Spring is finally here! Spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year, and also signifies the blooming of the cherry trees! Cherry blossoms, or sakura, are a symbol of the spring time in Japanese culture. Cherry blossoms symbolize renewal and a fresh start. The Japanese fiscal and school year begins in April, the season of sakura, to celebrate and welcome a brand-new start.
On Japan's southern, subtropical islands of Okinawa, cherry blossoms open as early as January, while on the northern island of Hokkaido, the flowering can be as late as May. In most major cities in between, such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, the cherry blossom season typically takes place in early April.
During this season in Japan, people like to have cherry blossom parties with colleagues, friends, and family. A cherry blossom makes people merry. They enjoy eating, drinking, and barbecuing underneath the cherry blossoms. This custom is called hanami. Hanami literally means “watching blossoms,” and the tradition can be traced back at least a thousand years. People will bring cooked meals, alcohol, snacks, and sweets, like a potluck party. Schools and offices hold welcome parties during hanami, a chance for people to bond and meet new friends.
Even at night time, the cherry blossom viewing spots are crowded with couples enjoying the blossoms in a romantic atmosphere. Hanami at night is called yozakura.
Cherry trees have spread throughout the world to other Asian country, the United States, Canada, Brazil, Germany, Turkey, Spain British, Australia, and beyond. We’re lucky to have thousands of cherry trees around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C.
March 20th/21st is “Shunbun No Hi” or spring equinox and it marks the beginning of spring! (It's the 20th in the US but 21st in Japan because of time difference.)
“春” (shun) is kanji for spring and “分” (bun) is kanji for “to divide”. In other words, "shunbun" describes the official divide of winter and spring. It's not celebrated as much here in LA because do we even have seasons? But it's nice to know that it's getting warmer and it's that time of year again where pretty flowers are blooming! ...Unless you have allergies of course.
So how is this holiday celebrated in Japan?
During the Meiji Era (1868-1912) it became a national holiday derived from Buddhist belief of a river (Sanzu no Kawa) that divides life from the afterlife or the world of enlightenment. It is believed that when night and day are equal length (during both spring and fall equinox), Buddha helps stray souls cross to the other side of the river.
Since it's a public holiday, everyone gets school and work off. (Lucky!!) It's traditional for families to reunite on this day and visit burial sites of their ancestors to clean gravestones, replant flowers, offer incense, and pray as a way to honor them. Ohagi and botamochi are often left to give nourishment to ancestors in their journey.
Ohagi and botamochi are yummy Japanese sweets that is made with sweet rice and azuki paste. Ohagi comes from the autumn flower "hagi" (bush clover) and botamochi comes from the spring flower "botan" (peony).
Hope you enjoyed the super moon last night!
By: Nicole Sato, GVJCI Program Manager
March 14th is infamously known in the US as Pi Day. The punny holiday has taken a good commercialism with pie stores and pizza places celebrating Pi Day with their own pies.
But in Japan, March 14th is known for a completely different holiday - White Day. White Day?? If it weren't for this holiday, Japan may be celebrating Pi Day too. After all, they too like their pun holidays (November 11 is known as Pocky day because the 11/11 look like Pocky sticks.)
aSo what's White Day? Let's back up a little. In the US, traditionally, chocolates, flowers, and gifts are given from a man to a woman. However, in Japan, the tradition's been reversed. Girls and women of all ages stay up the night before crafting their best handmade chocolate sweets to give to men, whether it be friends (tomo-choko), someone they want to confess their love to or someone they love (honmei-choko), or just someone as a polite V-Day gesture (giri-choko). Different, right?
Now, White Day. March 14th? Does the date seem kinda familiar? That's right, it's exactly a month after Valentine's Day. There are several theories on how and why this holiday actually started, but the most popular theory is that in the 70s, the confectionery industry started it up as "return day" for men to say thank you to the women that gave them chocolates (and their hearts, maybe) a month before. Hallmark Holiday, much? Totally.
Their plan worked though, because White Day is still a thing now. Originally, it was called "White Day" because it was marketed to sell marshmallows. From there, it evolved to white chocolate, and now today, there's everything from regular chocolate to jewelry as a return gift. Now, White Day is celebrated not only in Japan, but in many Asian countries, including South Korea, Vietnam, and China.
Speaking of South Korea...Didn't receive anything on either days? Don't worry, there's always Black Day next month on the 14th where singles who didn't receive anything on the past two months eat jajangmyeon (I'll give you a hint - it's black-ish looking) in misery 😉
Kellen Tomiyama, GVJCI Social Media & Community Outreach Intern
Los Angeles is a city full of life and many different cultures. It seems that there are endless things to do, from great food to museums to trendy bars/nightlife, Los Angeles is one of the most diverse cities in the world. There are so many different cultures coexisting with one another, the city is a perfect example of a melting pot. One of the hidden gems in the city is Little Tokyo, a small province located in downtown LA. Little Tokyo is a collection of restaurants, shops and other fun things to explore, that embrace the Japanese culture and heritage.
Japanese American National Museum
The Japanese American National Museum gives visitors an in-depth look at the culture and heritage of Japanese Americans. It offers a wide range of exhibits from modern art to historical documents that embody the culture of Japanese Americans. One of the most famous past exhibits include Folding Paper: The infinite Possibilities of Origami, Marvel & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Image in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986. These exhibits inspire dialogues on important social issues and the impact of Japanese culture in the United States. The well-known HELLO! Exploring Supercute World of Hello Kitty originated at the museum and it now travels to museums across the nation.
Daikokuya is a must try ramen spot in downtown LA, and a local favorite. They are famous for tonkotsu (Pork Bone) soup based Daikoku Ramen which is rich and creamy in flavor. It is a perfect balance between the stock, vegetables, meat, and noodles. Daikokuya also offers a variety of food options aside from ramen, including spicy mayo, yakisoba, rice bowls, and more. One of their specialty appetizers, takoyaki: grilled pancake octopus balls is a popular snack in Japan and the perfect starter to any meal.
Mikawaya Mochi Ice Cream
No meal is complete without dessert! Milkawaya is the birthplace of mochi ice cream. This popular dessert item has a chewy mochi exterior and a creamy ice cream center. They have tons of different flavors, like the traditional green tea, strawberry and red bean. Or if you are feeling more adventurous, try flavors like plum wine or black sesame. These little mochi treats are a must have when visiting Little Tokyo.
Nisei Week Japanese Festival
During the summer, Little Tokyo hosts its annual Nisei Week Festival to celebrate the culture and heritage of the Little Tokyo community. This Festival takes place in August and features free outdoor entertainment, music, cultural exhibits, food, and is an event for people of all ages. Highlights of the week includes, Taiko Drums, Dai Dengaku Street Dance, art displays and delicious food. Come and join the celebration to learn more about Japanese American Culture, meet new friends, and partake in the festivities.
Credited sources: https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/usa/california/articles/the-top-10-things-to-do-and-see-in-little-tokyo-la/
By: Taylor Weik, Community Guest Contributor
It’s 2019, but recently I’ve been feeling that keeping track of time has been our futile attempt at keeping something in our lives structured, under control, predictable – given the state of things in our country and world today, I’m always a little surprised when I wake up in the morning to discover we’re not all dead yet.
Between scanning articles detailing government shutdowns, watching international tensions unfold on TV, and coming into work to hear about whatever shooting has happened that week from a coworker, I’m already feeling discouraged. But then, I read the comments. A word of advice for those of you looking to create inner peace for yourself this year: don’t read the comments. I’m talking about the comments from social media users you can find at the end of articles and tweets, but this can also apply to the comments you hear from the strangers behind you in line at the grocery store. The comments I refer to are always opinions, and they’re always strong ones, even if they lack research, which they often do. They also tend to be voiced in absolutes (“this politician has a history of lying to her constituents and being self-serving; she is an evil woman.”) These comments seem to be lacking in something essential to our humanity: empathy.
When was the last time these commenters stopped to consider the opinions of those who might disagree with them, and why they might have those opinions? When was the last time they remembered what their grade school teachers taught them and stepped into the shoes of someone else?
I’ve been thinking about empathy a lot, and I hope it shows in the curriculum I write for our programs at Kizuna, because it’s one of the most important values we can teach the next generation. After all, they’re growing up in a society that is increasingly demanding us to pick sides, and to stick to our side blindly. I feel this stubbornness too at times – after all, I’ve just advised everyone to not read the comments when in actuality, reading the comments would challenge you to consider the perspectives of others. When I notice this stubbornness creeping in, I feel terrified. How can we remember to practice empathy every day when everything around us is encouraging us to put up walls?
I’m a reader, so I read. What easier way to step into the shoes of others than by absorbing the actions and inner thoughts of a book’s narrator? I’ve been reading a lot of literature by Asian American authors, partly because I feel seen as an Asian American woman, but also because these previously unmined stories contain so much rich material I’m reminded that even within Asian America, there is diversity. Below are some books written by Asian American authors that have inspired me to step outside of myself and consider the perspectives of others, followed by some books written by non-Asian Americans – because we can all benefit from venturing outside our comfort zones.
Hungry for more? Extra Reads by Non-Asian American Authors
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
Fruit of the Drunken Tree – Ingrid Rojas Contreras
The Golden State – Lydia Kiesling
Swing Time – Zadie Smith