Friday, October 9, 2009

Wabi-sabi (in Kanji: 侘寂)

Wabi-sabi (in Kanji: 侘寂) represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic system, and is difficult to explain precisely in western terms. According to Leonard Koren, wabi-sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of what we think of as traditional Japanese beauty and it "occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West."

Wabi-sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.

It is the beauty of things modest and humble.

It is the beauty of things unconventional.

The concepts of wabi-sabi correlate with the concepts of Zen, as the first Japanese involved with wabi-sabi were tea masters, priests, and monks who practiced Zen. Zen Buddhism originated in India, traveled to China in the 6th century, and was first introduced in Japan around the 12th century. Zen emphasizes "direct, intuitive insight into transcendental truth beyond all intellectual conception." At the core of wabi-sabi is the importance of transcending ways of looking and thinking about things/existence.

* All things are impermanent
* All things are imperfect
* All things are incomplete

Material characteristics of wabi-sabi:

* suggestion of natural process
* irregular
* intimate
* unpretentious
* earthy
* simple

Thursday, July 30, 2009


Ishiyama-dera (石山寺?, lit. "Stony Mountain Temple") is a Shingon temple in Ōtsu in Japan's Shiga Prefecture. It was constructed around 762 CE, and is said to have been founded by Rōben. The temple contains a number of cultural assets.

Allegedly, Murasaki Shikibu began writing The Tale of Genji at Ishiyama-dera during a full moon night in August of 1004. In commemoration, the temple maintains a Genji room featuring a life-size figure of Lady Murasaki and displays a statue in her honorMurasaki is said to have begun writing The Tale of Genji at Ishiyamadera Temple on the night of the full moon, August 1004. To commemorate this event, the temple maintains a Genji Room with a life-size figure of the author at work.

Ishiyama Dera was established in 749 by a Kegon priest named Ryôben at the request of Emperor Shômu (701-756; reigned 724-749) to enshrine an image of Nyoirin Kannon. At the time, the Emperor was praying for the discovery of gold to assist in his undertaking of the construction of the great Buddha of Tôdai-ji Temple in Nara.

In the Heian period (794-1185), this temple became a popular pilgrimage site among the courtiers. Today, it is the 13th destination on the 33 temple Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimange which includes Hogon-ji on Chikubu Island. Ishiyama Dera is also the headquarters of the Buddhist Shingon sect.

The temple is located on the side of a mountain overlooking Lake Biwa and facing the Seta River. The Hondo, or Main Hall, designated a National Treasure, was built upon a great megalith, which contributes to the temple’s fame as one of the eight scenic views of Ômi, the Autumn Moon from Ishiyama-dera. The Hondo was built architecturally in a veranda construction style called "Butai Zukuri". The Tahoto Pagoda (treasure tower) was built by Minamoto Yoritomo in 1194 in the Kamakura period, and is the oldest of its type in Japan.

Inside the Hondo is the Room of Genji, where Shikibu Murasaki created the plot of the Genji Monogatari or the Tale of Genji, a famous court story of the Heian period and believed by many to be the world's first novel. Murasaki is said to have begun writing The Tale of Genji at Ishiyama on the night of the full moon in August 1004. The temple is mentioned in the Ukifune chapter of the story. A life-size figure of the author at work is displayed in this room.

The Sanmon Gate is another featured sight as are the wollostonite rocks, from which the name of this temple was derived from. They can be seen protruding everywhere, harmonizing with the temple's buildings. There are also Japanese maple trees on the 1.2 hectare site as well as flower gardens with cherry blossoms, Japanese plum blossoms, Chinese peonies, camellias and other flowers that bloom in different seasons.

1-1-1 Ishiyama-dera, Ôtsu, Shiga Prefecture
Tel: 077-537-0013
Admission: Adult 500 yen, Elem. School Students 250 yen
Hours: 08:00 - 16:30 (last entry at 16:00)

How to get there
Take a shinkansen to Kyoto Station and transfer take a local train on the Tokaido Line to JR Ishiyama Station.
From there, take a 10-minute bus ride or transfer to Keihan Ishiyama-Sakamoto Line to Ishiyama Dera Station and walk for ten minutes.

Tours - The Japan Discovery Tours visit Ishiyama Dera.
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Aoi Matsuri
Aoi Matsuri is the annual festival of Kamigamo and Shimogamo Shrines. It ranks as one of the three major festivals of Kyoto along with Gion Matsuri and Jidai Matsuri. It was held on a large scale during the Heian Period (794-1191) and many references to the festival are found in The Tale of Genji (first Japanese novel) and other ancient chronicles.

The festival takes its name from the custom of decorating the procession participants and the bulls which are used to pull the carts with hollyhock (aoi) leaves. The procession leaves from the Imperial Palace to make the rounds of Shimogamo and Kamigamo Shrines.

Fireworks at Lake Biwa on August 7

"2009 Biwako Hanabi Taikai," or Fireworks at Lake Biwa organized by its executive committee, will be held on August 7 in the vicinity of Otsu Port, Otsu City, Shiga Prefecture, and showcase summer on Lake Biwa. Now in its 26th year, around 10,000 large-scale fireworks will fill the night sky following the concept of "roaming nature around Lake Biwa." Tickets for paid bleacher seating will be on sale from July 1.

The event attracts more than 350,000 visitors from the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe area every year. Although it is usually held on August 8, this year the date falls on Saturday, so it will take place on the weekday of August 7 in order to avoid heavy visitor congestion and to prioritize safety. The fireworks will express the landscapes and nature of each part of Shiga Prefecture. Starting at 7:30 p.m., fireworks such as "Star-mine" will be launched for about one hour.

There will be about 16,000 paid bleacher seats around the lakeside. Tickets cost 3,800 yen in advance, or 4,300 yen at the venue. Tickets will be sold at the sales branches and agencies of JTB, NTA and KNT, as well as at "Shiga Kanko Bussan Joho Center" in JR Otsu Station, the tourist information centers of both Keihan Ishiyama Station and JR Katada Station, Biwakokisen, Kyoto Shimbun Newspaper's main office in Shiga and the Culture Center of Kyoto Shimbun Project Development.

For more information, call the office of the executive committee in the Biwako Visitors Bureau at 077-511-1530.

Yaaa, Hit That Snake!

Kurama-yama Takekiri-eshiki," where green bamboo logs representing great serpents are slashed to ward off disasters, was carried out on June 20 at Kurama-dera Temple in Sakyo Ward, Kyoto. Residents dressed as warrior priests shouted energetically as they chopped off bamboo stalks oTakekiri-eshiki is based on an incident of 1,100 years ago, when a holy priest of Kurama-dera Temple vanquished a giant snake. Since the mid-Edo Period, "Omi" and "Tanba" have competed to see which group representing their area could cut bamboo logs fastest in order to predict whether their harvests would be rich or poor.

The ceremony opened to the sound of a conch being blown. The men representing the two areas swung their swords mightily at the bamboo logs, which were roughly five meters long and ten centimeters in diameter, cutting them into five pieces. The Tanba group finished in about a minute to win the contest, at which the crowd of around 700 spectators cheered loudly.

A student at Kurama Elementary School, holding a chunk of broken bamboo in one hand, said, "The banging of the bamboo breaking was really impressive. I want to come next year too."

ne after another.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


2009.5.18.Kyoto Shimbun 2009.5.18 News
On May 17, "Otaue Taisai," a rice-planting ritual to pray for a bountiful harvest, was performed at the sacred rice paddy of Tarobo-no-miya Shrine in Owaki-cho, Higashiomi City. Female high school students wore the colorful costumes of "Saotome," or rice-planting girls, and planted rice seedlings one by one in sync with the song.

The rite has been performed since 1940. Nineteen junior and senior high school students at Shiga Gakuen played ritual roles such as seedling planters, seedling givers, and others.

The seedling planters entered the approximately 50-square meter sacred rice paddy, wearing sedge hats and green kimono costumes with red sashes. They carefully planted "Nihonbare" rice seedlings, to the sound of drums and the singing of the rice-planting song, "Since olden times, the heart and soul of Japan, land of vigorous rice plants, is agriculture."

Rice planted this day will become a votive offering after it is harvested around September or October. Mizue Hayashi, a sophomore at Shiga Gakuen High School, said, "I wished for the seedlings rich growth as I planted them."

Photo= Female high school students in red sashes plant rice seedlings (Owaki-cho, Higashiomi City)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Samurai (侍 or sometimes 士) is a common term for a warrior in pre-industrial Japan. A more appropriate term is bushi (武士) (lit. "war-man") which came into use during the Edo period. However, the term samurai now usually refers to warrior nobility, not, for example, ashigaru or foot soldiers. The samurai with no attachment to a clan or daimyo was called a ronin (lit. "wave-man").

Samurai were expected to be cultured and literate, and over time, samurai during the Tokugawa era gradually lost their military function. By the end of the Tokugawa, samurai were essentially civilian bureaucrats for the daimyo with their swords serving only ceremonial purposes. With the Meiji reforms in the late 19th century, the samurai were abolished as a distinct class in favour of a western-style national army. The strict code that they followed, called bushido, still survives in present-day Japanese society, as do many other aspects of their way of life.
Etymology of samurai

The word samurai has its origins in the pre-Heian period Japan when it was pronounced saburai, meaning servant or attendant. It was not until the early modern period, namely the Azuchi-Momoyama period and early Edo period of the late 16th and early 17th centuries that the word saburai became substituted with samurai. However, by then, the meaning had already long before changed.

During the era of the rule of the samurai, the earlier term yumitori (“bowman”) was also used as an honorary title of an accomplished warrior even when swordsmanship had become more important. Japanese archery (kyujutsu), is still strongly associated with the war god Hachiman.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Kodomo no hi - japanese children's day

For Kodomo No Hi (Children's Day), families raise colorful carp-shaped "Koinobori" flags, one for each member of the family. The largest and uppermost flag represents the father, followed by the mother, and small carp to represent children.

Children's Day (Kodomo-no-hi or Tango no Sekku) is one of the most popularly celebrated national holidays in Japan. Until recently, Tango no Sekku was the boys' day (also known as Feast of Banners) while the girls' day (Hinamatsuri) was celebrated on March 3. In 1948, the government decreed this day to be a national holiday to celebrate the happiness of all children and to express gratitude towards mothers. It was then renamed Kodomo no Hi.

May 5th marks the beginning of summer on the old lunar calendar and the begining of the 5th month, which according to the Chinese calendar was set aside to be a month for purification. To expel evil spirits and celebrate the future of their sons, families hoist koinobori (cloth carp streamers) from balconies and flagpoles. Gogatsu ningyo (5th Month Dolls) are displayed in homes and store windows with images of Kintarou, usually riding on a large carp, and a traditional Japanese samurai helmet, a Kabuto. Kintarou and the Kabuto are both symbols of a strong and healthy boy. Kintarou (金太郎) is the childhood name of a hero of the Heian period, famous for his strength as a child. It is said that Kintarou mounted on a bear, instead of a horse, and played with animals in the mountain when he was a young boy.

Some children may also take shyobuyu (a bath with floating iris leaves), and eat kashiwa-mochi (a rice cake wrapped in an oak leaf ) and chimaki (a dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves). Carp, samurai, irises, oak trees, and bamboos all symbolize strength.

Symbols on Children's Day

The carp kites which are flown for this festival are called 'koinobori' and are colourful - usually decorated with red or blue - and made of white cloth. They symbolise success due to the carp's long life and golden colour and are also supposed to drive away evil spirits. They are believed to represent strength and determination of spirit in the same way the carp travels against the current. In some houses, a carp is flown for each family member with the father's being the largest at the top down to the youngest child's at the bottom.

As well as kites, warrior dolls are also displayed inside the house and special food is eaten: 'kashiwamochi' which is sticky rice cakes filled with red bean paste and wrapped in oak leaves, and 'chimaki', sticky rice cakes wrapped in bamboo leaves. The oak and bamboo symbolise strength and a successful life and the oak is also connected with the Shinto religion as both this and Hina Matsuri (Girl's Festival) are Shinto festivals.

The 'gogatsu ningyo' (May Dolls), Masculine samurai dolls of famous historical and literary fame, samurai helmets and armour are seen not just in homes, but also in the shops. The perfect gift from Japan, tourists buy them in droves so they are available all year round instead of just at festival time but the most comprehensive display of masculine dolls in stores is right before the Children's Day Festival. In all shapes and sizes and costs, there is something for everyone.

In Samurai times, helmets and armour were decorated on this day as they were considered the most important of the fighting tools and boys as young as fifteen went to war. The items were intended to strengthen the spirit of the young boy and, in remembrance of these days, small versions of these items are still popular.

With the increasing lack of space as people move to small inner city apartments, it is becoming more common to display small dolls and carps inside the house or on a balcony if there is one, so miniaturised versions of the traditional displays are now common.

The History of Children's Day

While originally imported from China, the Boy's Festival has changed dramatically over the years. May 5th was originally adopted as a festival for boys corresponding to the Doll Festival for girls. However, gradually, the day became a joint day for all children and was renamed Children's Day in 1948 and made a national holiday. Despite this renaming, the symbols of courage and strength really honour only boys and girls are still celebrated in March.

At the end of April and the beginning of May, along with the Children's Day Festival, there are a number of other public holidays; the 29th April is Midori no Hi (Greenery Day), the 1st May is May Day, the 3rd May is Kenpoo Kinenbi (Constitution Day) and the May 5th is Kodomo no Hi (Children's Day). As such, it is common to get holidays for the entire week to 10 days depending on where the weekends fall. This succession of holidays is known as Golden Week.

While this profusion of festivals means there is a lot to see and do throughout Japan at this time, it is really a time to avoid travelling as many Japanese use the break to travel both within Japan and overseas and trains and other transport are packed past capacity.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Kinkakuji Temple - Golden Pavilion Kyoto Japan: The Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji) is literally covered in gold - gold leaf. The Golden Pavilion is World Heritage listed and surround by beautiful gardens.
Golden Pavilion History

Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) is a popular name for one of the main buildings of this temple, which is properly called Rokuon-ji Temple. In the 1220’s it was the comfortable villa of Kintsune Saionji.

Kyoto history - brief overview of the history of Kyoto the former capital of Japan.

Although archaeological evidence places the first human settlement on the islands of Japan to approximately 10,000 BC, relatively little is known about human activity in the area before the 6th century AD. During the 8th century, when the powerful Buddhist clergy became involved in the affairs of the Imperial government, the Emperor chose to relocate the capital to a region far from the Buddhist influence. Emperor Kammu selected the village of Uda, at the time in the Kadono district of Yamashito Province, for this honor.

The new city, Heian-kyō (平安京 "tranquility and peace capital"), became the seat of Japan's imperial court in 794, beginning the Heian period of Japanese history. Later, the city was renamed Kyoto ("capital city"). Kyoto remained Japan's capital until the transfer of the government to Edo in 1868 at the time of the Imperial Restoration. (Some believe that it is still a legal capital: see Capital of Japan.) After Edo was renamed Tokyo (meaning "Eastern Capital"), Kyoto was known for a short time as Saikyo (西京 Saikyō, meaning "Western Capital").

An obsolete spelling for the city's name is Kioto; it was formerly known to the West as Meaco or Miako (Japanese: 都; miyako "capital"). Another term commonly used to refer to the city in the pre-modern period was Keishi (京師), meaning "metropolis" or "capital".

The city suffered extensive destruction in the Ōnin War of 1467-1477, and did not really recover until the mid-16th century. Battles between samurai factions spilled into the streets, and came to involve the court nobility (kuge) and religious factions as well. Nobles' mansions were transformed into fortresses, deep trenches dug throughout the city for defence and as firebreaks, and numerous buildings burned. The city has not seen such widespread destruction since. Although there was some consideration by the United States of targeting Kyoto with an atomic bomb at the end of World War II, in the end it was decided to remove the city from the list of targets due to the "beauty of the city" (See Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki), and the city was spared conventional bombing as well.

As a result, Kyoto is the only large Japanese city that still has an abundance of prewar buildings, such as the traditional townhouses known as machiya. However, modernization is continually breaking down the traditional Kyoto in favor of newer architecture, such as the Kyoto Station complex.

Kyoto became a city designated by government ordinance on September 1, 1956. In 1997, Kyoto hosted the conference that resulted in the protocol on greenhouse gas emissions that bears the city's name

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

CHERRY BLOSSOMS AT Expo 70 Commemorative Park

Expo 70 Commemorative Park

Expo 70 Commemorative Park (Banpaku Kinen Koen)
April 6, 2009 - full bloom

The former site of the 1970 World Exhibition in Osaka was turned into a large public park with over 5000 cherry trees along its paths and around its large lawn areas. There is an admission fee of 250 yen and light up in the evenings.

Many trees in the park have reached full bloom, while others need another day or two. Because it took the trees exceptionally long this year to develop from kaika (opening of first blossoms) to mankai (full bloom), some trees have already started to lose some of their petals while barely having reached full bloom. However, this does not currently impact the beautiful sight of the trees, at all.

Cherry Blossom at OSAKA

Osaka Castle
April 6, 2009 - full bloom

Over 4000 cherry trees are planted on the spacious grounds of Osaka Castle, one of Japan's 100 best cherry blossoms spots. A particularly nice place for a picnic is Nishinomaru Park (350 yen) in the castle's western citadel with wide lawns, views of the castle tower and light up in the evenings.

Many trees in Osaka Castle Park have finally reached full bloom thanks to the warm and sunny weather of the recent days. The whole week should provide great cherry blossom viewing opportunities around the castle.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle - full bloom

Osaka Castle - Nishinomaru Park

Thursday, April 2, 2009

New Year's Holidays in Japan

In Japan "shogatsu (New Year's holidays)" is a time when everybody takes a few days off to celebrate the arrival of the new year. It is often called "oshogatsu" with the prefix "o" to make it sound polite. Many people who are away from home, return to spend time with their family. Just like Christmas in West, the Japanese are looking forward to "oshogatsu." Here is the song titled "Oshogatsu."
Mou ikutsu neru to oshogatsu Oshogatsu ni wa tako agete Koma o mawashite asobimashou Hayaku koi koi oshogatsu
もういくつ寝るとお正月 お正月には凧あげて こまをまわして遊びましょう 早く来い来いお正月
How many more nights to sleep until New Year's Day In the New Year's holidays, let's fly a kite Let's play with a spinning top Come, come quickly, New Year's Day
To prepare for "oshogatsu," everybody gets busy doing a big year-end cleaning (oosouji), setting New Year's decorations (kadomatsu or shimekazari) and preparing New Year's dishes (osechi-ryori). On New Year's Eve (oomisoka), it is customary to eat "toshikoshi-soba" and wait up to hear the watch-night bell (joya no kane) rung at the temples. It starts ringing at just before midnight on New Year's Eve and continues into the early hours of New Year's Day, 108 times in all. According to Buddhism, a human being has 108 troublesome desires. The ringing of the bells is to expel these troublesome desires.
During New year's holidays, most people visit a shrine or a temple (hatsumoude) to pray for health and happiness. The famous shrines or temples get very crowded. Although kimono are not worn in daily life any more, many people wear them on "oshogatsu."
Flying kites (takoage), spinning tops (koma-mawashi) or playing Japanese battledore (hanetsuki) are traditional games for children, though it is now less popular. Children are given "otoshidama" from parents and relatives. In most cases, it is money placed in special little envelopes (otoshidama-bukuro).
"Kakizome (the first calligraphic writing)" is a traditional event held on January 2nd. People write auspicious words or phrases with a brush. Elementary schools and junior high schools have "kakizome" competitions annually.
"Hatsuyume" is the first dream of the New Year. It is said that good dreams are "Ichi-fuji, ni-taka, san-nasubi (Mt. Fuji at the first, hawk at the second, eggplant at the third)." It is believed that if you have these auspicious dreams, you will have a good year.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Japanese tea ceremony, also known as Chanoyu

There are several schools of Sado, or Japanese tea ceremony, also known as Chanoyu. Tea, in this case O-cha (green tea), is as integral to culture in Japan as coffee is in the US (more so, in fact) or 'a cuppa' is in the UK. Also, its health benefits are widely touted and generally accepted worldwide. And study of the tea ceremony is still considered part of the 'proper' education of any aspiring young 'lady'. All these factors ensure that this ancient art form thrives even in modern-day Japan.

Sen no Rikyu
Sen no Rikyu

The Shokintei teahouse
The Shokintei teahouse

The earliest rituals involving tea came to Japan as a part of Buddhist meditation in the 6th century. Later, in the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), a Japanese priest named Eisai introduced tea seeds which became the source of much of the tea grown in Japan today. A century later the priest Eizon and the monk Ikkyu further promoted the tea ceremony. Shuko, a pupil of Ikkyu, became tea master to the Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa at whose villa (now known as Ginkakuji or the 'Temple of the Siver Pavillion' in Kyoto) the first purpose made tea room in Japan was built.

The roots of today's major schools can be traced to tea master Sen No Rikyu (1522-1591). Over the course of later generations, the tea ceremony was refined and acquired a more Japanese rather than Chinese aesthetic. The sons of Rikyu's grandson Sotan founded their own schools: Ura Senke for commoners, Omote Senke for aristocrats and Mushanokoji Senke, which highly values the principle of wabi. (Wabi can be described as a moral and aesthetic principle which emphasises a quiet life free of worldly concerns). The Ura Senke school continues to thrive today and encourages cultural exchange abroad through the tea ceremony.

The chaji, or tea ceremony is usually held in a cha-shitsu (tea-room). In grander times, this would have consisted of a seperate, small building set in a picturesque and tranquil corner of a traditional garden. These structures can most often be seen today in parks or castle and temple gardens. The Shokintei teahouse at the Katsura Detached Palace in Kyoto is a good example.

Guests enter the tea-room through the nijiriguchi, a tiny door which forces them to crouch, thereby foregoing their worldly status. In a formal chaji many factors are considered to celebrate the uniqueness of the moment: the guests invited, the season, the calligraphy scroll hanging on the wall, the flowers on display, the utensils, the food served before the tea and so on. The chaji itself has several stages, each with a depth of meaning difficult for the outsider to grasp but ultimately based on a reverance for nature and the creation of a perfect moment in time.

The following is a message from Sen Soshitsu, Ura Senke Grand Tea Master XV:

"Chado, the Way Of Tea, is based upon the simple act of boiling water, making tea, offering it to others, and drinking of it ourselves. Served with a respectful heart and received with gratitude, a bowl of tea satisfies both physical and spiritual thirst.

The frenzied world and our myriad dilemmas leave our bodies and minds exhausted. It is then that we seek out a place where we can have a moment of peace and tranquillity. In the discipline of Chado such a place can be found. The four principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility, codified almost four hundred years ago, are timeless guides to the practice of Chado. Incorporating them into daily life helps one to find that unassailable place of tranquility that is within each of us.

As a representative of this unbroken Japanese tradition of four hundred years, I am pleased to see that many non-Japanese are welcoming the chance to pursue its study. This growing interest in Chado among peoples of all nations leads me to strive even harder to make it possible for more people to enter the Way of Tea."

A chasen A celebrant of the tea ceremony holds a chasen (bamboo brush) used to stir and mix the tea.

Other utensils used during the ceremony include: the cha-ire, a ceramic container used for the powdered tea; the kama (kettle) used for boiling water over a charcoal fire; hashi (chopsticks) made of cedar wood used for eating the simple food; the cha-wan (tea bowls) and many others.

Koicha (thick tea) is served first and later usucha (thin tea). During the course of the ceremony, a kaiseki light meal, sake and higashi (dry sweets) are also served.

Japanese Culture

For many people, the mention of Japanese culture conjours up images of weird masks and extravagantly made-up actors twirling red umbrellas on a stage and elegant, kimono-clad ladies demurely pouring cups of tea in tranquil cherry-blossomed temples. Well, even today you can still experience all that kind of stuff, if you know where to look.

The traditional arts of Japan offer an opportunity to experience something truly exotic or find inner calm. For the serious practitioner, solemn awareness of the history and intimate knowledge of the past-masters of your chosen form of expression are essential if you wish to practice at the highest level. These ancient 'ways' are not for the faint of heart, but many foreigners come to Japan each year to enlighten themselves through their study. For the rest of us, just a nibble at this great banquet of culture will be more than enough.

The Japanese do know how to kick back and have fun, too. You might be surprised by just how wild a Japanese festival can get! Snow festivals, fire festivals, fertility festivals - you name it, they have it. When it comes to food, the Japanese are as enthusiastic as anybody on earth - the changing seasons bring new delicacies and an excuse to travel the length of the country to sample local dishes. Spring also brings the cherry blossoms - symbol of life's all-too-brief span and a good excuse to get drunk and dance around in a cemetery! The beauty of summer fireworks and autumn's spectacular changing leaves can also take the breath away.