what I -... Continue Reading →

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: 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: 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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