December 30, 2009

Japanese New Year (お正月)

{鏡餅 kagami-mochi}

{門松 kado-matsu}



{ダルマ daruma}
As I’ve mentioned before, Christmas isn’t even a legal holiday in Japan, but New Year (お正月) is the biggest holiday. It can be compared to Christmas in western countries because stores and houses are decorated, families get together for a large traditional dinner, kids get gifts, cards are sent, and many shops are closed for the holiday.Usually, New Year holidays start from December 29th to January 3rd. Although nowadays most stores stay open.

There’s a lot to Japanese New Year (お正月), so I hope I can explain it clearly.

Until about two-hundred years ago, Japan followed the Chinese year with New Year in early Spring, but now follows the western calendar with New Year's Day on January 1st. But the Chinese zodiac is still used with each year being represented by an animal. There are twelve animals. 2010 is the Year Of Tiger .

In December, people start cleaning their houses from top to bottom and they may decorate their houses with traditional Japanese New Year's decorations such as 鏡餅 (kagami-mochi, which is made from two rice cakes (mochi) of different sizes, the smaller placed over the larger one, and a a Japanese type of orange placed on top.), 門松 (kado-matsu), お飾り (okazari), and ダルマ (daruma).

Also in December, people write and send out New Year's Postcards (年賀状), which are kinda similar to Christmas cards in western countries. New Year's Postcards are written by hand on special New Year's postcards that can be purchased from the post office or some other stores. Many people make their own New Year's Postcards---that's one of the reason they invented Print Gocco (プリントゴッコ). If New Year's Postcards are put in the mailbox during dates specified by the post office, they are guaranteed to be delivered on January 1st exactly.

{New Year's Postcards}
Besides, each New Year's Postcards has it’s own serial number printed on the back. In January, the post office announces a series randomly drawn numbers for a New Years Postal Lottery, whoever has a postcard with a winning number can receive a prize which is often something like a paid vacation in Hawaii, a television, a stationary set or stamps. I have never won anything yet. Not even stamps.

On New Year's Eve, people might watch one of the popular music shows on television or they may pay a visit to a temple for the temple priest’s ringing of the temple bell 108 times.

On New Year's Day, firsts are important. The first meal of the New Year should be New Year’s noodles (年越そば), many people watch the year’s first sunrise, the first dream of the year is important, as well as the first calligraphy, first tea ceremony, etc.

{Lucky Money お年玉}
Just like Christmas in the west, families get together on New Year's Day for having a traditional Japanese New Year's dinner called お節料理 (O-sechi-ryouri). Children are given gifts of money お年玉 (O-toshi-dama) in special envelopes. These envelopes are usually decorated with popular cartoon characters, so often when the kids are little, the envelopes are more appealing to them than the money inside!

Finally, on New Year's Day and for a few days following, stores often have big sales, so shopping is popular. Many stores also have Happy Bag or Lucky Bag (福袋). These are bags of various items from the store put inside a sealed bag and sold at a discount price. For example, store may put in $500 worth of products in and sale it for $100! The only catch is---you can’t look inside the bag until you pay for it! The stores tell if whether the items are for men, women or children and what the sizes are if there are clothes inside.

お正月 (New Year) is also one of the two times a year that the public is allowed inside the Imperial Palace grounds to hear the Japanese Emperor’s New Year’s greeting.

So, New Year (お正月) is a very busy time…but it’s also very fun. Hope next year I can go home and have a realy Japanese New Year (お正月) again! I really miss it!

December 23, 2009

Marry Christmas! (メリークリスマス!)

{Fuji TV Station}


{Tokyo Midtown}

Christmas is celebrated in Japan, but not to the extent that it is in western countries. In Japan, New Year (お正月) is the biggest holiday. Actually, Christmas isn’t even a legal holiday in Japan…I mean, it’s a work day, unless it falls on the weekend.

Christmas (クリスマス) in Japan is mainly for couples and families with children. Couples often go on a date, have a romantic dinner, and to look at Xmas illumination (クリスマス・イルミネーション). Actually, Japanese celebrate Christmas because it's a cute and romantic holiday. No religious meaning attached.

Also, most homes in Japan aren’t decorated for Christmas, especially uncommon are Christmas trees. Stores and shopping malls, on the other hand, are very decorated for Christmas from November until Christmas day. After that, the decorations quickly change to the more important New Year's decorations.

Santa Clause will leave presents near the pillows of young children on Christmas Eve. On average, Japanese children receive fewer Christmas presents than children in western countries.

On Christmas Day, it’s popular for families to have a Christmas dinner. But it’s different from Christmas dinners in other countries. When Japanese think of Christmas dinner, most think of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a strawberry shortcake that is called Christmas cake (クリスマス・ケーキ). I love Christmas cake. To me, it's not just for Christmas but my all year round cake!

Wish you all a marry Christmas and a wonderful holiday season!

December 21, 2009

Chiyogami Tags (千代紙タグ)

My job deals with a lot of paper, so I have a lot of left over papers. No matter what kind of paper, I just can't bring myself to throw these papers away, so I have whole box of them. The other day I picked out all the Chiyogami papers. I looked at these beautiful Japanese papers and decided to turn them into something I have a thing for---tags!

I love these tags and try to use them everywhere I can. I keep a set of these with me for when I buy a bottle of wine on my way to a party; put in an envelope to send a message to a friend; put on a gift bag or a present, use as placement card, or just simply use it as bookmarks. These are also good scrapbooking embellishments. I can never have enough of these on hand!

If you are interested in these tags, you can check here. It's $4.75 for a set of 5 plus shipping.

FYI, some people asked me what's the difference between Yuzen and Chiyogami? What I found is:

patterns were originally designed for the textile industry in Kyoto where the production of cloth for kimonos reached its zenith. Yuzen designs were very elaborate, and included a lot of gold.

Chiyogami is a specific word developed to describe the graphic, repetitive designs applied to paper in the Edo period. Originally these patterns were printed by woodblock for use in paper doll and small accessory making. In the twentieth century, these patterns began to be applied using silkscreens and this continues today.

Today, as Yuzen textile patterns join the traditional Chiyogami ones on paper, both terms are used interchangeably.

December 10, 2009

My First Orders! (初めてのオーダ)

One day after my Etsy Shop opened, I had my first orders! I was so excited and also a little bit panicked! Cause I just realized that I had so many different ideas about my packaging but I hadn't decided what to do yet! Finally, I told myself to calm down and decided to make up some shipping labels quick, and finalizing on my packaging. Here are the results! (Sorry the pictures are not good...). I am looking forward to sending out lots and lots of packages addressed with them all!

I want to say thank you to my first clients Kristina and JoAnne! Especially to Kristina, she just came back again today! You really made my day!

By the way, just found out that Kristina is a wonderful artist, you should check out her works here. I really like them!

December 7, 2009

Chiyogami (千代紙)

I have a thing for papers. I especially have a thing for traditional Japanese Paper---Chiyogami (千代紙). I'm always very excited when I receive my Chiyogami supplies. I often ask my family or friends to bring me some whenever I have a change. Just by looking at these beautiful papers sooth me and make me very happy.

Chiyogami (千代紙) is brightly patterned Japanese paper — or Washi (和紙, wa meaning Japanese and shi meaning paper) as you might be familiar with— on which all kinds of beautiful flowers, characters or family seals are printed. These intricate designs never seem to lose their magical brilliance and maybe that’s one of their secrets since, until today, people keep being intrigued by them, including me.

It is said that Chiyogami was first produced in Kyoto (京都) around the 17th century. At that time, luxurious paper called Kyo-chiyogami (京千代紙) was used as wrapping paper by the aristocratic class. In those days, Chiyogami was made from high quality paper, a luxury that average folks could never afford. Originally, Kyo-chiyogami was decorated with patterns associated with aristocratic families (有職文様).

By the middle of the Edo Period (江戸時代), painters, carvers, and printers developed the hand-carved wooden block technique of producing Ukiyo-e (浮世絵) prints. As this technique was being developed, it became easy for everyone to get Japanese paper, and eventually the common class was finally able to enjoy it as well.

As Japan rushes with the rest of the world into the 21st Century, and more modern technologies take over, machines produce similar-looking papers which have qualities very different from authentic washi. As of the fall of 2008, there remained fewer than 350 families still engaged in the production of paper by hand.

Other than wrapping paper, Chiyogami can also be used to make little boxes, paper cranes, dolls, bookmarks, and so much more. The possibilities are endless, it’s up to your creativity to make this paper comes to life!

By the way, my friend Maria McElroy, founder of Aroma M perfume, she uses Chiyogami to package her perfumes, it's very pretty and unique, you should check it out.

美しい花々、文字、家紋などが刷られた和紙、千代紙。その色褪せることない美しいデザインは、今でも多くの人々を魅了し、日々近代化され てゆく私たちの生活に、ちょっとした癒しを与えてくれる。また、時代や地域によって、千代紙の絵柄や色使いなどのデザインは全く異なっている。

千代紙の始まりはおよそ1700年頃の京都といわれている。貴族達の贈り物の包装紙として作られた「京千代紙」が最初と言われている。上質な和紙を使って 作られた千代紙は、その頃の庶民にとって到底手の届かない高級品だったようだ。元々京千代紙には、貴族の伝統的な文様(有職文様)が施されていたらしい が、町人文化が盛んになるにつれて、徐々にその文様も京都の伝統・文化にちなんだものが増えた。


December 6, 2009

Little Happy Things on Etsy!

Little Happy Things FINALLY has an Etsy shop! If you look down to the right, You will see a preview of the items I have listed. Click on any image and you will be directed to my Etsy shop. Just in case, here is the link:

I hope you like what you see. I'm still in the process of adding more items to my shop, so please come back again!

I am also working on my own website and I am very excite about it. I am hoping to have it up and running before the end of this year.

If you have any question or suggestion about my shop, please fell free to let me know. My goal is to bring all the little happy things make me happy here to make you happy!

December 1, 2009

Happy Birthday Popo-Chan! (誕生日おめでとう!ポポちゃん!)

She is truly a Little.Happy.Thing! Well, she is not mine, she is my brother's daughter, my niece, but she is the apple of my eye! She is such a cute, sweet and happy baby and she is turning one today. I wish we lived closer so I could see her everyday. But the reality is that we are three thousand miles away from each other, so I can only see her via Skype time to time. The last time I hold her was when she was 2 month old and now she is one year old!

Oh, Popo-chan, I love you so much. I know you had a happy birthday there (It's 13 hours ahead of NY) with you mom and dad, grandpa and grandma. Just want to celebrate your first birthday on my blog and maybe I can show it to you later when you can understand it better (now she only likes to eat the mouse and put the phone into her mouth after listen to me for a while).

Happy Birthday Popo-chan! Auntie will go to see you soon.

November 30, 2009

Herve Morvan(ヘルベ・モルバン)

Finally I decided which calendar to get for 2010! The one featurimg Herve Morvan's posters!

Herve Morvan (1917-1980) was a French poster designer active from the 1950s to the 1970s. Artist of more than 150 posters, Herve Morvan is best known for his stylized versions of the head of the posters for Banania in the 50s. He also designed posters for wine Gévéor, Gitanes cigarettes, watches Kelton, etc...

Herve Morvan's posters always remind me of Raymond Savignac. The fact is both of them were active during the same period. Compared to Savignac, Herve Morvan's working period was much shorter so he is not as famous as Savignac and there isn't many of his works around the world. Their styles are very similar. I think Herve Morvan gave his characters rounder and cuter eyes, it gives his work a softer impression.

A book called Herve Morvan Affichiste is a collection of his works. Unfortunately it's out of print so I haven't had the chance to see this book. I have been using the calenders featuring his works 3 years in a row (I had Savignac's calendars for 2 years previous...). It's my kind of collection.

Herve Morvan(ヘルベ・モルバン)は、1950〜70年代に活躍したフランスのポスター作家。同時代には同じくポスター作家として著名なSavignac(サヴィニャック)がいます。絵のスタイルは似ていますが、モルバンの方が目がかわいく、全体としてやわらかい印象を受けます。


「Herve Morvan Affichiste」という作品集があります。絶版でなかなか見ることはできません。

November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I don't have many Thanksgiving memories because there is no such thing as Thanksgiving in Japan or Taiwan. My first Thanksgiving was 10 years ago when I just got to the states. At that time, my cousin Mimi still lived in LA, so she and her Korean husband, her son, me, and a friend of mine from Mexico. All 5 of us, no Americans, tried to have an American holiday. Mimi and her husband successfully cooked a turkey and we had a wonderful time. This is my first Thanksgiving memory.

I didn't have a real American Thanksgiving until I married J, it was 4 years ago. Now we either celebrate Thanksgiving in Iowa with J's family, or we invite J's mom to come to NY and celebrate it here. We kinda started a new tradition to celebrate Thanksgiving with our used-to-be-downstairs-neighbors and now good friends Martin and Shawn as well. So far we've had two Thanksgivings with them and we are going to have the 3rd tomorrow at their new place in upstate NY. It might snow there, yea!

Wishing all of you a Happy Thanksgiving with safe travels. I’m already in the Christmas spirit, so get ready!

November 23, 2009

Month Names

Do you know the names of the months in Japanese? They’re named Month One, Month Two, Month Three and so on in Japanese. Actually, it's the same way in Chinese as well.

The names of the months are:

  1. 一月 (Ichi-gatsu)
  2. 二月 (Ni-gatsu)
  3. 三月 (San-gatsu)
  4. 四月 (Shi-gatsu)
  5. 五月 (Go-gatsu)
  6. 六月 (Roku-gatsu)
  7. 七月 (Shichi-gatsu)
  8. 八月 (Hachi-gatsu)
  9. 九月 (Ku-gatsu)
  10. 十月 (Jyuu-gatsu)
  11. 十一月 (Jyuu-ichi-gatsu)
  12. 十二月 (Jyuu-ni-gatsu)

But until about 900 years ago, the months had different names in Japanese. These days, the old months’ names aren’t normally used except in poems and stories. Occasionally people will call March, May and December by their old names.

These old names of the months in Japanese are:

  1. 睦月 (Mutsuki)…meaning Harmonious month.
  2. 如月 (Kisaragi)…meaning Month for an extra layer of clothes.
  3. 弥生 (Yayoi)…Month of growth / life.
  4. 卯月 (Uzuki)…Month of the Uzuki flower.
  5. 皐月 (Satsuki)…Month of cultivation.
  6. 水無月 (Mi-na-zuki)…Month without water.
  7. 文月 (Fumizuki)…Culture month.
  8. 葉月 (Hazuki)…Month of leaves.
  9. 長月 (Nagatsuki)…The long night month.
  10. 神無月 (Kan-na-zuki)…The month with no gods.
  11. 霜月 (Shimotsuki)…Frosty month.
  12. 師走 (Shiwasu)…The month of busy priests.

弥生 (Yayoi) and 皐月 (Satsuki) are also common girl's names.

These months' names are based on the old Lunar Calendar (that China still uses). Therefore, some of the month’s names might seem a bit off . For example, 水無月 (Mi-na-zuki)-Month without water is the month of June—which is Japan’s rainy season. Japan uses the solar calendar now, same as Western countries. I prefer the old names, it's more romantic and gives more character to the months. With these names you feel the seasons changing.

Speaking of the Western calendar, have you ever noticed that many of the months' names seem wrong? For example, September means seven, but it’s the ninth month, October means eight (like octogon and octopus), but it’s the tenth month, November means nine, but it’s the eleventh month, and December means ten (like decimal), but it’s the twelfth month.... Actually, the month names used to make sense; September was in fact the 7th month of the Roman Calendar, and October the 8th month, November the 9th, etc...until 153 BC, when they changed the beginning of the year from Kalendas Martius (March 1st) to Kalendas Januarius (January 1st) and now the names are just funny.

FYI, September begins on the same day of the week as December every year, because there are 91 days separating September and December, which is a multiple of seven (the number of days in the week).

November 9, 2009

Cardboard Office (ダンボールオフィス)

{images via Nothing, all photography by Joachim Baan}

What a wonderful and eco-friendly office! This awesome office belongs to a commercial creative agency called Nothing based in Amsterdam. The Nothing team took the idea behind the company name (taking nothing and turning it into something) as the starting point for the physical design of the office; which included creating walls, signage, beams, tables, shelving and even a set of stairs out of cardboard. They also have the walls double as a blank canvas, on which people can leave their marks, like Fiodor Sumkin did.

To whom is concerned about the fire risks, cut's at the shap edges and coffee stains, according to Joost van Bleiswijk, who created and designed this cardboard office, the material is treated with a fire resistant substance; the material is quite thick, the top layer is a 2 mm solid cardboard that doesn't cut your hands as a thin paper sheet would do; and the material is a high pressure cardboard that doesn't soak liquids as a normal paper box would do. The layer on top makes that you can wipe and clean the worst damage. And if it does get too dirty...., they will just cut another tabletop for, well, nothing much at all.