Akemashite Omedetou – A Kyushu New Year!

In Japan, New Years is not about popping champagnes, midnight kisses, ball drops, and a foggy memory of the previous night. Instead, it is a relaxing time for families and friends to visit shrines, enjoy watching New Years TV specials, and huddle under the kotatsu.

明けましておめでとうございます!(Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu) is what Japanese people say to family, friends, and colleagues when greeting them in the new year, adding 今年も宜しくお願いします(Kotoshi mo yoroshiku  onegaishimasu). It means “Happy New Year” and “I look forward to continuing our relationship this year.”

Cultural Tip: If a member of someone’s family has passed away, traditionally, it is not appropriate to send them a New Years card or say “Akeashite Omodetou” as the family is mourning.

Otherwise, it is standard to say after the clock strikes 12:00, but not before the new year! At the end of the year, people say, よいお年を (Yoi otoshi wo) when seeing someone for the last time before the new year, meaning “Have a great new year.” 良い (yoi) means “good” and the お年 means “year.”

This year, our staff spent Japan’s most important holiday in Fukuoka, Kyushu! It was no ordinary New Years, but one spent helping out in a Buddhist temple.

On New Year’s Eve, people eat 年越しそば (Toshikoshi soba), meaning “year-crossing buckwheat noodles” that represent hope for a long-lasting life. It is usually served at temples, where many people come to line up and ring a large bell, rung a total of 108 times. The number 108 represents the worldy sins and it is believed that ringing the bell will rid those sins of the past year.

As midnight approached and all were warmed up and full with soba, countdown commenced and party poppers danced in the night sky.

Most people will go to their local shrine to do “hatsumode,” the first visit of the year to the Shinto shrine. There, you will see locals praying, warming up around the bonfire, buying a fortune from the stand,  and having some sweet sake or pork soup. Usually very late into the night and sometimes until dawn, families and friends are chatting and enjoying good company to kick off the New Year.

New Years Day is a relaxing time spent with family eating osechi, the traditional New Years food assortment that symbolizes prosperity, luck, and happiness in the coming year.  Ozoni is a mochi soup also enjoyed on New Years Day, but if you are at a temple, you’ll be lucky enough to help make it!

Ozoni has different tastes depending on the region. Kyushu ozoni commonly features a white-miso base but this year’s was particularly special. One of the members of the family got married and it is a Kyushu custom for the husband to bring a large fish to his wife’s family for New Years. We enjoyed this year’s ozoni featuring yellowtail, it was delicious!

It is not as common these days, but some families will drink otoso, a medicinal spiced sake, usually served by the youngest family member. Three cups of different sizes are stacked on top of one another as each member of the family takes turns and chooses their desired cup. The person serving will drink last and will have otoso served by a different member.

After the cleanup and relaxing time over snacks and drink with family, we visited Fukuoka’s most famous shrine, Miyajidake Jinja. Be prepared to see a long wait and large crowds at the shrine on the first few days of the new year of the people who are there to do “omairi,”the act of praying at a shrine.

Some larger shrines hold a 3-4 day festival with food stands, performances, and handcrafted goods for families, friends, and couples to enjoy.

Before going back home to Tokyo, we couldn’t leave Fukuoka without eating the famous tonkotsu ramen! It was a perfect end to the beginning of the year.

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Eat Like a Local: Japanese Halal Restaurants in Tokyo

If you have a dietary restriction, eating out in a foreign country can feel really unfair. You want to be able to try everything and eat like the locals do. Food is such a massive part of a country’s culture you can feel as though you’re missing out.

Luckily for Muslim visitors and residents in Tokyo, you can sample plenty of ‘Washoku’ (traditional Japanese dishes) as well as Japan’s other famous dishes in restaurants that are completely Halal. Here’s a guide to must-try foods for Japanese cuisine beginners, complete with links to Muslim-friendly restaurants.

Washoku

Washoku is traditional Japanese cuisine, characterised by light dishes with subtle, refreshing flavours that are packed with seasonal ingredients and use rice as a base food.

Yoshiya (Shinjuku)

 

Ramen

A typical comfort dish of soupy, noodly goodness. Japanese people eat it to regain their strength after a tiring night and now you can too! Honolu  even serve sides of Halal gyoza which will definitely help you get your genki-ness back!

Honolu (Ebisu, Hamamatsucho, Shinbashi)

 

Soba

Another noodle dish, soba is a bit like ramen’s healthier cousin, buckwheat noodles swimming in a light broth. It can also be eaten cold with a dipping sauce. Yoshitomoan offers Halal options for all your soba needs.

Yoshitomoan (Kagurazaka)

 

Sushi

A classic. If you like your fish uncooked and lying on top of a little vinegared rice bed, you are in for a treat.

Sushi Ken (Asakusa)

 

Yakiniku

Yakiniku literally means grilled meat. Based on Korean barbeques, this Japanese favourite involves ordering raw meat to cook yourselves on a grill in the middle of your table. 10/10 for fun, 10/10 for socialness, 10/10 for deliciousness. (But it can be pricey!)

Gyumon (Shibuya)
Sumiyakiya (Roppongi)

 

Shabu Shabu

Like yakiniku, shabu shabu has the do-it-yourself fun factor. You swish the meat around in boiling broth until cooked. This restaurant is pretty expensive due to the meat being Wa-gyu (premium Japanese beef) so don’t go unless you’ve got those yens to spare.

Hanasakaji San (Shibuya)

 

Bento

Bento are a staple of Japanese culture. People take great care making bento (lunch boxes) for their partners and children, to show love and get them through the work/school day. This website delivers bento to your door, what’s more caring and heart-felt than that?

Taste and Discover Japan (Order Online)

 

This is of course, not an exhaustive list. Please give your own recommendations in the comments!

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Tokyo’s Hidden Gems: Street Market of Sugamo

Along Tokyo’s popular Yamanote Line are famous stops we’ve all heard of such as Harajuku, Shinjuku, Ueno, and Ikebukuro. But a gem that you might not be familiar lies right outside of Sugamo Station.

Known for it’s 800 meter long shopping street, traditional shops, food stands, and temples, Sugamo is a must if you want to experience street shopping like the locals do and get a glimpse of old-world Japan.

On the 4th, 14th, and 24th of every month, a large flea market is held on the main Jizo Dori and stretches all the way from Sugamo Station to Koshinzuka Station. I was lucky enough to finally experience the bustle of it all myself!

Right as you enter Jizo Dori, you’ll be greeted by Sugamo’s official mascot duck named Sugamon, or I should say a giant plush of Sugamon’s behind (only in Japan can you rub a plush duck butt for good luck)!

After you’ve checked that off the list, goods and food stands of all kinds are lined up further than the eye can see! Get adventurous and try out some of the fresh and home-made food that are staples in Japanese cuisine. “Nukazuke” are vegetables that are fermented in rice bran and are delicious and refreshing side dishes.

If you are looking to find a nice “omiyage” to take home to family/friends or even a cherished treasure for yourself, ditch the cliché sanrio character souvenir and dig through the tons of unique gifts like teas, fabrics, and hand-made crafts that’ll surprised even your most well-travelled friends!

The stand merchants are so friendly, you can practice some of your Japanese skills and some will even let you try some samples of what they’re cooking up.

If you’re feeling extra adventurous, why not taste some “habushu,” Japanese sake that is flavored with snake? It’s believed that the snake has medicinal properties and gives strong stamina. But if you’re like me and snake beverages aren’t really your thing, don’t worry. You can still try something unique like seeing what your future holds with a palm and face reading!

Aside from the flea market, Sugamo is also frequently visited for its famous temples. Jizos, the bodhisattva deities in Japan, are protectors of children, traveller’s and lost souls. Sugamo is home of the Togenuki Jizo statue which is believed to heal illnesses and ailments. Many visitors pour water over the statue and clean the areas of their pain.

 

Next to the temple is an entire alley dedicated to flowers, bring a few flowers home to brighten up your living room or just take in the colorful and fragrant stroll through!

All the exploring will definitely  work up an appetite and there are plenty of ready-made treats to choose from. It is way too hard to decide what to get with all the options.

Strolling through Sugamo’s flea market feels like being able to experience what a Japanese street market would have been like 100 years ago. Whether you are living or just traveling in Tokyo, straying off the main path is always full of surprises and unique experiences.

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Japanese New Year: Akemashite Omedetou – Happy New Year!

New Years is undoubtedly the most important holiday of the year in Japanese culture. It is a very special time to reflect on the past year, enjoy the holiday with family/friends, and begin the new year with many traditional customs.

I spent the New Year with family and friends this year in Kyushu and had a great time celebrating like the locals do!

On December 31st before midnight, many people visit the Buddhist temples as the New Year approaches. People line up to ring a large bell, which is rung a total of 108 times. The number 108 represents the worldy sins and it is believed that ringing the bell will rid those sins of the past year.

Many also come to enjoy hot soba called”toshikoshi” soba, which literally means “year-crossing” soba. It often runs out pretty quickly!

People are free to also go inside of the temple to pray and chant with the monks. After the temple ceremonies have finished, many will then head to a nearby shrine with family and friends to warm up by the fire and buy a fortune or charm from the stand.

New Years Day usually involves larger family get togethers enjoying conversation, drinking “otoso” which is a spiced sake, and of course, eating the traditional “Oshechi” meal and “ozouni” mochi soup!

Mochi is a very important food during New Years because it can last a very long time without spoiling and also sounds similar to the word “to have” or “to hold” in Japanese, so it is eaten in hopes of gaining good luck and fortune.

 

Kakizome, the “first writing” of the year, is an activity where people write their New Years Resolution or a kanji they hope represents their year and hang all together on the wall.

At night, the festivities continue with a party to start the year off with loved ones, toasts, delicious food, games, etc. The adults keep eachother’s glasses full throughout the night!

Soaking in the atmosphere of the Japanese New Year is truly a special experience. We hope you enjoyed the holidays this year too. Happy New Year from Tulip Real Estate, let’s kick this new year off right!

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