When you visit a Japanese garden, you often see a colorful koi(carp) and goldfish in the pond. Goldfish, also known as the Golden Carp was introduced into Japan from China in the sixteenth century where they were popular and kept only by the aristocracy and samurai as a rare pet.
Goldfish (called “kingyo” in Japanese) is a deeply enrooted into the art and everyday life of the Japanese people. Goldfish is one of the earliest fish to be domesticated, and is one of the most commonly kept aquarium fish.
One could easily find artifacts of goldfish in souvenir shops throughout Japan. All Japanese grows up with fond childhood memories of the traditional game of “kingyo sukui” (Goldfish Scooping). It reveals Goldfish both as an element of Japanese culture and as an influential design motif over the last 500 years. Goldfish is also popular as kimono motif in the summer.
In this summer, “Art Aquarium Exhibition ~ Edo, Coolest of Kingyo” is running from August 17th through September 24 in Tokyo. The exhibit consists of artfully arranged aquariums where, the stars of this display, the kingyo, or goldfish, swim around demonstrating their own beauty, as well as being part of an intricate art presentation never seen before.
“Wagashi” is traditional Japanese confectionary, often served with tea. They are generally extremely fancy and beautiful, each one a little work of art. Traditionally, wagashi are used mainly for the Japanese tea ceremony as well as for festivals, special occasions, and temple ceremonies. There are also wagashi eaten as everyday treats, but those are generally more simply designed and colored.
Typically made from natural ingredients, it is considered both healthy and delicious. The origins of Wagashi date back in time to when cakes and dumplings were made of rice, millet, other grains, nuts and fruit – all of which were the foundation of Japan’s dietary staples.
The predecessors to contemporary wagashi are believed to have been brought to Japan during the Nara Period (710-794 CE) as a result of trade with China, where shaped and molded sweets were made of flour, chestnuts, and rice. The first Japanese wagashi appeared on the market during the Heian period(794-1185). Ever since, Japan refined techniques for making confectionary and these delicacies were served at the Imperial Court and offered to Shinto and Buddhist deities. Made of local fruit, chestnuts, rice,mochi, flour, soy beans, azuki beans, and cane sugar, they became popular snacks to accompany tea. Contemporary wagashistill use these ingredients as a base and are still dyed with natural plant dyes. However, the style and shapes have evolved quite a bit over the course of a millennium.
Wagashi are classified according to the production method and moisture content: namagashi (very moist or wet), han namagashi (half-moist or wet), and higashi (dry). Namagashi are beautifully crafted seasonal cakes made fresh daily. They reflect the four seasons and nature of Japan and the names resonate a poetic beauty satisfying the sense of sound as well as taste, scent, sight and texture.
1. Good for your health
Red beans are the main ingredient of ‘wagashi‘, with wheat, rice, sesame seeds, yam, sugar and ‘kanten‘ (agar) being added where necessary. Confectioners use all natural ingredients that are loaded with vegetable products and not animal fats (except eggs), which is good news for those worried about cholesterol. For example, red bean jam ‘an‘ (a common ‘wagashi‘ ingredient made from boiled ‘azuki‘ beans and sugar) is rich in quality protein and has a good balance of linolic and linolen acid, vitamins E, B1, B2, B6, amino acid, mineral calcium, phosphor, potassium, magnesium and iron. ‘Wagashi‘ are also high in vegetable fiber which aids in digestion. It is no wonder these delicious sweets are praised for being both tasty and healthy!
2. Feel the season in advance
Wagashi are often designed for different seasons, like all Japanese cuisine. There are special spring, summer, autumn and winter wagashi. There are also particular wagashi for New Year’s, Cherry Blossom Viewing, and other traditional annual festivals. Seasonal wagashi vary greatly in colors and designs. For example, in autumn chrysanthemum shapes are favored. Spring wagashi often come in the shape of a plum flower. Famous wagashi for Cherry Blossom Season actually use cherry blossoms and leaves for flavoring and design.
Stores display these particular ‘wagashi‘ a full month ahead of the seasonal event. For example, ‘Sakuramochi‘ celebrate Japan’s beloved April cherry blossoms and are available at the end of February. With eager anticipation, one can enjoy delicious ‘Sakura-mochi‘ and sense the coming of spring, all the while imagining lovely cherry trees full of delicate white blossoms. Only in Japanese culture can one discover sweets and confections that are wonderfully transcended into messengers of the upcoming seasons.
3. The Art of five sense
Food lovers around the world are fascinated with ‘wagashi‘, in large part due to these sweets’ appeal to all five senses. With each taste, we step deeper into indulgence. Culture, tradition and stunning scenery will forever inspire Japan’s confectioners to create new varieties of delicious ‘wagashi‘. True to the exquisite aesthetics of Japanese culture, the way wagashi is created makes it appear almost too good to eat. Delightful to look at and deliciously sweet, it’s referred to as a form of “food artistry that can be enjoyed by the five senses.”
Appearance - Always a visual feast – the shapes, colors and creation of ‘wagashi‘ often reflect Japanese literature, painting and textiles. In addition to these cultural elements, ‘wagashi‘ also evoke images of nature.
Taste – To create such unique flavors, these confectionaries are made largely from natural ingredients, such as beans and grains, long-time staples of the healthy Japanese diet.
Texture - To appreciate ‘wagashi‘, each piece must be served fresh and ready to be placed on the tongue. They must also be soft, moist or crisp – qualities that must be present to reveal the freshness, quality and uniqueness of each confection.
Aroma - With a delicate aroma of natural ingredients, ‘wagashi‘ please the senses in a subtle manner that does not inhibit tea ceremony participants from savoring the accompanying beverage.
Sound - Lyrical Japanese names are bestowed on each ‘wagashi‘. When spoken aloud, they evoke the most pleasurable images. Some names come from classical prose or poetry, while others hint at a particular season.
Wagashi has been a Japanese delicacy for hundreds of years. Its variations are endless. Creating an entirely new wagashi, not a variation on a theme, requires the skills of a master craftsman and the sensibilities of an artist. Wagashi have long history and the basic technic of making wagashi is making it by hand. A high level of skill and experience is necessary to make wagashi. A typical craftsman needs 10 years or so to become an expert. Some wagashi are made by hand with heart. I hope that in the future, many more wagashi will be made by hands and not machines, to preserve the tradition of wagashi.
Summer has come. Japan has four seasons and we enjoy the changing seasons. In summer, it is very hot and humid. Therefore Japanese has been devised ways of avoiding discomfort. Japanese summer goods appeal to our sence of eye, smell, hearing, touch and make us cool. Make you cool with Japanese traditional summer clothes, interior, wind bell sounds, or any other items we present here and discover the Japanese traditional wisdom.
1. Yukata - The Yukata is a casual light cotton kimono for wearing in summer. Yukatas normally have very brightly coloured designs on them. Japan is one of the few modern countries where the traditional dressing is still “trendy”. Today we wear Yukata and go to the traditional Bon-Odori, summer festivals and fireworks shows. The relative simply design of Yukata means Japanese women can, with some practice, put this kimono on unassisted.
During the Heian period (8 to 11th century), the nobles wore yukatabira (yu - bath and katabira - under clothing) after taking a bath. In time, the term shortened to yukata.
Later, the wariors also started to wear yukata, and during the Edo period, when the public baths become very popular, the yukata became widely worn by the public.
In the old times, before the air conditioning, the Japanese people developed traditional ways to help cooling off during hot summer days… One very interesting technique, still largely practiced, is the use of the traditional furin. It is usually made of glass, ceramic or metal. It has a clapper with a string and a rectangular card.
In Japan, the furin is a very popular item during summer and is usually hung from the eaves of a house or in front of the windows. The distinctive sound of the wind chime signifies a breeze, providing some psychological relief from the intensely hot and humid summer. These wind-bells give poetic charm to the Japanese summers. There is also a fancy strip of paper called tanzaku that hangs from the bell’s clapper. When a breeze comes, the tanzaku swings and causes the clapper to hit the bell. This results in the bell’s ringing.
3. Sensu (holding fan) & Uchiwa – The history of the fan is not at all clear-cut. When you think of how simple the basic idea is, a tool that is a bit more efficient than a hand waved in front of the face, it is obvious that the fan is likely one of those inventions that sprang up at around the same time in most civilizations on the earth – at least the ones in warmer climates. The fan that symbolized position, and expressed personality, however, the fan that was art, seems to have developed in the East.
One early form appeared in Kyoto, in the ninth century, when the cost of paper was prohibitive. Ordinary records and such were kept on thin slats of wood (the kind you might see today being burned as votive offerings in some Japanese temples). It seems that someone got the idea of binding a number of slats together at one end and running a string through them at the other, thus creating a crude, but effective sensu.
The uchiwa has become a symbol of the Japanese summer and can often be seen with its wooden or bamboo handle stuck into the sash at the back of a light cotton kimono or even a pair of jeans. They are often painted or printed with designs that suggest cooling breezes or streams, or the flowers of summer. Uchiwa are also a popular advertising handout in Japan. They are made, in that incarnation from paper or plastic, with more garish illustrations, and often a hole in the covering material in lieu of a handle.
4. Uchimizu （打ち水）- a typical Japanese traditional custom which consists in splashing water over the pavement in front of the stores, houses, shrines, temples or inside the Japanese gardens. Traditionally, uchimizu is done by using a bucket and a wooden ladle, by people dressed in the traditional yukata. An interesting detail is that the water used for uchimizu is not tap water, but recycled or rain water.
Now ? We use a little bit more technologies to survive the heat of summer. These are just a few examples of modern summer items.
1. Cool Mattress Pads- Japan sells these cooling pads to go on top of your mattress. It keeps you cool while you sleep. An alternative to this is to fill Hot Water Bottles with Ice Water, wrap them in cloth and put them in your bed. Nothing like a cool-refreshing sleep to leave you recharged and ready to go.
2. Aisunon (An ice scarf) – Japan sells these re-freezable ice packs (AISUNON or アイスノン) that fit inside of this cloth sleeve that goes around your neck. It does help quite bit.
3. Higasa (Anti UV parasol) - Anti-UV parasols from Japan are exquisitely beautiful yet practical products that provide protection from damaging ultraviolet radiation, relief from the hot sun, and protection from light rain showers. These parasols have been crafted using a stunning range of fabrics, styles, embroideries, lace and other intricate embellishments.
Can you imagine ever using a parasol as a form of sunblock? Parasol usage is far from exclusive to Japan; it’s prevalent all over Japan, a country where having milky skin has been hailed as the ultimate sign of beauty since who knows when.
Between July and September, there are firework displays in cities, towns and villages all over Japan. Fireworks (花火, Hanabi) have a long history in Japan and are an integral part of Japanese summers. Hundreds of firework shows are held every year across the country, with some of them drawing hundreds of thousands of spectators.
The Japanese considered fireworks (hanabi) as “flowers of fire” – brilliant bursts in various forms and colors of poignant beauty. Like the splendid cherry blossoms’ brief existence, fireworks flash in all their pomp and glory for a fleeting moment only to vanish into thin air. Since fireworks displays have become such popular events, it’s common to see many people strolling in yukatas (cotton kimonos), drinking cold beer and carrying uchiwas (round-shaped fans) – everyone from the neighborhood turned up for the festivity on muggy summer nights.
Going to fireworks
Girls wearing Yukata
With the public’s obsession with fireworks, it’s not surprising that Japanese fireworks have evolved into an art of its own. The Japanese created the fabulous design of a three-dimensional global dispersion that resembles a chrysanthemum, one of the most elegant presentations in pyrotechnics. The firework shell is globular packed with several layers of different colors of powder to alter the hue of illumination while burning in the air. When the casing explodes, each star uniformly positioned around the core is strewn into space in equal distance from the center of the blast.
Fireworks with the state-of-the-art techniques are grabbing much attention nationwide. The special effects of starmine, a succession of launches for speed and rhythm, or the water-born fireworks, a fountain spraying out a shower of sparks, have added a new dimension to the art of pyrotechnics. Even more astounding, the daylight fireworks streak through the cloudless blue sky like lightning bolts in Technicolor. The popularity of creative firework designs has inspired replications of computer graphic designs of swirls and lines, as well as fueled patterns of familiar figures in an assortment of colors, such as, a butterfly, snail, hat, fish, and even a smiley face.
There is a contest of fireworks that we can see how amazing each firework is.