Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Five Random Things on Japan 4

1. The book The Speeches of Barack Obama, with accompanying cd, is selling extremely well in Japan and is being used as a text book to teach English. It is a best seller with over 500,000 copies sold within a three month period. This is not a very common occurrence, any book that sells more than a 100,000 copies is considered a success in Japan and books in foreign languages rarely exceed 20,000. Selling books of US presidents speeches is not a common occurrence in Japan. If you want to read his speeches they can be found online at several places for example: obamaspeeches.com.

2. Sagichō is the fire festival an event usually held on January fifteenth. This festival can can be found throughout most of the country, but there is a lot of regional variation. It goes by many different names depending on region (some names are tondo, dondonyaki, saitōyaki, bokkengyō, and sankurōyaki). Like the name the dates and content of the event differs somewhat depending on where it is, for example the Himura Hachimangu Shrine holds it in mid-march.

One explanation for the origin of the word Sagichō, holds that, because it is homonymous with the word for "heron," it is connected to bird-hunting or bird-chasing. There are many other explanations, however, the true origin has yet to be determined. Whatever its origins, the event itself involves assembling, stacking, and burning the pine New Year's door ornaments of each household at a set location such as the village border, the village square, a particular field, or a shrine. In Kyūshū, a similar kind of fire festival event called the Onibi or the Onibitaki is held on the sixth or seventh day of January.

3. Toshi no ichi is a fair held at the year's end for selling New Year's decorations and miscellaneous goods. In Edo, there were large markets three times a year. The largest was December and this one became known as toshi-no-ichi or year-end market. Until mid-edo period only men where allowed to attend.

4. Harikuyo is a memorial service for broken needles and pins observed on February 8 or December 8 at many Buddhist temples. The broken needles are stuck into a block of tofu or konnyaku jelly to console the spirit of the needles for working so hard. For this service/festival, housewives, tailors, acupuncturists, makers of tabi (Japanese socks), etc., take a day off and bring their needles to the shrine.

5. In most Japanese schools, the grading of students is 5,4,3,2,1 instead of A,B,C,D,F like most of the USA has it. "5" is the best grade. This is not an absolute though some schools in Japan grade students in 10 ranks (10,9,8,...) and not every school in the USA uses the A,B,C grade scale. Also unlike the United States where a persons high school grades are considered to be very important in Japan the classroom grades are not very important how well you do on the university entrance exams are. So most students are not very concerned with their classroom grades but are very concerned about how well they do on the university exams (most students take moshi, mock exams, in preparation for the real exams).

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