Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Japanese Culture
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Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Japanese Culture

By Yaz Ketcherside for The J-Pop Exchange

1.    Zabuton Throwing

Sumo Stadiums would offer ‘zabuton’ pillows to the audience. When you find yourself overwhelmed by frustration as a result of a sumo match, you could take your anger out by throwing a zabuton pillow at the losing yokozuna. Nowadays, due to safety reasons, the zabuton throwing has been banned in most places. Let’s be real, how fun would it be to throw pillows at someone?!

2.    Mamemaki Bean-Throwing

Setsubun takes place on the eve of the beginning of Spring in Japan—according to the Lunar Calendar. The celebrations that are attached to this day were adopted from the Chinese and have been celebrated by the Japanese culture ever since. This day is believed to be the day when the spirit world is the closest to our world. Many believe that on this day demons are likely to appear and evoke danger and evil. Traditionally, parents will put on an ‘oni’ mask, which embodies a male demon, in hopes of scaring their kids. In return, their children will throw roasted soybeans to scare the demons away. The roasted soybeans are understood to be ‘lucky’ beans. This activity takes place in the households, can be scattered throughout crowds, and even some families spread the soybeans on the perimeter of their houses!

3.    Ehomaki Sushi Rolls

On this same day, Setsubun calls for the tradition that involves eating an entire uncut roll of sushi. According to the way of yin and yang, there is a direction of best luck, eho, specified for each year. Ehomaki is a thick sushi roll which is eaten in complete silence facing the lucky direction. While eating, the individual makes a wish for the next year. The ehomaki is usually prepared with seven ingredients to represent the seven gods of fortune in Japanese Folklore. It was originally practiced in Osaka, Japan, but has spread nationwide recently due to the marketing efforts of Japanese convenience stores.

4.    Kentucky for Christmas

While most Americans feast on turkey dinners Christmas Eve, the Japanese consume their own savory protein. Since there aren’t many roaming turkeys in Japan, they turn to Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). It's remarkably popular to eat KFC on Christmas Eve in Japan, so popular that it is estimated that 3.6 million Japanese families treat themselves to fried chicken from the American fast-food chain. So if you find yourself in Japan on Christmas Eve, you better send someone early to reserve a spot in the queue!

5.    Sumo Salt

Sumo wrestling is much more than a fight; it is a religious ritual. Since the ring is a sacred space to many Japanese, sumo fights begin by tossing salt up in the air before the wrestlers enter the ring. They believe that this purifies the fight. Some wrestlers get a bit dramatic and toss it theatrically at the ceiling. This tradition is related to the ritual Harae that is used to purify Shinto Shrines. The salt is believed to drive out the bad spirits.


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