Japanese Bamboo Forest

A beautiful Sangono bamboo forest is found in Arashiyama on the outskirts of Kyoto. There are 4 Shinto temples in close proximity to the bamboo forest. One of the temples very close to the forest is Tenryu-ji temple.  The forest is believed to provide protection from evil and represents strength for those practicing Shinto.  Here is a site about this forest.  It covers 16 square kilometers.

It is a wonder place to use Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing. Forest Bathing refers to sitting, walking – just being inside a forest. The sounds, smells and views experienced in a forest can serve as a calming and healing experience. I am sure my mom would agree with the benefits of exposure to nature.  She used to canoe from Ely in upper Minnesota, where you can spend days and days alone in the wilderness. I am lucky. I have a large stand of trees that begins in my backyard and extends into a forested swampy area that supports a variety of wildlife.

Bamboo is actually a tall grass. Its scientific name is Bambusoideae and is part of the Poaceae grass family. This Article tells you more about bamboo than you could ever wish to know. The type of bamboo in the Sangono Forest is Moso.  It can grow 20 meters high in only a month. The largest grow to 40 meters and are 35 cm in diameter.  It reproduces by putting out rhizomes (undergrown stems) and shoots come up called culms. The culms grow very fast and when they have reached their 40-50 feet height, they stop growing.  The Moso bamboo can also flower but does so rarely, only every 50-100 years.


The culms of the bamboo (see picture on the right)  are the shoots that people gather to eat but are harvestable for only a very short time. Please take a look at this site to see how very fast they grow, growing beyond an edible stage in a month.

Bamboo is very strong and is used in wide variety of ways. Time to do some research! – Look on the internet to see if you can find at least 10 ways to use bamboo.

Fun Fact:  Sugar cane is in the same family of plant as the Bamboo but the “twisted” bamboo you buy to decorate the house, the “lucky bamboo”, is not really bamboo.  It is related to the spider plant. It is called the Lucky Bamboo, however, and is incorporated in decorating for Feng Sui.



Japanese Writing

Researching Japanese writing was a little hard for me.  It seems I just kept running into descriptions that I didn’t understand or that would be hard to convey for this article.  I had to chase down the descriptions to the most basic level.  First, the description of Japanese writing mentions that Idiograms are used.  I went to a description of Idiograms and learned that Idiograms were Logograms. Logograms are characters that represent a whole word or phrase.  Idiograms may express a whole idea instead of just a word.

Let’s say a caveman draws a picture of a cow on the wall.  At first, this is just a unique picture.  Let’s say another man comes along and simplifies that a little by not drawing all aspects of the picture but just a line and horns to convey the same thing.  The two agree that they will use a line with two horns to represent cow for future communications (makes it faster).  Now let’s say they decide instead of drawing a bunch of lines with horns to representing more than one cow, they agree that a line with 3 horns will represent the plural form of cow.  They have invented a Logogram.  Now let’s say they want to say they are going to hunt cows and they decide to draw a spear over the line with the 3 horns when this is the idea they want to convey.  They have now created an Idiogram.  (If someone reads this and feels I have misunderstood this, please let me know as I want my grandchildren to have the correct understanding. Just use the comments section of the Blog. – Thank you)

The Japanese Idiograms are called Kanji symbols.  They were adopted from the Chinese Logograms called hànzì. There are thousands of Kanji and the students in Japan learn over 2,000 during their education. I found a list of 100 of the most common ones used.

Writing in Japanese also uses two other forms of script called: Hiragana and Katakana.  Please look at this article to learn about these.

Japanese writing can also be vertical (written in a line from top to bottom) or horizontal (written from left to right).  See this article to explain when they choose to use vertical vs horizontal.

I found a site on the internet where you can type in your name and see how your name would be written in Japanese.

Here are yours:

Brianna  =brianna in Japanese

It is pronounced “BURIANNA”. (Consonants are pronounced more or less the same way as in English. “A” sounds like a in father, but shorter. “I” sounds like ee in meet, but shorter. “U” sounds like oo in hook, but with less rounding of the lips.) * taken from this link.


Damien = DAmien

It is pronounced “DEIMIAN”. (Consonants are pronounced more or less the same way as in English. “A” sounds like a in father, but shorter. “I” sounds like ee in meet, but shorter. “E” sounds like e in met.) * taken from this link.


Elias = Elias

It is pronounced “ERIASU”. (Consonants are pronounced more or less the same way as in English. “A” sounds like a in father, but shorter. “I” sounds like ee in meet, but shorter. “U” sounds like oo in hook, but with less rounding of the lips. “E” sounds like ein met.) * taken from this link.

Check out Kids Web Japan website!

There is a fun website called Kids Web Japan  Please  go to their site and explore.

I became curious about Jump Rope in Japan while looking at the site and, of course, had to find out more.  Watch this fun video to see a whole bunch of kids completing a jump rope challenge.  You might think this is simple but just imagine how the person closest to the people holding the jump rope must have the perfect alignment to complete this.

The Kids Web Japan is part of a larger web site called Web Japan and this main site has lots of awesome stuff as well.  The entire platform of information is created by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I have found that there are lots of blogs/pages created by individuals in Japan that share information about life in the country.   Like individuals here, it is possible to begin a career in an industry by posting talent on youtube.  Kenshi Yonezu is a pop star currently high on the music charts who began by producing and posting his music on youtube under the name Hachi.  Here is a link to his current high ranking song “Peace Sign”.

Have fun exploring the internet about Japan.  Travel is fun but exploring from home can be a blast too. 

Kyoto Aquarium

I began working on the article for the Kyoto Aquarium to share with you the wonderful design and beauty of this inland aquarium (not anywhere close to the ocean and its saltwater).  I found many sites that did a very good job of sharing the excitement of visiting this large facility that focuses on water and how it cycles in our world.  The museum has all the normal types of exhibits but some extra special ones too.  One exhibit I bet you won’t see anywhere near here (USA) is the giant salamander found in the mountainous rivers of Japan.  This salamander is HUGE, like small pony size huge!  Please see this blog site for a very nice summary of an experience at the aquarium.

I found myself so excited by another feature of this aquarium that I could not keep this to myself for selfish reasons.  I am a physical therapist and have had the added experience of living with a disability, even if the greatest effects were short-lived.  When my children were very young, I performed a survey of 100 restaurants in Hot Springs, AR with regard to accessibility for someone with weakness and poor endurance.  I measured how far a person had to be able to walk to use the restaurant at a most basic level.  I measured door opening pressures so I could relate how difficult it would be to open the doors. I measured toilet seat height, looked for grab bars and looked for barriers that someone might need to be aware of while planning a trip to the facility. I envisioned the use of this type of information in a citywide campaign to make Hot Springs “accessible to the world” through information and education within the business community.  A catalog of this information was published and made available but the idea of accessibility as a marketing tool did not take off.

You can imagine my joy when I found a guide on the Kyoto Aquarium website that spoke of accessibility.  The information was given in a way that a person could envision what their own challenges might be and make decisions based on that knowledge.  Not only that, there was a link to a Universal Tourism Concierge that had been developed for the city of Kyoto to make the city more inviting to someone with a disability.  This was exactly the vision I had for my old hometown and it was realized by wonderful people of Kyoto.

Accessibility is something most people don’t think about.  I believe every young person should be exposed to the concept of what having a disability can be like and to what accessibility can mean to people who have difficulties with more traditional environmental designs.  What are some physical difficulties that you can imagine someone having that might affect their ability to enjoy traveling around the world?  How might you design areas for tourists so that they could enjoy traveling even if they have greater mobility challenges?  Please see this article in Lonely Planet by Ashley Lyn Olson about her experience traveling Japan in a wheelchair.

Take a look at the websites to see the types of modifications that were made to make mobility and use more functional for everyone.  Usually, you find new buildings and attractions built with a concept of Universal Design. The goal is to design something so it is easier to use by everyone.  The design is such that it is often not even obvious that it has been purposely engineered for greater accessibility.

Please explore the wonderful Kyoto Aquarium.  It is a beautiful place for a whole lot of reasons.

Schools in Japan

As we move around Japan, we will see students traveling by bus, train, bike, and on foot to get to and from school.  We may see children as young as six traveling alone.  The students will be in uniform as most schools require uniforms.  In fact, the dress code extends to rules about not wearing make-up, not styling hair, not shaving legs or dressing in any other way that would make them stand out from others.  We might see a girl and boy talking but we won’t see any public display of affection.  PDA is not considered polite in their country.

The Japanese school year begins in April and breaks for vacation July 20th.  The students return in early September for the second term and they break again around December 25th.  Even with these breaks many of the students continue to go to school for extra coaching.  It is not uncommon for parents to spend a lot of money on extra tutoring so that the students can get in the programs they want.

In the classrooms, the students do the cleaning.  All people in society are aware of cleanliness and are known to carry trash home if they can’t find a receptacle.  We won’t see stickers or writing on buildings due to this social consciousness that is developed from a very early age and reinforced in classroom studies.

Timeliness is very important in Japan and this is established early for children.  Tardiness to school is not allowed.  I am sure that if we suffered consequences of being late in our culture, we wouldn’t be tardy as well.

If a teacher calls in sick, the students carry on with class without a substitute.  I can’t imagine this!  I have been in classes where even the teacher had difficulty keeping things under control.

Hanging in many classrooms is an ancient weapon called a sasumata.  This device is used to control an intruder until the police can arrive.  Watch this video to see a news report on this type of equipment in use.


I found a video that speaks of why the Japanese are polite to one another.  I thought you may want to watch it.


Anime and Cartoons in Japan

Anime is hand drawn or computer generated animation.  There are a lot of anime (not sure if I am phrasing that right) out there! I had no real idea how many until I started researching this. Here is a cool video to teach you how to draw an anime figure. You can learn how to create anime just by practicing and watching youtubes.  Give it a try and send it to me! I would love to know if you enjoy designing like this.

A friend of mine from Japan told me that you might like this Japanese cartoon.  It is Doraemon. Here is a link to one of the episodes he recommended. How does this compare to the cartoons you used to watch? It reminds me of “The Jetsons” but only because of the futuristic nature of it.





Japan and RICE

Rice is a staple food in Japan and has been for many years.  The process of growing rice laid down the foundation for a culture based on social cooperation.  Cultivation of rice began in Japan over 10,000 years ago.  The land allowed for terracing plots of land with its design allowing control of water for irrigation, flooding, and then draining at the correct time.  This need for large-scale coordination and the need for many laborers was met best by communities who listened, considered others and made needed adjustments for the benefit of the group.

See the beautiful terraced fields in this article.

At one point the value of a man was quite literally measured in rice.  The labor of a Samurai was valued in units of koku 石 (the amount of rice needed to feed one man for a year).  It is equivalent to 180 liters / 150 kilograms.  The koku, a unit of currency was also used to describe the capacity of a ship, its ability to hold that volume of rice.  Today a ship’s capacity is given in a measurement of ton/tonnage.  A ton is 10 times the size of a koku.  Today the Japanese lumber industry is the only place the koku unit is still used.   See this site for a wonderful description of koku.

The rice grown and used in consumption in Japan is different than most of the rice we eat in the United States.  I like rice to be fluffy and long grained.  How could I eat this with chopsticks?  The rice in Japan is short grained and sticky.  It can clump together making it easier to pick up with chopsticks.See this link site to learn about the different types of Japanese rice.

I enjoy learning about other cultures and what they eat.  Here is a recipe for Japanese and sushi rice.  One of the things people put in their lunch boxes is called an Onigri.  Watch this youtube to learn how to make an onigri.  I bet you could make one sometime. Surprise your mom and dad by taking the leftover rice and making one of these for them.


Rice can be made into an alcoholic drink as well.  It is called SAKE.  This blog has a very nice article about a man who worked to make sake using the ways of the past.  Even if you don’t read it, please take a look at the beautiful photos, especially the one of the BIG round pad of rice “where Komatsu spreads dark green spores of koji (Aspergillus Oryzae) mold over freshly steamed rice”.





10,000 Vermillion Torii Gates

There are 10,000 Torii Gates that take you to the top of a hill overlooking Kyoto, a city that once served as Japan’s capital.  These gates serve as the entrance to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社).  The vermillion color (red, originally created from mineral cinnabar) serves to block misfortune and calamity. The gates, donated by companies, organizations, and individuals as an expression of gratitude for prosperity, surround the path of several trails.  There are lanterns that light the tunnels of color, creating a wondrous experience in the early evening.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine is in honor of the Shinto god of rice. “Inari Ōkami (稲荷大神, also Oinari) is the Japanese kami of foxes, of fertility, rice, tea and sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success, and one of the principal kami of Shinto. In earlier Japan, Inari was also the patron of swordsmiths and merchants.” (Wikipedia)  What are Kami? I found this site that gives the best definition.  (I liked this site so much I “bookmarked” it on my search engine to use for future ‘exploration’.)

Along the paths, there are many statues of kitsunes (foxes).  People of the Shinto faith may leave offerings of food or objects at these locations as they appeal to the spirits.  A favorite food of the fox is said to be a fried tofu – aburaage.  This article gives a background on the fox and its place in Japanese spirituality and culture.  Understanding the background may make you more aware of the use of the fox in today’s Japanese influenced entertainment.


Walking through the beautiful vermillion gates would be very relaxing to me, but I can’t read Japanese.  The names of the donating businesses and organizations are written on the gates and I have wondered: If I could read Japanese, would I be reading all those gates as I passed through?   When I was in Chile, I found that my mind could relax because I couldn’t read the signs or understand the language. Not being able to understand them made me realize how hard my mind must work all the time to take in the written and audible communication around me.   Would walking past these beautiful gates be like walking past billboards if I understood the language?

It is interesting that the god of rice is also the god of prosperity.  Rice is important to Japan.  It is an important food in the diet and has a long history of cultivation influencing the culture.  Please see this important article that explains the deep effects of rice on the culture of past and present.  Rice is such an important part of the culture that I will spend more time on this subject – tomorrow.









It’s Japan!

Japan, slightly smaller in size than California, is located in East Asia.  Japan is an archipelago (chain of islands).  Over half of the country is mountainous with a large abundance of forests.  I gave you a clue regarding the country by telling you that this country has boundaries with six seas/ bodies of water.  Can you find them?  Four are located on this map.  The Inland Sea is located between the major islands.  The Korean Strait is located between Japan and Korea.  Take a look at your world map to see Korea and Japan.  They are not that far apart; are they?



When we visit Japan I believe our main impression will be the cleanliness of the country and the deep tradition of respect seen within the communities.  The respect can be seen in how people interact with one another and with how they interact with the environment.  I remember watching the country’s early reaction to a disaster and noted the consideration that people had for one another even in one of its more stressful times.  I was impressed with the view of a shelf previously filled with water bottles, still holding several water bottles despite the thirst and needs of the people surrounding the area.  In their culture, it is dishonorable to take the last of something when someone around may need it more.

I found a wonderful site that gives you an idea of the manners needed to visit Japan.  Please take a look at this site.  After reading this –  How would you feel visiting Japan?  Would your habits and manners be good enough for you to feel relaxed around people there or would you be nervous about “messing up” and offending someone?  I think I would be worried about messing up but I bet the people there would be understanding of my good intentions.

Would you know when to take your shoes off and when you can leave them on while visiting in Japan?  Here is an article that explains when you should remove your shoes.  The socks I sent to you are called Tabi socks. Because they have a separation of the big toe from the rest of the toes, you can easily slip them in and out of thongs.

Some areas we visit are very populated and mass transportation is our form of travel.  The trains are known for being on time and reliable but we would probably avoid using the trains during rush hour.  I found it so amazing that there are people paid to “stuff the trains” – pushing everyone on and getting the doors closed.  Watch this youtube showing the workers stuffing the train.  Observe how the people are patient despite the discomfort of the closeness of the crowd.

Japan’s national flower is the cherry blossom.  The trees bloom around April and people come from all over the world to see the beautiful display.  The USA has a famous cherry blossom festival as well, in Washington DC. The beautiful displays of color are the result of an initial gift of three thousand trees by Japan in 1912.  They represent the friendly relationship between the two countries. Like family members, our countries have had periods when this relationship was not as good but peace and time have given us the benefit of this bond.

We will explore fascinating sights, sounds, and tastes of Japan in the coming weeks.  Enjoy learning about another wonderful country!