Clean cultural

Many Internet users have seen Japanese tourists pick up trash from around campsites and rest stops even when they didn’t make the mess themselves. This habit and others added the description of clean to the list. Did you know that Japanese students clean their schools by themselves? No janitors, just students hauling trash bags, sweeping the steps, and wiping down the halls with washcloths for a good 30 minutes each day. Most storefront owners sweep up the sidewalks and streets outside their stores, too. Making it your business to keep communal space clean is a distinctly different mindset from some Western countries. Just think of all the gum-strewn, littered streets of big cities in America.

Overall, the impression of Japan from a Westerner’s eyes is pretty darn good, though perhaps a bit lacking in the relaxed and fun-loving department. My personal word pick for Japan would be focused. Whether it’s staying after school for 3 hours practicing with the baseball club, going to cram schools to get into good colleges, or clocking in extra hours of unpaid work at their jobs, Japanese people seem to find a goal and stick with it. Even in more fun pursuits, Japanese people throw themselves into their hobbies and work with a zeal that is truly commendable, in my humble opinion.  

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Tenjin Masturi

July 24 to July 25, Osaka
The Tenjin Masturi is a large two day festival in Osaka that features a procession of 100 boats. The boats are filled with celebrants adorned in the costumes of an ancient imperial court. In the evening large bonfires are lit aboard the boats. Such fires were once used to illuminate waterways by river patrols.


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Sapporo Yuki Matsuri

Early February (unconfirmed), Sapporo
The Sapporo Yuki Matsuri is a massive 7 day snow festival. International teams compete to build the best snow and ice sculptures.


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Nebuta Matsuri in Aomori City

August 2 to August 7, Aomori
The Aomori Nebuta is a large festival featuring spectacular lantern floats held August 2nd to 7th. It's occasionally disrupted by a local gang.


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Kanto Matsuri

August 3 to August 6, Akita
The Kanto Matsuri is a pole lantern festival in Akita City. Participants balance massive 12 meter, or 40 foot, tall lantern poles on their palms, foreheads, etc. These poles weight around 60 kilograms or 130 pounds. The lanterns are lit by candles. It's something to see.


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Sapporo Yosakoi Soran Festival

June 7 to June 11, Sapporo
The Sapporo Yosakoi Soran Matsuri is Japan's largest Yosakoi dance festival. It features 350 teams with around 35,000 dancers and attracts 1 million spectators.


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Gion Matsuri

July 1 to July 29, Kyoto
The Gion Matsuri is Kyoto's largest festival. It's a month long event that peaks with parades of large floats on July 17th and July 24th.



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Asakusa Samba Matsuri

End of August (unconfirmed), Tokyo
Asakusa is one of Tokyo's oldest and most conservative neighborhoods. It's also home to Tokyo's most vibrant and international festival — the Asakusa Samba Matsuri. The winning team of the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is invited to perform at the festival. Local samba teams also perform. Japan and Brazil have strong ties.


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Tokushima Awa Odori

August 12 to August 15, Tokushima
The Tokushima Awa Odori is a huge city-wide dance party in Tokushima City, Shikoku Island that attracts 1.3 million tourists each year. Participants wear colorful costumes, dance and play shamisens, gongs, taiko drums and flutes.
The festival is part of the region's Obon Festivities. It features synchronized traditional dances for men and women. There are different dances for day and night. The daytime dance (Nagashi) is restrained and elegant. The nighttime dance (Zomeki) is frenzied and energetic. Spectators are encouraged to join.
Tokushima City's airport is named after the festival — Tokushima Awa Odori Airport.


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Taira no Masakado

Taira no Masakado was a samurai who challenged the Imperial court in Kyoto. He ended up effectively taking over large parts of Japan before being defeated in battle in 940. His head was brought to Tokyo and his kami was enshrined at Kanda Shrine.

Taira no Masakado was popular with the people because he challenged the government. It is said that his revolt was preceded by earthquakes, swarms of butterflies, lunar eclipses and rainbows in Kyoto.
Taira no Masakado is considered an extremely powerful Kami. He must be constantly appeased or bad luck is certain. He was blamed for floods and fires in the Edo-era. The Shoguns themselves would visit Kanda Shrine to pray to his Kami.


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Sugawara no Michizane

Sugawara no Michizane was a prominent Japanese poet and politician who was exiled by his political rivals in the year 901. Shortly thereafter he died a lonely death.
Immediately after his death, Kyoto was struck with terrible lightening and floods. The sons of the Emperor died in unusual accidents. Plague and drought spread throughout Japan.
The government attributed this to Sugawara no Michizane's vengeful spirit. They posthumously restored his rank and status. They tried to destroy all evidence of his punishment. When the disasters continued, they granted his spirit the title of Kami of Scholarship in a special ceremony. They built Kitano Tenmangu Shrine in Kyoto in his honor. Finally, the disasters ended.


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Tengu are a Japanese bird monster that often takes on human form. As humans they have big noses.
Tengu were long considered enemies of Buddhism who corrupted followers and monks. However, in modern times they are viewed as protectors of sacred forests and mountains.
Tengu aren't usually kami. They are more typically monsters or ghosts. However, some temples located in sacred forests and mountains are associated with tengu kami.


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Izanami and Izanagi

Izanagi and Izanami are the Shinto kami of creation. They created the earth with a spear decorated with jewels. Using the spear they stirred the sea between heaven and earth. Each time a drip of water fell from the spear an island was created.


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Shitenno (literally: Four Heavenly Kings) are four terrifying gods borrowed from Hinduism to protect Japanese Buddhist temples. Each god is associated with a direction, season, virtue and element. In many cases, Shitenno are depicted stomping on demons.


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Amaterasu is the goddess of the sun and the universe. She is sometimes considered the most important Shinto god. The Emperor is said to be a direct descendant of Amaterasu. This was much emphasized during the period of State Shinto from 1868-1945 when Shinto essentially functioned as a government organization. After WWII, Emperor Showa issued a radio statement in which announced that he was not a kami.


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Yebisu or Ebisu

Yebisu, often written Ebisu, was born without any bones and struggled to survive. At the age of two he was cast into the sea in a boat. He managed to survive and grow bones. He returned from sea many years later as a god.
Yebisu is the god of fishermen, luck and the guardian of the health of small children. He is a jolly spirit despite his hard life.
Yebisu is usually depicted as a chubby fellow wearing a hat carrying a fishing rod and fish. In modern times he is best known as the god on the front of Yebisu beer cans (Japan's biggest brand of premium beer).


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Benzaiten (or Benten) is the goddess of everything that flows: words, eloquence and music. In the popular imagination she is also associated with love. It's common for shrines dedicated to Benzaiten to be considered romantic spots amongst Japanese couples. She is one of Japan's 7 Lucky Gods.

Enoshima Shrine dedicated to Benzaiten is popular with couples for its pink ema with hearts.


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Kannon is the Japanese Buddhist goddess of mercy. She is a Bodhisattva — one who achieves enlightenment but postpones Buddhahood until everyone can be enlightened.
Many Japanese temples are dedicated to worship of Kannon. She was also featured in Japanese Christian imagery in the Edo-era.
In the 17th century, Christianity was banned in Japan. Japanese Christians continued worshiping in secret. These secret Christians made statues of Kannon that look very much like Roman Catholic art featuring the Madonna and Child including Christian symbols such as crosses. Some of these statues have survived and can be seen at Japanese temples today.

Credit: http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/kami  

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Inari is the goddess of everything important in Japan including rice, tea, fertility, sake and worldly success. She uses foxes as her earthly messengers. As a result, foxes get a lot of respect in Japan.
Many Japanese shrines have a small shrine off to the side dedicated to foxes. It's common to make offerings of aburaage to foxes at these shrines. It's believed that foxes are crazy about the stuff. Many shrines also have statues of foxes.

Credit: http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/kami

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Agyo & Ungyo

Agyo and Ungyo are fearsome guardians of Buddha who often stand at the entrance to Japanese temples.
Agyo is a symbol of overt violence. He bares his teeth and holds a weapon or clenches his fist. Ungyo is a symbol of strength. His mouth is always shut and he shows his empty hand as a gesture of confidence.

Credit: http://www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/kami  

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