A Traditional Japanese Custom in Hawaii

Health & Food

The Japanese people attach great importance to the New Year season. New Years is celebrated with great enthusiasm in Hawaii. There are traditional New Year's foods that are eaten to give strength, give good luck, good health and long life. One traditional food prepared at New Year's time is mochi.

Mochi pounding is the biggest event of the New Year's celebration. To pound mochi, sweet rice is soaked overnight then steamed until soft. Then place the mochi in the usu (big, deep bowl). One or two people pound the mochi while another person turns the mochi in the usu between the pounds and sprinkles some water on it. When the mochi is smooth, it is placed on a table and shaped into flat balls with the hand.

Ozoni (mochi soup) is made on New Year's eve and is eaten after midnight. It is believed to give strength throughout the upcoming year. Having a whole red fish is greatly believed to bring you good luck.

Our family New Year's tradition is to attend a service at the Buddhist temple, and pay our respects to deceased family members. At midnight each person helps to ring the church bell and we drink a toast of warm sake. Then we dash home through a thick blanket of smoke to light strings of firecrackers, believed to scare away evil spirits.

Traditional Japanese Marriage Customs

After the wedding day has been set, traditionally, the bride and her mother goes to pick out her wedding outfit no less than three months before the "big day." The Japanese bride wears a kimono, obi and uchikake. The kimono has long sleeves (furisode) that reach the floor. The kimono can be of any color and print and usually has the family crest on it. It is folded right over left and is held in place with an obi. The uchikake is a white heavy upper coat that is worn over the kimono. The make-up process, which takes more than an hour, includes painting the face, neck, arms and hands white. Red color is used near the eyes to give the impression of bashfulness. A very thin black line is painted over the eyes. The mouth is painted a very deep color, but only over part of the lips. This creates a smaller mouth. The final stage of completing the "traditional Japanese bride" is the arrangement of the Japanese wig and its kanzashi (decorations). The groom wears a hakama (pleated skirt) or a haori(black cloak) with white house crests.

Japanese character for "love"

Traditional Japanese Diet Moves to Hawaii

Beri-Beri - a disease of the peripheral nerves caused by a deficience of, or an inability to assimilate thiamin. It frequently results from a diet limited to polished white rice.

Hakumai, polished rice came into use in the Genreku period at the end of the 17th century and the period at the beginning of the 18th century. It was the staple food prized by the emperors, nobles, warriors and wealthy merchants. Genmai, unpolished brown rice became the food of the poor.

Rice was so central to the lives and diets of the Japanese, that contract laborers to Hawaii in 1884 stipulated that rice be made available to them at than 5 cents per pound. To their delight and to their detriment the rice made available to them was highly milled white rice.

A serving of sticky white rice is essential to achieve manpukukan, the full stomach feeling, but daily nutritional needs must be met by including legumes, pork, green leafy vegetables, whole grains, egg yolks, berries and nuts.

The inclusion of soy beans, which provide protein of high biological value and approximately 12 mc of thiamin per gram, in such forms as miso (soy bean paste), tofu (bean curd), natto (fermented beans), kuromame (black soy beans), okara (bean curd residue), yokan (sweetened bean paste), and shoyu (soy sauce)helped to balance the diet. The ever-resourceful Japanese also enhanced their diets by incorporating the bounty of fresh fruits and seafood Hawaii had to offer.

Traditional Japanese Childbirth Customs

Customarily, a month before birth, a woman would leave her husband return to her parents home and give birth. Her family would care for her one month then she'd return to her husband with child. After the fifth month of pregnancy, a woman wears a cotton abdomen band called a Iwata-obi. It is given by her family for protection, good luck and an easy birth.

After birth, a practice widely held is "seventh night", or the celebration of naming. On this day the child is named and introduced to the world, although the baby does not leave the house for one month.

On the baby's first birthday, various tools are placed in the path of the crawling child.. Items like a sickle, an abacus or a writing brush can tell the future profession of the infant by which one it chooses to play with.


Shiatsu is an ancient art of health that originally came from China. In Japan, the word "shiatsu" means finger pressure: shi (finger) atsu (pressure). Shiatsu improves the bosy's own natural powers of recuperation and prevents illness. It relies on the mental attitude of the person undergoing treatment. Shiatsu is used to relax the body, guard against colds, relieve fatigue and relax aching sholders & backs. The most common reason people get shiatsu is to treat backaches.

The shiatsu practioners that I interviewed entered this field because of previous exposure to the positive health benefits experienced by family members who were treated with shiatsu.

In practicing shiatsu, a pressure is applied to the surface of the body in a gradual manner that penetrates and limbers the muscles beneath. The bulb of the thumbs and fingers are used to apply sufficient pressure.


Japanese National Commission for UNESCO, 1958 Japan Its Land, People and Culture

Goldstein-Gidoni, O (1998). Packaged Japaneseness: Weddings, Business and Brides, The Curzon Press and the University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, HI.

Namikoshi, T. (1969) Japanese Finger Pressure Therapy- Shiatsu.

Namikoshi, T. (1985) Shiatsu and Stretching.

United Japanese Society of Hawaii (1971) History of Japanese in Hawaii

Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin (1973) Favorite Island Cookery Book V , VII,

Manning, T. A. (1998) Mosby's Dictionary, 5th edition, Mosby Co.

Michener, J.A. (1958) The Hokusai sketchbook: selections from the Manga, Charles E. Tuttle Co. Inc.

Ohnuki-Tierney, E.(1993) Rice as Self:Japanese Identities Through Time, Princeton University Press

Encyclopedia Brittanica Vol 3, (1978)

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