• Lavanya Nair

Japan: Keeping the Tradition Alive

The ancient nation of Japan accommodates a luxurious and opulent expanse of five-star hotels, trendy bars and lavish restaurant; all of which lure in those desiring a comforting and stress-free vacation. However, the cosmopolitan city, notorious for its organized chaos, continuously strives to uphold their roots and customs through various humble pursuits. Prefectures such as Kyoto and Tokyo, are home to a few local favorites such as the frequent markets, filled with the real essence and heritage that Japan embodies and are worth a visit. As a country that is rich in colourful festivals with ties to Shintoism and Buddhism, many days are reserved for commemorating a multitude of joyous occasions from observing a milestone to revering a beloved deity.

A true haven for voracious travelers, the Nishiki Market (known as ‘Kyoto’s Kitchen’) offers an extensive range of stalls and stores that strive to cater to your materialistic desires. Selling everything from scrumptious street foods to finely crafted tableware, Nishiki is the ideal venue which provides a contrast to the usual opulence and elegance that Japan embodies. Live like a native and sample an addictive selection of fresh and dried pickles while soaking in the pungent aromas that permeate the air. Situated in a five-block-long street, Nishiki possesses an unrivaled stock, comprising unique kitchenware, seafood and ornate souvenirs. Take home a piece of Japan, wearing it if possible since you can opt for adorable footwear that is sure to keep you toasty during those bone chilling nights.

Nestled within the heart of the city, this expansive district accommodates an enviable variety of establishments that serve up the edible delights of Kyoto as well as retailers that boast the latest designs that live up to the fashion-forward reputation that Japan upholds. Scour the trendy area and you will be in utter awe of what is on sale. From funky phone cases to innovative anime themed clothes, the choices are endless and will leave you star struck. The market allows you to indulge yourself and eradicates the worry of spending copious amounts of money, allowing you to unwind. For many, shopping is a somewhat cathartic experience. A highly anticipated street market that is located within the esteemed Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, Tenji-San opens to the public on the 25th day of each month and transforms the area into a wonderland of wholesome culinary jewels along with tasty snacks and miscellany. The shrine aims to honor the deceased scholar Sugawara no Michizane, one of the only people who is treated as a deity and is worshiped mainly by students wishing to thrive in their academic careers. Upon arriving at the festival, one can immerse themselves in the rich culture and heritage for which Japan is regarded, while also savoring the local delicacies.

Coupled with the annual New Year celebrations that involve locals suited in traditional attire (Kimono) that flock to temples to pray for good fortune and read a horoscope that provides insightful words of wisdom, the Shichi, Go, San (7, 5, 3) matsuri (festival) is a unique concept that many anticipate upon becoming parents. This rite of passage marks the 3rd, 5th and 7th birthdays of children all over the country on the 15th day of November, in order to appreciate the healthy and blessed life they have led so far. Known to have originated during the Heian period during the 12th century, this event enables infants to dress in intricately designed fashionable pieces with more and more families opting to adopt the ways of the West. This is followed by a trip to a shrine where one would express gratitude to a deity and purchase a selection of sweet treats that are moulded into turtles and cranes; both of which are national symbols of longevity. Furthermore, the Yokote Kamakura festival that takes place in the Akita prefecture, focuses on pleasing a water god and has been carried out over the span of 400 years. Taking place during February, various igloo structures that are referred to as Kamakura, are constructed throughout the South East of the city. Many lanterns are dotted along side the Yokote river and illuminate the atmosphere that is otherwise laced with frosty and harsh air due to the bitter Winters Japan undergoes. So as to pray for an abundance of water, each Kamakura contains a snow alter, complete with a charcoal heater to provide heat. Children are encouraged to offer rice cakes and sweet wine to visitors during the evenings.

Since this peaceful nation is widely known for preserving hundreds of years’ worth of tradition, it comes as no surprise that Japan is one of the most attractive tourist spots for foreigners. Most of whom, hail from diversified first world countries that appear to have abandoned its roots with the exception of events such as Easter and Christmas which have now lost their true meanings as a result of relatively recent practises that include gift giving and Easter egg hunts.

By Lavanya Nair

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