August 2010 Archives
Did you ever think that Tea could destroy an empire? Or that Moon Cakes could save one? It might sound impossible, but they did.
Emperor Huizong lived a thousand years ago, and he loved tea so much that he was called the "Tea Emperor." He wrote books about it, poems, made paintings and even had tea contests with his staff. He challenged them to see who could separate Ying De Tea from Jasmine Tea. Who could tell Shou Mei tea from Bi Luo Chun Tea Who could make a better Black Dragon Tea. He challenged everyone. And he commanded that his tea leaves be taken from the branches by virgins with golden scissors, and they were never allowed to actually touch the Leaves or his Tea Cups.
The Emperor was so obsessed with tea that he forgot to keep an eye on his neighbors. So when a nearby nation called the Jin invaded from the North, the emperor had no preperation, and he fled leaving his son with the job of defending China. Running didn't work however, as the Jin took over, and the emperor was captured anyway. The Mongolians saw the weakened China and quickly moved in, conquering the Jin. They ruled for almost a hundred years, and now you'll see why it was up to moon cakes to save the day.
Mongolians forbade the Chinese from meeting in large groups, so organizing and forming a rebellion seemed impossible. Now, where the Emperor Huizong had failed miserably, the Chinese Ming rebels would succeed.
The Ming rebels started a rumor about a plague that could only be cured by moon cakes. This justified the Chinese spreading the tasty treats around. On the inside of each moon cake was a hidden message giving information about the time of the attack. And once the message was read, the cakes were eaten to destroy the evidence. The idea worked, and the Chinese launched a successful surprise attack. The Mongolians retreated, and the Chinese empire was restored, after over a century of suppression.
So the next time you order some of our tea, don't forget the nation that it affected. And when you buy a moon cake from us this September, (to celebrate the Harvest Moon Festival!) just think of all the good it did.
Every year, from August 2-7 in Japan, the streets come alive with lumbering giants and explosions that light up the night sky. And no, it's not Godzilla come for revenge- it's the Aomori Nebuta Festival. Although its common nickname has become the FIRE FESTIVAL! It's the biggest summer festival in all of Japan, and each year millions go out to see the attractions.
The origins and initial meaning of the festival are unclear, and seem to be based more in legend than in fact. Some say its roots lie in the technique of using flutes and fireworks to distract the enemy on the battlefield. Others argue that its origins lie in a brutal 12 year war that took place over a thousand years ago, and that the losers of that war started it as a tradition to remember their fallen leader, General Aterui. But either way, the festival has come to embody the spirit and splendor of Japan itself.
It takes place in northern Japan, in the streets of the Aomori prefecture. There, colorful floats are pulled by volunteers and paraded in between the buildings, along the bay. The floats are brightly illuminated from within, and often depict famous samurai warriors, or legends from Japan's history. Although lately some of the floats have also come to represent characters from popular animes, and even some TV personalities. Musicians and professional dancers then follow the floats and stomp their feet on the ground, and dance throughout the procession. In addition, all people, even tourists, are encouraged to participate in the dancing. In order to do so you simply have to buy or rent a haneto costume, and follow the parade so you can dance all night long. The costume is a traditional white garb with bright colors coating them.
Now, you may be wondering why it's called the Fire Festival, as it seems there's only floats, music, and people dancing. Well, on the final day, as the floats are carried out into the sea, a fantastic fireworks display erupts overhead, celebrating the end of the festival, and all the joy and spectacle that took place during those few, magical days. The darkness lights up, a beautiful array of colors reflects off the nearby ocean, and the massive, larger-than-life floats that inspired wonder and awe slowly drift away, until they are gone.
The Fire Festival is Japan's biggest summer festival for a reason. It's big, it's loud, anyone can participate, and it captures the imagination in ways that might seem impossible today. Go see the festival, dance until your feet hurt, laugh until your sides ache, and be part of a truly unforgettable experience.