Japanese Christmas Music

 

December is Christmas extravaganza month on Geordie Japan, expect lots of Christmas Related articles in the run up to Christmas, starting today!

 

Ho Ho Ho! ‘Tis the season to be Jolly! But what’s that? You’re not feeling jolly and in the Christmas spirit yet? Well Geordie Japan has  just the remedy for you! What you need is some lovely Christmas tunes to get you in the mood, but forget Maria Carey or Bing Crosby, you need some Japanese Christmas music! But where would you find such a thing? Right here on Geordie Japan of course!

 

Click on the youtube video below for a playlist of 16 Japanese Christmas songs complete with music videos. Under the video you can find a track listing and individual links to all the songs! If you enjoy it, please share the link with your friends.

 

Click here to play the playlist from youtube

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Do They Celebrate Halloween In Japan?

 

It’s October! The month of spooks and scares, all hallows eve approaches and all over the world children prepare to go trick or treating dressed as whatever takes their fancy (I was a ninja turtle I seem to remember). But the question on everyone’s lips is… do they celebrate Halloween in Japan?

 

Idol band AKB48 hawking Halloween costumes

The answer is yes…and no. Halloween is a relatively recent concept in Japan that has slowly been working its way into the mainstream for many years now. A celebration that was once relegated to Tokyo Disneyland with their annual Halloween parade has been gradually leaking out into the rest of Japan since the late 80s. Now most major cities in Japan have some form of Halloween parade, highlighted by the Kawasaki Halloween Parade and the ‘Hello Halloween Pumpkin Parade’ in Harajuku, Tokyo. However Japan has plenty of its own festivals, including ones honouring the dead such as Obon, and as a result Halloween is more of a co-opted Western festival rather than a national event. Few Japanese know of the actual origins of the holiday and only know it from the mass of American pop culture that arrives on Japans shores by the day.

 

As a result Halloween in Japan in recent years has become a marketing goldmine, with pumpkins, candy and Halloween decorations being sold by the bucket full. This would make you think that Japan was celebrating Halloween en masse, but that’s not really the case it seems. As one Japanese friend described to me when I was researching this article “We celebrate Halloween, but not so much”. The parades are there, the decorations are up, the costumes are worn if you go to the right places and pumpkins are carved but the majority of the population outside of the major cities are don’t partake in any Halloween activities. Trick or treating is practically unheard of in Japan too for the most part, one area that is on the rise though is dressing up as Japan’s youth is seeing a rise in cosplaying for Halloween, however cosplaying is on the rise year-round, so maybe it’s just another excuse to do it!

 

Sadako, an Onryō (怨霊) spirit as portrayed in The Ring.

It’s not that Japan doesn’t like scares, Japanese culture has a long history of horror starting with Kaidan (怪談), traditional supernatural tales often associated with the Edo period. These Kaidan tales were told either through storytelling, Kabuki and Noh theatre, books and later films. Nowadays everyone all over world is familiar with J-Horror introduced to the West in the late 90’s with the festival appearances or The Ring and Audition, a plethora of other J-Horror films soon flooded the Western market place and it seemed like a different English language remake was due every other week. Let’s not forget either that Japan popularised the survival horror video game genre with the debut of Resident Evil (coincidentally the rather terrible Resident Evil films do better in Japan than in any other market in the world) and Silent Hill amongst others. So it’s not that Japanese culture is adverse to the concept behind the holiday, it’s just that it hasn’t quite caught-on on a national scale yet.

 

To answer the question then, does Japan celebrate Halloween, the answer has to be yes but just not on the national scale that we do here in the UK or that other countries do. One thing is for sure though, Halloween is increasing every year in Japan and looking at what they already do to celebrate it…the future is sure to be packed with scares.
Expect more Halloween articles this month, until then check out this video of the Kawasaki Halloween Parade!

 

 

Lucky Number 七

 

Over the weekend Geordie Japan hit 7000 views, now perhaps in website terms that’s not that much, but for a niche blog that’s only been online since March I’m pretty damn proud of that figure. I’m hoping for big things for the blog and beyond and hopefully the number 7 will bring us some luck with this, why? Well seven is considered a lucky number in Japan (and other parts of Asia too) but what’s so special about seven?

 

7, or 七 (pronounced “nana” or “shichi”) in Japanese, is deeply ingrained into Japanese culture. In the Buddhist religion when one becomes a ‘stream winner’ they can be reborn a maximum of seven times before reaching nibbana. There are also regarded to be seven Buddhist treasures. This religious association with the number seems to be the origin point in Japanese culture for the importance of the figure of seven.

 

The part where seven becomes lucky starts with the seven lucky gods (七福神). The seven gods are most commonly known to be;

  • Hotei – the fat and happy god of abundance and good health
  • Jurōjin – god of longevity
  • Fukurokuju – god of happiness, wealth and longevity
  • Bishamonten – god of warriors
  • Benzaiten – goddess of knowledge, art and beauty, especially music
  • Daikokuten – god of wealth, commerce and trade.
  • Ebisu – god of fishers or merchants, often depicted carrying a sea bream

Of the group only Ebisu is known to be Japanese, Hotei, Jurōjin and Fukurokuju are from China while Bishamonten, Benzaiten and Daikokuten are from India. The seven lucky gods are often depicted sailing on a treasure ship, the Takarabune (宝船), and will sail into port on New Year and distribute gifts and wealth to those deemed worthy, Children will often be given red envelopes with the image of the Takarabune on it containing money around this time. Children are also encouraged to put either a picture of the seven gods or the Baku (a mythical being that devours nightmares) under their pillow on the evening of January 1st. If you have a dream that night where you are blessed with good fortune in life then you will be lucky for the year, provided you do not tell anyone. On the other hand if you have an unlucky dream then you must prey to the Baku spirit and set the picture adrift in the nearest river or ocean. On January seventh it is traditional to eat nanakusa-gayu (seven herb rice porridge) which is packed full of good vitamins to help you recover from your New Year over celebrations, it is also thought to prevent illness for the year. Further reading on the seven lucky gods can be found here.

 

The number seven has also ingrained itself into both the celebration of life and the mourning of death in Japan. After a baby is born its birth is celebrated on its seventh day of life, conversely after someone’s death there is seven days of mourning, then they are mourned once again seven weeks after the death. Other life monuments are often marked alongside the number seven somehow, such as in the 7-5-3 festival which held on the 15th November where children aged seven, three and five visit their local Shinto shrines and are blessed. Girls aged 3 and boys aged 5 are formally welcomed into the community at this event and Girls aged seven are allowed from this day to wear the decorative obi sash with their kimono as they have now entered womanhood.  The Tanabata (七夕) star festival is held on the seventh day of the seventh month, again luck is once again associated with this as it is traditional to write your wishes down and hang them from a specially erected bamboo tree.

 

Film Still from The Seven Samurai

So from this deep rooted concept of the lucky number seven it’s no surprise to find that the number is prevalent in Japanese popular culture. Such as in Akira Kurosawa’s legendary Seven Samurai (七人の侍) in which seven warriors attempt to defend a village, the film was later remade in the West as The Magnificent Seven. There is also a Japanese manga named Nana (Japanese for 7) in which two girls, both named Nana, come together coincidentally and share an apartment together, the apartment is number 707 of course.  There are many references to the number seven in the manga, and later the anime and live action film versions. There is a television drama named lucky seven and even AKB48 have a song named for the number. Overall Japanese films, television programs,  songs, manga, video games and every aspect of popular culture often somehow includes a reference to seven.

 

So with all that, can you blame me for being excited that we have hit 7000 views? I’ll leave you with two things, firstly a Japanese proverb;

Nana korobi ya oki (七転び八起き) which literally means “seven falls, eight getting up”,  an encouraging phrase which reminds us that after life goes down it always comes back up again.

And lastly a question, have you ever wondered why the highest concentration of 7-11 brand supermarkets in the world is in Japan?