Japan’s cultural mystery of humanness.
A series based on my interest in Japanese culture.
Sento are public bathhouses that customers pay to use. Japan has a rich culture of bathing, both Sentō and Onsen (hot springs) are very common. The history of bathing in Japan dates back to the Edo period (1603–1868). From the outset, the custom was believed to not only wash the body but also cleanse the soul and improve one’s health. That understanding continues in present day Japan.
Japan is home to many volcanoes, which is why there are more than 20,000 onsen facilities located across the country. In Tokyo alone there are about 750 sentō. These sentō have changing rooms with high latticed ceilings, small courtyard gardens, and large murals painted above the baths. The murals often depict Mount Fuji. Bathers soaking under the paintings are made to feel like they are in the waters around the mountain, purifying their bodies as in some ancient ritual.
Tea ceremonyThe father of the modern way of tea was Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) who advocated an austere, rustic simplicity. Although its origins lie in Chinese Zen ritual, over centuries the ceremony developed into a distinct Japanese form combining native culture, including art, flower arranging, and haute cuisine.
It’s a ceremonial way of preparing and drinking green tea (Matcha) typically in a traditional tearoom with tatami floor. The ceremony is to form a bond between host and guest that demonstrates the spirit of generosity and respect in an atmosphere distinct from the fast pace of everyday life.
Japan has the highest per capita rate of vending machines in the world. You can buy just about anything.
Obligation and ritual play a big role in social encounters in Japan --at work, at home, at the store. For generations, small neighborhood shops thrived because they provided a sense of intimacy and trust. Vending machines let you avoid social requirements.
Sterngold, 1992: ‘They help people avoid social embarrassment associated with buying certain products. For example, in the 1990s flower machines allowed young men to avoid the embarrassment of admitting to shopkeepers they were buying a nice gift for a sweetheart. Such a gesture of affection was unusual in Japan for the time and rather embarrassing.’
Egg of the sun
Whereas in many Western cultures fruit is prized for their nutritional value, the Japanese see fruit in almost spiritual terms. For this reason, high-end fruit has come to be viewed as an important symbol of respect. Even the fruit you see every day in convenience stores is far from cheap, and misshapen produce is kept off the shelves.
But these gift fruits are in an entirely different league. There are entire luxury grocer's dedicated to gift fruit. From heart-shaped or square watermelons to "Ruby Roman" grapes, which are the size of a ping pong ball. Expensive, carefully-cultivated fruit, however, is not unique to these stores. Across Japan, such products regularly sell for tens of thousands of dollars at auction. In 2016, a pair of premium Hokkaido cantaloupe sold for a record $27,240 (3 million yen.Mangoes sold under the Taiyo no Tamago (Egg of the Sun) label are selected under strict criteria including weight and sugar content. Although not all Japanese consumers buy expensive fruit to gift -- many appreciate its rarefied taste.