#Japanese winter traditions

Happy New Year from Atago Shrine!

Jan 2, 2015

Our Tokyo staff had lunch together on their last day of work at Toranomon before the New year and here's a little photo report!

After lunch we were very close to the famous Atago Shrine http://www.atago-jinja.com/

So we had a visit to thank you for a good 2014 and wish a prosperous New year.

Atago Shrine, on top of Atago Mountain - the tallest mountain in Tokyo, has one of the most steepest Tokyo stairs.

You can actually see the steepness of the stairs so you can also imagine that the climb was quite tiring after lunch.

You may not believe it but these stairs have been climbed on horseback 3 times. There are also stairs made for women and children which are not that steep.

The Shrine is in the middle of metropolitan area so you can witness the contrast between Shrine and the city.

There are many little shrines in Atago area, as well as unique Japanese yard with shrine in water.

Fortune papers are tied all around to wish good luck (O-mikuji). It's kind of like a horoscope, or better said like throwing a coin into a wishing well or fountain. The tradition was supposely started by Ryogen (warrior monk).

There are even small wooden fortune plaques (Ema) where people write their wishes and hang them for good luck. It can vary from wanting to pass a test, to get married, to have a healthy child, etc. .

For us, it says "All the best in 2015!" :)


Sad singles in Japan and fishes in Czech bath tubs

Dec 2, 2014

As a multinational company, we encounter with many different winter traditions as well as multicultural approaches to Christmas. While our Prague office went off the chain this year and has been decorated in a very festive Christmasy way since the beginning of Advent, our colleagues in Tokyo are preparing for the Japanese New Years celebrations instead, having a white cake and the traditional KFC bucket for Christmas dinner... Wait - what??

KFC, illumination and Mariah Carey

Traditional Japanese Christmas cake
(source: Dollar Photo Club)

Since the 1970s, it has been a tradition for Japanese people to indulge in KFC during Christmas, no matter how surprising and weird it may sound to Europeans or Americans. Foreigners back in those day couldn't get their Christmas roast chicken so they went to KFC. The chain saw this as a good marketing opportunity and indeed, eating a fried-chicken-bucket has been a traditional thing since then in Japan. In fact, the Japanese version of Christmas seems a bit like a concentrate of all the western glitz and glamor multiplied by 10 :) You hear Mariah Carey everywhere and of course Wham!'s Last Christmas is an eternal hit. On Tatsuro Yamashita – Christmas Eve – the majority of Japanese people annually buy and eat a cake with fruit and icing. Also illumination is a big thing during Christmas in Japan.

Interestingly, Christmas is a season for couples in Japan, not families as in Europe or the States. Couples get together during Christmas, exchange presents and eat at expensive restaurants. It's not a good time for being single on Christmas in Japan – many singles feel sad because couples are together virtually everywhere (this yearly pleasure of single people is reserved for Valentine's day on the other side of the world). There are even social gatherings for single people looking for a partner during the Christmas season. On the other hand, New Years is the time for family gatherings in Japan.

Fishes in bath tubs, lead pouring and angels everywhere

idioma Prague office - 
Christmas decoration making

On the other side of the globe in Prague, central Europe, the Christmas radio set list matches with Japan, however that's pretty much the end of resemblance. Czech Christmas traditions are tightly bound to religion and Christian customs, however due to cultural impact after the fall of communism several before unknown elements have been adopted. The decoration of the idioma Prague office is self-evident in this regard with a Christmas tree decorated with straw adornments and angels, the Advent wrath, pine branches with hanging chocolates and Christmas socks, local special Christmas incense sticks called "Frantisek", bells over the front door and pieces of cinnamon all around the place.

In the Czech republic, Christmas is a purely family event. It is literally the one time of the year when all members of the family should gather for a common Christmas dinner, exchange gifts, settle conflicts and enjoy each others' presence. Because of this, Christmas is also the busiest time of the year in the majority of Czech kitchens.

Christmas pastry as well as traditional Christmas dishes are rather complicated and usually prepared several weeks in advance. Traditional Czech Christmas Eve dinner usually consists of a cabbage soup, potato salad and baked or fried fish (carp being the prime choice). Interestingly, it is still a preference and also strong-lived custom in Czech families to buy the fish alive and keep it in the bath tub until the feast comes. The kids love it. Poor fish. At the right moment, the fish is ritually killed (usually by the head of the family – the father, although a lot of fathers opt for the less brutal alternative and go out and buy ready-to-eat fish filets or even fish fingers).

Poor Czech Christmas carp
(source: Dollar Photo Club)

Another remarkable Czech custom, and also fathers' responsibility, is the lead pouring. The head of the family pours liquid lead into cold water to create a solid shape to recognize. The imagination is very important here, as it is said that the lead shape predicts the family future. We decided better not to risk this tradition inside our office :)

So that's how winter and Christmas work in Japan and Czech Republic. For fascinating winter tradition in Sweden, wait for our next blog. Until then, you can admire these delicious Czech Christmas sweets!

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