Japanese Children’s Day = Mother’s Day?

by Reiko Nishioka, Director of Education

When you are young, you don’t pay attention to the meaning of holidays; you are just happy to have the day off from school. On May 5th, the Japanese celebrate a national holiday called Children’s Day.  I do not remember what we did for the celebration because May 5th is Tango no settku translated as Boy’s Day.  If you are in Japan, you will see colorful koinobori (carp kites) hoisted outdoors of the homes of families who have male children. I have a sister, no brothers, so we did not decorate anything in the house or outdoors!

If we celebrate only Boy’s Day it is not fair. We girls wanted to celebrate like boys!

Yes, we celebrated on March 3rd and the celebration was called Momo no sekku known as Girls Day however, IT IS NOT A NATIONAL HOLIDAY.

In 1948, the Japanese government established Japanese national holidays. In this law, Children’s Day is set aside to respect children’s individuality and to celebrate their happiness on May 5, the fifth day of the fifth month.  

Some say that having Boy’s Day as a national holiday, but not having a national Girls’ Day is discrimination.  My amazement is that the national holiday law said “Children’s Day is set aside to respect children’s individuality and to celebrate their happiness and gratitude to their mother.”

I checked further as to why law-makers made the holiday on May 5th not March 3rd or some other day.  The answer is that the weather is still too cold on March 3rd to celebrate outdoors in northern Japan.

I do not think many Japanese people know that Children’s Day is also a celebration of Mother’s Day.  Well, I think every day is mother’s, father’s and children’s day.  Have I covered everyone?

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Setsubun: The End of Winter

by: Reiko Nishioka, Director of Education

A demon is the symbol of an evil spirit and we throw beans (soybeans) to drive away the evil spirit. Men who were born in a year with the same sign as the zodiac animal for the current year serve as bean-throwers.

On February 3rd or 4th (depending on the year), the Japanese celebrate setsubun, the end of winter, with a ritual known in English as the “Bean-Throwing Ceremony.” “Bean-Throwing Ceremony” sounds comical and childish, however, the setsubun ritual has a long history. The first recorded setsubun ritual was in A.D. 706, more than a thousand years later year, Hokusai (Ukiyo-e artist 1760-1849) illustrated a man throwing beans at a demon.

What does setsubun mean?  (setsu) and (bun) means division and setsubun means “division of seasons.” Literally, setsubun occurs four times a year, but only one, the end of winter, is traditionally celebrated.


Why is February 3rd or 4th considered the end of winter?
 Until December 2, 1873 the Japanese used the old calendar system. On the next day all Japanese switched to the Gregorian calendar. You cannot imagine the confusion. The date of setsubun is still determined by using the old calendar.

What is the relationship between setsubun and a demon? My grandmother frequently said that we often get colds between the seasons. In olden days, the Japanese believed that demonic spirits would sneak into you or your house.

Why we throw beans at a demon?  A demon is the symbol of an evil spirit and we throw beans (soybeans) to drive away the evil spirit. I am sure that before beans an arrow was used for the ceremony. Likewise, a branch with a fish head is also placed at the front entrance to stop evil an evil spirit from coming in the house. In 1447, the record says that people scattered beans, shouting, “In with fortune! Out with demons!”  We still say the same words when we throw beans. Afterwards we eat the same number of beans as your age plus one bean to receive a healthy and happy year. For eating purpose, roasted soybeans are used.

Who gets to play the part of the demon?  When I was little, my father put on a Japanese red devil mask and my sister and I threw beans at him and shouted “In with fortune! Out with demons!”  Setsubun was the only day I could throw beans at my father. Temples and shrines in Japan have a setsubun ritual event. Men who were born in a year with the same sign as the zodiac animal for the current year serve as bean-throwers. In this event, people who gather at temple/shrines are blessed by throwing beans but not chased! 

I hope readers now have an idea of the setsubun ritual, bean-throwing ceremony.

Seijin no Hi (Coming of Age Day)

by: Reiko Nishioka, Director of Education

あけましておめでとうございます。Happy New Year!

成人の日、Seijin no hi is the first national holiday after the New Year celebration in Japan, landing on January 10 this year. With the word seijin meaning adult or a grownup and hi meaning day, it translates as Coming of Age Day.  You must be wondering what kind of day this is and why it is a national holiday.

In Japan, when you turn 20, you are legally recognized as an adult. You legally can drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes and most importantly you gain the right to vote!!! Since Japanese people traditionally do not celebrate individual birthdays, when the New Year comes, everybody gets one year older.  So if you turn 20 during the year, celebrating seijin no hi all together on the second Monday of January is quite a big festival!

Since this is a nationwide celebration, Japanese municipalities formally decorate buildings, such as City Halls, with red and white curtains signifying an auspicious occasion.  Young men, mostly in business suits, and women in brightly colored kimonos or dresses gather at their local city hall for their celebration.  People who have left their hometown for work or study come home to attend the ceremony and at the same time have their High School reunion. The ceremony consists of many speeches from mayors and other notables as well as numerous performances. It is focused on awareness of what it means to be an adult.

Congratulations are in the order for our readers in Japan who will turn 20 years old this year!  I vote for not heavily drinking or smoking, but it is great to have the right to vote!

Next Month, Make A Wish Upon a Star…

OK, wishing on a star is a Disney theme, I know. But it is very fitting for a romantic (but not mushy) pastime at the Morikami.

From July 7-14, a bamboo tree will be in the museum lobby for visitors to decorate with their wishes written on colored paper streamers, or tanzaku, which symbolize the weaving of threads. Tanabata is a week of wishing, so to speak, for anything you want the Universe to receive. The activity is sweet and romantic if you know a bit about the back story –

Tanabata originated more than 2,000 years ago with an old Chinese tale called Kikkoden. Once there was a weaver princess named Orihime and a cow herder prince named Hikoboshi living in space. After they got together, they were playing all the time and forgot about their jobs. The king was angry at them and separated them on opposite sides of the Amanogawa River (Milky Way).

The king allowed them to meet only once a year on July 7th. This is why tanabata is also known as the star festival. It’s believed that Orihime and Hikoboshi can’t see each other if July 7th is rainy, so people pray for good weather and also make wishes for themselves.

To hang a wish is free and filled with tradition and another reason to swing by the Morikami this summer. There are so many cool stories behind Japanese traditions it makes you wonder if Walt Disney grabbed the idea of wishing on a star from another culture.

Things that make you say “Hmmmm……”

Make a Wish Upon a Tree at the Morikami

Reiko Remembers The Meaning of Japan’s True New Year

This blog is written by the Morikami’s Director of Education Reiko (pronounced “Lay-ko”) Nishioka, who is native Japanese and later moved to the United States. In 2010, she will contribute to “More Morikami…” and share her cultural inspirations and memories. Happy New Year!

I was asked to write about my favorite holiday/celebration by a local magazine several years ago. I chose Oshogatsu, the Japanese New Year celebration, even though I have been living in the U.S. for more than 30 years. I miss it dearly, although I work at the Morikami and celebrate Oshogatsu with visitors every year.  (The 2010 festival will be held January 10, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.)

In Japan, the New Year is celebrated for three days, from January 1 through 3.  So when December 31 approaches, people become very busy. They clean and decorate their houses, cook meals for the time of holidays, pound rice for mochi (rice cake), write greeting cards and attend year-end parties. There is one more, very important thing that Japanese traditionally do at the end of the year, and that is clearing away all debts and obligations. PHEW!

Lots of effort is given in preparation for the New Year, but on December 31 at midnight, the above activities stop. Bells at all temples ring 108 times which, according to the Buddhist religion, symbolize human desires. The last peal drives the desires away, and the new year is greeted in a pure condition.

What I like about the Oshogatsu observance is the symbolism of time. Graduations, weddings or retirements are lifetime experiences; they are “knots” of life. Japanese call these fushi, like the knots of bamboo. This is where the significant border between the old and the new, and the symbolism of time, lie. For example, yesterday was December 31 and the end of the year; today is January 1, and everything is treated new, like a new “knot.” A lot of people go to see the first sunrise; we even cherish the first dream of the new year. Whatever we do, we call it the “first …..of the year.” Oshogatsu is the time to renew.

My memory of Oshogatsu is quiet and calm during the three days of observance. Stores are closed, and there is no cooking as meals have been prepared in advance. Therefore, we have enough time to reflect on the past year and make a wish or set a goal for the upcoming year.

Oh, how I miss the quiet of those three days!

Families watch "shishimai," or the lion dancer, at Oshogatsu, the New Year's celebration; Jan. 10, 2010 at the Morikami

Feeling That Holiday Stress? Beat Some Big Drums…

Shopping, cooking, wrapping, working. Repeat. Repeat. And repeat again. Throw in making holiday parties on top of holiday deadlines, out-of-town visitors and/or holiday travel, and you, my friend, may need some drum therapy.

Yes, we all know the grand holidays are the days of joy, mirth and more than a little good eating. But with all that merriment comes a fair share of stress, and there’s no better way to relieve that teeth-grinding feeling than beating a big, round taiko drum.

I know because I’ve done it. The Morikami tapped into the curiosity in the festival crowds and gave their visitors a chance to bang that drum. It’s not as easy or as coordinated as it looks — especially for the untalented and uninformed.

My family and I took the opportunity to attend a taiko drum workshop in the Morikami’s theatre. First, you get an education on the purpose of the drums, the lore they hold and the power they encompass. The one-hour verbal lesson by a leading member of the performing ensemble, Fushu Daiko, is supposed to prepare you for the physical part of the lesson.  It does not.

That’s because nothing readies you to hold two wooden sticks in your hands, get into a deep warrior pose and pound away for a second hour. You sweat, you ache, you get a little dizzy, and you look and sound just awful. (Getting good takes years. Being bad takes no time at all!) But you do receive a deep, abiding respect for the art and skill of mastering taiko drumming; and you’re so tired, you don’t have time to be stressed.

Three workshops are coming up on December 6 at 10:15 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 3 p.m. If you’re thinking someone in your life would appreciate a workshop, gift them the pleasure. Upcoming workshops, also held three in a day, are January 31, Feburary 28 and March 28. They are $50 per person. Call 561-495-0233, ext. 210 for reservations. Space is limited.

The Morikami recommends wearing comfortable clothes and shoes and no jewelry. I recommend eating your Wheaties, drinking some water and planning to nap afterwards. Really.

Does he look stressed to you? Try taiko yourself on Dec. 6 at The Morikami.

Beating Holiday Blues One Step at a Time

Most people know that although the holidays are normally a time of connecting with friends and family, spending money you don’t have and eating food cooked with lots of butter and sugar (yum!), it can be a trigger for great loneliness and depression.

It can be a time when, as others are celebrating, people are missing loved ones who can’t come home or have passed away. Some are simply alone, feeling isolated.

One of the terrific things about living in South Florida is that when others are shoveling snow, we’re still basking in sunshine. So it couldn’t be a more opportune time than October for the Morikami to reintroduce its Stroll for Well-Being series.

It’s a chance to sign up for a major diversion from holiday blues with scheduled walks through Roji-En. A specially developed journal, designed to enhance the experience, is used as a guide and a means to record personal thoughts through the 12 themed garden strolls. There will be three meetings with the journal’s author, an associate professor at the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing, Florida Atlantic University.

An explanation about the program will be provided during the first meeting (Oct. 20); the second one, which will take place halfway through the program (Nov. 17), will be used to answer any questions that may appear during the first few walks. Finally, the last meeting (Dec. 15) will take place at the end of the program and will include a discussion of experiences.

The cost is $95, which includes a one-year Origami Morikami membership, or $40 for Morikami members. Consider it an early gift to yourself or someone else if you or they need another reason to feel upbeat this holiday season.

For more information and registration, please go to www.morikami.org or call 561-495-0233 x 235.

Seniors Stroll the Roji-En

Seniors Stroll the Roji-En

Morikami Museum Store Preps for the Holidays

Sometimes, attention is unexpected… and really nice.

The beautiful Charles Albert jewelry that The Morikami Museum Store always carries is featured in the October issue of Boca Raton Magazine in some lovely spreads, which has led to unexpected attention and requests. If you love gorgeous sterling silver and mother of pearl combinations, then check out the goods before they’re gone. (Don’t worry, Store Manager Sallie Chisholm can always order more.)

Also in time for the holidays are Piperoids. Take the cartoonish neon looks of anime, throw in the robot-ish adventure of Transformers® and add the folding fun of origami, and you’ve got the newest toys to grace the shelves of the Morikami Museum Store.

Sallie has added Piperoids – combination of “pipes” and “androids” – to the Morikami Museum’s wide selection of young-at-heart retail items for the 2009 holiday shopping season. The paper robot craft kits require just a pair of scissors for any one to make Japanese-style characters that battle each other. With names like Guyzer & Bean, Muscle Joe and Penk & Goriborg, the Piperoids are sold in a one-piece package for $12 and two-piece packages for $15.

Check them out online at www.morikami.org.  They are really cool, if you’re into brightly-colored, fold-em-up and play-with-them-for-hours type of  stuff.

Jewelry sold in the Morikami Museum Store was featured in Oct. Boca Mag

Jewelry sold in the Morikami Museum Store was featured in Oct. Boca Mag

Piperoids make their debut at The Morikami Museum Store

Piperoids make their debut at The Morikami Museum Store