Feb 13

Love is in the air~ everywhere!

Especially in Japan!  Valentine’s Day is celebrated on two different dates in Japan. On February 14, females present gifts to their boyfriends or any man close to them. The favour is returned to ladies on the White Day celebrated on March 14 when men pamper women who gave them gifts a month before on Valentines Day. In my six years of living in Japan I never really got a solid answer as to why this happens but I think it’s kind of sweet–pardon the pun.
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Feb 10

Japan’s National Foundation Day

Japanese flags in Tokyo Ginza

The National Foundation Day is a public holiday in Japan and is celebrated every year on February 11. The day is celebrated to commemorate the formation of the nation and also for the establishment of the imperial line by the first Japanese ruler, Jimmu.
The day originally coincided with New Year’s Day according to the Chinese calendar and it is believed that Emperor Jimmu took the throne on this day. According to the Gregorian calendar, the day fell on January 29, which is the date when the festival was originally celebrated. It was then called Empire Day. It was in 1873 that the Japanese Government decided to shift the day to February 11, in order to make people realize the importance of the Foundation Day.

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Feb 03

Happy Setsubun!


The Evil One!

While Setsubun (“seasonal division”) is not a national holiday, it is an important festival held in early February, one day before the start of spring according to the Japanese lunar calendar. For many centuries, the people of Japan have been performing rituals with the purpose of chasing away evil spirits at the start of spring.  Around the 13th century, for example, it became a custom to drive away evil spirits by the strong smell of burning dried sardine heads, the smoke of burning wood, and the noise of drums. (I think the sardine heads would be more than enough, but that’s just me!)  While this custom is not popular anymore a few people still decorate their house entrances with fish heads and holy tree leaves in order to deter evil spirits from entering.

In modern days, the most commonly performed setsubun ritual is the throwing of roasted beans around one’s house and at temples and shrines across the country.  When throwing the beans, you are supposed to shout “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out, happiness in”).  Afterwards, you should pick up and eat the number of beans which corresponds to your age. My first introduction to this festival was quite memorable. I walked to a shrine close to my apartment and watched with interest, respectful of the occasion.  I was given some beans by a very old Obaa-san who showed me each move.  When all heck broke loose, bean tossing began to look more like a food fight!  Everyone, from the very young to the very old, let loose!  Of course I joined in and after all the beans were tossed, I received a round of applause for my skills!  I gathered up the number of beans corresponding to my age, and bit into one.  My mood changed to concern over whether I’d lost a filling in my back tooth! 

Waving goodbye, I nodded with great enthusiasm, bowing and smiling, all the while pretending to be eating the rock hard beans. What fun!



Jan 14

Coming of Age, Japan-style

Another public holiday in Japan?  Of course!  Today we’re celebrating “Seiji-no-hi” (Coming of Age Day).   Although young adults reach legal age on their 20th birthday and from there on are entitled to vote, allowed to smoke tobacco, purchase alcohol, and have all of the rights and responsibilities of adulthood, local governments hold special ceremonies on “Seijin-no-hi” to mark this rite of passage. Read the rest of this entry »

Jan 06

Japanese New Year



O-Shogatsu (New Year’s Day) is the most festive occasion of the entire year for Japanese citizens . While we are scrambling for deals over the post-Christmas season, Japan is “closed for business”.  The Emperor’s birthday is celebrated on December 23 followed by traditional ceremonies and customs that last for several days.  Most Japanese people spend a week or more making preparations to get ready for the big day.

O-Shogatsu is a traditional festival to celebrate the new year. People in Japan believe that a proper beginning to the year will ensure that the entire year is happy and prosperous. There are many customs and rituals that help to ensure that the coming year will be a good one. The first thing that needs to be done is O-soji (housecleaning). All the dirt that accumulated over the previous year needs to be cleaned away.

While many are cleaning the house from top to bottom, the cooks begin to prepare food for the O-Shogatsu meals. It is supposed to be bad luck to cook food on the first few days of the year, so people prepare all the food that they need for the holiday season a day or two in advance. The first few days of the year will be a time for lots of eating, drinking and entertaining, so in the days just before the holiday, the whole house is filled with the smell of delicious food cooking.

Everyone gets up early in the morning of the final day in the old year making haste to the market to buy more special foods needed for the O-Shogatsu feast. The first thing that you need to buy is tai (red snapper). This fish is a part of most O-Shogatsu meals, and people eat it on other special occasions, too. Tai fish is a pun for the word mede-tai, which means “good luck”, so people think that eating tai will help bring them good luck in the new year. Read the rest of this entry »

Dec 06

Kids Shop…Kids Rock!

I had the privilege of taking part in a special Christmas shopping fair called KIDS SHOP on December 1st in Bellingham, WA.  Kids, armed with $1 bills, set off in search of just the right present for family/friends/teachers.  There were 33 vendors with amazing crafts.  One little girl, a very discerning shopper, kept touching some calligraphy cards I had for sale at $1.00.  After five visits she finally decided on a purchase for her nana.  Parents sat in the “lounge area” and were available for consultation or as human ATM machines but most of them let the kids loose, thankful to sit down and, yes, check their iPhones!   Of course some of the wee ones needed mom or dad….or sometimes a time-out!

Fellow writers Rebecca and Devin.

I was surrounded by kid vendors.  This was pretty cool.  To my right sat three children under age 8 who, with their mom, set up their OWN craft table and sold their own creations–fridge magnets, hand-crafted greeting cards, and many more thoughtful, well-priced items.   We visited back and forth and talked about school, world events, education (they were home schooled), and entrepreneurship.  To my left was the fishing table set up by budding entrepreneur,  Devin.  He creates his own fishing lures, makes clear Christmas balls with lures inside, some carved wooden fish with hooks to hold keys….and many more items, all with a  fishing theme.  His dad sat off to the side while Devin pitched to the masses.  He was good; very good.

Attendance was steady.  There were cookies, mandarin oranges, tea, and juice for everyone.  In the last hour Devin came over to my table and announced that he would like to purchase a print version of Fly Catcher Boy.  Most of my sales were to parents but after luring…um, inviting… kids to my table (I moved my chair to the front of the table and held the iPad version at their eye level), the kids would often return with a fist full of dollars to purchase the book.  What could I do but sign it and wish them a Merry Christmas!

Devin visited my table several times to look at my book and talk about it.  He finally said he’d like to buy it.  I was happy and signed it.  He returned later to announce that he “really, really liked the book”.  I humbly thanked him.  He went on to say, “You know I’m a writer, too.”  This didn’t surprise me.  “In fact, I’ve written several books,” he said proudly.  I told him I’d like to see his work and he agreed that was a good idea.

Just as I was finishing packing up, Devin returned bearing gifts.  A fishing lure.  “This is so you don’t forget me.”  Devin, how could I ever forget you!  Thanks for a lovely day.  Keep in touch!


Nov 23

Labor Thanksgiving Day in Japan

Happy Labor Thanksgiving Day!

Thanksgiving is celebrated worldwide in so many different and unique ways.  In Japan, November 23 is Labor Thanksgiving Day, a second national holiday in November!  It became a holiday in 1948 as a day for citizens to express gratitude to one another for work done throughout the year and for the fruits of those labors.

Labor Thanksgiving Day (Kinro Kansha no Hi in Japanese) is actually a modern name for an ancient ritual called Niinamesai (Harvest Festival).  In the ritual, the Emperor makes the season’s first offering of freshly harvested rice to the gods and then partakes of the rice himself.

The history of Niinamesai goes back hundreds of years. The first written account is dated November 678.  Yes!  That’s 6-7-8.  The year 678.  The origin of the ritual is believed to be much older, going back to when rice cultivation was first transmitted to Japan more than 2,000 years ago.

After World War II, Labor Thanksgiving Day was established to mark the fact that fundamental human rights were guaranteed and rights of workers were greatly expanded in the postwar Constitution.

A number of major events are held on this day, one being a labor festival held every year in the city of Nagano, which hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1998.  Local labor organizations sponsor this event to encourage people to think about issues affecting peace, human rights, and the environment. It might not mean anything but International Buy Nothing Day is celebrated prior to Thanksgiving in Japan. I’m not sure if Black Friday has been imported yet… but I digress.

Across the country, nursery school students present drawings and handicrafts to service employess like postal workers and local police officers, who look after their safety every day.

Japan, a country that really knows how to celebrate…..month after month!  Banzai!!

Nov 15

Shichi-go-san celebrated today in Japan

An important day of celebration

Shichi-go-san is a festival celebrated by parents on the 15th of November in Japan, to mark the growth of their children as they turn seven, five, and three years of age.

Shichi-go-san literally means seven, five, and three. These ages are considered critical in a child’s life. Particularly, at the age of seven, a young girl celebrates wearing her first obi, while at the age of five a young boy celebrates wearing his first hakama pants in public. The age of three marks the first time when both boys and girls are allowed to let their hair grow.

The festival is said to have started in the Heian period (794-1185) where the nobles celebrated the growth of their children on a lucky day in November. The festival was subsequently set on the 15th of that month during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). Shogun Tsunayoshi Tokugawa was said to be celebrating the growth of his son, Tokumatsu, on that day.

By the Edo period (1603-1868) this practice spread to commoners, who began visiting shrines to have prayers offered by priests. The shichi-go-san custom followed today evolved in the Meiji era (1868-1912). November 15 was chosen because it was considered one of the most auspicious days of the year in the Japanese almanac. Since the day is not a national holiday, most families pay their shichi-go-san respects on the weekend just before or after the actual day.

Today parents celebrate shichi-go-san as their boys turn three and five, and as their girls turn three and seven. The boys don haori jackets and hakama trousers, while the girls would wear a special ceremonial kimono when making their shrine visit.

Following the visit to the shrine, parents buy chitose-ame (thousand year candy) for their children. The candy is shaped like a stick and comes in a bag that carries illustrations of cranes and turtles–two animals that traditionally symbolise longevity in Japan. The candy and the bag are expressions of parents’ wish that their children lead long and prosperous lives.

In the Fly Catcher Boy story, shichi-go-san is prominently featured. Kenji, neko, and Obaa-chan visit the shrine to celebrate Sumiko’s 7th year, admire her first obi, and eat traditional foods.

Nov 11

Behind the scenes with iBook vocabulary2: Greetings

Fly Catcher Boy introduces the reader to the “Top 4” greetings commonly used in Japan.

First, ohayo (Ohio).  Ohayo is a casual, informal version of the more polite “ohayo-goziamas” which you should use when entering the school staff room or the local grocery store (after the staff shout “irrashai-mase” or welcome, in unison).  A humble head bow is always appreciated.

Konnichi-wa is a morning/afternoon greeting and changes for evening. It’s also used for greeting students, teachers, and people you know (or don’t).   The more sing-song it sounds the more you will be deemed a very “genki” (energetic) person!  This is always a good thing.

Mata-ne is a very casual greeting, commonly used for “see you later”.  Combined with a “double-speed wave” and spoken in a genki way, you collect more points!

Sayonara.  A common word most English speakers are familiar with, thanks to films with Japanese themes and gangster movies. As soon as you hear ‘sayonara baby‘ someone is sure to die by gunshot!  Always necessary to use when you can’t say mata-ne and know that perhaps you might not see the person for days, weeks, or ever.

Check out the audio pronunciation glossary on this website for authentic pronunciation! After you’ve practiced a bit, get out there and impress your friends, teachers, and family!


Oct 23

Speed dating for Authors!

“Kool” hair with author Tiffany Stone at VCLR event

The Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable hosted an exciting event recently: DARK ALCHEMY: Literary Brews Conjured Across the Curriculum, featuring Kenneth Oppel talking about his new work “This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein…and the Frankenstein Myth”. This engaging, humorous author held his audience in the palm of his hand as he offered some insights into how his 16-year-old protagonist came into being. A lively Q&A followed.

During lunch 15 CWILL BC authors revved their engines for author “speed dating”, spending 2.5 minutes at each of the 15 tables, talking about their 2012 books. 2.5 minutes isn’t long. The timer was exacting. When the bull horn blew, you were expected to rush to the next table and start again. Fun? Yes! Exhausting? Yes! The first four to six tables got perfect presentations delivered on time. Tables 10-15 got the abbreviated version as the author, now parched and starving, drug him/herself as if in search of an oasis (which is a perfect metaphor really).

Thanks to Kathie Shoemaker and Margot Filipenko (Chair and Co-Chair of VCLR) for their usual 5* production! From the “dark”, clever table centrepieces, to healthy box lunches, to the inspiring and interesting program, all attending left singing praises for a fabulous day!

Thanks to my fellow CWILL authors: Alison Acheson, Caroline Adderson, Dan Bar-el, Vivien Bowers, Danica Dinsmore, Darlene Foster, Karen Hibbard, Melanie Jackson, Shar Levine, Ainslie Manson, Paola Opal, Lois Peterson, Tiffany Stone*, and Janet Whyte. Thoroughly enjoyed spending time getting to know more of you!

Check out each and every author’s website and prepare to be amazed at all the wonderful books they’ve written!

*isn’t Tiffany’s blue hair “kool”; we just had to take this photo to share!

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