Monday, January 18, 2010


"Why did Snoopy quit the comic strip? Because he was tired of working for peanuts."

Peanuts are not just for squirrels, as humanoids alike rejoice over their natural flavor. For instance, the Roadhouse bar and restaurant chain beckons patrons to grab a handful of salty peanuts from the barrel and toss the shells at will on the dirtied floor. But imagine if you could chuck whole peanuts at say your father, or even your math teacher? Welcome to Japan, and say hello to Setsubun!

Just call me your "Nutty Buddy"

節分, Setsubun, meaning "seasonal division" marks the beginning of each season. Though, we're more interested in 立春, Risshun, occuring on February 3 and welcomes approaching Spring. Formerly, this day was seen as New Year's Eve. Included in the celebration is an ancient ritual where the Japanese cleanse themselves of all evil but more specifically ward off evil spirits in the coming year. Called 豆撒き, mamemaki, entailed the throwing of fuku mame, roasted soybeans at the head of the household who was appropriately adorned as an Oni, a Japanese demon or ogre. The throwers will shout, 鬼は外! 福は内!, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!, meaning "Evil out, and happiness in!" Though more recently peanuts have replaced soybeans. Across Japan, students will chuck peanuts at their homeroom teachers, while others will visit shrines, and even celebrities such as Sumo wrestlers will get involved in the peanut throwing. While, not a national holiday, Setsubun is a cultural tradition, and if I may say a wonderful excuse to hurl food at a loved one!

My Girlfriend: The Demon

Sources / Further Reading:

Holidaze: Overview

Holidays are a universal pleasure. People join together in cultural traditions, or simply lazily enjoy a day of repreive from working the cash register at Wal-Mart. In fact, some customs or traditions are so important that even the US government sets aside special federal holidays to observe them. Japan, is no different. Though one receives a bird's eye view into the culture and nature of a country by examining its holidays.

While America allots 10 federal holidays each year, Japan awards its citizens with 15 (not including bank holidays). While it may seem that Japan has taken a more laisez-faire approach to work; it's simply the opposite. Either for that post Super Bowl hangover, or a family vacation to Disney World, Americans utilize each and every one of their vacation days. Though the Japanese are less prone to taking advantage of their ねんきゅ (nenkyu / official vacation days). Therefore, federal holidays are a blessing and award the Japanese with a guilt-free day of relaxation or travel. Interestingly, Japan even blocks together groups of holidays in order to promote extended vacations. For example, early May is 'Golden Week' with three consecutive holidays (Constitution Memorial Day, Greenery Day, and Children's Day). In addition, any day that falls between two holidays is called こくみんのきゅうじつ (kokumin no kyūjitsu / citizen's day) and becomes a holiday. This occured recently in September of 2009, with 'Silver Week' where the Japanese enjoyed three consecutive holidays.

Born and raised American, each year I look forward to several cultural celebrations including Halloween, St. Patricks Day, and Easter. Though outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas, American federal holidays seldom coincide with these celebrations. The same is true with Japan, as they to have several celebrations coinciding with Chinese, shinto, buddhist tradition, or American-infusions such as Valentines Day.

Though the personalities of each country shine through looking the nature of the holidays. America, a relatively young nation, allots most of of their days to respecting or preserving historical dates and figures. For example, Columbus Day, Washington's birthday and Martin Luther King Jr. Day are set aside to observe and respect instrumental figures in American history. In a sense, American holidays seem dull and dry and fail to recognize the true culture of modern society.

Japan also pays homage to its history with National Foundation Day, Shōwa Day, Constitution Memorial Day, and the Emperor's Birthday. Although several days are used to respect one another and to connect with nature. For example, Coming of Age Day, Children's Day, and Respect for the Aged Day are not 'Hallmark' holidays but rather a special time to spend time with or commemorate groups of people. Other days such as the Vernal and Autumnal Equinox, Sea Day, Greenery Day, Sports Day show Japan's oneness with nature.

I can't help but give Japan the win when it comes to holidays. While I agree that individuals such as Columbus, Washington, and King Jr. are worthy of praise, I'd rather sick with monuments or 'unofficial' observances. A country that prides itself on diversity doesn't even have a holiday devoted to culture, unlike Japan a country notorious for its homogenous population.


New Year's Day

Seijin no hi
Coming of Age Day

Kenkoku kinenbi
National Foundation Day

Shunbun no hi
Spring Equinox

Shōwa no hi
Shōwa Day

Kenpou kinenbi
Constitution Memorial Day

Midori no hi
Greenery Day

Kodomo no hi
Children's Day

Umi no Hi
Sea Day

Keirou no hi
Respect for the Aged Day

Shuubun no hi
Autumn Equinox

Taiiku no hi
Sports Day

Bunka no hi
Culture Day

Kinrou kansha no hi
Labor Thanksgiving Day

Tennou tanjoubi
Emperor's Birthday



Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Express Yourself

"One must not be mean with the affections; what is spent of the fund is renewed in the spending itself."
- Sigmud Freud

Japan is flooded with vending machines full of curious liquids. But the islanders of the Orient don’t limit themselves to beverages, as they specialize in bottling their affections for one another. While in America, PDA, Puke-ish Displays of Affection, can get quite out of hand, my eyes wouldn't mind spying some cutesy cheek kisses, a slow motion back pat, or even a dreaded HUG!

Some will argue that this is not the way of the Japanese, but those who think such things are stupid. Humans have emotions, and we need to allow these emotions to go outside and play with others to forge a strong, safe, and economically viable neighborhood.

Today while laboriously pretending to look laborious, I saw something. I was gluing cut out pictures of ‘Before/After’ weight loss pictures to my Magazine Ad Scrapbook when something arrived in the coffee corner. In fact, two things arrived. Two ladies to be exact, and who just happen to be the school’s most smoking specimens: the gym teacher and the janitor. No joke! In America, those two jobs would be filled by overweight, single mother, post-divorce, screw the world (literally), or dykish (they are often too ugly to be referred to as lesbians) type of loser. But here in Japan, oh boy are they niiiiiiiiice! In fact, they are so cute I just want to encase them in a plastic bubble and glue it to a cardboard backing to hang ‘em off a hook in a toy store.

It is a known fact to anyone with male anatomy, that the gym teacher and the janitor are friends. Just as the hotties with bodies stick together in America, they also follow this trend in Japan. Normally these two just snicker, chuckle, and flicker their eye-lashes at one other. But not today. Having returned from winter vacation, it had been quite a spell since our divine beauties had seen each other. So when the gym teacher realized she was standing in front of the janitor (perhaps she was occupied glancing at my laboriousness), she jumped up and down with her feet never leaving the ground, and her smile grew to the size of a mutant banana. She was exploding with emotion but with no vent to escape she imploded in a static fright. She wanted to share her emotions with her sexy mop carrying friend, but realizing they were Japanese, she couldn’t. Even the heavens knew a hug was in order. I swear I saw a shadow of one forming before it dissipated into a trail of lonely dust. So instead the bubbly gym teacher hit the janitor. Yep. Instead of a kiss, rub, pat, hug, or pillow fight, her fist rode an invisible wave of wind and smacked the custodial engineer in the arm. It was an unbearable sight and immediately I rushed for a tissue. How can Japan be so cruel? Why can’t two mature adults, in this case gorgeous women, physically express their affections while I munch on Ritz crackers?

It’s depressing to think that these ladies and all of Japan’s ladies (even the ugly ones) will forever be forced to bottle up their emotions. But they’re not the only ones losing out, what about the fellas? Of course we want to see women bond together in a moment of expressive physical harmony. It just boggles my mind that a Japanese woman will spend hours assembling the cutest outfit, masking her already beautiful face in a mirage of makeup, and even on the train still sits in front of a mirror applying foundation to make herself feel important, but we can’t even allow her to feel comfortable enough to hug her friend?

Though, I’m not one to complain. I’m one that creates solutions. So when you see me in a local Uni-Qlo or any other fine Japanese retailer, please assist me in choosing the perfect jean-skirt, stockings, and knee-high boots. Because I’m going in. I will become a woman, be-friend other women, and then yes that’s right, I will show my ‘plutonic’ affections for them with a little PDA baby, but I finish typing, I can hear whispers crawling out from the copy room. Those quiet words are owned by the gym teacher and the janitor. Perhaps they have vacationed to a more private location to showcase their love for one another? If this is the case, I’m happy for them, and can’t wait to install a video camera.