Category Archives: Culture

Carp Flags at Shirahata Shrine

Yesterday was Kodomo no Hi (子供の日) or Children’s Day in Japan.  It’s a holiday that celebrates children and their happiness.  During this holiday, people string up carp flags/streamers, or koi nobori.  Basically, they’re a kind of wind sock.  I visited Shirahata Shrine (白幡神社) in Fujisawa, near Fujisawa-honmachi Station, and was treated to a large number of very big koi nobori.  Have a look.

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The shrine gate.

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Those are some big streamers.

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Caught in the wind.

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White wisteria.

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Looking up.

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Going up to the main hall.

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The main hall with glare from the sun.

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Koi nobori from the main hall.

I hope all the children will be strong this year.

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Filed under Culture, Festivals & Events, Fujisawa, Japan, Kanagawa, Shrines

2012 Picture of the Week (50/52) – Imported

Japan has a lot of traditional culture, but it also has a lot of imported culture.  One example is Christmas.  However, it’s not entirely the same as in western countries.  For example, it’s a day for couples to go on a date, or for children to receive gifts, whereas in Canada, it’s a day for family and everyone gets gifts.  Also, Japanese people often eat Kentucky Fried Chicken on Christmas.  Turkey is difficult to find in Japan, and even if they do, not everyone has an oven to roast it with.  And if they do have an oven, it’s often not even big enough for a turkey!  So, getting KFC is an alternative.  But one thing’s the same, decorations.  They’re everywhere!  On my way home, I took a picture of this tree made of Christmas lights outside a factory.

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Merry Christmas from a factory.

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Filed under Culture, Fujisawa, Japan, Kanagawa, Picture of the Week

Sanma Matsuri and Typhoon 17

On September 30th, there were two events.  One was local, the other was major.

First, in Ofuna, Kamakura, there was a big festival.  This was the Sanma Festival.  Sanma is the Japanese name for a fish called Pacific saury.  But not only was this a festival about a small fish that’s grilled on a stick, it’s also a friendship festival between Ofuna and the city of Ofunato in Iwate prefecture.  Ofunato was one of the cities devastated by the tsunami of March 11, 2011.  Ofuna and Ofunato share the same kanji (大船 and 大船渡).  I managed to take a few pictures of it that afternoon.

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It’s a busy festival with lots of food.

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This intersection was being controlled so festival-goers weren’t hit by traffic.

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This banner flag says “Sanma matsuri.”

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Look at all that food.

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Finally, a picture from down on the street.

The festival ended at 3pm, which is quite early.  The reason was that Typhoon 17 (Jelawat) was on its way.  When it hit Okinawa, it was equivalent to a category 4 hurricane, and was called a super typhoon.  There was plenty of damage and power outages in Okinawa, but in the Tokyo area, we didn’t have to worry very much.  It rained a lot and the wind was strong, but it was pretty brief.

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A wet window during the typhoon.

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Filed under Culture, Festivals & Events, Japan, Kamakura, Kanagawa, Weather

A rare sight: Outspoken woman on the train

Yesterday, as I was going home, I was a witness to a rare event in Japan. A woman protested a man’s harassment.

It’s very well known that Japan’s trains, when crowded, have some perverted men (chikan) who will sexually harass a woman physically. Most of these women will remain silent, not wanting to make a scene. Well, I saw a woman who wouldn’t take it.

Actually, this woman wasn’t touched. She was sitting across from a middle-aged businessman who was reading a book and occasionally looking up at her. She was in her mid to late 20s, and dressed rather conservatively. Just before the train came to her station, she shouted, without looking at anyone, something along the lines of “Stop staring at me, please!” Less than a minute later, she stood up and rushed off the train. Some people looked, but most seemed to ignore the whole thing. Even the accused man just kept reading his book.

It’s interesting seeing very little reaction from people in that situation. In Canada, everyone would be staring at him.

On a related note, a couple months ago, I saw a middle-aged man sitting beside a young woman who was wearing a very short skirt. The man kept turning his head to look at her, and once stared at her for a good 15 seconds, then scanned his eyes all the way down her body to her legs, which he stared at for a few seconds. He did this openly, and anyone could’ve seen him doing it. But usually, people are in their own worlds on the train, totally oblivious to what is going on around them. It’s likely I was the only person to notice. He stared at her, I stared at him. She didn’t notice.

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Public school English in Japan

Japan is falling behind. The state of English education in public schools isn’t very good right now. I don’t think it ever has been. It’s curious how this country teaches English through junior and senior high school, yet the average person can barely speak any English. Why?

It’s quite simple. The way the students are taught English is for tests. They drill them on grammar and vocabulary, as well as reading comprehension, but not speaking. Tests are everything in Japan. Unfortunately, tests don’t show how well someone can use the knowledge in practical situations, they show how well they can study. This system doesn’t encourage independent thought. Independence is something that threatens Japan’s culture of following the group. It may be good for teamwork, but it’s terrible for innovation. Many people don’t seem to understand this. This attitude is changing, but traditions hold strong still. And this is hurting education, which hurts industry. As one student I’ve taught said, “Japan is full of sheep.”

Unfortunately, a lot of English teachers in public schools don’t actually know English very well. I saw a junior high school textbook and couldn’t believe the awkward and unnatural English it used. You can’t expect someone to be good at English with that kind of education.

I’m not surprised Japan has the lowest TOEIC scores amongst its neighbours.

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Filed under Culture, Japan, Teaching

Baby crazy in Japan

Japan is going through what many other countries are going through, a lower birth rate and an aging population.  Women are less interested in getting married and having children in Japan, and are more focused on their careers or personal lives.  But there’s something interesting that I’ve noticed.  Japanese women are actually crazy about babies.

I see it all the time.  Whenever women in Japan see babies, something comes over them, and they keep saying “kawaii.”  While out today with my family, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard women commenting about how my daughter is cute.  One older woman came up to us and our friend, who also has a baby, and touched their feet.  That was a bit of a surprise.

But it happens a lot at work, too.  Some students want to see pictures of my daughter, and even the high school students get excited and exclaim “kawaii!”

Does this happen this much elsewhere?  I find that a lot of Japanese people tend to verbalize their feelings, especially about it being hot, cold or feeling tired.  It’s summer now, and all I hear people saying is that it’s hot, stating the obvious.  But you’ll hear women talking about babies that they see within earshot of the parents.  I don’t recall that happening in Canada so much.

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