Women called cows home

For centuries, women in Sweden called their cows home with a sound called kulning. Now, kulning has been embraced by many, including universities as a form of art. But from medieval times until the mid-20th century, the sound could be heard every summer, ringing across the mountains. Reaching up to 125 decibels, kulning can be heard over 5 km (1 mi) away. Since cattle tend to wander off, they needed to be able to hear the herdswomen calling them.

It was traditionally women who went up the mountains with the herd in the summer. They each lived in a small settlement, tending the animals. They milked the cows, made cheese and spent hours doing all the rest, like cooking, knitting, mending, making brooms, etc. It was hard work, but the women also had a lot of freedom without men around. They could do whatever they wanted up there.

Perpetual stew

Do you like to eat leftovers? At Wattana Panich bistro in Bangkok, you can have a bowl of soup that's been in the pot for almost 50 years. Known as neua tune, it follows the "perpetual stew" method of preparation: the leftovers at the end of each day are kept overnight to become the base for the next day's soup. 

Cultures all across the world have versions of perpetual stew. In France, it's called pot-au-feu, or "pot in the fire", for the way it was traditionally cooked—in a pot that hung over the hearth fire all day. Other cultures' versions of perpetual stew include Chinese master stock, Mongolian Firepot, and Olla Podrida (literally, "rotten pot") in Spain. In the U.S., we have "hunter's stew", and the wonderfully named "Skilligalee" of pioneer times.

Japan has the oldest companies

Japan has more old companies than any other developed nation. A study of 41 countries shows Japan has more than half of the companies older than 200 years. As a matter of fact, the oldest company still in existence is Kongō Gumi Co., Ltd., founded in 578 A.D. It was in operation under its own name until 2006, when it became a subsidiary of Takamatsu Construction Group

According to David E. Weinstein, an expert on the Japanese economy, business failures are as common in Japan as anywhere else, but the importance of tradition keeps the companies on their feet.

To ensure survival, a popular custom in Japanese family businesses is to adopt heirs outside the family, such as in-laws and talented male workers. As stated by Weinstein, "It's the name that is continuing, people get attached to the names."

While many parts of the world prioritize profit maximisation, Japanese companies focus on building and passing on a legacy to future generations.

New Year's traditions

The 1st of January is an important day in many countries, and people have different ways of welcoming the day. For some, it may be as simple as having a family dinner, while others perform specific rituals to start the new year off well.

In Denmark, they save all of their unused dishes and plates until the 31st of December, when they affectionately shatter them against the doors of all their friends and family to banish bad spirits.

In the Philippines, it’s all about the cash. They believe that everything should be round to represent coins and bring wealth. Round food, round clothes—as long as it’s round.

In Bolivia, coins are baked into sweets, and whoever finds the coins has good luck for the next year.

Salmon sushi is Norwegian

Look at the menu of any sushi shop in Japan and you will almost certainly see salmon: fatty, tender and bright orange. But salmon is actually a relatively new addition to the sushi menu.

Behind salmon’s rise to popularity is the Norwegian marketing campaign: Project Japan. In the 1970s, Norway began commercial salmon farming but, with decreasing seafood consumption at home, salmon was soon filling industrial freezers. Japan, meanwhile, had been overfishing its waters, and with Japanese fishermen told to remain within their exclusive economic zones by the United Nations, Japan began opening up its once nearly self-sufficient seafood industry to foreign suppliers.

Must traditions be traditional?

I’m from Canada, where Christmas is a big deal. The minute Halloween is finished, the Santa decorations go up in stores, Christmas songs start playing on the radio, and the fuss of holiday shopping starts in earnest. For me, one of the most nostalgic parts of Christmas is the food. I love a plate of roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, cranberry sauce with some pumpkin pie, all with a frosty glass of eggnog to drink.

Christmas in a foodies' paradise

Japan is a culinary delight. There are many restaurants with Michelin stars. It's a country where ramen shops can command hours-long waits, and where entire floors of department stores are devoted to specialty food. If you take a domestic trip, you are expected to return to your office with omiyage—souvenir treats specific to a region. So one might expect Christmastime to be a season of decadent food. But actually, Christmas is when you get a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken [KFC]. 

People start placing orders as early as November, and if you are hoping to pop around the corner to pick up a family pack, you will be out of luck. The fried chicken, cakes and everything else at the fast-food chain sell out far in advance of December 25th. 

Saving "woman hand" with art

The 11th-century Japanese writer Sei Shōnagon’s Pillow Book was written using kana, a Japanese script mainly used by women for nearly a millennium to write literature, arrange secret assignations and express themselves freely within the confines of court life. Women in medieval Japan were discouraged from studying kanji, so they began using kana instead, which transcribe words phonetically. 

A standardisation programme at the beginning of the 20th century saw 90% of the 550 characters used in kana die out. But these forgotten characters are now being kept alive by the artist and master of Japanese calligraphy Kaoru Akagawa, who became fascinated with them after deciphering letters from her grandmother.

The Kumano Kodo pilgrimage

An ancient pilgrimage trail winds through the mountains of Japan’s Kii Peninsula, a densely forested region south of Osaka and Kyoto. It is the Kumano Kodo, a sacred passage of immense natural beauty that has been in use since the 10th century. There are early recorded visits to this region by Emperor Uda (907) and Emperor Kazan (986 and 987) but the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage became more broadly popular in the 11th century. 

The pilgrimage centers around the Three Grand Shrines: Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Nachi Taisha, and Kumano Hayatama Taisha. With steep inclines, long stretches of trail without a place to rest, and venomous snakes, it is not a hike for the faint-hearted. Early pilgrims did the arduous trek in crude wooden or straw sandals and kimonos. Many perished on the journey and along the trail are countless Jizo statues dedicated to those who died on the pilgrimage. 

Wabi-sabi: Beauty in imperfection

A key part of the Japanese Aesthetic—the ancient ideals that still govern the norms on taste and beauty in Japan—wabi-sabi is not only untranslatable, but also considered undefinable in Japanese culture. It encapsulates a more relaxed acceptance of transience, nature and melancholy, favouring the imperfect and incomplete in everything, from architecture to pottery to flower arranging.

Princess Ayako marries a commoner

Princess Ayako, the third daughter of Princess Hisako and the late Prince Takamado, Emperor Akihito’s cousin, married a 32-year-old worker at shipping firm NYK Line in October 2018. The husband of the 27-year-old princess is Kei Moriya, a commoner and graduate of Keio University in Tokyo. Their wedding ceremony was planned for Oct. 29 at Meiji Jingu Shrine in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo.

Under the Imperial House Law, a princess will lose her Imperial status if she marries a commoner. Princess Mako, 26, the eldest granddaughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, is set to become engaged with Kei Komuro, 26, also a commoner, who courted her while she attended university. Their formal wedding will take place in 2020.

New Year 2018

With the end of the year drawing closer, the pressure is on to figure out how to greet the Year of the Boar. If the dwindling number of viewers staying in to watch NHK’s annual music showcase “Kohaku Uta Gassen” is any indication, more and more people in the Kanto region are choosing to head out for less traditional celebrations. 

A good soundtrack can be key to a proper New Year’s celebration and there are more than enough options in and around Tokyo to satisfy a variety of musical tastes. Countdown Japan is a music festival that will take place at the sprawling Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba Prefecture, kicking things off on Dec. 28 and continuing until the early hours of the new year. Around 180 acts will play over the course of four days.

Tokyo Medical University scandal

A Japanese medical school has been accused of manipulating the test scores of female applicants for years to artificially depress the number of women in the student body, a scandal that has triggered sharp criticism.

The revelations have highlighted institutional barriers that women in Japan still face as they pursue work in fields that have long been dominated by men.

Tokyo Medical University reduced the test scores of women to keep their numbers at about 30 percent of entering classes. For the 2018 school year, 8.8 percent of men and 2.9 percent of women were accepted, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed source as saying that school administrators justified the practice out of the belief that women were more likely to drop out of the profession after marriage or childbirth.