Tag Archives: japan

The end of an era in Japan

2019.

We don’t think much about it but it is the start of the Post-Christ era. Like everything else we need to place things relative to each other. Time is no different.

In Japan the Gregorian calendar is used in conjunction with the Japanese “nengo” or era name. The present era is Heisei, the name chosen for the present Emperor’s reign which started in 1988. The two Chinese characters of the name means “becoming peaceful”. And it has been relatively peaceful. This year, 2019, is the 31st year of his reign. But this will end on May 1st when he abdicates.

Abdication is not the norm for the Japanese imperial family. Usually they reign until death. This is perhaps only the second time in history that an emperor had abdicated, and the first in modern Japanese history. So the citizens have no idea what to expect.

The country is also holding its breath as to the name of the new era which is being decided by the government at the moment. We will find out on April 1st.

The Japanese nengajō (New Year’s cards)

Every year in December in Japan people are preparing for the New-Year’s-card rush – the nengajō. Most people select a design from one of the various apps on their laptops, or more recently their smart devices, and print them up on their printers. It is a survival skill that rivals, if not top, that of word processor skills. A nengajō is a postcard designed especially for the year’s end. It has the year it with a lottery included. The omote (front side) has the names and addresses of the addressee and addresser. The ura has the design.

There are various styles, but the most basic ura design is one without photos. The Japanese follow the Chinese zodiac calendar which is in a cycle of twelve years with each year having an animal (apart from the Year of the Dragon) to represent it. 2019 happens to be The Year of the Boar. So most people incorporate a boar in the design. Those which include photos ones which show the entire family.

The apps generally have an address list function to help you keep track and print up both sides of your card.

Here are some tips (in no particular order) for being a “nengajō warrior”:

  1. give yourself a couple of days to the nengajō
  2. keep the cards received from the previous year as reference (and burn the old ones at a new years event at a shrine as a sign of respect to the sender)
  3. keep your address list up-to-date
  4. backup your address list
  5. take at least one photo with the entire family in it sometime in the year (if you choose to include a photo)
  6. print the omote side first (it uses less ink in case of a mistake)
  7. check everything before printing bulk
  8. stock up on printer ink
  9. if you worried about privacy don’t use a photo (all cards show name and address)

This should get you started if you are new to this Japanese custom. Enjoy.

If you want more detailed information check out these pages by Fukuoka Now and Savvy Tokyo.

 

Is recycling in Japan a sham?

Screenshot 2018-09-11 14.47.33For all the trouble we go through separating plastics at home for recycling, where does it all go? This video will show you what is really happening to the plastic in Japan. A far cry from this post I wrote in 2006.

 

mao

it was inevitable
but only too soon
too young at thirty-four
the order was wrong
all too wrong
she left behind three
dear ones
(the world was a stage
and she adored them
through every fault
and every perfection
until the very end)
& thousands more
who knew her generosity
her kindness, her courage
people wanted to know
to connect with her
and she chose to connect
publicly
in the most modern of ways
that may have taken her away

The main religions of Japan – a quick guide

There are, in my opinion, four main groups of religions in Japan. I will go through each below.

Shintoism
Shintoism is what can be considered the indigenous religion of Japan. It is at least 1,300 years old but possibly much older. It describes the power struggles in its early history in the disguise of creation myths of the country. This points to migration from Korea as the possible source of its history but also indication of much an earlier culture. It is generally a religion of animism, where mountains, trees, the sun, machinery, virtually anything has a spirit. It is also a religion which promotes purity and fertility, both for agriculture and sex. Shintoism is seen as one religion but can be thought of as having facets of folk, state and culture. From the 6th century until 19th century Shintoism was synchronised with Buddhism (see below).

Buddhism
Buddhism was introduced into Japan from China in the 6th century. It is a religion which originated in north-eastern India in the 6th century BCE. Buddhism is based on the teachings of the Buddha. Buddha taught it is possible to find happiness by thinking and living correctly. There are different “denominations” with Jodo-based sects being the most predominant and the Zen sects being second most predominant in terms of temple count.

Christianity
Christianity was introduced into Japan in the 16th century when Francis Xavier arrived with Christian converts. Although it makes up a small percentage of followers (around 1% of the population) it is nonetheless prominent within Japanese culture. Most weddings are “Christian” weddings with rites performed by a “priest” (read: ‘foreigner’). Christianity functions thus as marriage officiate, while Shinto functions as life celebrating, and Buddhism for Funerary. All major Christian denominations are represented in Japan.

New religions
Most ‘new religions’ are based upon one of the “traditional” religions – Shintoism, Buddhism and/or Christianity. Some were established after 1868 – when Japan began its modernisation period – but many sprang up after 1945. While some do have real ideological differences to their foundation religion most new religions were created for tax-break purposes.


Below are some “keywords” in each of the religious groupings.

Shintoism – inari, hachiman, susa, Izumo, Ise, fertility, creation myth, purity.

Buddhism – Jodo, Jodo Shin, Shingon, Tendai, Nichiren, Zen, death.

Christianity – Francis Xavier, Jesuit, Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, marriage.

New religions – politics, tax-haven, Neo-Shintoism, Neo-Buddhism, Neo-Christianity.

Why watching the development of Toyosu is important

Yesterday, it was reported in television again that survey of the groundwater under the yet-to-be-open Toyosu Fishmarket has found the level of the carcinogen benzene to be 100 times above safe levels.

Japan has always prided itself on the environment and cleanliness. It is a part of of its culture in the form of Shintoism. But since industrialisation it has had pollution issues come up time and again. The peak and benchmark is the Minamata Incident where mercury poisoning had caused health problems. Also the problems from the Fukushima nuclear incident from the Tohoku Earthquake which has effects beyond Japan is still with us.

So to build a fish market on top of a toxic dump seems incredible. But that is what they had done. Where the blame and responsibility lies has still to determined. But it is likely that the then the Governor of Tokyo will have to answer some questions. So far he has deflected all criticism away from himself, as a “good” politician does. 

The transcript of the Emperor Akihito’s speech indicating his wish to “abdicate”

 

The following is the English transcript (followed by the Japanese original) of the speech given by Emperor Akihito on August 8, 2016. It hints at his wish to abdicate, something which has never happened in the history of the Imperial Family. His Majesty’s decision to make such a request has been seen by some as his disapproval of Prime Minister Abe’s recent actions which have loosened Japan’s stance for peace. Many see Japan as heading again down the path towards militarism. The atmosphere and character of now is similar to that of the years leading up to WW2.


A major milestone year marking the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II has passed, and in two years we will be welcoming the 30th year of Heisei.

As I am now more than 80 years old and there are times when I feel various constraints such as in my physical fitness, in the last few years I have started to reflect on my years as the Emperor, and contemplate on my role and my duties as the Emperor in the days to come.

As we are in the midst of a rapidly aging society, I would like to talk to you today about what would be a desirable role of the Emperor in a time when the Emperor, too, becomes advanced in age. While, being in the position of the Emperor, I must refrain from making any specific comments on the existing Imperial system, I would like to tell you what I, as an individual, have been thinking about. 

Ever since my accession to the throne, I have carried out the acts of the Emperor in matters of state, and at the same time I have spent my days searching for and contemplating on what is the desirable role of the Emperor, who is designated to be the symbol of the State by the Constitution of Japan. As one who has inherited a long tradition, I have always felt a deep sense of responsibility to protect this tradition. At the same time, in a nation and in a world which are constantly changing, I have continued to think to this day about how the Japanese Imperial Family can put its traditions to good use in the present age and be an active and inherent part of society, responding to the expectations of the people.  Continue reading