Terms Dictionary

Ordinary Terms

This section of dictionary presents meanings of some ordinary terms, found in everyday life.


Everyday Terms


- B -


OUTSIDE LINK (wikipedia)

- D -

Death Poem

Death poem (辞世の句, jisei no ku) is a poem written near the time of one's own death. It is a tradition for literate people to write one in a number of different cultures, especially in Japan.

Writing death poems is done by both Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Zen monks (writing either Chinese style poetry kanshi, waka or haiku), and by many haiku poets, as well as those who wish to write one. It was also an ancient custom in Japan for literate persons to compose a jisei on their deathbed.

Poetry has long been a core part of Japanese tradition, in strong relation to religious practice. The poem should be graceful, natural, and about neutral emotions adhering to the teachings of Buddhism and Shinto. Except the earliest works of this tradition, it has been considered inappropriate to mention death explicitly; rather, metaphoric references such as sunsets, autumn or falling sakura (cherry blossom) suggest the transience of life. (Read about kigo for more information)

In a full ceremonial seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide) one of the elements of the ritual is the writing of a death poem. The poem is written in the tanka style (five units long which are usually composed of five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables).

- H -


Haiku (俳句, haikai verse) is a form of Japanese poetry, which consists from three phrases. Its defining features are the use of kireji and kigo

Kireji (a cutting word) appears at the end of one of the three phrases. In Japanese, there are actual kireji words, which act as a sort of spoken punctuation. Such a division is usually placed at the end of either the first or second line; very rarely they can be found in the middle of the second line. The purpose is to create a juxtaposition, which creates space for an implication as the reader intuits the relationship between the two parts.

Kigo (season word) are the words that symbolise or intimate the season in which the poem is set.

Example 1

furuike ya (古池 や) - Old pond
kawazu tobikomu (蛙 飛込む) - A frog jumps
mizu no oto (水 の 音) - The sound of water

Example 2

fuji no kaze ya - the wind of Mt. Fuji
oogi ni nosete - I've brought on my fan!
Edo miyage - a gift from Edo


Hanafuda (花札, Hanafuda) are playing cards of Japanese origin (karuta cards), used to play a number of games. The name literally translates as 'flower cards'.




There are twelve suits, representing months. Each is designated a flower, and each suit has four cards. Typically, there are two 'normal' cards worth one point, one poetry ribbon card worth five points, and a final special card worth ten or twenty points. The point values could be considered unnecessary and arbitrary, as the most popular games only concern themselves with certain combinations of taken cards.

For some purposes, the flowers are used as numerals, with pine having a value of 1, plum having a value of 2, and so forth. This enables the deck to be used for games such as Oicho-Kabu.
Month Flower Suit Cards
January Pine (松, matsu) 2 Normal (1 point); 1 Poetry Ribbon (5 pts.); "Crane and Pine" (20 pts.)
February Flowering Plum (梅, ume) 2 Normal (1 point); 1 Poetry Ribbon (5 pts.); "Nightingale and Plum" (10 pts.)
March Sakura (桜, sakura) 2 Normal (1 point); 1 Poetry Ribbon (5 pts.); "Curtain and Sakura" (20 pts.)
April Wisteria (藤, fuji) 2 Normal (1 point); 1 Red Ribbon (5 pts.); "Cuckoo and Wisteria" (10 pts.)
May Iris (菖蒲, shoubu) 2 Normal (1 point); 1 Red Ribbon (5 pts.); "Water Iris at 8-Board Bridge" (10 pts.)
June Peony (牡丹, botan) 2 Normal (1 point); 1 Purple Ribbon (5 pts.); "Butterflies and Peony" (10 pts.)
July Bush Clover (萩, hagi) 2 Normal (1 point); 1 Red Ribbon (5 pts.); "Wild Boar and Bush Clover" (10 pts.)
August Pampas Grass (薄, susuki) 2 Normal (1 point); "Wild Geese and Pampas" (10 pts.); "Full Moon and Pampas" (20 pts.)
September Chrysanthemum (菊, kiku) 2 Normal (1 point); 1 Purple Ribbon (5 pts); "Sake cup and Chryzantemium" (10 pts.)
October Maple (紅葉, momiji) 2 Normal (1 point); Purple Ribbon (5 pts.); "Deer and Maple" (10 pts.)
November Willow (柳, yanagi) 1 Red Ribbon (5 pts); "Lightning" (1 pt.); "Swallow and Willow" (10 pts.); "Man with Umbrella and Willow" (20 pts.)
December Paulownia (桐, kiri) 3 Normal (1 point); "Phoenix and Paulownia" (20 pts.)
-"Man with Umbrella" card which depicts man with umbrella standing under willow and watching at frog, is named in japanese "Yanagi ni Ono no Toufuu", which means "Ono no Toufuu and Willow". Ono no Toufuu or Ono no Michikaze (894-966), was a famous calligrapher in Heian Period (794-1185) and grandson of courtier-poet, Ono no Takamura. One of the So-called Sanseki (Three Brush Traces), with Fujiwara no Sukemasa and Fujiwara no Yukinari. Toufuu is considered the founder of Japanese Style calligraphy.
-"Phoenix and Paulownia" card depicts the Chinese Phoenix, which is known in Japan as Houou (鳳凰), a mystical Firebird God.


Object of Play: To defeat or out skill your opponent by accumulating more points than him.

Rules of Play The cards are mixed and the dealer places all in one pile. Eight cards are then drawn and placed face up in any fashion. The dealer then takes the pile and gives eight cards to each player and returns the pile to the table. Due to the number of cards available, the number of cards dealt and placed face up may be changed if there are multiple players.

The Play: The dealer takes out from his hand one matching card to the one on the table and matching is done with any of the same suit card. And open a stock card and match. If no matching card, leave the card on the table. If he has no matching card in his hand, he has to discard one and may open the stock and match. The player places his own point-cards only has taken, face up on the table in front of him so that the cards can be seen from opponent's side, too. The play ends when the last player's card and stock are exhausted.

Exception: When play the stock cards will not be exhausted, although the hand cards are all out.

Hiki: An entire suite (4 cards) are showing whether player has part of the suit in his hand and parts showing on the table; he will be forced to announce this, if anyone attempts to take any one of this suite with Gaji. If the entire suite is on the table, the dealer has a privilege to take the whole suit.

Scoring: At the end of play, each adds the value of all cards he has taken. The total score is 240 points.

Oya Gachi: If points tie between dealer and nondealers, the dealer wins. If tie among nondealers, the nearest had to the dealer at his left wins.

Koi Koi is a 2-player Japanese card game in which you basically match up cards of the same suit. The goal of the game is to form card combinations that can earn you Yakus or points that can win you the game. It's surprisingly simple once you get the hang of it.

As stated, to win the round, you need to form certain card combinations in order to earn Yakus. Once you made at least one, you have the option to stop and win the round, or you can Koi Koi, which is to continue the round in hopes of earning more Yakus. If you continue, then you need to make at least another Yaku if you want to go out or continue once more. Ending score is doubled for each Koi Koi made.

Once you stop, Yakus are rewarded for each card combinations made. Like Fans in mahjong, each Yaku is worth 1 point. Once the final score is calculated, that score is added to the winning player's score, while the same amount is deducted from the loser's score. The match is won when the other player's score is zero or below. If each player still has points in their score after a round, more rounds are played until someone's score drops to zero.

When all cards in hand are played, the round ends in a draw and another round begins.

Types of Yakus (Specific card combinations)

Similar to mahjong. you need at least 1 Yaku in order to go out and win the round, or simply to continue and earn more. You earn Yakus for each card combination you make. Combinations can be made from as little as 2 cards to as many as 10 or more:
1-pts Ten Plains
Ten Plains +
Collect 10 of 1 point cards
Each Additional 1-pt card after
5-pts Red Tanzaku (赤タン, akatan) Collect all 3 Poetry Ribbon Cards 5 (6)
Blue Tanzaku (青タン, aotan) Collect all 3 Purple Ribbon Cards 5 (6)
Double Red & Blue Tanzaku
(赤短・青短の重複, akatan, aotan no choufuku)
Collect all 3 Poetry Ribbon Cards and all 3 Purple Ribbon Cards 10
Tan/Gotan (Five Tanzaku)
Tan/Gotan (Five Tanzaku) +
Collect any 5 Ribbon / 5pt cards
Each Additional Ribbon /5-pt card after
10-pts Five 10s (タネ, tane)
Five 10s +
Collect 5 of 10-pt cards
Each Additional 10-pt card after
20-pts Three Lights (三光, sankou) Collect any 3 of 20-pt cards, but not "Man with Umbrella" 5 (6)
Four Lights (四光, shikou) Collect 4 of 20-pt cards except "Man with Umbrella" 8 (10)
Rainy Four Lights (雨四光, ame-shikou) Collect 4 of 20-pt cards including "Man with Umbrella" 7 (8)
Five Lights (五光, gokou) Collect all 5 of 20-pt cards 10 (15)
Mixed Boar, Deer and Butterfly (猪鹿蝶, ino-shika-chou) Collect "Boar", "Deer", "Butterfly" cards 5
Crane, Paulownia and Baldhead (matsu-kiri-bôzu) Collect "Crane", "Phoenix" and "Full Moon" ?
Great Three (oozan) Collect "Crane", "Nightingale" and "Curtain" ?
??? (teppo) Collect "Curtain", "Full Moon" and "Sake Cup" ?
Four Cards Hand(手四, teshi) Be dealt 4 cards of same suit ?
Sticker (くっつき, kuttsuki) Be dealt 4 pairs of cards with matching suits ?
Moon-watching party (月見酒, tsukimi-zake) Collect "Sake Cup" and "Full Moon" 5 (3)
Sakura-watching party (花見酒, hanami-zake) Collect "Sake Cup" and "Curtain" 5 (3)


Hanami (花見, Hanami lit. "flower viewing") is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the beauty of flowers, "flower" in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms (桜 or 櫻, sakura), or ume blossoms (梅, ume). From late March to early May, sakura bloom all over Japan. The blossom forecast (桜前線, sakurazensen, lit. cherry blossom front) is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week or two. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night. Hanami at night is called yozakura (lit. "night sakura"). In many places such as Ueno Park temporary paper lanterns are hung for the purpose of yozakura.

The practice of hanami is many centuries old. The custom is said to have started during the Nara Period (710–794) when the Chinese Tang Dynasty influenced Japan in many ways; one of which was the custom of enjoying flowers. Though it was ume blossoms that people admired in the beginning, by the Heian Period, sakura came to attract more attention. From then on, in tanka and haiku, "flowers" meant "sakura."

Sakura originally was used to divine that year's harvest as well as an announcer of the rice-planting season. People believed in gods' existence inside the trees and made offerings at the root of sakura trees. Afterwards, they partook of the offering with sake.

Emperor Saga of the Heian Period adopted this practice, and held flower-viewing parties with sake and feasts underneath the blossoming boughs of sakura trees in the Imperial Court in Kyoto. Poems would be written praising the delicate flowers, which were seen as a metaphor for life itself, luminous and beautiful yet fleeting and ephemeral. This was said to be the origin of hanami in Japan.

- I -


The Iroha (伊呂波 ,commonly translated as "ABC's") is a Japanese poem most likely written sometime during the Heian era (AD 794–1179). Originally the poem was attributed to the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, Kukai, but more modern research has found the date of composition to be later in the Heian Period. The first record of its existence dates from 1079. It is famous because it is a perfect pangram, containing each character of the Japanese syllabary exactly once. Because of this, it is also used as an ordering for the syllabary.


The first appearance of the Iroha, in 金光明最勝王経音義, was in seven lines: six with seven morae each, and one with five. It was also written in man'yogana (ancient writing system that employs Chinese characters to represent the Japanese language.)


Structurally, however, the poem follows the standard 7-5 pattern of Japanese poetry (with one hypometric line), and in modern times it is generally written that way in contexts where line breaks are used. The text of the poem in hiragana (with archaic ゐ and ゑ but without voiced consonant marks) is:


i ro ha ni ho he to
chi ri nu ru wo
wa ka yo ta re so
tsu ne na ra mu
u wi no o ku ya ma
ke fu ko e te
a sa ki yu me mi shi
we hi mo se su

The text of the poem in kanji and kana, voiced where appropriate, is:


An English translation:
As flowers are brilliant but [inevitably] fall,
who could remain constant in our world? [No one could]
Today let us transcend the high mountain of transience,
and there will be no more shallow dreaming, no more drunkenness.
An alternative English translation:
Although its scent still lingers on
the form of a flower has scattered away
For whom will the glory
of this world remain unchanged?
Arriving today at the yonder side
of the deep mountains of evanescent existence
We shall never allow ourselves to drift away
intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams
Research by Komatsu Hideo also revealed that the last syllable of each line of the Man'yōgana original (止加那久天之須), when put together, revealed another hidden sentence, toka [=toga] nakute shisu (咎懐死す), which means "die without sin". It is thought that this might be eulogy in praise of Kukai, further supporting the notion that the Iroha was written after Kūkai passed away.

Sound change

The iroha is used as an indicator of sound changes in the spoken Japanese language in the Heian era.

Strictly transliterated the poem runs:

i ro ha ni ho he to
chi ri nu ru (w)o
wa ka yo ta re so
tsu ne na ra mu
u (w)i no o ku wa ma
ke fu ko e te
a sa ki yu me mi shi
(w)e hi mo se su

To obtain the meaning indicated above, one must read the poem with some flexibility. These changes yield:
Iro wa nioedo
Chirinuru o
Wa ga yo tare zo
Tsune naran
Ui no okuyama
Kyō koete
Asaki yume miji
Ei mo sezu.


The iroha contains every kana precisely once, with the exception of ん [-n], which was spelled just like む "mu" at the time. For this reason, the poem was frequently used as an ordering of the kana until the Meiji era reforms in the 19th century. Thereafter the gojūon (五十音, literally "fifty sounds") ordering system, which is based on Sanskrit, became more common. It begins with "a, i, u, e, o" then "ka, ki, ku..." and so on for each kana used in Japanese. Although the iroha is seen as more "old fashioned" than the gojūon, the earliest known copy of the gojūon predates the iroha.

The iroha is still occasionally encountered in modern Japan. For example, it is used for seat numbering in theaters, and (from right to left) across the top of Go game diagrams (kifu), as in Yasunari Kawabata's Meijin. Western go game diagrams use either letters or letters and numbers. In music, the notes of an octave are named i ro ha ni ho he to, written in katakana.
Musical Notes
English A B C D E F G
Japanese イ (i) ロ (ro) ハ (ha) ニ (ni) ホ (ho) ヘ (he) ト (to)
The word いろは (iroha) can also be used to mean "ABCs" or "the basics" in Japanese.

Although the Japanese employ the "heavenly stems" (elements of an ancient Chinese cyclic character numeral system) for rank order besides both the Chinese and Arabic numerals as well as the Latin alphabet, the iroha sequence was used to note the rank of submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy during the Second World War. All long-range submarines had designations beginning with "I" (e.g., the largest submarine had "I400" painted on its conning tower), coastal submarines began with "Ro", and training or marginally usable submarines had "Ha".

Japanese weapons, made before 1945 were numbered in series with the original poem. Refer to "Japanese Rifles" by Honeycutt and Anthony for examples of this practice. It is not known today if this was done out of respect for custom, or for reasons of military security or secrecy. Beginning with the second production of the type 38 rifle, ie: after they produced the first 1,000,000 rifles, the Japanese Arsenal, Koishikawa, began with series "I" and continued until the type 38 was replaced by the improved type 99 (In 1939) The rifles were made in blocks of 100,000 each, before changing the Kana symbol to the next in order of the poem.

This practice apparently started after the great Tokyo earthquake of the mid 1920's, when the Tokyo Arsenal was almost totally destroyed and production was moved to Kokura and Nagoya Arsenals

The weapons affected by this, among others, were the type 38 rifle, the type 38 carbine, the type 44 carbine, and certain machine guns, all in Caliber 6,5mm. After 1939, when the caliber was increased to 7,7mm, the weapons numbered with this system include; The type 99 long rifle, the type 99 short rifle, the type 0, and the type 2 paratrooper rifles...(This is the take-down type rifle used by Lawrence Harvey in the film "The Manchurian Candidate")

Handguns were made under a different system, involving sub contractors and private purchases by Japanese Officers.

Iroha is also used in Japanese National Railways: I is first class;Ro is second and Ha is third


Authorship is traditionally ascribed to the Heian era Japanese Buddhist priest and scholar Kūkai (空海) (774–835). However, this is unlikely as it is believed that in his time there were separate e sounds in the a and ya columns of the kana table. The え (e) above would have been pronounced ye, making the pangram incomplete.

It is said that the iroha is a transformation of these verses in the Nirvana Sutra:

諸行無常 (Shogyōmujō)
是生滅法 (Zeshōmeppō)
生滅滅已 (Shōmetsumetsui)
寂滅為楽 (Jakumetsuiraku)
which translates into
All acts are impermanent
That's the law of creation and destruction.
Creation and destruction destroy yourself
Solitary extinction causes nirvana.

- K -


Kigo (season word(s), from the Japanese 季語, kigo) are words or phrases that are associated with a particular season. Kigo are used in the longer linked-verse form known as renga (including haikai no renga), as well as in haiku, to indicate the season when the poem is set. They are valuable in providing economy of expression.

Japanese Seasons

Japanese seasons In the Japanese calendar, seasons traditionally followed the lunisolar calendar with the solstices and equinoxes at the middle of a season. (The astronomical definition of seasons, however, has the seasons beginning at a solstice or equinox.) The traditional Japanese seasons are:
Summer: 6 May—7 August
Autumn: 8 August—6 November
Winter: 7 November—3 February

For kigo, each season is then divided into early, mid, and late periods, as follows:

Early Spring: 4 February—5 March
Mid-Spring: 6 March—4 April
Late Spring: 5 April—5 May
Early Summer: 6 May—5 June
Mid-Summer: 6 June—6 July
Late Summer: 7 July—7 August
Early Autumn: 8 August—7 September
Mid-Autumn: 8 September—7 October
Late Autumn: 8 October—6 November
Early Winter: 7 November—6 December
Mid-Winter: 7 December—4 January
Late Winter: 5 January—3 February

Spring kigo

  • Spring (haru) - the name of season is a kigo or season word. Other combinations are Spring begins (Haru tatsu), Signs of Spring (haru meku), Sea in the spring (haru no umi), Spring being gone (Yuku haru). Higan of Spring (春彼岸, haru higan, literary beyond the border of this world), one week around Spring Equinox (shunbun) has a significant period for Buddhists to soothe their ancestors' souls and grave-visiting as well as Higan of Autumn.
  • February (kisaragi or nigatsu), March (yayoi or sangatsu) and April (uzuki or shigatsu). The third month (sangatsu) in the Japanese calendar is equivalent roughly to April in the Gregorian calendar, therefore End of March (yayoijin) is equal to End of Spring (haru no hate).
  • Warm (atatakashi or nurumu) - all spring - as the weather changes from the cold of winter, any warming is noticed. Also Water becomes warm (mizu nurumu).
  • Spring mist or Spring haze (kasumi) - all spring - the daytime haze of spring. The night-time haze during spring that can obscure the moon is called oboro. Haruichiban, the first strong southerly wind of spring is used as kigo in the modern haiku.
  • ume (plum) blossom - early spring
  • uguisu (鶯, Japanese bush warbler (sometimes translated as Japanese nightingale), Cettia diphone) - early spring - the bird is used as an example of sweet sounds. Uguisu were mentioned in the preface to the Kokinshū. It is often associated with ume blossoms and new growth in early Japanese waka and is regarded as a harbinger of spring (春告鳥, harutsugedori, literary "bird that announces the arrival of spring").
  • cherry blossoms (sakura) and cherry blossom-viewing (hanami) - late spring (April) - for the Japanese, cherry blossoms are such a common topic that in just mentioning blossoms (hana) in haiku it is assumed they are cherry blossoms. Blossom-viewing is an occasion for partying with friends or coworkers.
  • Hanamatsuri (Blossom Festival), Buddhist festival celebrating the birth of Buddha, on 8 April.
  • frogs (kawazu) - all spring (February-April) - noted for their loud singing
  • skylarks (hibari) - all spring - noted for their songs in flight, swallows (tsubame) mid-spring, twittering (saezuri) - all spring - the chirping of songbirds
  • Hinamatsuri (Girl's Day) Doll Festival and Hina (doll) - a traditional Japanese festival for girls on 3 March.

Summer kigo

  • Summer (natsu); other combinations are Summer has come (natsu kinu), End of summer (natsu no hate). Summer holidays (natsu yasumi) means mainly the school holiday.
  • May (satsuki or gogatsu), June (minazuki or rokugatsu), July (fumizuki, fuzuki or shichigatsu)
  • hot (atsushi), hotness (atsusa) and hot day (atsuki hi); also, anything related to the heat, including sweat (ase) and in contemporary haiku, air conditioning (reibō)
  • wisteria (fuji), hana tachibana (wild orange blossoms) and iris (ayame) - early summer (May), lotus (hasu or hachisu) - mid and late summer.
  • Rainy season (tsuyu) - the Japanese rainy season, usually starting in mid June.
  • hototogisu (Little Cuckoo - C. poliocephalis) - all summer (May-July) - the hototogisu is a bird in the Cuckoo family noted for its song
  • cicada (semi) - late summer (July) - known for their cries
  • Tango no sekku traditional festival for boys on May 5. See Hinamatsuri in Spring for the girls festival.
  • Festival (matsuri) is applied to summer festivals of Shintoism for purification. Traditionally it meant the fest of Kamo Shrine in Kyoto, however as kigo it can be applied to each local Shinto festival.

Autumn kigo

  • Autumn (aki); other combinations are Autumn has come (aki tatsu), Autumn is ending (aki tsuku), Autumn being gone (yuku aki).
  • August (hazuki or hachigatsu), September (nagatsuki or kugatsu) and October (jūgatsu or kannazuki). The ninth month (kugatsu) in the Japanese calendar is equivalent roughly to October in the Gregorian calendar, therefore End of September (kugatsujin) is equal to End of Autumn (kure no aki).
  • Typhoon (taifū or nowaki), thunder (kaminari)
  • Milky Way (amanogawa, lit. "river in the heaven"), because in the autumn it is most visible in Japan. It is associated with Tanabata.
  • moon (tsuki) - all autumn (August-October), and moon-viewing (tsukimi) mid-autumn (September) - the word "moon" by itself is assumed to be a full moon in autumn. (Moon-viewing and leaf-viewing (momijimi or momijigari) in autumn (along with snow-viewing (yukimi) in winter and cherry blossom-viewing (hanami or sakuragari) in spring) are common group activities in Japan.)
  • Insects (mushi), mainly it implies singing insects. Also crickets (kōrogi) - all autumn (August-October) - noted for the singing of the males
  • Nashi pear (梨 nashi), Chaenomeles (boke no mi), peach (momo), persimmon (kaki), apples (ringo) and grapes (budō) are examples of fruit that are used as autumn kigo.
  • colored leaves (momiji) - late autumn (October) - a very common topic for haiku along with related topics such as first colored leaves (hatsu momiji) mid-autumn, shining leaves (teri momiji) late autumn, leaves turning color (usumomiji) mid-autumn, leaves start to fall (momiji katsu chiru) late autumn, etc. Leaf-viewing (momijigari) is a common group activity.
  • Scarecrow (kakashi), rice cropping (inekari) - rice harvest and relevant things are significant for Japanese life.
  • Autumn Festival (akimatsuri) - Autumn festival is mainly in the purpose of the thanksgiving for harvest. Other feasts in the Autumn, including Tanabata (the festival of the weaver maiden and the herdsman in the Heavenly Court), Grave-Visiting (haka mairi), and Bon Festival (ancestors' spirits come home to share the ceremonial and festival time with descendent family, urabon-e) - all early autumn (August) - are kigo as well as associated ornaments and activities like small bonfires called mukae-bi (welcome-fire for ancestors' spirits) and folk dancing (bon odori).

Winter kigo

  • Winter (fuyu), using "winter" in a haiku adds a sense of chilliness (literally and figuratively), bleakness, and seclusion to the poem.
  • November (shimotsuki or jūichigatsu), December (shiwasu or jūnigatsu) and January (mutsuki or ichigatsu)
  • Cold (samushi) and Coldness (samusa).
  • fallen leaves (ochiba) and dry leaves (kareha) - all winter (November-January) - just as colored leaves are a clear sign of autumn, fallen leaves are a sign of winter.
  • snow-viewing (yukimi) - late winter (January) - a popular group activity in Japan. Also first snow (hatsu yuki) mid winter, snow (yuki) late winter, and ice (kōri) late winter.
  • fugu soup (fugujiru), anglerfish or sea-devil stew (ankō nabe), oyster (kaki) - seasonal dishes.
  • Christmas - this is a modern kigo. It was not used in the Edo period, when Christianity was forbidden.
  • Calendar vendor (koyomiuri) - preparation for the new year.
  • New Year's Eve (ōmisoka or toshi no yo, literally "The end of year"), and the New Year's Eve party (toshiwasure).
  • Kan (kan), days from 5 or 6 January until 4 or 5 February (literally coldness) - derived originally from the Chinese 24 seasonal periods. Also Daikan (great coldness) a day around 20 January, or Beginning of Kan season (kan no iri, 5 or 6 January).

New Year kigo

  • Japanese New Year (正月, shōgatsu) - As in many other cultures, the Japanese New Year is an important time of year for celebrations and there are many activities associated with it that may be mentioned in haiku, including some "firsts": first sun (hatsuhi), first laughter (waraizome), and first calligraphy (kakizome). There is also New Year's Day (ganjitsu).
  • first sparrow (hatsu-suzume) - the first sparrow helps welcome the New Year.
  • New Year's Day customs: kadomatsu (a traditional decoration usually made of pine and bamboo that is place on the gate or outer doorway), otoshidama (the custom of giving pocket money to children), toso (a ritual mulled saké only drunk on New Year's Day).
  • osechi (traditional Japanese New Year's Day food): zōni (a traditional vegetable broth with mochi—sticky rice cakes. The ingredients for zōni vary greatly between regions in Japan.), seven herbs (nanakusa) and rice porridge with seven herbs (nanakusa gayu), eaten in the evening of 7 January (jinjitsu).

- M -


OUTSIDE LINK (wikipedia)


Mangan (満貫) is a term for maximum score win in mahjong game


Momiji refers to autumnal color change, especially of leaves. The term can refer to both the colors and the leaves themselves. Alternatively, momiji can mean maple.

- R -


OUTSIDE LINK (wikipedia)

- S -

Sal Tree

Sal Tree (Shorea robusta) is a species of tree native to southern Asia, ranging south of the Himalaya, from Myanmar in the east to India, Bangladesh, and Nepal. In India it extends from Assam, Bengal and Jharkhand west to the Shivalik Hills in Haryana, east of the Yamuna. The range also extends through the Eastern Ghats and to the eastern Vindhya and Satpura ranges of central India. It is often the dominant tree in the forests where it occurs.

In Buddhist tradition, it is said that Guatama Buddha (initial Buddha) was born under the branches of this tree while his mother was en route to birth him in his grandfather's kingdom.

Sal resin is burned as incense in Hindu ceremonies, and sal seeds and fruit are a source of lamp oil and vegetable fat. Sal is also one of the most important sources of hardwood timber in India, with hard, coarse-grained wood that is light in colour when freshly cut, and becoming dark brown with exposure. The wood is resinous and durable, and is sought after for construction, although not well suited to planing and polishing.


Sakura (桜 or 櫻, sakura) is the Japanese name for cherry trees, and their blossoms. In English, the word "sakura" is equivalent to the Japanese flowering cherry, and their blossoms are commonly called cherry blossoms. Cherry fruit (known in Japanese as sakuranbo) comes from another species of tree.

During the Heian Period (794–1191), the Japanese nobility sought to emulate many practices from China, including the social phenomenon of flower viewing (hanami: 花見), where the imperial households, poets, singers, and other aristocrats would gather and celebrate under the blossoms. In Japan, cherry trees were planted and cultivated for their beauty, for the adornment of the grounds of the nobility of Kyoto, at least as early as 794. In China, the ume "plum" tree (actually a species of apricot) was held in highest regard, but by the middle of the ninth century, the sakura had replaced the plum as the favored species in Japan.


Sensu is japanese folding fan.

History of Sensu

The sensu (fan) origin goes back to the Heian period (794~1185). A folding fan, was made first in Japan, and then exported to China, finally to Europe via India. It was highly fashionable during the reign of Louis XIV (1638-1715) to use a fan. The sensu was later imported back to Japan, and the silk fan was born.

Varieties of Sensu

There are many kinds of Fan’s for different occasions: ceremonies, entertainment, also for decorating.

Sensu for summer

Generally, sensu for men are about 23cm in length when folded, for ladies, 20cm. There are many varieties in the Summer sensu range, those which are in use daily to keep oneself cool and those for more formal occasions and events. The main spine is made in a plectrum shape, silk is used instead of washi (Japanese traditional paper) but some sensu are made from both silk and washi paper.

Sensu and its unspoken language

To place a sensu down in front of you closed, shows humility in intention. This was used as a greeting when two people meet.

When a marriage was fixed, both families exchanged sensu before the betrothal gifts were exchanged. Generally, a white sensu was given to the groom, a gold or silver sensu was given to the bride, but its original meaning was to give each other the sensu they used everyday, into which they had put their heart and body. This custom began in the Heian period. Also, the sensu a bride has at a wedding was originally made from real gold and silver paper which is meant to pray for happiness and to protect her from bad luck.

Another use is on the noh stage. By placing the fan in front of the koken (stage attendants) or the jiutai (chorus) they are seen on stage but have no part in the story; they are protected by the sensu so the actors do not react to their presence.

Shirokunogama (four-six-toad)

Shiroku no gama (四六の蝦蟇, lit. "four-six-toad") is the term for rare species of toads living only at Tsukuba mountain. Their name comes from the fact that they have four fingers in their forelegs and six in the rear legs. They produce a special toad oil which is used as medicine for cuts. This medicine made Tsukuba mountain and its toads famous among Japanese people a few hundred years ago, and you can still meet the toads and buy the medicine at shops around the Tsukuba mountain shrine on the hillside.


Sugoroku (双六) refers to two different forms of Japanese board game, one similar to western backgammon and the other similar to western Snakes and ladders. Sugoroku plays identically to backgammon (it even has the same starting position), except for the following differences:
  • Doubles are not special. If a player rolls doubles, each die still counts only once.
  • There is no "bearing off". The goal is to move all of one's men to within the last six spaces of the board.
  • There is no doubling cube.
  • It is not permitted to form a prime of six contiguous points to obstruct one's opponent.


The game is thought to have been introduced from China (where it was known as Shuanglu) into Japan in the sixth century

It is known that in the centuries following the game's introduction into Japan it was made illegal several times, most prominently in 689 and 754. This is because the simple and luck-based nature of sugoroku made it an ideal gambling game. This version of sugoroku and records of playing for gambling continuously appeared until early Edo era. In early Edo-era, a new and quick gambling game called Hanchō (半丁) appeared and using sugoroku for gambling quickly dwindled.

This variant of the backgammon family has died out in most other countries, but it is still popular in Japan, partially due to a boost caused by the inclusion of a free Sugoroku board with the first issue of the newspaper Kingu (in 1925) which sold 740,000 copies.

A simpler sugoroku, with the similar rules as Snakes and ladders appeared as early as late 13th century and helped by the cheap and elaborate wooden block printing technology of Edo period, it became a popular game. Thousands of variations of boards were made with pictures and themes from religion, political, actors, and even adult material. In Meiji and later period, this variation of game remained popular often included as a game in kid-oriented magazines.

In 1968, Takara introduced Jinsei Game (人生ゲーム Jinsei Gēmu) as a Japanese version of The Game of Life and this became an instant hit by using a roulette instead of dice and by offering alternative goals beside quickly reaching the goal. This game was periodically updated introducing many timely topics and sold over 10 million sets to date. In the electric gaming genre, Momotaro Dentetsu series is the most popular computer sugoroku game in Japan.


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Tea Ceremony

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Tenka (天下; jap: tenka; chinese pinyin: tiān xià) means "All under heaven", or literally, "heaven under" is a cultural concept which originated in China and was borrowed into Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Character 天 means "sky" or "heaven". 下 means "under" or "down". 天下 together, literally means "under the sky". The word 天下, besides the literal meaning, is also taken as referring to the whole world. In this context then, it can perhaps be best understood and translated as "Everything Under the Heavens".


A common term meaning "the world", tiān xià has been used throughout history. It is ordinary to name various things as "The first under heaven" or "The best under heaven"
天下為公 means "all is equal under heaven". In other words, the world exists not for a ruler or one person, but for all.
天下無難事 means "[There is] no difficulty under heaven".

In Japan

"Seizing Tenka" (tenka wo toru 天下 を 取る) was a characteristic for moves to unite the whole of Japan by lords such as Oda Nobunaga or Tokugawa Ieyasu. Also undefeatable warriors (such as Musashi Miyamoto) were called "Invincible under the Heavens", while others could self-proclaim themselves as those by blatantly writing such phrases on banner and carrying it with them.

In China

In classical Chinese political thought, the Emperor of China (Chinese:天子, or 皇帝) would nominally be the ruler of All under heaven, that is, the entire world. Although in practice there would be areas of the known world which were not under the control of the Emperor, in Chinese political theory the political rulers of those areas derived their power from the Emperor(皇權).

In Korea

In the ssireum, Korea's traditional style of wrestling, Cheon Ha (korean name for 天下) refers to the championship of all weights (perhaps best interpreted as world champion).

In Vietnam

Pronounced as thiên hạ, the usage is similar as in Chinese, where it means "the world" or "everybody".


Note: Aconitum (鳥兜, Torikabuto) is a toxic plant, also known as aconite, monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard's bane, women's bane, Devil's helmet or blue rocket. Is used as poison, as well as in medicine
Note: Rasetsumaru's sword is named Torikabuto (屠痢兜) with different kanji emphazising aspect of slaughter. Reasons for such sword name were the perfect match of Aconitum flowers' and Rasetsumaru's skin colors, as well as "poisoned" sword name being one more parallel to Haohmaru, whose sword is named "Fugu Poison".
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Ume (梅:うめ, ume) known as Japanese apricot, or Chinese plum, is a species of Asian plum in the family Rosaceae. The flower, long a beloved subject in the traditional painting of East Asia and Vietnam, is usually translated as plum blossom.

The tree originates from China, and was brought to Japan and Korea later. The tree is cultivated for its fruit and flowers. Although generally referred to as a plum in the English language, it is actually more closely related to the apricot.

Ume blossoms are often mentioned in Japanese poetry as a symbol of spring. When used in haiku or renga, they are a kigo or season word for early spring. The blossoms are associated with the Japanese Bush Warbler, and they are depicted together as one of the twelve suits on hanafuda (Japanese playing cards). During the Nara period (8th century), the blossom of the ume tree was preferred over the sakura (cherry) blossom, which became popular after the Heian period (794-1185).


Umemi (梅見, umemi) is a process of ume (plum) blossoms viewing. Its similar to hanami (cherry blosss viewing), but time is different. Umemi usually happens on a cold and wet March day.



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Note: Chanpurū is Okinawan word for "something mixed" and the word is sometimes used to refer to the culture of Okinawa, as it can be seen as a mixture of traditional Ryūkyū, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and North-American culture. It is thought to come from the Indonesian word campur meaning mixture.
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Note: Tetraodontidae is a family of primarily marine and estuarine fish. The family includes many familiar species which are variously called puffers, balloonfish, blowfish, bubblefish, globefish, swellfish, toadfish, and toadies. Fugu in Japanese name to both the fish and the dish prepared from it. As Fugu is lethally posionous, so is its meat if prepared incorrectly. Fugu poison (tetrodotoxin) paralyzes the muscles and victim dies from asphyxiation. Even today, there is no known antidote.
OUTSIDE LINK (wikipedia) - about fish
OUTSIDE LINK (wikipedia) - about dish from Fugu meat

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Upon finishing a meal, the Japanese use the polite phrase gochisōsama deshita (ごちそうさまでした) or - more informal/simple - gochisōsama (ごちそうさま). Gochisōsama is also based on the religious belief where chisō (馳走;ちそう) means running with efforts (by riding a horse, thereby indicating expedience) to cater foods for the guest, then linguistically altered to express gratitude to their efforts with adding "go" and "sama" as the form of honorific.


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Meals in Japan traditionally begin with the phrase itadakimasu (いただきます, lit. "I receive"). The phrase is similar to the phrase "bon appétit," or grace, used in the case of some individuals, at every meal. It is said to express gratitude for all who had a part in preparing the food, and in cultivating, ranching or hunting edible food of plants and animals. This originates in the consideration that living organisms are giving their life to human beings.

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Ofuku no Cha (Lucky Tea)

Lucky Tea (王服茶, Ofuku no Cha, lit. "king clothes tea") is a type of tea brewed especially for festival sweets. Notably, the "20 Tea Houses" located at Asakusa had benches outside where temple visitors could enjoy tea called Lucky Tea (Ofuku no cha), and at some point the tea houses came to employ attractive young women to serve the tea and became popular.

Okinawa Soba

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Sake is a Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice. In English language, it refers to specific Japanese beverage made from rice. However, in Japanese, the word sake (Japanese: 酒; usually preceded by the honorific prefix o-) means "alcoholic beverages" in general and not exclusively this specific single beverage.

Sake is also referred to in English as "Japanese rice wine," but the characterisation implied is not accurate. Wine is made from the single fermentation of plant juices (other than sparkling wine, which can be a double fermentation to create the carbonation). Sake is produced by multiple fermentation of rice, which is similar to the way beer is produced.

Sake is served in shallow cups, called choko. Usually sake is poured into the choko from ceramic flasks called tokkuri. Other, more ceremonial cups, used most commonly at weddings and other special occasions, are called sakazuki. Drinking from someone else's sake cup is considered a sign of friendship, or to honour someone of lower status.

Sake is often consumed as part of Shinto purification rituals


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Karakuri ningyō (からくり人形) are mechanized puppets or automata from Japan from the 18th century to 19th century. The word karakuri means a "mechanical device to tease, trick, or take a person by surprise". It implies hidden magic, or an element of mystery. In Japanese ningyō is written as two separate characters, meaning person and shape. It may be translated as puppet, but also by doll or effigy. The dolls' gestures provided a form of entertainment.

Three main types of karakuri exist:

  • Butai karakuri (舞台からくり ,stage karakuri) were used in theatre.
  • Zashiki karakuri (座敷からくり ,tatami room karakuri) were small and were played with in rooms.
  • Dashi karakuri (山車からくり ,festival car karakuri) were used in religious festivals, where the puppets were used to perform reenactments of traditional myths and legends.
At least in fiction, combat-suited karakuri are often mentioned. Those are mostly human-sized and gain advantage of their puppet nature by housing millions of hidden armaments inside their body. They can be controlled by human user directly, from distance, or they can be fully automated.

Karakuri puppets influenced the Noh, Kabuki and Bunraku theatre.

Zashiki Karakuri

The most common example today of a zashiki karakuri mechanism you can see on illustrations. It is a tea-serving robot, which start moving forward when a cup of tea is placed on the plate in its hands. It was used in a situation when a host wanted to treat a guest in an recreational way at a tea ceremony. It moves in a straight line for a set distance, moving its feet as if walking, and then bows its head. This signals that the tea is for drinking, and the doll stops when the cup is removed. When it is replaced, the robot raises its head, turns around and returns to where it came from. It is typically powered by a wound spring made of whalebone, and the actions are controlled by a set of cams and levers.


Kiseru (煙管, kiseru) is an old style Japanese smoking pipe. Kiseru were used for smoking a very fine, shredded tobacco, as well as Cannabis. It is typically made out of metal on the ends (the mouth piece and bowl), with a shaft typically made out of bamboo. Another distinct trait of a kiseru is that the bowl is much smaller than that of many western-style pipes, and if fitted with a fine-mesh metal screen, permits small servings at a low burning temperature.

There are many kiseru adorned with elaborate artwork and details made by skilled artisans. Made with precious metals, they naturally became a status symbol of the kiseru owner. The word kiseru comes from the Khmer word "ksher". Because the kiseru is basically a rod with metal ends, longer kiseru have been employed as weapons, especially by the gangster-like kabuki-mono samurai of Edo period Japan.

Tobacco was known in Japan in the 1570s at earliest and by the early 17th century, kiserus had become popular enough to be mentioned even in some Buddhist textbooks for children. The kiseru evolved along with the equipment and use of incense associated with the tea ceremony. The kō-bon, an incense tray, became the tabako-bon, a tobacco tray, the incense burner evolved into a pot for tobacco embers and the incense pot became a type of ash tray.

During the Edo period weapons were frequently used as objects with which one could flaunt one's financial status. Since commoners were prohibited to carry weapons, an elaborate kiseru carried slung from the waist would often serve a similar purpose.

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Shinjū-kyō (神獣鏡 "Deity & Beast Mirror") is an ancient japanese type of round bronze mirror decorated with images of gods and animals from Chinese mythology. Bronze mirrors preceded the glass mirrors of today, and were found by archaeologists among elite assemblages from various cultures. The obverse side has a polished mirror and the reverse has relief representations of legendary Chinese shen (神 "spirit; god"), Xian (仙 "transcendent; immortal"), and legendary creatures.

The shinjūkyō style of bronze mirror originated in China and was frequently produced during the Han Dynasty, Three Kingdoms, and Six Dynasties (1st-6th centuries CE). With the spread of Chinese bronze casting technology, shinjūkyō were also produced in Japan and Korea. The ca. 297 CE Wei zhi (魏志 "Records of Wei"), which is part of the Sanguo zhi (三國志 "Records of the Three Kingdoms"), has the first historical reference to bronze mirrors in Japan. It chronicles tributary relations between Queen Himiko of Wa (Japan) and the Wei court, and records that in 239 CE, Emperor Cao Rui sent presents to Himiko, including "one hundred bronze mirrors" (tr. Tsunoda 1951:15).

Archeological excavations of Japanese tombs from the Kofun period (3rd-7th centuries CE) have revealed numerous shinjūkyō, and Japanese archeologists divide them into subtypes including:

  • sankakuen-shinjūkyō (三角縁神獣鏡, "triangular-rimmed deity and beast mirror")
  • gamontai-shinjūkyō (画文帯神獣鏡, "wide image-band deity and beast mirror")
  • hirabuchi-shinjūkyō (平縁神獣鏡, "flat-rimmed deity and beast mirror")
A well-known kofun tomb excavated at the Yoshinogari site in Saga Prefecture contained 33 sankakuen-shinjūkyō bronze mirrors

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Yokobue (横笛) is traditional japanese transverse flute, usually made from bamboo. Basically its a catchall term for any japanese transverse flute, including Shinobue, Ryuteki, Komabue, Nohkan and so on. Shinobue is a Japanese popular traditional flute, used in 'Nagauta' or 'Matsuri-bayashi'. There are several kinds of Shinobue flutes. For 'Uta'(song) or for 'Hayashi'(accompaniment).