Cultural Tidbits

Embrace your inner samurai! Absorb Mount Fuji’s Majestic Beauty! Look at the moon and imagine far away loved ones!

At ONCEKids we have a fascination with Asian cultures, so there are lots of references in the Fujimini Adventure Series about aspects of Japanese, Korean and Chinese cultures. Some aspects contrast against mainstream-US culture: such as saving face, obeying parents and respecting elders. Others are references to Asian themes and specific ITEMS: holidays and their customs, foods everyday and special occasion, artifacts and national treasures, animals and their associated traits, and some myths and heroes.

When you read the descriptions below, did you pick them up in the stories? After digesting the items, go back and reread the stories or point out some of the associations with your child. We continuously update this section and hope you continue to visit and indulge in the cultures!

Holidays and Celebrations

Moon Festival

The Autumn Moon Festival takes place in mid-September and celebrates a bountiful fall harvest. In China, families take time to get together in a place where they can view the full moon. Homes are often decorated with bamboo posters with three visual elements – the moon goddess, the moon and the Jade Rabbit (who lives on the moon). They eat moon cakes which are delicious flaky pastries filled with sweet fillings such as lotus seed paste, coconut, walnut, dates, etc.. Moon cakes are also a symbol of reunion and during this time families gather together and think about others far away, imagining them staring at the same moon. The hamsters are making lanterns. Often, lanterns are made if the family will walk to a certain spot to view the moon – to light the way. They are festive and pretty.

Moon Cakes

The round moon cake looks like a full moon in the clear night sky. For more than a thousand years, families throughout China, Korea and Japan gather in the fall for the moon harvest celebrations. Families get together to eat moon cakes, sing moon songs and recite romantic poetry. Even if a family member is far away, they look up in the sky and feel happy knowing they are all admiring the same moon. The moon cake is the chinese symbol of reunion.


In China, Lanterns symbolize joyfulness. The happiest days are filled with lanterns. Some examples of happy days are weddings, the Lunar New Year, and the end of moon festival celebrations. Lanterns are a symbol of wisdom and blessing. The earliest lanterns were hung to bring news of a birth, a death, social status or danger. Today they are more for fun. Red lanterns decorate every major Chinese festival and represent people’s happiness and joy. Chinese people around the globe hang lanterns outside their homes-for them during the coming Chinese Lunar New Year!


Lighting  Firecrackers is a popular form of fun on many holidays. The Chinese invented the first firecrackers! For a thousand years, fireworks were set off to keep away bad things, get rid of evil, or drive back invading armies. Now people light fireworks at holiday celebrations, especially New Year’s! Rainbow Panda really loves fireworks-so much so that Black Panda keeps them hidden away except for special occasions. Yellow Panda also believes in lighting fireworks to keep away bad luck.


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Foods: Everyday and Special Occasion

noni-bushNoni Bush

Noni fruit is a funny-looking green fruit that has lumpy bumps all over it. It has a strong smell and tastes bitter. Many people believe the fruit has uses as a medicine. Many believe that the bark and fruit bring down inflammation. Some eat the fruit, use the bark for wounds, and grind it up to make special teas. This is one of the fastest growing medicines in Asia for people interested in health and wellness.


Long Noodles

In the Chinese culture, Long Noodles represent a long, healthy life. They are an important part of the New Year and birthday celebrations. Orange Panda is the noodle maker on Fujimini Island. She cooks long noodles for their important parties. She also makes GIANT bowls of noodles if she senses trouble. She wants to ensure that her friends eat long noodles for the rest of their long lives!

Dim Sum

Dim Sum is another important staple food in the Chinese diet. Dim sum means touch the heart in Cantonese and consist of Chinese appetizers and snacks. All across China, older people consume dim sum after their morning exercises. They consist of finger foods, dumplings, turnovers, buns and anything else consumed in a Chinese Tea House. Hungry workers often grab dim sum after a hard day of work. Dim sum is usually consumed as breakfast or a snack, rarely dinner. Many times they are wheeled over in hot rolling carts where the diner can look at then select which delicious snack to try. Most eat at a large round table, share family style, and use chopsticks to eat.


Sushi is a popular food made of sticky rice, fish, and sweet rice vinegar. It is typically dipped in a little soy sauce and eaten with chopsticks. Raw fish is a popular ingredient, but cooked fish, shellfish, and vegetables can be used as well. Sushi is low in fat and delicious! It can be an important part of special occasion meals, and recipes are often passed down in families. Professional sushi chefs train for decades before they are considered experts. Sushi is now one of the most recognized and popular foods originating from Asia. The Japanese are especially known for their wonderful and artistic sushi. Red Penguin is the best sushi chef on Fujimini Island.


Peaches were first grown in China 3,000 years ago. They were the favored fruit of the emperors. Peaches are very popular in China, Japan, Korea, Laos, and Vietnam, and many myths are associated with the fruit. For example, Momotaro, one of Japan’s most noble heroes, was born in an enormous peach floating down a stream. In China, magical peaches could give people eternal life. Peaches are an important birthday food in Korea and Japan, especially for the 60th, 70th and beyond birthdays. Asian peaches are often whiter than the West’s yellow peaches!


in China, the pear is a symbol of immortality, Long life and good fortune. They are also superstitious – pears are always given whole and never cut in two to share. They believe sharing a pear with a loved one will result in separation.


Tea often makes people think of the English, but tea drinking originated in Asia before it spread to every corner of the world. In Korea and Japan, green tea is often served at elaborate tea ceremonies. People drink in a traditional manner with many rules of etiquette. In Korea, for example, the bride will serve her future in-laws tea on her knees, showing her humbleness and respect for the new family. Attending a tea ceremony is one of the most important and popular things to do if you ever visit Japan or Korea. Formal tea houses are also found in China, but the Chinese are more well-known for their many tea houses that are packed every afternoon by students and business people on the go.


The Japanese have grown Rice for over 2,000 years, and it is an important part of their diet and culture. In ancient times, rice growing was a religious act. The Japanese Emperor still performs several traditional Shinto ceremonies to bless and protect rice crops. Rice is popular in other countries, too. Many Koreans eat rice with every meal. Korean rice has a shorter grain and a bland taste to cool the heat of the often very spicy food. Half of the world’s population eats rice daily. Across Asia, millions of people rely on rice and wouldn’t have enough to eat without it. Each culture has its own way of growing rice, and people take great pride in the rice that’s grown in their countries. In Japan and Korea, people will eat every grain of the rice they produce before they import rice from another country.


Chopsticks are widely used across Asia. In many Asian cultures, people eat with chopsticks (and sometimes a spoon) instead of with a knife and fork. Since knives and forks are made from steel, they are sometimes thought of as more rough and sharp than the chopsticks. In fact, it is said that the great spiritual teacher Confucius once said: “the honorable and upright man allows no knives at his table.” Some people are superstitious about chopsticks-for example, that uneven chopsticks may lead to a missed event and that it’s bad luck to drop a chopstick.


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Artifacts and National Treasures

Mount Fuji

The animals reside on an island called Fujimini Island (and this is the name of the book series). The inspiration for the name came from Mount Fuji or Fuji-san in Japan. Mt. Fuji is the highest mountain in Japan. On a clear day, you can see this beautiful cone shaped mountain from Tokyo. It is named after the Buddhist fire goddess Fuchi and is sacred to the Shinto goddess Sengam-sama. Mt. Fuji is the holiest of Japan’s “Three Holy Mountains” and many believe this mountain has a soul. Every summer thousands of tourists climb to the summit.

Chinese Junk Boat

A Chinese Junk Boat is typically made of bamboo for its strength and has 2 – 3 sails. Originally, junks were used for trade and exploration. They also transported food from city to city. Today there is a famous fleet of junks in the harbor of Hong Kong, China. Many families live in them. Tourists love to ride in a “Chinese Junk” when they visit Hong Kong.

Bonsai Tree

A Bonsai Tree is a very small tree that is cut, or pruned, into a beautiful shape. Bonsai means “tree in a tray” if you translate it directly into English. But a bonsai tree is actually so much more. The art of shaping a bonsai tree is really telling a story and capturing the spirit of beautiful, living things. The bonsai art started in China more than 2,000 years ago and spread to Korea and Japan. The Japanese are famous for their beautiful and graceful bonsai creations. On Fujimini Island, the bonsai tree is a full-sized and serves as the animals’ special meeting place.

turtle-boatTurtle Boats

In 1592, Japan invaded Korea and with superior weapons reached Seoul within two weeks. Korea’s only hope was Admiral Yi. He designed a Turtle Boat made of thick wood with a flat bottom and small slits that the sailors could fire through.  A massive dragon’s head at the front to ram other boats and spew smoke to distract the enemy. Yi defeated 200 Japanese boats and the battle ended in a truce. Today a replica of the Turtle Boat is on display in Korea, and Admiral Yi is considered one of Korea’s greatest heroes.


The rabbit is a sign in the Chinese/Asian zodiac. Someone born in the Year of the Rabbit will tend to be easygoing and a good friend. Rabbits are calm when they have a plan, but can worry if they don’t have a plan. Rabbits are good at reading a situation. They do not give away their affection easily. Rabbits often prefer to spend time with their friends. They typically don’t enjoy working long hours or sacrificing. This is the basis for Silver Bunny’s character.



Pandas represent the Chinese. While the dragon is the national emblem, modern day China has the panda associated as its emblem. It is found in art, on coins and they are revered and adored in China. China gave pandas as diplomatic gifts and it became associated with the “new, more open” China. Pandas are very cute but also very strong and this trait inspired the Fujimini pandas. They also have the stark opposite black and white which many say represents the ying and yang or balance, a core Asian belief.


The hamsters are my substitution for “rats” which can have a negative connotation but their traits inspired me to include them. The rat (using modern cute hamster instead) is the first sign on the Chinese Zodiac. The character traits associated are wit and imagination, creativity and curiosity. They are talkative, charming and endlessly social. This is the influence for the personalities of the Fujimini Island hamsters.


The bunnies are taekwondo masters and 2011 is the year of the rabbit. I also chose the korean rabbit as there is a very popular character named DOKI who is a funny rabbit who is madly in love with a cat named NABI in a flash cartoon series. She is very persistent and willing to push boundaries to get what she wants. I like the strength of her character and the fact she is a strong (somewhat headstrong) female.


The penguins are having a sushi party. Although the penguin itself has no direct root in Japan, I chose penguins to represent the Japanese as they are the sushi makers on the island. They are also the hippest animals, having swim and surf parties and bringing beauty and refinement to the celebrations. Purple Penguin’s inspiration came from royalty and he is always concerned with etiquette and having the best manners. Red Penguin was ostracized for excessive bragging, something the Japanese would find very distasteful.


The Tortoise is one of the important “protectors” in Asian culture. It is a symbol of longevity, or long life. Tortoises have a long life span and move slowly but surely. Thanks to their hard shell, they are thought to possess great strength. They are also a symbol of wisdom. The Samurai who come to visit Fujimini Island are sea tortoises. Read about their special mission. Are they the right ones to carry out the Emperor ’s important task?


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Manners and Traditions


Konnichiwa, pronunced koh-nee-chee-wah, is a basic way to say hello in Japanese. Traditionally, it is used more in the afternoon. It was once part of a sentence to greet others, meaning “today is,” but now it is a respectful, generic way to say hello. If you want to really impress a Japanese friend or when you go to a sushi restaurant, you can try three basic greetings:

  • Good morning: Ohayou, which is pronounced like the state Ohio
  • Good afternoon: Konnichiwa, which is pronounced koh-nee-chee-wah
  • Good evening: Konbanwa, which is pronunced kon-ban-wah


At most places of business in Japan, workers greet customers by saying, “Irasshaimase!” (ee-rah-shy-ma-seh), which means, “Welcome. Come in!” Most of the time, the customer will just nod and smile back. In Japan, manners are important, and it is considered polite to greet every customer. A child will say “Irasshai!” when someone comes to their home.


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Myths and Heroes


In ancient Japanese mythology, the Kappa is credited with teaching the art of bone-setting (a type of physical therapy) to humans. According to myth, Kappas are monkey-like troublemakers with a turtle-like shell who live mainly in rivers. Many parents warn about Kappas pulling naughty children under the water. Some throw cucumbers in the river to please the Kappa so he won’t make mischief. On the top of the Kappa’s head is a hollow disc that is filled with water. This water makes him very powerful, but if the water is spilled, the Kappa loses its power. A Kappa is notoriously polite, so according to the stories, you can trick him into bowing low so he spills his water. Sewer covers across Japan are decorated with images of the Kappa.

Clam Monster


In Chinese Mythology, the Clam Monster, or shen, can shift his shape and create mirages. So the clam monster can make other animals think they are seeing something that doesn’t exist. In modern stories, the clam monster will blow bubbles from his shell that appear to turn into cities or fairylands. The Clam Monster is often associated with dragons. In the Fujimini Adventure Series, a Clam Monster is searching for the Dynasty Dragon.


Dragons and shape shifting

Dragons in Asia are not mean or scary but they are POWERFUL! Dragons are considered wise and can bring wealth and good fortune. In Chinese mythology, the dragon is one of the four animals that protect people from harm. (The others are the tortoise, the phoenix, and the tiger.) Dragons can change shape, and their breath can turn into clouds that become rain or fire. There will be a mystery involving a baby dragon coming to the Fujimini Adventure Series, so keep reading!

Momotaro “Peach Boy” story

One of the most beloved Japanese stories is Momotaro (Japanese for Peach Boy). The myth: a woodcutter and his wife were very sad as they had no children. One day as the wife was washing clothes in the river when a giant peach sailed down. She brought it home to make a special meal for her husband. A baby boy burst out and they raised him and loved him very much. When he was older, he wanted to help others by defeating evil ogres who lived on Ogre Island. On his quest he befriended a spotted dog, a monkey and a pheasant. Together they defeated the ogres and brought peace to his village and riches to his parents.

For the full story, go to this link and read:

Samurai Warriors

Samurai Warriors were noble and highly skilled warriors in Japan. They were very famous for their absolute loyalty and for the special, honorable code they lived by. They still appear in many books and movies today and will always be remembered for their top level of “skill with the sword.” Samurai warriors will visit Fujimini Island soon — how will the animals react? I’ll give you a clue — Green Hamster will be dying to hold one of the swords, but not everyone will be as excited!


Taekwondo is a Korean art of self-defense. Taekwondo literally means “to strike with hands and feet.” At one time, the craft was an important military art for soldiers who needed to protect themselves from many enemies coming to their land. There is a lot of etiquette associated with the art of taekwondo. A close, special relationship exists between student and teacher, and the student always deeply respects his/her “sengsamneem.” Globally, it is now a popular sport. Orange Bunny is the sengsamneem on Fujimini Island and has awesome moves!


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