PICA Things We Love Japanese Design Prints

Wishing you a very sweet Hinamatsuri!

Japanese CultureAlyonaComment

The snow is finally starting to melt as the first bright rays of sun begin to pierce the clouds warming the cold barren ground. Before the sakura trees (桜, sakura) begin to blossom, another tree—peach tree—is beginning to paint the streets in its brilliant soft pink hues. This wonderful sweet floral smell in the air and the warm gusts of wind mark the beginning of spring and the end to the cold winter months. It’s no wonder that March, this gentle month of transformation and rebirth, is observed as the celebration of femininity. Known as Women’s History Month in the West, concurrent with the International Women’s Day, March 8th, it is also home to the 桃の節句 (momo-no-sekku, peach festival) celebrated on March 3rd and known in Japan as 雛祭り(Hina-matsuri, doll festival).

Photo by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋).

Photo by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋).

Momo-no-sekku is one of the five 節句 (sekku), seasonal festivals, known as 五節句 (gosekku, five festivals)—influenced by the Chinese philosophy and first observed during the Heian era (平安時代, Heian jidai; 794 to 1185). Each sekku would fall on the day number corresponding to the number of the month, following the odd number pattern which is considered to be highly auspicious: first day of the first month (January 1st), third day of the third month (March 3rd), May 5th, July 7th and September 9th.

Photo by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋).

Photo by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋).

Today commonly known as Hinamatsuri, or the doll festival, also Girls’ Day, momo-no-sekku is a day celebrating young girls, praying for their happiness and healthy growth. During the days leading up to the holiday, starting around mid-February, families decorate their house by setting up an elaborate display of traditional 雛人形 (hina-ningyou, ornamental dolls) dressed in traditional court attire of the Heian era. The setup consists of a platform with either one, three, five or seven steps, covered in a red carpet and an elaborate set of hina dolls assembled in a very particular order. The top tier is occupied by the 内裏雛 (dairi-bina), the Emperor and the Empress. A miniature gilded folding screen, 屏風 (byoubu), is placed behind the royalty to resemble the imperial throne of the time. The second tier is then occupied by the three court ladies, 三人官女 (sannin-kanjo), with the third by the five male court musicians, 五人囃子 (gonin-bayashi), the fourth by a minister of the right, 右大臣 (udaijin), and a minister of the left, 左大臣 (sadaijin), on either side of trays of food, and the fifth by the royal guards, 衛士 (eji), flanked by a mandarin orange tree of the left, 右近の橘 (ukon-no-tachibana) and sakura tree of the right, 左近の桜 (sakon-no-sakura). The more elaborate displays of the remaining levels are decorated with the interior items used in the ancient palace at the time. Celebrated throughout the entire country, the display assortments and the order of the dolls from the left to right vary from region to region. The tier doll placement, however, remains the same. In addition to the dolls, the seasonal peach flowers are another essential decoration as they are believed to ward off malevolent spirits, and invite good luck into the home.

Odairisama Doll Set from 工房天祥 on Rakuten.

Odairisama Doll Set from 工房天祥 on Rakuten.

Customarily, the hina dolls are only displayed in homes with young girls. A hina doll set has become a traditional family gift to the little girls bought or passed down from generation to generation by parents or grandparents on the girl’s very first Hinamatsuri, or 初節供 (hatsu-zekku, baby’s first annual festival). These sets however can be very expensive, and living in small houses, many modern families opt out for a 親王飾り (shinnou-kazari) set featuring only the royal couple, お内裏様 (odairi-sama). The set, despite being on a smaller scale, can still go from $300 to $1,000! These doll displays are kept until the festival, March 3rd, and taken down strictly thereafter. Keeping the dolls up past the date is bad superstition, believed to result in late marriage for the daughter.

Big Katsuura Hinamatsuri. Photo by Cookie M.

Big Katsuura Hinamatsuri. Photo by Cookie M.

Destination note:
If you are passing by the Tokushima prefecture, stop by the Katsuura town and check out their annual doll festival—the largest in the country. Boasting displays consisting of 30,000 dolls, it is a sight to be seen!

For more information on the Big Hinamatsuri at Katsuura click here. (Japanese only)

Photo by Takuma Kimura.

Photo by Takuma Kimura.

So when did the doll displaying tradition begin?
The custom began almost a millennium ago in the Heian period. Influenced by the ancient Chinese belief that sin and misfortune can be transferred to a doll, the tradition called for the straw dolls at the end of the festival to be set afloat in boats down a river. It was believed that the dolls would carry the bad fortune away with them. In some regions in Japan this ancient custom is still practiced today, known as 雛送り(hina-okuri), 流し雛 (nagashi-bina), or 雛流し (hina-nagashi).

Tsurushi-bina. Photo by captain tirol.

Tsurushi-bina. Photo by captain tirol.

Tsurushi-bina
吊るし雛 (tsurushi-bina) is another Hinamatsuri decorative alternative, consisting of a variety of dolls hand-crafted from tiny pieces of kimono material hanging from the ceiling or specially designed stands. The practice began in the Edo era (江戸時代, Edo jidai, between 1603 and 1868), when celebration of the Hinamatsuri became a widespread phenomenon. The hina dolls were not an affordable item at the time, so common people began to craft their own versions of the dolls. These dolls come in many shapes and sizes, and today accompany the hina doll set display as an additional decorative piece.

Sakuramochi. Photo by Yuichi Sakuraba.

Sakuramochi. Photo by Yuichi Sakuraba.

Festival foods:
The Hinamatsuri is also celebrated with an array of delectable traditional foods and sweets. The traditional Japanese sweets or 和菓子 (wagashi), catered to the pallet of the young, are often prepared in a colour palette of whites (purification), greens (health) and pinks or reds (to ward off the evil spirits). These are 菱餅 (hishi-mochi)—three-tier diamond shaped rice cakes (one in each colour), 雛あられ (hina-arare)—bite-sized, sweet, pastel-colored rice crackers, and 桜餅 (sakura-mochi)—bean paste filled rice cake wrapped in edible sakura leaves. These sakura leaves are only edible during the Hinamatsuri season as opposed to the 花見 (Hanami, sakura tree viewing) season, as one might think.

The main dishes included the colourful and playful ちらし寿司 (chirashi-zushi) and 潮汁 (ushiojiru)—salt-based soup with clam shells. The clam shells are symbolic of a united couple, prepared in hopes that the daughter of the house will find herself in a good marriage in the future.

If you are in the mood to celebrate the festival or simply to sample any of these dishes, head over to your nearest Japanese supermarket, or better yet try making them yourself with this JustOneCookbook.com Japanese recipe blog featuring all these dishes and many more!

Wishing you an amazing spring festival, and the warmer days to come!

The Most Entertaining Video on History of Japan You'll Ever See

Japanese CultureAlyonaComment

We talk about the culture of Japan .. a lot .. at PICA here. Sometimes we touch upon its history here and there as well. But we don't go too much into it, simply because its just too much to talk about in any post. So we were excited to come across this amazing video by the awesome Bill Wurtz, who was able to condense history that spans over a couple of thousands of years in just under nine minutes in a fun and, perhaps, the most entertaining history of Japan video ever!

Be sure to check this video out. (Conveniently added below. :) It's a definite must-see!

Merry Christmas! in Japan

Japanese CultureAlyonaComment
PICA-Merry-Christmas

Happy Christmas, everyone! We hope this morning all your stockings were full of wishes fulfilled!

We all know and love the spirit of Christmas in the West. But what about Japan? Does Japan celebrate Christmas? And if so, is it all the same as the one back home?

Illumination in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Photo by kanegen.

Illumination in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Photo by kanegen.

Right about now Tokyo is brightly light up in all its holiday cheer. The impressive illumination displays adorn the city’s squares, streets and avenues. Some are complex, and some are beautifully traditional and understated. Stores everywhere, dressed up in all out Christmas decor, are setting up elaborate window displays and Christmas trees, all the while blasting festive music from speakers as you enter the holiday shopping heaven to escape the cold Tokyo winter air. I must say, it is hard not to get into the holiday cheer as Christmas in Japan is truly all around us.

How did Japan come to celebrate Christmas?
Christmas was introduced by Francis Xavier, when Christian missionaries first came to Japan in the Sengoku era (戦国時代, Sengoku jidai, from 1467 through 1603, Warring States Period). But the modern celebration did not begin until around 1900 during the Meiji Restoration (明治時代, Meiji jidai, from 1868 through 1912), when Japan opened its doors to the West after a long period of isolation.

Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination. Photo by Taichiro Ueki.

Tokyo Dome City Winter Illumination. Photo by Taichiro Ueki.

So Christmas in Japan is clearly a big deal. But is it the same?
Not quite. With less than one percent of Christians living in Japan, it should come as no surprise that Japanese Christmas or クリスマス (Kurisumasu) is more of a secular novelty holiday. It is non-official, so yes, it is a regular work day. Anyone, who has ever experienced Christmas in Japan, will tell you that it is a commercially driven event geared mainly towards couples. Thus, it is thought to be a romantic holiday—resembling Valentine’s Day in the West—commercialized by the consumer marketing, urging couples to dine out at expensive restaurants, buy into expensive gifts, and partake in couples-only special events. Needless to say, this is the day when hotel rooms and honeymoon suites are booked solid weeks in advance. This Christmas celebration, unlike in the West, happens on Christmas Eve or クリスマス・イブ (Kurisumasu Ibu), making it, perhaps, the most romantic night of the year. Being single on this day is looked down upon, many opting in to get a hold of a last minute girlfriend or boyfriend, and escape the dreadful experience of spending the eve alone.

There is no place like Tokyo Disneyland to really get into the Christmas spirit. Photo by othree.

There is no place like Tokyo Disneyland to really get into the Christmas spirit. Photo by othree.

Now, Christmas being a romantic holiday and all, does not mean that kids and families are completely excluded from the festivities. For families, Christmas Eve is often celebrated with a “traditional” Christmas dinner (more on that later) with a small decorated Christmas tree being put up the day of, only to be taken down shortly thereafter. Santa Claus  (サンタクロース, Santa Kuroosu) or more commonly known as サンタさん (Santa-san, Mr Santa) is still a very popular character. Some even, albeit few, believe that Christmas is in fact a day celebrating Santa’s birthday. Gift giving is also observed, but only with children who believe in Santa. So once the kids stop believing in Santa, gift giving stops being a tradition.

‘Traditional’ Christmas Dinner
Now Christmas in Japan would not be Christmas without that special “traditional” family Christmas meal featuring everyone’s beloved Kentucky Fried Chicken (ケンタッキー, Kentakkii). Yes, you read that right. The Christmas table staple in Japan is indeed the finger-lickin’ good poultry combo that was eagerly adopted in Japan as the authentic festive meal choice. After all, isn’t it how it’s done in the West?

So how did the turkey and ham turn into fried chicken, particularly KFC’s fried chicken, you ask? In December 1974, a couple of years after first entering Japanese market, KFC ran an ad campaign「クリスマスにはケンタッキー」(Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii, “Kentucky for Christmas!”). It was so successful that most Japanese people came to believe that fried chicken is indeed the staple of the traditional Western Christmas dinner, rendering the tradition of eating turkey or ham unknown to the general public to this day.

Colonel Sanders’ signature Christmas outfit. Remind you of anyone? The resemblance is uncanny! Photo by Mark.

Colonel Sanders’ signature Christmas outfit. Remind you of anyone? The resemblance is uncanny! Photo by Mark.

In fact, KFC is such a widespread custom that most Japanese families reserve their Christmas Party Barrels weeks in advance, accounting for 20% of the company’s annual sales. The pre-ordered meals come in options of a ¥5800 (approx. $50) Premium Series rotisserie chicken or a ¥4090 (approx. $35) KFC classic fried chicken dinner sets. Those who fail to plan ahead and pre-order are in danger of standing in line for up to six hours for a chance to have a very merry “traditional” Christmas dinner.

KFC, however is not the only place one can get a hold of a Christmas special fried chicken. MOS Burger, Japanese popular hamburger chain, McDonald’s, department stores, as well as local supermarkets are also trying to cash in on the craze by offering a variety of fried chicken meals. Despite all the effort, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Colonel Sanders’ classic signature dish.

Japanese Christmas Cake. Photo by y_ogagaga.

Japanese Christmas Cake. Photo by y_ogagaga.

Christmas Cake
Following the “traditional” hearty Christmas meal, it is also a custom to end the day with the “traditional” Christmas cake (クリスマスケーキ, Kurisumasu keeki), also because “that’s how it is done in the West”. The cake in question is not however a fruit-filled loaf, but a Japanese-style Strawberry Shortcake: an airy vanilla sponge cake layered with strawberries and whipped cream, often adorned with a festive Christmas message at the top. It was first sold in 1922 by Fujiya Food Service Co., Ltd. and has since become a seasonal winter dessert staple. I must add, as an avid desert lover, that it is a truly lovely and light goodness with the sweetness level of just right.

Interesting: By December 25th the cake prices drop dramatically in hopes to sell out before the 26th. This practice gave rise to a nickname for unmarried women over 25. A woman was considered marriageable until her 25th birthday, and by 26th she was considered expired and should be sold at a discount rate, thus earning the nickname of a “Christmas Cake”. This is highly offensive, and thankfully quickly becoming outdated as average age for marriage is changing, and couples tie the knot more and more well into their late 20s and even 30s.

Christmas in Japan might be completely different to what we are accustomed to. But it is no less festive or special. It has that something unique and memorable. After all, Christmas festivities differ from country to country, from one family to the other. And Christmas in Japan is so distinctively Japanese, one must experience it at least once in a lifetime.

メリークリスマス, everyone!

The Leslieville Christmas Pop-up Market

PICA NewsAlyonaComment

This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, PICA is coming to the Leslieville Christmas Pop-up Market. If you are in Toronto and in the dire need of some fun, colourful prints, come and visit our table! We are preparing a colourful selection of prints featuring Daruma, Maneki Neko, Katori Buta, Tokyo Odaiba Ferris Wheel, and many more—a perfect gift to warm up your home and bring cheer to the winter holidays!

Hosted by the VanderBerg House, the Leslieville Christmas Pop-up Market is located in Toronto at the 25 Booth Avenue (south of Queen St. East). It is an 11am to 6pm Saturday, December 12th and Sunday, December 13th event, so there is plenty of time for you to come by and say hello!

Learn more about the event here.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Happy Birthday to Us! We are Turning 1!!!

Thoughts, PICA NewsAlyonaComment

It has been one year today that PICA Things We Love first opened its doors to the world on the Etsy Marketplace. Since then it has been a start-up roller coaster of figuring out the nooks and crannies of what it meant to be PICA. We definitely came a long way from November 16th, 2014. We grew our Etsy store. Opened doors to our first official online store. We acquired lots of new friends via our social channels. We definitely believe we took the right steps in the right direction. And with that we are very thankful for all the support and advice we received from our friends and family who helped us get to where we are now!

Keeping with the spirit of PICA Things We Love, we are always looking positive to the future. We believe that there are great things waiting for us in the new year. And by year two, we are hoping to celebrate even bigger milestones. After all, no matter what, we will always be designing and illustrating—making the world a colourful place one print at a time!

Our Prints Fresh Off the Press!

PICA WorksAlyonaComment
pica-prints

Wondering what our prints look like when printed? These babies were printed on a high quality heavyweight 192 g/m2 stock Epson enhanced matte paper. The printer uses Epson UltraChrome HDR ink-jet technology, allowing for our colours to really come to life.

We particularly love the seafoam green. It’s rich, bright and beautiful! Definitely a plus for any creative space.

Tip: For the 8”x10” prints try using the white mat when framing. The matting helps with framing smaller prints, allowing the artwork to breathe and making the colours truly pop.

pica-prints-framed

Shop our ‘green’ coloured prints collection here. Or check out our other colour collections to find the colour and the print that will inspire your space.

Taiiku-no-hi and Undou-kai. It’s All about the Sports!

Japanese CultureAlyonaComment

Japan is famous for holding a holiday for just about anything. These holidays emphasize the important things in life that should be celebrated. They mark the changing seasons, important life events, or are simply there for everyone to come together as a family and friends to just have fun. So it should come as no surprise that in the culture where health and wellness play an important part, Japan has a dedicated holiday for just that - the Health and Sports Day (体育の日, Taiiku-no-hi). Commemorating the opening of the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympics, today Taiiku-no-hi is observed annually on the second Monday of October. 

Wait, Summer Olympics in October?! The Olympics in Tokyo of 1964 were moved to October to avoid the Japanese rainy season that is often followed by the extreme summer heat. So to commemorate this historical event, the very first Taiiku-no-hi was held on October 10, 1966. It was set as this date until year 2000, where it was moved to become the second Monday in October. This year, 2015, it is held on October 12th; coincidentally, the same day as Canada’s Thanksgiving, where everyone also gets together as a family, but instead of health or sports, it is the day about food, food and more food.

Today Taiiku-no-hi marks more than just the ‘64 Tokyo Olympic memory. In addition, it is around this time schools throughout the country will choose to hold their annual 運動会 (Undou-kai), bringing together an entire community for an all-day event of bonding, fun and some friendly competition.

Photo by 明宝 出版.

Photo by 明宝 出版.

Undou-kai (運動会)
Undou-kai, lit. translated as athletics meet, is essentially a sports festival similar to the North American Field Day. It is a compulsory school event; held by kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools throughout the entire country—with students’ participation being mandatory. Divided into two major teams, red vs white, Undou-kai becomes somewhat of a mini Olympics event; full of traditional and nontraditional sports-related contests.

Conventionally Undou-kai is held on Saturday or Sunday, on the weekend of or leading up to the Taiiku-no-hi. The date here varies depending on the school. As a matter of fact, some schools choose to break out of the trend and hold the event in May, in order to lessen the disruptions of the fall semester. You see, as soon as the Unodu-kai ends, the students start to prepare for the Bunka-sai (文化祭, Cultural Festival), which is held in November. This leaves the students with very little time to concentrate on their studies as the school year draws to an end—Japanese school year ends in March.

Photo by Ishikawa Ken from Kamakura, Japan.

Photo by Ishikawa Ken from Kamakura, Japan.

So, how much effort goes into the preparation? More than you can imagine. Teachers and students prepare and practice practically everyday for weeks leading up to the event. A lot of classes get shifted or canceled altogether as a result. The time spent in preparation is all part of the experience. The extensive planning, training, and practices in the 蒸し暑い (mushiatsui, ‘hot and humid’) Japanese September weather strengthens the bond that Undou-kai works hard to cultivate among the students and their hard-working dedicated teachers.

The Undou-kai festival traditionally takes place on the schools’ 運動場 (undoujou, sports field) grounds, which in the days prior to the event gets a complete makeover. Students and teachers spend hours preparing the field to have it fit for the Undou-kai standards. Freshly painted white chalk lines, flags from all over the world hung on the rope and stretched across the field are all a part of these great preparations. Surrounding the sports field, large canopies branded with the school’s name are being put up by the teachers and the PTA volunteers. With so much time spent on weeks-long preparations and practices, the expectations cannot be less than perfect. If you didn’t know better, you’d think it was going to be televised!

Photo by MIKI Yoshihito.

Photo by MIKI Yoshihito.

On the day of the event, everyone—students, teachers, parents, and community spectators—arrive at the hosting school’s ground at 8:30 am. The students are dressed in their standard school sports uniform (usually blue shorts and a white poloshirt with the school’s emblem), and a white/red reversible hat (白赤帽子, shiro-aka-boushi). The hat is important as it will indicate the colour of the team the students belong to. The teachers are often seen wearing bright matching team t-shirts to stand out in the crowd amongst the excited visitors and parents.

The event starts with a student parade, few short speeches from the principal and the PTA, and the national anthem followed by raising the Japanese flag. At this point the main event is kicked off with yet another tradition of performing a short warm up, to a piano music played over the loudspeaker system and lead by the students, known as ラジオ体操 (rajio taisou, calisthenics). Rajio taisou is a stretching routine developed by the government and broadcasted daily, early morning over the NHK radio. It’s popularity began soon after the WWII, in order to boost the health driven culture. Today it is a must-do stretching routine prior to performing any sports related activity.

Rajio taisou stretches at Junior High Undou-kai.

"Our Radio Exercise" Tohoku campaign to regain a sense of community led by Ishinomaki, Miyagi prefecture, one of the areas struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

After 5 minutes of rajio taisou stretches, the games, races and other fun, lighthearted activities begin. There are a number of games that are traditionally present at every Undou-kai across Japan. These games are 綱引き (tsunahiki, tug-of-war), ムカデ競走 (mukade kyousou, ‘multi-legged’ race), 組体操 (kumitaisou, gymnastic formation), and, of course, a good old-fashioned relay. Here are some of other games that you most surely will find at the event:

Photo by 明宝 出版.

Photo by 明宝 出版.

Tama-ire (玉入れ)
Tama-ire is a game played by all members of team red vs team white. Each team gets a lot of small beanbags in the colour of their respective team, and a bamboo basket attached to a high pole. The competition is to see who can get the most of their beanbags into their own basket in a given time. The game ends by counting the number of beanbags in each basket over a speakerphone. (On a side note, one of the schools I was teaching in—to promote English studies—the principal had the students count the beanbags in English!)

Photo by Rick Cogley.

Photo by Rick Cogley.

Kibasen (騎馬戦)
Kibasen, translated as cavalry fights, is a game of piggyback fighting. Each team forms mini teams of four, where the three lock hands and form the horse to carry the fourth one wearing a bandana. The object of the game is to charge at your opponent with all might, colliding in an arm fight, trying to get the bandana off or knock the opponent off his or her horse entirely. Although this game is dangerous and results in back, arm and head injuries, it is also incredibly popular, and often considered the highlight of the event.

Photo by MIKI Yoshihito.

Photo by MIKI Yoshihito.

Found these videos of Kibasen performed by Grade 5 and 6 at Elementary school level and High School level.

Odori (踊り)
Odori or dancing, involves students coming together as one in a large choreographed dance crew. Students perform dances to songs that vary from traditional to fun and upbeat modern pop music. More often it is traditional, with one that seems to be the popular choice. “Soran Bushi” (ソーラン節) is a classic song sung by the fishermen hailing from the Hokkaido region. It is very energetic, and creates quite the effect when danced by the entire student body.

Elementary School Grade 5 and 6 Soran Bushi performance at Undou-kai.

Around noon there is a lunch intermission, where each students gets together with his or her family to enjoy the grand festival bentos their mothers prepared at 6 o’clock in the morning. These bentos are famous for being overly extravagant and typically include rice or sekihan (赤飯, lit. 'red rice'—rice boiled together with red beans), fish, tempura, vegetables, sushi and much more.

Photo by inugamix imagines.jp

Photo by inugamix imagines.jp

The event comes to an end in the late afternoon. At this time both teams would have completed all the games, races, and contests—earning team points. The points here are then calculated, and the winning team, red or white, is awarded with a trophy and a lavish flag of the winner. Then more speeches follow, and the Japanese flag is lowered; thus, ending the event.

Photo by 明宝 出版.

Photo by 明宝 出版.

After the event, everyone: parents, PTA, teachers, and of course students—really everyone—stay behind to help and clean-up the entire field. Everything—from chairs, canopies, musical and sport equipment, to flags and decorations—are all dismantled and put away. This way, in a matter of an hour or two, the entire field is returned back to normal, as if nothing ever happened at all.

A lot of work and dedication goes into preparing an event of this magnitude. Undou-kai is perhaps one of the most looked forward to events, and is definitely the highlight of the school year for most students. The festival brings the entire student body together as one. Working closely for weeks leading up to the event, relying on each other as a team during the games, teaches students cooperation and developing deeper bonds and friendships. After all, it is not about who is the fastest or the strongest, but which team had the best teamwork ethic. Without it games like Tsunahiki (tug-of-war), Mukade Kyousou (‘multi-legged’ race), Kumitaisou (human pyramid) or the thrilling Kibasen (cavalry fights) would not be possible to pull off.