The Izu Peninsula’s Mt. Omuro is one of the most recognizable landmarks in Japan’s Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.
Everything about Japanese culture can be traced back to its rural villages. Japanese language, behavior, rituals, and diet can be traced back to a small village tucked away in a remote mountain valley.
How can that be? Let’s look at one lesson from language.
One of the first words a foreigner learns when studying Japanese is “gaijin,” 外人 which means ‘outsider.’ The more polite and socially accepted version of this word is “gaikokujin,” 外国人 which means ‘person from a foreign country.’ The word “gaijin” is strongly connected to the important concepts of “uchi” 内 and “soto” 外 in Japanese.
Itō has been inhabited since the Jōmon period – roughly 13,000-300 B.C. This era coincides with the Stone Age. The hunter-gatherer Jōmon people are believed to have entered Japan via the Japan Sea and the northern archipelago. They occupied northeastern Japan, and Izu was at the far western boundaries of their range. Archaeological digs here in Itō have produced artifacts from that time including primitive tools and pottery.
Today is Setsubun in Japan. It is one of several very old traditions imported from Chinese culture and based on the lunar calendar.
In the West, spring is associated with the vernal equinox (March 21), and rituals in European countries generally take place in early April. In Japan, the beginning of February is seen as the start of a transition from winter to spring. It is a time when the seasonal responsibilities of numerous gods start to shift, and they get restless and move around. To prevent gods of bad luck from wandering into the house, people developed a protective ritual called mamemaki (mah-may-mah-kee) or bean sowing.
The process of washing one’s body is kind of different here in Japan. So different that it needs some detailed explaining. Let’s start with a picture from Panasonic’s website (yes, Panasonic, the company that made those transistor radios way back then). They make just about everything for the Japanese domestic market.