Saturday, February 19, 2011

Japanese toilets

Japan has always been associated with technological advancement. Even the humble toilet is not free from technology. 

Most foreigners on their maiden trip to Japan are intrigued by the Japanese toilet. 
The toilet here is no less than a throne. Firstly, it comes with seat heater, to keep your butt warm when you are doing your "business". Next, the toilet seat comes with a bidet, a shower for cleaning and sometimes also with a dryer. Some models may even have a deodorizer and a Flushing sound button to filter out any sounds that may cause embarassment. (Sometimes this is also termed as Etiquette bell.) 
Operating the bidet/wash and dry functions is through a panel of buttons usually attached to the side of the toilet seat or sometimes to the wall. Pictures on the buttons tell it all. Like most other Japanese equipments, this comes with a long list of instructions, mostly in Japanese but accompanied by English most of the times. And the functions come with a sensor attached to the toilet seat which ensure that unless the user is seated the functions don't work. 

Toilets also have the toilet papers. Toilet papers in Japan are designed to be flushed in the toilet and not to be put in the garbage bin.  

Toilets come with baby rest seats- a boon for people with infants. 

These toilets are found almost everywhere in Japan, be it shopping malls, hotel rooms, restaurants, railway stations, airports, public rest areas and even in some parks.

 Most new homes are equipped with these bidet toilets or washlets as they are known. 
The traditional Japanese style squat toilets are commonly found and the older generation still prefers them to the new Western style toilet.  

While almost everything in Japan comes for a price, using these hi-tec toilets is still free of cost. 

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Valentine's Day in Japan

There is a unique way of celebrating Valentine’s Day in Japan. In fact, Valentine’s Day is celebrated over two days -14th February and 14th March.

On 14th February, women in Japan give gifts to men. In return men give gifts to women on 14th March. Chocolates are the most favourite gifts for this occasion followed by cookies. In fact, it is believed that the true emotions are not conveyed if chocolates are purchased to be gifted. That is why many young girls, prepare chocolates or cookies for gifting to their boyfriends. The kind of chocolates which women give to boyfriends, lovers or husbands are called “Honmei – choco” and these are special. Also there is a tradition among women to gift chocolates (or cookies) to their male co workers, close male friends and bosses. These chocolates are called “Giri – choco” meaning Obligation chocolates and are not associated with romance.
Another name for chocolates gifted among friends is “Tomo choco” which is an abbreviation for “Tomodachi chocolate” (Tomodachi is the Japanese word for Friend).

14th March is also called as White Day and as such most men gift White chocolates to their girlfriends, lovers or wife. It is said that the White Day tradition began in the 1978 as a marketing attempt by chocolate manufacturers. It was started as an Answer day for gifts received a month earlier.

I had first heard of this White Day celebration last year when were living in South Korea. There men gift non chocolate candy to women on this day. In fact single people who did not receive any gift on February or March 14 go to a restaurant on April 14 to eat “ Jajangmyeon or  Black noodles” as mourning of their boring single life !  As such April 14th is called “Black Day” in Korea though it is not as popular as Valentine’s Day or White Day. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Setsubun - Spring is just round the corner

Somewhere towards mid January, most Departmental stores in Japan start displaying a variety of beans and nuts. At times an image of an ogre like creature is displayed near the beans. This is an indication of the approaching “Setsubun” or Bean Throwing festival.

Setsubun is the day before the onset of spring in Japan and is celebrated on the 3rd of February each year. Setsubun means seasonal division and signifies the onset of a new season. But the onset of spring is considered the most important day and as such Setsubun often refers to the Spring Setsubun. Like most other traditions, even Setsubun owes its origin to Chinese custom called “Tsuina”.

Traditionally, people throw roasted soybeans known as “Fuku-mame” outside their homes and by doing so they throw out the demons or evil from their homes. This is a kind of cleansing act. It is usually the head of the family, usually a male member who does this ritual. While doing so, the other family members chant “ Oni wa soto, Fuku wa uchi”. This means “ Demons out and Luck inside the house”.  Then the door is closed to keep the demons out. This bean scattering ritual is called “Mame-maki” and the demon is called "Oni". The demon is potrayed differently in different parts of Japan, but is usually potrayed as a male with curly hair, sharp claws, two long horns and sharp teeth. At times shops display the Oni masks around this time of the year.

These days the mamemaki ritual is not commonly followed, but people still take home the Fuku-mame to purify their homes from misfortune and bad health. The roasted soybeans are eaten on this day to bring luck. These days sugar coated or plain raw peanuts are substituted for soybeans. Now a days, it is common practice for families to visit a shrine or temple during the spring festival and participate in the bean scattering ritual performed by the priest.  On the festival day, people usually eat “Makezushi” a rice roll. 

This rice roll is also called “Eho-maki” which means Lucky Direction roll. Traditionally people face the lucky direction as per Chinese zodiac for the year.

Like most other festivals, our daughter’s kindergarten celebrated the Setsubun festival. 

Children made Oni crowns and masks from cardboard and paper with help from their teachers.

 They were also given peanuts to bring home as part of the festival ritual of eating them on this day. 

Setsubun is not a national holiday in Japan.