Since I am currently learning Japanese, as well as participating in the Japanese Literature Challenge, I thought I would talk more about Japan, and its culture and tradition. Below, I will briefly and very generally highlight 3 aspects of the traditional culture of Japan which I find fascinating.
I. Inari Shrines
Inari is a deity (a Shinto God) associated with foxes, rice, prosperity and household-wellbeing. There are many Inari shrines in Japan (close to 3000!) since this deity is much respected in the country (rice, as well as its protection, is very important). The origin of this worshipping goes back to ancient times, and both Shinto and Buddhist traditions have this deity in their ranks. Inari’s messenger and guardian is a fox or kitsune (a fox in Japanese) – probably because foxes were traditionally seen as rodent-eating creatures who help to preserve rice. Thus, often, you can find small kitsune statues near the shrines, under which one can leave their offering to the spirit in the form of cooked rice soaked in rice liquor (inari-zushi). No statue of kitsune resembles any other, and there is a great variety of them. It is said that Inari shrines even have symbolic holes somewhere so that spirit foxes may have an ease of access to the shrine. There is also a special festival called Motomiya-sai (“Main Shrine Festival”) held during the summer at Fushimi Inari-taisha or the head shrine of Inari in Fushimi-ku, Kyoto to celebrate this kami (or a spirit in Japanese).
II. Tōrō (Traditional Lanterns)
I love lanterns – of different sizes and varieties. Tōrō in Japan is a traditional lantern that can be made of stone, wood or some other material. Originating in China, they were originally used solely in Buddhist temples, but their use spread far and wide to include other shrines and private housing. The tsuri-dōrō are hanging lanterns and look impressive on the sides of Japanese homes guiding owners to their homes in the evenings. The dai-dōrō are platform (usually stone) lamps and there are many varieties of those too. They can look magnificent in Japanese gardens. Lanterns are so important in Japan that there are whole festivals revolving around them, such as the Toro Nagashi (“Floating Lanterns/Cruises”) or the Glowing Lantern Festival, when participants send off their candle-lit lanterns down rivers so that spirits of their loved ones could have guidance.
III. Moon-Viewing (Festivals/Platforms)
Tsukimi or Jugoya denotes the custom of Moon-viewing in Japan, and Tsukimidai are Moon-viewing platforms or decks. During the festival of Tsukimi (a version of a Mid-Autumn Festival to honour autumnal Moon), that usually falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the traditional Japanese calendar (September/October), people traditionally gathered to view the Moon, eat special rice dumplings prepared for the occasion (tsukimi-dango), as well as to drink special sake (rice wine) – tsuskimizake, expressing their thanks for the good harvest this year. Members of the Japanese nobility also loved to view the Moon from their boats so that they could see the Moon’s reflection on water. The most famous “moon-viewing platform” in Japan is the Kogetsudai moon-viewing platform at Ginkaku-ji Zen Temple in Kyoto (picture above).
Are you interested in Japan? What aspect of the country’s culture fascinates you the most?