festivals

Gundam portable shrine appears at local Japanese festival【Photos】

Another festival season and summer is coming to an end. The dragonflies are out and the days are getting shorter, which means fall will soon be upon us.

But before the fireworks fizzle away and the festival food stalls have packed up for good this year, one area in Japan decided to go out with a bang and surprise festival-goers with superb portable shrine, or mikoshi, recreations of some of Japan’s most popular characters, including one famous red mobile suit from the anime classic Gundam.

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Google Street View now lets you tour the glowing samurai, dragons of the Nebuta Matsuri festival

Just about every community in Japan puts on a local festival in the summer, but few are as spectacular as Aomori City’s Nebuta Matsuri. For almost a solid week, gigantic floats topped by lanterns shaped like samurai and dragons are paraded through the streets, accompanied by dancers and musicians.

But while Aomori is one of the largest cities in the largely rural Tohoku region of Japan, its relatively remote location in the northeastern corner of the country’s main island of Honshu means not everyone can make it out to see the festivities in-person. As long as you’ve got an Internet connection, though, you can get a taste of the fun with Google’s awesome Nebuta Matsuri Street View that lets you see the amazing floats even closer-up than spectators standing on the sidewalks the towering works of art are carried by.

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Bon dances have been a Japanese tradition for centuries, but one neighborhood’s stopped the music

At this time of year, if I’m walking around town in the evening, I’ll often hear rousing taiko drums and joyful traditional music. Believe it or not, this isn’t an impromptu concert put on by the revelers that always greet my arrival wherever I go, but the sound of a bon dance, (“bon odori” in Japanese).

Part of the summer Obon festivities, bon dances have been held for centuries, and have a spiritual significance in some localities. Even where they’re held for purely festive reasons, they’re a way of fostering a sense of community and preserving cultural heritage.

But while to most Japanese people the sound of bon odori music brings a welcome and warm rush of nostalgic summer memories, one neighborhood in Japan performs its dance with no music at all, and it’s not because all of the dancers have innately perfect rhythm.

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The Force is with the famous Nebuta Festival this year, as Star Wars floats make an appearance

Every year from August 2 to 7, giant illuminated floats of Japanese warriors are paraded through the streets of Aomori City, in the northern-most prefecture on Japan’s main island of Honshu, for the famous Nebuta Festival. Counted as one of the three biggest festivals in Japan, it attracts up to three million visitors each year, but this year, some new, out-of-this-world warriors made an appearance at the festival.

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Better than mosquito repellent – The most eco-friendly (and spiritual) way to repel pests in Japan

There’s no need to use toxic substances to kill off unwanted insects in Japan, because there’s a much more eco-friendly method they’ve been using for hundreds of years. Although it may not be scientifically proven, many people feel this is still the best way to get rid of everything from garden aphids to mosquitoes. And if the method has endured for centuries, it must be at least somewhat effective right?

This uniquely Japanese insect repellent is far cheaper than commercial insecticides, easier to implement, and you only have to use it once a year in spring or early summer. And the best part? It involves Japanese sake!

What’s the secret? We’ll let you know after the jump.

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Aomori’s fabled Nebuta Festival 2015 to feature Star Wars floats

Aomori Prefecture’s legendary Nebuta Festival – which takes place in early August every year – has always been one of those big festivals on my Japan bucket list.

Even though the festival is one of the prestigious few festivals to receive the staggeringly long designation of Important Intangible Folk Cultural Property of Japan, we’re willing to bet the festival is largely overlooked by Western visitors. This is, probably, largely due to Aomori’s fairly remote location; it’s a real pain to get to from Tokyo, Osaka or any of the other major cities outside of Sapporo.

But then, what if that wasn’t the biggest reason foreigners aren’t totally aware of this great festival? What if the real reason was the festival’s lack of Star Wars characters?

Luckily, whether or not that’s the real case, that sore lack of Star Wars characters at the Aomori Nebuta Festival is going to change this year.

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The most crowded place in Tokyo? Might be the Kanda Matsuri festival, but it’s still awesome

Even in a city as packed with people as Tokyo, some places, and times, are more crowded than others. So when and where can you find the largest, densest mass of humanity? Some would say the Yamanote loop line during the morning rush hour. Others would vote for Shibuya’s scramble crosswalk intersection on a Saturday night.

But before you go awarding the crown to either of those two candidates, take a look at the massive crowds that came out for the Kanda Matsuri festival last weekend.

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Burn baby burn! The Shinto inferno of Japan’s Dondo Yaki ceremony

When entering the grounds of a Shinto shrine in Japan, it’s customary to first stop by the water basin near the gate and rinse your hands, and sometimes your mouth, in order to cleanse them. Water isn’t the only classical element held to have purifying properties in Shintoism, though, since the same can be said about fire.

Obviously, worshippers aren’t called upon to put fire on their palms or inside their mouths. Instead, Shinto priests light pyres of charms and decorations during the Dondo Yaki ceremony, with the towering blazes regularly reaching 15 meters (49.2 feet) into the air.

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Expat’s video says “Welcome to My Japan,” and you ought to take him up on the awesome invitation

I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who moved to Japan and stayed for exactly two years. Most of the study and work opportunities that initially bring people here are 12-month programs, and while plenty of people decide that’s enough Japan for them, most people who manage to adapt and thrive during that first year reup for an even longer stay.

One such example is Canadian Thomas Simmons, who’s now been in Japan for four and a half years and counting. Given the country’s relatively small geographic size, you might think that’s enough time to see everything, but as the powerful video Simmons created about his experiences so far shows, he’s just getting started with his life in Japan.

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‘Cows can marry’ and other fascinating bovine facts from India

You’ve heard about India’s sacred cow, the Mother of Civilization, a gift from God that has become a part of Indian iconography, religion and culture. The cow protection movement began in 1882, and ended the slaughter of the animals in what was then British India. The cow is revered because it is unique in that it offers five products to humans — milk, curds, ghee butter, urine and dung — all of which are useful to everyday life in India. In addition, the beast of burden has traditionally been used to help plow the fields and pull carts for transportation. If you’re one of those people who likes to dress up your dog, or cat, or buy them their own kotatsu, then we can only imagine what you’d do for a pet cow if you had one! You’ll have no problem understanding the high regard Indians place on the gentle bovines.

Because we at RocketNews24 love all animals, cows included (although some of us delight in their taste while others of us would rather give cow cuddles), we can totally understand the pampering, dressing up, and general all-round generosity the Indians heap upon their beloved cows. We just hope cats don’t catch on to any of this.

Just how far will Indians go to pamper their bovine friends? Glad you asked! Our bovine journalist is about to reveal some fascinating facts about cows in India.

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Can’t spend a whole month at Kyoto’s Gion Festival? This beautiful video gives the highlights

Many neighborhoods in Japan have festivals during the summer, often centered around the local shrine. They generally include processions, musical performances, and Shinto rituals, with the festivities lasting a day, or maybe two if they stretch throughout the weekend.

Kyoto’s Gion district, though, does things on a grander scale. The Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival) starts on July 1 and runs for the entire month, with some sort of event happening almost every day. And while most non-residents can’t clear out enough of their schedule to sped a few solid weeks in Japan’s former capital, this beautiful video gives the highlights of the event.

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How long does Kagoshima need to convince us to visit? With this video, just two minutes

A little over a year ago, one of my good friends in Tokyo got a job teaching philosophy at a university in Kagoshima, the prefecture at the southernmost tip of the island of Kyushu. Being that he’s now a seven-hour series of train rides, or a two-and-a-half-hour flight, away, we don’t get together so often anymore, but on the plus side, now I have a reason to take a trip to Kagoshima.

Well, actually, I’ve got about a dozen reasons to take a trip there, if you add in all of the nature trails, hot springs, scenic coastline, and more shown in this video of some of Kagoshima’s most achingly beautiful travel destinations.

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Miyako-jima’s Paantu Festival: Traumatizing small children to bring them good luck

Say hello to your newest recurring nightmare, kids!

Held in Miyako-jima, one of the smallest of the Okinawa Islands, Paantu is a centuries-old festival which takes place during the ninth month of the Chinese calendar each year. During the festival, groups of men are elected to dress as the paantu, evil spirits covered from head to toe with mud and foliage, and are given the task of driving out demons and cleansing the island of bad luck.

Of course, like any good festival involving involving mud-covered monsters, this also means scaring the life out of small children…
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It’s that time of year again; when people in Japan make eggplant tanks

For many parts of Japan, this week is the Obon season. This is the time when several generations of family members all come together in one house for a visit. Luckily for the hosts, the vast majority of these relatives are ghosts so don’t take up a lot of space.

But even though they’re ghosts it’d be rude not to lay out some food for them, and so it’s not uncommon to place some snacks or beverages on graves or family altars in the home. Among these you might find shoryo uma, little animals made of cucumber and eggplant meant symbolize animals which carry the spirits to and from the otherworld.

Traditionally these tiny animals are made by jabbing four sticks into the vegetable for legs. The result is quaint but kind of looks like something I’d slap together for my third grade art project so I could get back to playing Dragon Warrior – hardly something fit for the people who paved the way for your existence to ride in on! As such some people in Japan have begun pimping their shoryo uma to make sure their ancestors’ rides are safe, comfy, and in some cases kind of epic.

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What’s that emoji? Let’s take a look at Japanese culture with these texting emoticons!【Part 2】

In Part 1 of this article, we learned some fun facts about three iconic foods so beloved by the Japanese that they, yup, became icons—how an old lady and a samurai gave birth to the first rice cracker; what it means to be called a pudding-head in Japan; and how a classic 1960s manga cemented the way oden would be illustrated for decades to come.

So get ready for Part 2, in which I’ll attempt to sift through millennia of history and get you further acquainted with three more emoticons!

First we’ll look at the mythical tengu, a complex, multifaceted creature that in modern times pops up in things like Digimon and the Mega Man series. Then we’ll check out a New Year’s decoration that may have originated from taketaba, a shield made from bundled bamboo that became necessary once firearms were introduced. To close, we’ll explore the customs and lore surrounding the Tanabata festival, including the romantic legend of Orihime and Hikoboshi, who are both star-crossed lovers and actual stars in the sky.

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Go fly a (humongous) kite: Zama’s Odako Matsuri【Photos】

If someone in Zama, Kanagawa Prefecture, tells you to go fly a kite, don’t be hurt. They are probably just inviting you to the Odako Matsuri or Giant Kite Festival! And with hundreds of years of history, 13-meter paper and bamboo kites, and a bonfire using said kite as the finale, you’ll be glad you were invited.

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BABYMETAL invasion of the West marches on, everyone welcomes new kawaii overlords【VIDEOS】

It’s been less than a year since we interviewed BABYMETAL and prophesied their coming domination of the globe, and in that time they’ve released a new, full-length album, racked up over five million views on one video alone, and made plans to invade England. While the UK probably isn’t the best target for a military attack–we hear they get pretty grumpy and call the RAF on you–the country seems particularly susceptible to cultural aggressions, making the group’s British debut at Sonisphere Festival UK the perfect opening offensive!

But the group’s popularity isn’t limited to the metal community. They’ve gotten attention from major media outlets around the world–it’s only a matter of time before we see the girls jumping around on Oprah’s coach, declaring their love for chocolate.

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Can you handle the heat at Fukugonji’s annual firewalking festival?

Over the course of a year, we humans can accumulate a lot of mucky emotions. We inevitably forget the dangers that certain fiery passions, like anger and envy, can do to our psyches. In order to remind ourselves to retake control of these troublesome fires that burn within us, we must take a walk through physical flames and let the fear of literal fire burn away our emotional impurities.

At least, that’s the idea behind Fukugonji’s annual firewalking festival! Each year, on second Sunday of December, this Zen Buddhist temple in Aichi Prefecture invites all members of the public to step across their scorching coals and reclaim inner purity at the Fukugonji Akiba Grand Festival. This year, the festival promises to be particularly entertaining, as well as spiritual and somewhat scary, as one might expect from firewalking.

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We pick up a new good luck charm at the Tori no Ichi Festival in Shinjuku

Japan’s urban and rural areas alike are dotted with temples and shrines, but there’s no practice of attending regular services at them. Instead, visitors primarily come to offer a few yen as a donation, say a quick prayer, and pick up one of the plethora of good luck charms and amulets sold there, many of which have specific purposes such as passing an important exam or finding a new love.

But every member of our team is already out of college, and so popular with the opposite sex that we’re starting to feel bad about not leaving any for the rest of the populace. Looking further down our to-do list, we noticed that “build mansion with supermodel grotto” was preceded by “achieve economic success,” so we decided to head to our local Shinto shrine for Tori no Ichi, Japan’s annual festival for buying good luck charms for success in business.

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Wine-fueled mayhem in Japan’s Napa Valley: Katsunuma Wine and Grape Festival

When you think booze and Japan, wine is probably the last thing that comes to mind, and not without good reason. This is a country where the average wine list can be summed up as “red or white?”, both of which will come probably from an ancient box in the back of the fridge and chilled to near-zero temps.

The country is not without its fans of wine culture, though. In fact, Japan even has a wine-producing region, home to 31 wineries and an original grape variety! Katsunuma, sometimes called the Napa Valley of Japan, is tucked into the mountains of Yamanashi Prefecture, just an hour and a half from Tokyo.

RocketNews24 went to check out this grapey paradise on the occasion of the Katsunuma Wine and Grape Festival, where rumor had it 500 yen would get you unlimited wine for the day.

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