Butsudan (仏壇) is a small Buddhist shrine found in Japanese houses and temples. Inside, a religious icon (honzon) sits on the top, surrounded by several Buddhist implements such as incenses, lanterns, candlesticks, flower bases, bells, and so on.
A butsudan used in regular houses is sometimes called onaibutsu (御内仏), to differentiate from the ones placed in temples. Families use their butsudan to place “ihai,” spirit tablets of deceased family members. Butsudan can be installed in many ways. You can have it installed in wall, or as a separate unit.
Depending on households, doors of a butsudan could be open or closed. If you do see a butsudan in someone’s house, do show respect, as it is an important part of their religious beliefs.
Shochū Mimai (暑中見舞い) is a greeting card sent to friends and families during summer. As you know, summer season in Japan could be intensely humid and hot. It’s easy for people to get sick and tired. To soothe such discomfort, Japanese people take this opportunity to send a postcard, ask friends how they are doing, and wish for their pleasant summer.
Traditionally, shochū mimai cards are sent between late July and early August. There’s no restrictions on what kind of designs to send, but it typically includes a season’s greeting “Shochū omimai moushiage-masu (暑中お見舞い申し上げます).”
From Rinkya, we wish you a comfortable summer too!
Obon (お盆) is an annual tradition in Japan during summer to honor spirits of ancestors and deceased. The tradition originates from Buddhist custom commonly known as “ullambana,” which is pronounced in Japanese as “urabon.” The exact date changes depending on the area, but it’s most commonly celebrated on August 15th. Many businesses in Japan take days off around this time (including Rinkya’s shipping department!).
The most fun part of Obon is bon odori (盆踊り) festival. Bon odori is one of the many ways people show respect to the deceased. In this festival, people dance cheerfully to celebrate spirits of the dead that managed to joubutsu, or to go to heaven. Many people dress up in yukata (summer kimono) and enjoy the dance.
Tenugui (手ぬぐい) is a sheet of cotton cloth that is traditionally used for cleaning hands and various other purposes in Japan. It’s often seen in souvenir stores and comes dyed in a variety of designs.
A tenugui is typically 35 cm x 90 cm. Sides are usually not stitched so they’d dry faster.
There are many uses for tenugui. You can of course use it in substitute for a handkerchief and hand towel. You can also use it to cover your hair from sun, wrap it around your neck, at matsuri festivals and traditional sports such as kendo. It also works very nicely as a gift wrap.
You can wrap a bottle of sake beautifully with a tenugui.
It is pretty in design, unique to Japan, traditional, and usually sold cheaply, making it a perfect souvenir. You can of course use it yourself in everyday life too!
Around this time of a year in Japan, many stores start taking orders for ochugen gifts.
What is ochugen (お中元)?
It’s a Japanese tradition in summer where you send gifts to people whom you’d like to show gratitude to. It’s a custom of saying thanks to the recipients and also showing your intent of keeping good relationship with them in future. It’s basically the summer equivalent of oseibo gifts given at the end of every year.
Ochugen gifts are usually sent to recipients by July 15th in Kanto area and August 15th in Kansai area. Gifts are typically given to their business partners, clients, relatives, special friends, people you owe favors, etc. In many cases, people order presents at retail stores and have the stores ship them to recipients on behalf of the senders. This way, when gifts are fresh food or perishables, you don’t have to worry about them going bad in transit.
Beer is also a popular ochugen gift. It comes in a pretty packaging.
Like oseibo, ochugen gifts are wrapped in special paper called noshi.
Teruteru bōzu is a doll made out of a piece of white paper or cloth. Hanging teruteru bōzu is believed to prevent rain on the next day. Of course, not many people actually believe its credibility, but it’s nevertheless a widely known Japanese superstition, and making of teruteru bōzu provides a fun recreational activity for kids.
Make sure it’s hang in an upright position though. When upside down, it’s believed to cause rain!
May 5th is Children’s Day (also known as Boy’s Day) in Japan.
Traditionally, families raise koinobori, carp-shaped flags, to celebrate the well being of their children.
Custom of raising koinobori was originally started by wealthy samurai families of Edo period.
Carps, according to Chinese legend, are believed to become dragons when they swim upstream in Yellow River. Thus, families prayed for their boys’ strength, health, and success in their career by raising flags that symbolize swimming carps.
Koinobori is also featured in Hiroshige Utagawa’s ukiyo-e print One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. At the time, colorful carps like nishiki goi (or simply a koi) seen today were not prevalent. Thus, only a black, common carp is drawn here.