Bon Dancing in Shimokitazawa

Lanterns lanterns lanterns! This means only one thing: we are officially on Obon holidays. For one short week in the middle of August, the country takes a breather and lets its hair down. People make the most of this holiday by going back to their hometowns to visit family or even by going on a trip overseas. Continue reading “Bon Dancing in Shimokitazawa”

Sake: Japan’s Liquid of Choice

Sake is such an integral part of Japanese culture. There are so many different types of sake, different brands, different ways to drink it, different occasions to drink it on. Having gone out with my Japanese colleagues (surprise, surprise, teachers love to drink!) on many occasions, I feel like I’ve learnt a little about this complex alcoholic liquid. Continue reading “Sake: Japan’s Liquid of Choice”

Making Deco Sushi for the First Time

It’s that time of the year again — the Golden Week holiday! This year, we have Showa Day on Sunday and its replacement holiday on Monday. Tuesday and Wednesday are regular work days but people will take them off if they can. Then Constitution Day is on Thursday, Greenery Day on Friday and Children’s Day on Saturday. Continue reading “Making Deco Sushi for the First Time”

Starting a Goshuincho at the Wedded Rocks

On the seashore not far from Japan’s most important Shinto shrine, is a cluster of towering rocks. Rising from the water like giant sea monsters, two rocks in particular stand out. Connected by thick, braided straw ropes, they represent a husband and wife couple, bound together till the end of time. Continue reading “Starting a Goshuincho at the Wedded Rocks”

Oshogatsu: the Beginning of a New Year

Hello, 2018!

This was the first time since I moved to Tokyo that I have stayed in Japan over the winter break. It was so nice to spend time just catching up with friends, relaxing and getting up without an alarm, rather than packing suitcases and catching planes. Another great thing is that I was able to fully experience Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year period, from beginning to end. Continue reading “Oshogatsu: the Beginning of a New Year”

Visiting Graves for Obon

It’s currently Obon in Japan, a few days dedicated to honouring your ancestors. People often go back to their hometowns to visit cemeteries and pray for relatives who have passed away. They bring flowers, wash the grave stones and burn incense. For many salarymen in Japan, Obon and New Years is the only time of the year they have off work.

This weekend, I went along with some friends for their ‘grave visit’ at Tamareien, the largest cemetery in Tokyo. At 128 hectares, it is insanely massive, and you need a car and a map and possibly a compass to get around. It is literally a village full of thousands of tiny, very expensive houses. Grave sites cost between $20,000 and $60,000. There are many famous historical figures buried here, like war commanders, politicians, writers, company presidents and sportsmen, as well as regular folk. And with a road lined with 1,600 cherry blossoms trees, it’s actually a pretty popular place to visit!

At the entrance of Tamareien is a hall called Mitama-dō which houses the spirits of all the dead as well as the actual ashes of thousands of bodies. The ashes are stored in cases that resemble fancy school lockers. In the centre, a cone-shaped water feature points up to a big chandelier-like skylight. The space is very minimal but peaceful. Around the walls, beautiful tile mosaics hide a spiral path where the cases are stored. Access to this area is limited to when family members first store the ashes. Each year after that, they have to stand at the base and pray facing the direction of the relative.


Obon isn’t just a solemn affair, but many towns hold lively festivals. Some famous events are the Tokushima Awa Odori, Kyoto Daimonji, Nagasaki Spirit Boat Parade and Okinawan Eisa. Maybe next year I’ll plan a little better and go to one of these!