Tag Archives: Japan

Stationery and Kawaii Madness!

October 16.2014

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

For stationery and kawaii enthusiasts, you’ll be glad to know that I made a wonderful discovery during my visit to Kingston, Ontario for the Thanksgiving long weekend holiday last week.

While visiting the artsy core of downtown Kingston, I accidentally came across an independently-owned stationery-and-kawaii-filled shop called, Midori. I would have passed right by it if I didn’t see the painted sign outside, which said stationery in elegant, cursive print. Thankfully, I noticed it enough to stop mid-step before heading toward the nearest Starbucks Coffee shop.

Once inside, I was transported into a wonderful, little room painted in pastels featuring a variety of kawaii products imported from China, Korea, and Japan that included stuffed, plush toys, jewellery, mugs, bento boxes, handbags, and loads of notebooks, paper stationery, postcards, and pens.

I chatted with Midori’s owner and proprietor, Tina Yan, who opened the store in October of last year (2013) and discovered that not only do we share the same birthday month, but that we’re equally enthusiastic about kawaii products!

Canadian-born with cultural roots from China, Tina, thought it was important to bring popular kawaii goods from Asian countries to provide Canadian customers with products solely created and distributed in South Asian countries—which suits me perfectly fine since I don’t see the possibility of travelling to South Asia any time soon. How else will I deal with my stationery and kawaii addiction?

Tina Yan, Owner of Midori Shop, in front of Midori rabbit logo design. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Tina Yan, Owner of Midori Shop, in front of Midori rabbit logo design. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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While chatting with Tina about the possibility of featuring her and her shop on my blog, she was kind enough to allow me to take a number of photographs in her store while I searched for items that I might purchase. Here are some of the wonderful kawaii items I found in her shop:

Notebooks, red-haired girls x2. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Notebooks, red-haired girls x2. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii black cat plush toys. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii black cat plush toys. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii cat notebook. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii cat notebook. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii bento box made in Japan. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii bento box made in Japan. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Kawaii linen bag, Girl on Bicycle, baby blue. $30.00 CAD. (The one I plan on buying when I return to the shop next month!) (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii linen bag, Girl on Bicycle, baby blue. $30.00 CAD. (The one I plan on buying when I return to the shop next month!) (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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I was so pleased with this little shop, I returned twice in one day and bought the following, cute products to use for my own, personal writing and snail mail:

My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl notebooks x4, assorted. $1.15 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl notebooks x4, assorted. $1.15 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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These pretty 4″x5.5″ notebooks from the My Fairy Tale World: Flowers & Beauty Girl line created by languo is simply exquisite. I was drawn to the art cover designs, which features a different girl in each portrait. Inside, the paper is brown, blank, and consists of 24 pages.

My only regret about the design is that there is no Asian girl with black hair on a cover. Surely, a Beauty Girl would also come from Asia, right?

While I’m excited about my purchase, these notebooks seem far too pretty for me to use right away. I have yet to decide what to write in them! In the meantime, they will sit at my desk on display.

Kawaii gel ink pens, assorted. From $1.50-$1.99 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii gel ink pens, assorted. From $1.50-$1.99 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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After testing a number of pens in stock at Midori, I decided on buying the light blue, gel-ink pen with the bear cap, 0.38mm fine point, with “love dolls every day” printed on its casing; the Fihfio floral print, gel-ink pen with a cap that says, “Your happy story;” and my favourite of the three, the BCO black, ink gel pen with the sad ghost cap, 0.4mm fine point. It runs quite smoothly with a dark imprint and is the current pen I use to write all my snail mail letters.

London postcard set. $3.75 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
London postcard set. $3.75 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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These London photograph postcards came in a set of 18. The photographs are not only lovely renditions of London’s famous city, but the paper itself is slightly glossy with an embossed texture, which give them a far more realistic feel than other glossed postcards and reprints.

For 18 postcards of good photographs for the low price of $3.50 CAD per set, you simply can’t lose, which is why when I return I’ll be buying a few more packages!

“Got a Mail” pink kawaii agenda with cards and stickers. $7.45 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
“Got a Mail” pink kawaii agenda with cards and stickers. $7.45 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

The “Got a Mail” pink agenda is not only blank, but provides the user with both a monthly and weekly date format. While the user must fill in dates for himself/herself, numbers are listed at the top margin to provide for accuracy and a little help.

At the back of the agenda is a number of blank pages for notes and includes a few cards and stickers for decoration.

The front cover also allows the user to change its design with the cards included.

I can’t wait to start using this agenda/diary in the new year.

Kawaii Cooky Mini Mate Notebook: Travel Story. $1.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Cooky Mini Mate Notebook: Travel Story. $1.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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While this notebook does not match the My Fairy Tale World series, I could not resist the adorable Cooky character with her squinted, smiling eyes and huge red hood.

She reminds me of an Asian version of the Little Red Riding Hood character. Just look at her sitting in her suitcase!

I snatched this notebook at the recommendation of Tina who also thinks Cooky is adorable.

The paper inside is white, lined, and contains 46 pages.

Because its titled, “Travel Story,” I plan on saving this little notebook for my travels.

Pacific Mall

After leaving Kingston, Ontario, I visited the Pacific Mall in Markham, a mall that specializes in Asian-imported goods and products. It was the first time I visited in over 10 years and was ecstatic to find a few more kawaii goodies.

This is what I brought home:

Red Pucca wallet. $7.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Red Pucca wallet. $7.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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The Pucca wallet is bright red in colour, which symbolizes good fortune and happiness in Chinese culture. The Kanji symbol means love. It also comes with a removable coin purse with Kanji print, five cardholders, one identification holder, and a long pocket for cash.

Kawaii origami strips x4: Molang bunny, blue and yellow teddy bear, Rilakkuma bear, blue and yellow mouse. $1.29-$1.49 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii origami strips x4: Molang bunny, blue and yellow teddy bear, Rilakkuma bear, blue and yellow mouse. $1.29-$1.49 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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At first I thought these cute kawaii strips were washi tape, but when I inquired about them I was told that the strips are meant for paper crafts like the creation of small origami stars.

Because I’m attracted to small figurines, paper crafts, and kawaii, I quickly bought four packages. While I won’t use every strip to make paper stars, I do plan on adding a little glue at the back to decorate a few of my snail mail envelopes.

Because I’m partial to cute bunnies, my favourite one is the one with the Molang bunny.

OMG Korean hair colour change doll, phone charm, green. $1.99 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
OMG Korean hair colour change doll, phone charm, green. $1.99 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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This little kawaii doll drew me right in with her bright, curly, green hair. Instead of attaching her to my mobile phone, I put her on my key ring instead. I’ve named her Kiyoko, which means child of happy generations in Japanese. I trust we’ll be very happy together for “generations” to come.

Kawaii Pocket Bunny Oil-Control Sleek Mist from Tony Moly Beauty Store. $12.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Pocket Bunny Oil-Control Sleek Mist from Tony Moly Beauty Store. $12.50 CAD. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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Aside for the cute kawaii bottle, this Pocket Bunny Sleek Mist helps to control the breakout of oily skin. Instead of powder to mattefy skin, this spritz can be used any time of the day. It smells good, too!

Kawaii Strawberry Lipgloss by Tony Moly. $12.50 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.
Kawaii Strawberry Lipgloss by Tony Moly. $12.50 CAD each. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez, October 2014. All rights reserved.

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The Tony Moly Strawberry Lipgloss line is light and sheer and its price point high most likely because of its marketable packaging.

I really couldn’t care less about the actual lipgloss (though I had my eye on the deep pink and coral colours), but I absolutely adore the lipgloss strawberry doll caps.

It comes in coral, pink, light, pink, and a nude cream.

I pucker up every time I look at these!

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The trip was well worth it with a number of unexpected kawaii finds. I hope to be able to travel again next month and pick up some more stationery and kawaii goodies. Which ones would you buy?

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Do you like kawaii? What do you like most about it?

Of all the items featured above, which one(s) do you like the most?

What’s your favourite kawaii item that you own?

Where do you find or shop for your kawaii items? (Feel free to share links to websites.)

If you were a kawaii character, what character would you be?

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zara - selfie 1

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Asian Heritage Month Ends with a Winner!

Asian Heritage Month Ends with a Winner!

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

May has come and gone and the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event is now over at The Bibliotaphe’s Closet.

It was not only an honour to feature different cultural aspects and literature about Asian places such as Japan, China, and Tibet, it was also a learning experience for me (and I’m Asian!).

Special post highlights for me were features on the geisha, the Tibetan language, and the various children’s books about Japan, China, Tibet, and Korea, and learning the translations of my own name in Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Tibetan.

My chinese name: Zhenrui
My Japanese name: 清水 Shimizu (clear water) 子 Aiko (child of the morning sun).
My Korean name: Park Dae Rae
My Vietnamese name: Ai Le
My Tibetan name.

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To see the posts featured for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, please visit here.

And what better way to celebrate Asia then with a winner of the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event Giveaway?

I am happy to announce that a fellow vocalist and book reviewer has won the coveted prize of the book, Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin, winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize. You can read my review here.

PLEASE LOOK AFTER MOM by Kyung-Sook Shin

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I-Ching was certainly in this entrant’s favour!

Congratulations to…

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Margaret, a Literary Chanteuse!

I’m positive she’ll be “singing a great tune” when she receives the book in the mail and finishes reading it.

Thanks to all who visited my blog and entered the giveaway contest.

Just a kind reminder that the Cherry Blossom (or Asian Theme) Photo Contest is still open until the end of June. If you don’t have a photo of cherry blossoms to submit, photos portraying an Asian theme are more than welcome.

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The prizes are books related to the Cherry Blossom and will be delivered by The Book Depository.

Depending on the amount and quality of photos that are submitted, more winners and prizes may be added to the pile!

So, get your photos in!

Cherry blossoms at Kariya Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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For more details about the Cherry Blossom (or Asian Theme) Photo Contest, please visit here.

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And a special thanks to L.R. of Random House of Canada and Vintage Canada publishers for kindly providing the literary prize for this contest. Looking for your next great read? You can check out new titles at their website here.

 

May we all continue to work together to encourage respect, reading, and inclusivity!

Asian Heritage Month: Children’s Feature: Books about Japan

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event:

Children’s Feature: Books on Japan

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

In light of Asian Heritage Month and Mother’s Day, the posts on The Bibliotaphe’s Closet will feature children’s books and stories about and originating from Asian countries every day of this week.

To not only celebrate the beauty of Asian culture, it’s also important to share cultural stories with children to broaden their understanding of the importance of cultural diversity and inclusivity.

Today’s children feature is about books and stories about and originating from Japan.

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The Paper Crane

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Category: Children’s/Japan

Author: Molly Bang

Format: Children’s Hardcover, 18 pages

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (imprint of HarperCollins)

ISBN: 978-0-688-04108-3

Pub Date: 1985

Summary:

This children’s story is based on an old Japanese folktale of the paper crane. It is a modern story of a man and his son who own a restaurant on a “busy” road that eventually loses most of its patrons because a new highway is built that deters customers from passing by the family owned restaurant.

One evening an unnamed stranger enters the restaurant, but does not have any money to pay for food. Regardless of this, the owner of the restaurant welcomes him in and served him the “best meal he could make and served him like a king.”

The stranger who could not pay with food, paid instead with a paper crane that he folded from a napkin in the restaurant.

And it was only when the owner clapped his hands that the paper crane would come to life and dance.

The news of the dancing crane spread around the community and soon people travelled to the restaurant to see this magic bird. And because of this the owner was able to host many guests at his restaurant.

My Review:

The Paper Crane by Molly Bang is a story of kindness and teaches the importance of compassion and community regardless of difficult circumstances. It’s also a modern rendering of an old folktale that encourages the belief and faith in legendary magic and the result of in acting with integrity.

Crane made by origami.

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The illustrations are three-dimensional paper cutouts in correlation to its theme of the paper crane and is a light story to introduce children to a folktale of Japan.

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Zara’s Rating

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Chibi: A True Story from Japan

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Category: Children’s/Japan

Authors: Barbara Brenner and Julia Takaya

Illustrated by: June Otani

Format: Children’s Hardcover, 64 pages

Publisher: Clarion Books (imprint of Houghton Mifflin)

ISBN: 0-395-69623-2

Pub Date: 1996

Summary:

Chibi is a true story of the Spotbill Duck who built her nest beside a pool in an office park in downtown Tokyo and raised her duckling until she could transfer them to the moat in the Emperor’s Gardens across the Uchibori Dori.

Imperial Gardens, Tokyo

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The arrival of the ducks in the city had caused a stir of media frenzy including bird watchers and enthusiasts.

Spotbill Duck like “Chibi.”

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When the ducks were finally able to reach the moat, a typhoon struck killing two ducklings with one favoured duckling gone missing. A search party for the duckling ensued until the two deceased ducklings were found and the other found “balanced like a surfer on a piece of Styrofoam.”

Because of this, the Emperor who had learned of the kamo, ordered a duck house be built in the moat of the Imperial Gardens in Tokyo, which still stands there today while the Mitsui Company of Tokyo also placed a duck house on the pond of the office park for returning duck families.

My Review:

The story of Chibi is a children’s historical story that documents the true events of a particular Spotbill Duck family that aroused Tokyo’s interest alongside the emperor’s. It includes illustrations and a few Japanese words with a language index at the end of the book.

Zara’s Rating

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Tea with Milk

Category: Children’s/Japan

Author: Allen Say

Format: Children’s Hardcover, 32 pages

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Company

ISBN: 0-395-90495-1

Pub Date: 1999

Summary:

Tea with Milk is a true story of a young, Japanese girl named Masako who was born and raised in America and later returns to native Japan with her parents, but essentially feels like an outsider, having been raised in a foreign country.

My review:

Tea with Milk by Allen Say is a wonderful inversion of the cultural demise of new immigrants at the introduction of their immigration experience in a foreign country. Though the main character, Masako, is of Japanese ethnic descent, she is culturally raised as a young American girl.

Upon returning to native Japan with her parents, her acceptance and assimilation proves to be difficult as her first language is English not Japanese and her views on work and marriage more liberal than the expectations of her family and her Japanese culture.

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The art illustrations in the book are beautiful and realistic paintings and portraits of Masako, her family, and her life in Osaka, Japan.

It’s an important story about culture, racism, and issues of identity and a wonderful “coming-of-age” and “identity” story of a young girl who must defy cultural traditions in order to discover self-acceptance, happiness, and love.

Zara’s Rating

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To read more posts for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, please visit here.

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What’s one thing you appreciate most about Japan and the Japanese culture?

If you have children, how do you teach them about inclusivity?

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My Japanese name: 清水 Shimizu (clear water) 子 Aiko (child of the morning sun).

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Mad for Manga!

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event:

Mad for Manga!

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

From time to time, I enter giveaway contests on other blogs. Wait, no. Strike that. In the past, I’ve been pretty obsessive when it comes to contests, but since I’ve become busier, my contest entries have slowed down to a moderate pace.

That said, I did receive a winning of a box full of books. And included inside was my very first owned form of manga, Dracula Everlasting.

And silly me, do you know what I thought? I looked at the cover and its binding on the right-hand side and said to myself,

“That’s why he didn’t want this…the publisher got the binding wrong!”

The anal-retentive control freak side of my personality clawed out and thought,

“How the heck am I supposed to showcase this on my bookshelf? It’s freakin’ backwards!”

Like I said, silly, silly, ignorant me.

Later did I realize that the book was not indeed backwards, but that my thinking was. It was manga! And my first experience with it.

The term manga is the Japanese word for “comics/cartoons” and used outside Japan to specifically refer to comics originally published in Japan that conform to a style that dates back to the late 19th century.

In Japan, people of all ages read manga! I can easily agree with this because at a recent visit to my local library, both my seven-year-old son and myself were excitedly perusing the manga section! But, because it was my son, I conceded and let him borrow titles that I had wanted for myself! These are the titles I picked up:

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Manga’s surprising range of genres include:

  • action-adventure
  • romance
  • sports
  • drama
  • comedy
  • sci-fi
  • fantasy
  • mystery
  • horror

Here are some of the titles from the library I’m now enjoying:

The Saiunkoku Series: Books 1-6

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

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Manga is typically printed in black-and-white, although some full-colour manga exist. In Japan, manga is usually serialized in large manga magazines. If the series is successful, collected chapters may be republished in paperback books called tankōbon.

Traditionally, manga stories flow from top to bottom and from right to left. Some publishers of translated manga keep to this original format. Other publishers mirror the pages horizontally before printing the translation, changing the reading direction to a more “Western” left to right, so as not to confuse foreign readers. This practice is known as “flipping.” For the most part, criticism suggests that flipping goes against the original intentions of the creator.

Reading manga.

A manga artist is called a mangaka.

Click on the photo for more details on Hagio Moto, one of the pioneering mangakas.

Hagio Moto, one of the manga artists credited with pioneering the shoujo manga (girl’s manga), josei manga (manga for ladies) and shounen-ai (boy’s love, stories involving romantic relationships between males).

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Here’s a clip of Hagio Moto drawing a manga sketch at Fantagraphics booth, Comic-Con 2010:

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Other manga-influenced comics also exist in other parts of the world:

  • Taiwan  – manhua
  • South Korea – manhwa
  • Hong Kong, China – manhua
  • France – la nouvelle manga, bande dessinée (drawn strip)
  • United States – Amerimanga, world manga, or original English-language manga (OEL manga)

Here’s a video clip about a manga artist from China publishing his work in Japan:

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 Don’t you just love manga? I’m mad about it now! What manga titles or book series do you love to read and/or collect?

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Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Hanami and the Cherry Blossom

 

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Hanami and the Cherry Blossom

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

I’ve always been enamoured with Japan. After university, I trained to be an ESL (English as a Second Language) Teacher in Japan. Unfortunately, I was unable to travel at the end of my training.

Japan Airlines plane.

And so, it’s with fondness that I write about Hanami and Japan’s beautiful cherry blossoms known as sakura.

Every time I visit what is now a favourite spot for myself and my family called Kariya Park in Mississauga, I think of Japan. Both Kariya Park and Japan have glorious cherry blossom trees. We attend every year as a small day trip.

My husband and my two little ones at Kariya Park, Mississauga, Ontario. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My husband and daughter strolling through Kariya Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Cherry blossoms at Kariya Park. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

Hanami (花見), which literally means, “flower viewing” is the traditional Japanese custom of viewing the country’s cherry blossoms (sakura).

Sakura bloom all over Japan from March to May every year and it is such a revered event that a blossom forecast called sakura-zensen (桜前線) is announced.

The Japanese community usually participate in hanami by having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during the day or sometimes at night.

 Hanami at night is called yozakura (夜桜) (“night sakura”).

Sakura originally was used to tell the harvest and announce the rice-planting season. People believed that kami, which are spirits or the essence of the Shinto religion were inside the cherry blossom trees. They would make an offering and then indulged with sake.

The custom was originally limited to the Imperial Court and then expanded to samurai society. Eventually “common people” participated in this traditional practice.

Today, the Japanese people continue to uphold this tradition. Thousands of people fill the cherry blossom parks to hold feasts under the trees themselves and also participate in processional walks. All this is done as a time of reflection and renewal though for the youth it has become a “festive” party for the community to come together.

Here are some books on the cherry blossoms, sakura:

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Cherry Blossoms: Traditional Patterns In Japanese Design by Nobuyoshi Hamada

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Cherry Blossoms by Sachio Yoshioka

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The Street of a Thousand Blossoms by Gail Tsukiyama

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One Hundred Million Hearts by Kerri Sakamoto

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Here is a video clip of Hanami celebrated in Japan in 2011:

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To see more postings for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event,please visit here.

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Have you ever participated in Hanami or went to visit a park to see the beautiful Sakura bloom? When and where did you go?

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Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: Japanese Samurai

Asian Heritage Month Blog Event:

Japanese Samurai

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

Samurai (侍) refers to the military nobility of Japan prior to its industrialization and means, “those who serve in close attendance to the nobility.”

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Samurai warriors described themselves as followers of “The Way of the Warrior” or Bushidō, which is defined by the Japanese dictionary as “a unique philosophy (ronri) that spread through the warrior class from the Muromachi (chusei) period…the Samurai felt that the path of the warrior was one of honour, emphasizing duty to one’s master, and loyalty unto death.”

A warrior is known to look forward to a glorious death in the service of a military leader or the emperor:

“It is a matter of regret to let the moment when one should die pass by….First, a man whose profession is the use of arms should think and then act upon not only his own fame, but also that of his descendants. He should not scandalize his name forever by holding his one and only life too dear….One’s main purpose in throwing away his life is to do so either for the sake of the Emperor or in some great undertaking of a military general. It is that exactly that will be the great fame of one’s descendants.” – Shiba Yoshimasa (1350–1410 AD).

Over time, powerful samurai clans became warrior nobility, or “buke,” who were under the court aristocracy.

Samurai Names

A samurai was usually named by combining one kanji from his father or grandfather and one new kanji. Samurai normally used only a small part of their total name.

For example, the full name of Oda Nobunaga would be “Oda Kazusanosuke Saburo Nobunaga” (織田上総介三郎信長), in which “Oda” is a clan or family name, “Kazusanosuke” is a title of vice-governor of Kazusa province, “Saburo” is a name before genpuku, a coming of age ceremony, and “Nobunaga” is an adult name. Samurai were able to choose their own first names.  (From wikipedia.org)

織田上総介三郎信長

Marriage

The marriage of samurai was done by having a marriage arranged by someone with the same or higher rank than those being married. Most samurai married women from a samurai family, but for a lower ranked samurai, marriages with commoners were permitted with a dowry brought by the woman and her family.

Traditional Japanese wedding dress.

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Women

Maintaining the household was the main duty of samurai women. This was especially crucial when warrior husbands were travelling abroad or engaged in clan battles. The wife, or okugatasama (“one who remains in the home”), was left to manage all household affairs, care for the children, and defend the home forcibly if necessary.

Many women of the samurai class were trained in wielding a polearm called a naginata or a special knife called the kaiken in an art called tantojutsu (“the skill of the knife”), which they could use to protect their household, family, and honour.

Kaiken

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Traits valued in women of the samurai class were humility, obedience, self-control, strength, and loyalty.

Weapons

The Chokutō sword is a straight blade followed by the curved tachi, the uchigatana and, the katana. Smaller swords are the wakizashi and the tanto.

Chokutō

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Wearing a long sword together with a smaller sword became the symbol of the samurai. This combination of swords is referred to as a daishō (“big and small”).

The yumi (“longbow”) reflected in the art of kyūjutsu (“the skill of the bow”). It’s made from bamboo, wood, rattan and leather and had an effective range of 50 meters. The practice of shooting from horseback became a Shinto ceremony known as yabusame (流鏑馬).

Yumi

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The yari (Japanese spear) displaced the naginata from the battlefield as personal bravery became less of a factor and battles became more organized.

Yari

Tanegashima (Japanese matchlock) were introduced to Japan in the 1543 through Portuguese trade.

Staff weapons made from oak were commonly known as the , the , the hanbo, and the tanbo.

Clubs and truncheons made of iron and/or wood included the jutte (a one-handed weapon) and the kanabo (large two-handed weapons).

Chain weapons (kusari) were used such as the kusarigama and Kusari-fundo.

Kusarigama

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The following terms are also related to samurai or the samurai tradition:

Uruwashii
a cultured warrior symbolized by the kanji for “bun” (literary study) and “bu” (military study or arts)

Buke (武家)
a martial house or a member of such a house

Mononofu (もののふ)

an ancient term meaning a warrior

Musha (武者)
a shortened form of bugeisha (武芸者) (“martial art man”)

Shi (士)
a word meaning “gentleman,” it is sometimes used for samurai, in particular in words such as bushi (武士) (“warrior” or “samurai”)

Tsuwamono (兵)
an old term for a soldier literally meaning “strong person”

Here are some books about the Samurai:

Tales of the Otori Book Series

Across the Nightingale Floor: Book One
Grass for His Pillow: Book Two
Brilliance of the Moon: Book Three
The Harsh Cry of the Heron: Book Four

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The Sano Ichiru Book Series

Shinju: Book One
Bundori: Book Two
The Way of the Traitor: Book Three
The Concubine’s Tattoo: Book Four
The Samurai’s Wife: Book Five

* There are more in this series.

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The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama

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The Samurai: A Brief History of the Warrior Elite by Jonathan Clements

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The Art of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

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Samurai: An Illustrated History by Mitsuo Kure

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Here are some clips from the popular film, The Last Samurai:

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To see a collection of images of the Samurai, you can check out my Samurai Warriors board on Pinterest.

To see more postings for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, please visit here.

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What is it about the Samurai that you respect the most?

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Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: The Japanese Geisha Part 2

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Asian Heritage Month Blog Event:

The Japanese Geisha: Part 2

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

The Stages of Training for Geisha

The hangyoku are girls young as nine-years-old who begin their training to become geisha and are usually bonded to geisha houses called the okiya. This eventually disappeared in the 1950’s with the outlawing of child labour.

A Hangyoku.

Otherwise, daughters of geisha were often brought up as geisha themselves becoming the atotori (“heiress”) and successor or msume-bun (“daughter-role”) to the okiya.

Okiyas in Yoshiwara.

A maiko is a geisha apprentice and is bonded under a contract to her okiya. The okiya supplies her with food, board, kimonos, obis (sashes), and other tools for her training. Her debt must be repaid to the okiya with her earnings and may continue after she becomes a full-fledged geisha. She is only permitted to move out of the okiya to live and work independently once her debts are settled.

A maiko will start her formal training as a minarai, which means “learning by watching.” But she must first find an onee-san (“older sister”), an older geisha who will act as her mentor.

Minarai usually work with a particular minarai-jaya (tea house) learning from the okaa-san (“mother”), the proprietress of the house. This stage lasts about a month.

In the final stage of training, the students are called maiko (“dance girl”) who are apprentice geisha. This stage can last for years while the maiko learn from their senior geisha mentor. The onee-san (“older sister”) and imouto-san (“younger sister”) relationship is crucial. The onee-san teaches her maiko everything about working in the hanamachi (“flower street,” which refers to a geisha district) and will teach the proper ways of serving tea, dancing, the art of conversation and more. She will also help pick the maiko’s new professional name with kanji (Japanese characters).

Examples of Kanji.

Maiko look very different from fully qualified Geisha:

The collar of a maiko’s kimono hangs very loosely in the back to accentuate the nape of the neck, which is considered a primary erotic area in Japanese sexuality. She wears the same white makeup for her face and on her neck, leaving two or three stripes of bare skin exposed. Her kimono is elaborately tied with obi hanging down to her ankles. She takes very small steps and wears traditional wooden shoes called okobo which stand almost ten cm high.

Maiko in Kyoto, Japan.

There are five different hairstyles that a maiko wears that mark the different stages of her apprenticeship:

The Nihongami (traditionally, two sides of the hair stick out until it curves to the back) hairstyle is with kanzashi (hair-ornamentation strips) and is associated with the maiko’s womanhood, as it came from a pulled knot in the ofuku hairstyle that a maiko would wear after her mizuage (her first sexual experience). Before that, the maiden wareshinobu style was worn.

Maiko by shailesh_date.

Around the age of 20–22, the maiko is promoted to a full-fledged geisha in a ceremony called erikae (“turning of the collar”) and can now charge full price for her skills and her time.

Here is a video clip of a maiko or geisha putting on her makeup:

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Here are more excellent books on the geisha:

Autobiography of a Geisha by Sayo Masuda

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Geisha: A Photographic History, 1872-1912 by Stanley B. Burns and Elizabeth A. Burns

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To see my collection of images of Geisha, you can visit the My Geisha board on Pinterest.

To see more postings for the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event, please visit here.

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Asian Heritage Month Blog Event: The Japanese Geisha: Part 1

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Asian Heritage Month: May 2012

The Japanese Geisha: Part 1

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez

May is Asian Heritage Month in Canada!

As an Asian, a cultural enthusiast, and an advocate of racial justice, I’d like to take the opportunity to host the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event at The Bibliotaphe’s Closet for the month of May.

The purpose of this cultural-specific blog event is to advocate the opportunity for all to reflect on and celebrate the beauty and diversity of various Asian cultures and its music, film, art, and literature.

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I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but my avatar and various images posted on The Bibliotaphe’s Closet is in honour of the Japanese Geisha since the image and its cultural significance is one that I’m quite fascinated with. What better way to begin the Asian Heritage Month Blog Event than with one of my favourite topics, the Japanese Geisha?

Sexual pleasure was not considered taboo in traditional Japan, nor were men constrained to be faithful to their wives in the belief by Confucian custom that love is considered secondary in priority. Romantic attachment and sex were therefore, not reserved for wives, but for courtesans.

Here are different Japanese definitions associated with the geisha community:

Geisha:

The most literal translation of geisha into English is artist, performing artist, or artisan and is usually initiated as a full geisha in the community at the age of 21. The exception to this are the maiko from Kyoto who can apprentice as geisha before the age of 18.

Geiko:

Another name for geisha, usually from western Japan.

Maiko (dance child) (舞子 or 舞妓)  / Hangyoku (half-jewel) (半玉)  / O-Shaku (one who pours) (御酌):

These are the apprentice geisha who usually participate in at least a year’s training before making a debut as a geisha.

Though it is not necessary for a girl to begin as a maiko, hangyoku, or an o-shaku before becoming a full geisha, those who do participate in this initial training is considered to be more prestigious in their profession.

Traditionally, training as a maiko can begin as early as three or five-years-old.

Young maiko.

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These are known as the:

  • Shikomi (servant)
  • Minarai (watching apprentice)

where training lasts a number of years in comparison to those who train in contemporary times.

The Origins of the Geisha:

Saburuko (serving girls):

Saburuko were young girls who came from displaced families in the 600’s. Some sold sexual services while others entertained at elite social gatherings.

Shirabyōshi:

Shirabyōshi are known to be skilled female dancers and performers.

Oiran:

The Oiran describes the predecessors of the geisha and of the highest yūjo (“Play Women”) class. They are a combination of actress and prostitute who originally performed exotic dances and skits.

Odoriko (“dancing girls”):

The Odoriko were teenagers that were expensively trained chaste dancers for hire. They were the forerunners of the female geisha and became the popular form of entertainment for upper-class samurai in the 1680’s.

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Because prostitution was legal in Japan until the 1900’s, it was practiced throughout Japan without much hindrance.

Gradually, the emergence of the geisha in the 18th century meant that the profession would eventually evolve from simply being part of the sex trade to becoming a renowned and pure form of entertainment.

Courtesans would be known to entertain through dance, song, and the playing of musical instruments. Some courtesans even became renowned poets and calligraphers.

While licensed courtesans still existed to meet men’s sexual needs, the machi geisha became a separate group of artists and learned and cultivated female companions, which is an example of the type of geisha in the book, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden.

There were many different classifications and ranks of geisha. Some women would have sex with their male customers, whereas others would entertain strictly with their art forms.

What you may also not be aware of is that the first geisha were originally men.

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Two popular autobiographies and memoirs about the geisha lifestyle are:

Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki

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Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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Here is a clip of Chiyo’s transformation into Geisha in the adapted film, Memoirs of a Geisha:

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Be sure to return tomorrow to learn more about the Japanese Geisha in Part 2 of this post.

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What part of the geisha lifestyle fascinates you the most?

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