Toto-Awase is a memory game in which the players have to match two cards to create a complete fish illustration and the kanji character that represents the name of the fish. Each card also has a brief description of the fish depicted. These fish are all familiar species in Japan and their illustrations have been beautifully done with colorful paper patterns. The game was created by Toto Koubou in Tango Uocchikan Aquarium, located in Miyazu City, Kyoto.
Since its début on the market in the Spring of 2003, Toto-Awase, with its beautiful illustrations, has gained popularity. The game has the added benefit for children of teaching them the various fish species and their respective kanji characters. The total sale of Toto-Awase games has now exceeded 100,000. The game received a Good Design Award in 2005 and a Good Toy Award in 2006. Currently there are eleven different sets of the memory game according to different regions. The illustrations are elaborate collages with colorful papers of traditional patterns and the box containing the cards is decorated in vermillion and ultramarine - the quintessential colors of Japan. An English version is also made under the name “Card Game Sushi Bar” and it is popular as a souvenir for people to bring abroad.
Shimekazari is said to come from shimenawa rope which is used in shrines to mark the boundaries of a sacred area.
In welcoming the New Year, it is hung over the front of the house to mark it as a sacred area. It is also used as a lucky charm to prevent misfortune or evil spirits from entering the house, or to bring long life and bumper crops.
Many areas in the Tohoku region still preserve customs that use, along with shide and daidai, some food to decorate for shimekazari. This may include such things as mochi (sticky rice), Konbu (kelp), pine needles and fish.
Konbu stands for joy as it sounds similar to the word, yorokobu, (to be happy). Fish is used to pray for good health for the family and, in some cases, to indicate the elevated social rank of the house’s occupants. It is also believed to summon a big catch of fish.
The food used in shimekazari indicates appreciation for a rich harvest in the past year as well as hopes for the same in the coming year.
Nishiki-goi, developed from black carp, are ornamental, brightly colored carp. They were initially bred in the area of Nagaoka and Ojiya City in the Niigata Prefecture.
The earliest account of these carp was found in Nihonshoki, the second oldest book of Japanese history, in which it was said that Emperor Keiko (71~130) intentionally released carp to a pond. This is now regarded as a proof that carp were already bred by people at that time.
Nishiki-goi were born from mutated carp that were raised for food in Nagaoka and Ojiya City during Bunka Bunsei period (1804~1830).
The villagers noticed and became fascinated by these brightly colored carp and they started to breed them for ornamental purposes. Since then, carp have been developed in more than 80 colors and patterns.
Nishiki-goi, which, translated literally, means brocaded carp, was said to be so named after a remark by the head of the Nigata Prefectural Fishery Agency who, astonished with their beauty, exclaimed “ This is the very brocaded carp!”
Nishiki-goi can now be appreciated around the world which the Japanese people can take pride in.
Gyoban is a wooden fish-shaped drum, which serves as a signal to start and end rituals, meditation sessions and meals. The fish-shaped drums are common in Zen temples in Japan. Gyoban is also called Gyoko, Mokugyoku, or Ho. In Buddhism, the fish, which never sleeps, symbolizes wakefulness and devotion to training.
Mokugyo, a wooden percussion instrument used during the recitation of sutras, mantras, or other Buddhist texts, also takes the shape of fish. Mokugo is said to have been derived from Gyoban and developed into the present form in China during the Ming Dynasty. That's why Gyoban looks more like a fish than Mokugyo.
Sushikiri (sushi-cutting) Festival is held at Shimoniikawa Shrine in Sazukawa-cho, Moriyama City, Shiga Pref. on May 5 every year. This shrine originates in a small hall built in 715. The deities enshrined here are Toyoki Iribiko no Mikoto and Niikawa Kotatehime no Mikoto. There is a legend that Toyoki Iribiko no Mikoto, the eldest son of Emperor Sujin (97-30 B.C.), crossed Lake Biwa on a raft and landed on this village on his way to conquer the East. The ritual of Sushikiri is said to originate in the salted crucian carp that the villagers offered to the prince. In the Sushikiri ceremony, two young men slice up funazushi (crucian carp sushi) and dedicate them to the god in accordance with ancient ritual. After the ceremony, the dances called “Kanko no Mai” and “Naginata Odori” to the Japanese traditional ohayashi music called “Sanyare” is performed. The ritual of Sushikiri is a nationally selected Intangible Cultural Property.
Yakutanabata Festival (Start Festival) is held in early August in Noshiro City, a city facing the Sea of Japan in the northern part of Akita Prefecture. Yakutanabata Festival is a kind of the Nebuta lantern festival, which originates in an old episode that Abe no Hirafu (about 1,300 years ago) and Sakanoue Tamuramaro (800 years ago) used lanterns as decoys to attract attention of the enemy when they fought against the Emishi (the aboriginal inhabitants of ancient northern Japan). It is also said that the custom of lantern float was carried out to shake off drowsiness in the midsummer as well as to pray for a good harvest in coming fall and drive away the ill luck.
In Yakutanabata Festival, a castle-shaped giant lantern float are pulled around the city. Leading the parade are the Dengaku musicians, who powefully beat drums and produce peaceful tone of Japanese flute. At the end of the festival, shachi or dolphin-like ornaments attached to the top of the lantern are burned and set afloat to the Yoneshiro River.
In the evening when the ohayashi music stops and street lamps along the river are turned off, the area is dominated by silence. Then the shachi ornaments placed on rafts in the river are set on fire. In the solemn music played by the ohayashi musicians, they are floated away into the Sea of Japan.
Neike Pond located in the deep mountain in the eastern end of Toyota City, Aichi Prefecture, is a pond with an area of about 0.1 hectare. There are a lot of legends about this pond.
It is said that a big white snake, the guardian god of the pond, lives here. It is also said that the pond never dries up no matter how long a drought lasts, nor does it get muddy no matter how much it rains. You will have rain, if you throw a stone into the pond or pray for rain at the side of the pond. You will meet with a misfortune if you catch a fish in the pond and you will have your prayer answered if you release a carp into the pond.
At the entrance to the pond, a red torii gate is erected beside the signboard. Many flags with the name of the guardian god written on them are flapping around this desolate pond, which create a mysterious atmosphere.
The Hirose River is the largest tributary of the Natori River designated as a “Class A River System” by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. The main stream length of the Hirose River is 46 km and its watershed area is about 311 sq. km. The river flows out of the area near Sekiyama Pass in the Ou Mountain Range.
The city of Sendai has developed on the terraced land formed along the Hirose River; hereby the river is called “Mother of Sendai.” The river terrace forming the central part of Sendai City and the natural cliffs typically seen along the Hirose River have been formed in accordance with the changes in the river channel.
The Hirose River provides habitats for a lot of precious flora and fauna including sweetfish and Kajika frogs, which live only in clear water, and over 100 species of wild birds such as common kingfishers and crested kingfishers. Although the Hirose River runs through an urban area, bountiful nature and green woods remain in its watershed area.