“Iroha-Karuta”(いろはかるた) is a traditional card game for children formed in Edo period(1608-1868). I-Ro-Ha(いろは) is like A-B-C in Japanese old style. Each of the 48 cards has a proverb and it starts with one of Japanese syllables such as I, Ro, Ha, Ni…(い、ろ、は、に…). Enjoying the game, they can learn proverbs. Their advice is useful not only for children but also for adults as well. Let’s see one of the proverbs. “Yoshino-zui-kara Tenjo-wo-nozoku”(よしのずいから天井を覗く). It means that “If you look the ceiling through a small tube of reed, you cannot see it the whole.” =You should better taking a wider view to make a good decision.
New Year is a traditonal ceremony for Japanese to welcome the God of New Year, called“toshigami-sama(年神様)." To welcome the God with relaxed and quiet atmosphere, we try to avoid much cooking at that period. For that purpose, “Osechi-ryouri”(おせち料理), the traditional dishes of New Year are prepared before New Year’s Day. They’re so good keeping quality that can be eaten from January 1st to 3rd. Each dish has auspicious meaning which reflects people’s wishes. Kuromame(黒豆): black beans gently boiled with sugar. Kuromame means working hard and keeping healthy. Datemaki(錦玉子);rolled egg in white and yellow marble pattern. The yellow represents for gold, the white for silver, which are both auspicious. Kamaboko（かまぼこ）: Japanese style fish sausage colored in red and white. The red means amulet. The white means purity. Kobumaki(昆布巻): cooked rolled seaweed. “kobu”(=seaweed) is the same pronunciation of a part of the word “Yorokobu”(=celebrate, delight) Kurikinton(栗金団): sweet chestnuts, the shinny yellow color makes us image of making fortune. Tazukuri(田作り): dried sardines, in hope of good harvest. In edo period, sardines were used for high rank fertilizer. Kazunoko(数の子):salted herring roe, which is fertility symbol Goboumaki (牛蒡巻)：cooked burdock root rolled with beef, in hope of our stable life as burdock take its roots firmly on earth. Ko-haku-namasu(紅白なます): pickles of sliced radish and carrot, whose shape shows Japanese style ornament, representing auspicious Renkon(蓮根): boiled lotus roots, whose holes represents foresight. Satoimo(里芋): boiled aroid. Aroid produces many fruits, which has the image of fertility. Others are burdock, carrot, and mushrom.
On the last day of a year, at midnight,“Jo-ya-no-ka-ne(除夜の鐘)”, or “bells on New Year’s Eve” are ringing at every temple. Bells are totally struck for 108 times on each temple. In Buddhist beliefs, there are 108 annoying desires which cling to humans (just 108? or so many? ^^;), and they can be purified while the bells ring one by one. As we’ve listened to all the bells calmly, our annoying feelings of this year are removed, and we can meet New Year with fresh mind. 107 times of the bells are struck on December 31th, and the last one bell is done as the date is just changed, that is, on January 1st.
The super-ecological cleaning tool, a broom, made of bamboo handle with Shuro（棕櫚）, a kind of palm in Asia. Prepare traditional tableware for New Year. Most of them are lacquer-coated. They are used at January 1st. Writing greeting cards for New Year, called “nen-ga-jou”(年賀状). We write and send the cards in December, to be deliverd on January 1st.
We Japanese have a custom to clean homes thoroughly on late December to prepare for New Year. It was called “O-o-souji(大掃除)”, meaning “big cleaning.” The custom derives from the belief in ancient times that Toshigami-sama(年神様) a god for good harvest and good luck would come on January 1st.... We clean our house to welcome the god, that is to say, to welcome good harvest and good luck for next year. (Actually, when I was a child, I didn’t understand the custom so much but it was a family event and I just followed the custom with joy.) Please note that we always finish “O-o-souji” before the 31th, because if you do it for the last day of December, we lose good luck!
“適材適所(tekizai-tekisyo)” is an idiom of Japanese, meaning“to put the best fitted person in the best fitted position for the best fitted job.” Originally, the words derive from how to choose woods. Looking at the second character “材” carefully, we notice it consists of two parts: “木” and “才”. “木” means wood, “才” means ability. The idiom meant that we carefully chose best fitted wood in accordance with the intended use. We use 檜“cypress” for buildings such as temple and shrine, which is relatively light but so strong. We use 桐“paulownia” for chest of drawers, which is so light to move, and good at allowing air to pass through easily as to keep inside cleaned at wet weather in Japan. We use 白樺"birch" for handy tool, which is so hard, heavy, and indestructible if it’s thin. Moreover, we also use 竹“bamboo,” for various tools such as umbrella and tea whisk, which is not wood, but alike, easy-obtainable and flexible plant. Each wood has own characteristics to contribute to something special in our life, as well as we do.
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