Events:

1-30 April Miyako Odori(Cherry Dance), Kyoto
Maiko and geiko dance performances
Advance tickets are available from overseas at:
The performances are being done at Kyoto Art Theater “Shunjuza”(http://k-pac.org/) this year.

25-28 May Azuma Odori, Tokyo
http://www.azuma-odori.jp/ (sorry, Japanese version only)
Geisha dance performances
Tickets will be available after April 14



seasonal flowers:


cherry blossom forecast :
http://sakura.weathermap.jp/ (Japanese version only)  


Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Sumida River Fireworks Festival





The annual fireworks festival was held at two sites along the Sumida River from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on July 31th. Approximately 20,000 fireworks were set off.

The festival dates back to 1733, when approximately 20 fireworks were set off over the Sumida River around Ryogoku to mark the start of the river leisure such as swimming, fishing and boating on the 28th day of the 5th month according to the lunar calendar(July 9th in the Gregorian calendar).

From the 28th day of the 5th month to the 28th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar every year, eating and drinking establishments and amusement facilities around Ryogoku were allowd to be open till late at night(normally open to sunset).
So commoners could eat fresh fish tempura, watch fireworks and entertain themself at geisha parties on the houseboats called yakata-bune(屋形船) only during this period.

Kagiya(鍵屋), a guild of pyrotechnicians, had set off fireworks from the first festival until suspension due to World War II. From 1810, Tamaya(玉屋), a branch of Kagiya, had taken its share of fireworks display. Tamaya was in higher repute than Kagiya, but Tamaya was expelled from Edo due to starting a fire.

The festival has been held since 1978 after being suspended due to the worsening traffic situation from 1961 to 1977.
Kagiya is still continuing its business. It's not in charge of the festival, but it sets off fireworks at another fireworks festivals.
Tamaya is also continuing its business in Chiba Prefecture.

Fireworks of the Edo Period has been reproduced. They are very different in the present. They are only orange in color and are unspectacular, but I get a warm friendly feeling from them.

At the festival, a fireworks competition is held to improve pyrotechnicians' skills.
Japanese traditional fireworks form a perfect sphere in every single aspect. Its pyrotechnics was established in the latter half of the 19th century.
I've watched the fireworks on the 24th floor of a high-rise building. Each of the fireworks was like a small ball.

Fireworks festivals are held in summer at many other sites throughout Japan.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Cicada

In Japan, the cicada is associated with the summer season.
Higurashi(蜩,茅蜩,秋蜩,日暮:evening cicada, Tanna japonensis) starts to sing in a nearby grove in mid-July, around the end of the rainy season. It sings at dawn and nightfall or in dark weather, so it is called higurashi which means nightfall. It is also known as kanakana (カナカナ) because it goes kana-kana. I heard it singing in the middle of the night last year.

Although it has been singing up to the middle of Semptember, another cicadas such as abura-zemi(油蝉:Large Brown Cicada), min-min-zemi(ミンミン蝉:Oncotympana maculaticollis) or tsuku-tsuku-boushi(つくつく法師,寒蝉:Meimuna opalifera)start to sing loudly in late July.
Recently, noisy kuma-zemi(熊蝉:Cryptotympana facialis) is increasing around Tokyo. It is thought to be causally related to global warming or transplanted trees.

Ancient Japanese people think that the distance sound of evening cicada is melancholy, and it has been featured in literature. When heard up close, its sound is quite noisy.
Evening cicada is a seasonal word of fall, but large brown cicada, min-min-zemi and semi-shigure(蝉時雨:the chirring of cicadas in chorus) are that of summer in haiku.

閑さや 岩にしみ入る 蝉の声 (「奥の細道」松尾芭蕉)
"At a quiet and empty temple in the deep mountain, a cicada start to sing, but its sound gets sucked into a rock," written by Matsuo Basho in "Oku no Hosomichi"

Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North) is a travel diary including his famous haiku poems. It was published in 1702.
It's generally understood that the cicada in this haiku was nii-nii-zemi(ニイニイゼミ:Platypleura kaempferi).



Semi-bukuro(せみ袋) 製作/藤田康子
"drawstring pouch in the shape of cicada" designed by Yasuko Fujita

Its original work was made in the Meiji Period.

Shigeyoshi Inoue(ed), Yasashiku-Tsukureru-Densyou-no-Chirmenzaiku (Tokyo:Fujin seikatsu-sha,1998),P.25
井上重義監修,やさしく作れる伝承のちりめん細工(東京:婦人生活社,1998年),P.25





The word "utsusemi(空蝉)" comes from the word "utsushimi(現身,living person)". At first it meant "this world". Under the influence of Buddhism, it took on a different meaning, "fugacious this world".
Utsu(空) means vacuity, semi(蝉) does cicada. Finally, it also came to mean the exuvia of a cicada.

うつそみの 人にあるわれや 明日よりは 二上山を いろせとわが見む (「万葉集」大来皇女)
"I am living in this world, so I will consider Mt. Futakami to be my dead brother starting tomorrow," written by Oku no Himemiko (661-701) in "Manyo-shu(Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves)"

she and her brother were members of the imperial family, but he was executed as a rebel. She lamented over his death and made this poem.

"Manyo-shu(Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves)" was realized in the late eighth century and includes approximately 4,500 poems written by people from every walk of life from different regions of Japan over a period of about 300 years.
Its poets consist of a variety of persons such as emperors, aristocrats, commoners, people at the very end of the road, front-line soldiers, punished or executed persons and beggars.

Utsusemi is also the 3rd chapter's title of "The Tale of Genji" written by Murasaki Shikibu. Utsusemi was not beautiful but a daughter of an upper-class aristocrat and was supposed to become a court lady. she married a rural lower class aristocrat because of her father's death, and he was a much older husband.
Hikaru Genji once made her his own, but she threw her sheer coat on the floors and ran away from him. The coat looked like an exuvia.
she has refused to accept his love since then. Knowing her place, she no longer dreams of marrying a prince. In the end, she is supported by Genji financially after renouncing the world.

Monday, July 26, 2010

the day of the ox in mid-summer

This summer heat makes us feel exhausted.

Today is the day of the ox during the period called Doyo(土用). The last 18 days of each season are referred to as Doyo.

The beginning day of Doyo was July 20th this year. On the day, there is a custom of eating Doyo-mochi(土用餅) in Kyoto and Kanazawa.
Nobles of the Imperial Court used to eat miso soup with rice dumplings to beat the summer heat. In the middle of the Edo Period, people came to eat rice cake covered with adzuki bean paste on the first day of Doyo.

Doyo-mochi(土用餅)












People eat broiled eel on the day of the ox in mid-summer to recover from fatigue.
It is said that Hiraga Gennai (平賀 源内, 1729–1779) projected the advertising copy that eating eel helps to beat the summer heat at the request of an eel shopkeeper who had been suffering poor sales of eel in summer.

I found the following waka poem.

石麻呂に われ物申す 夏やせに 良しといふものぞ むなぎとりめせ (大伴家持「万葉集」)
"I tell Ishimaro to eat eel because it helps to the summer heat", written by Otomo no Yakamochi(c.718-785) in "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves"

Hiraga Gennai was a Japanese pharmacologist, student of Western studies, physician, author, painter and inventor in the Edo Period. He also wrote bunraku plays under the name of Fukuuchi Kigai(福内鬼外).
Shinrei Yaguchi no Watashi(神霊矢口渡), one of his plays, was premiered in 1770 as a bunraku play and is still performed nowadays. In this story, a ferryman's daughter sacrifices herself for the man she loves although she know he has a steady partner.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sumo Tournament closed

The July Grand Sumo Tournament closed today. During the tornament, new scandals came to light. The attendance at the tornament was dismal.
Hakuhou(白鵬), who is a yokozuna(highest-ranking sumo wrestler) from Mongolia, won his third consecutive tournament championship without a single defeat.
Japan's national sport falls on the shoulders of lone yokozuna Hakuhou.
He gave way to tears after winning the title.

"Half-hearted compromise disgraces the tradition ..." (the words of Jean-Louis Barrault by Yoshida Minosuke Ⅲ, Zukin-Kabutte-50nen)

Susumu Nomura(野村進) said that a series of innovation make tradition in his book, "Choju Kigyou wa Nihon ni Ari(長寿企業は日本にあり)".
In Japan, "tradition" is not a treasure to be preserved at a museum.
It seems to be living antiques like an old bonsai. Old bonsais are hard to please. Continuing to care for it over many generations increase its value, or it will die and have no value.

Only retired sumo wrestlers, as a member of The Japan Sumo Association, can manage everything necessary to sumo tornaments regardless of having management or leadership ability.

It's not easy to revive sumo.

Friday, July 23, 2010

jelly-like confections

confections containing kudzu starch(powdered arrowroot), bracken starch and kanten(agar).

Kudzu starchand bracken starch are expensive, so most of their commonly-marketed products contain popato starch in appreciable quantities.



Warabimochi(蕨餅):
a jelly-like confection made from bracken starch and covered or dipped in kinako (sweet toasted soybean flour) with kokutou(黒糖,black cane sugar) syrup.


Being produced in small quantities, the starch is expensive. It's like a translucent, sticky and firmer jelly. It is made by stirring water containing the starch and sugar into sticky paste on heating. After making it, I became sweaty all over and have sore muscles.
Although it becomes doughier by stirring many times, I made this quickly in a microwave.



Fumanju(麩饅頭):
a confection made from wheat gluten and powdered sticky rice.






Budou(葡萄,grape):
a jelly-like confection containing grapes and kanten



Sasa-no-Shizuku(笹のしずく,rain drops on a bamboo leaf):
a jelly-like confection made from a kudzu starch


Kuzu-zakura(葛桜):
ball of bean paste covered with a kudzu starch glaze

Japanese confectioners apply a small amount of the glaze in the palm of their hands and wrap a ball of bean paste with the glaze. We place the glaze into the water before wrapping it because the glaze is very hot like candies in process of making.

It's unadvisable to cool confections containing kudzu starch for hours in the refrigerator, because the transparent confections become white translucent by cooling.


Kudzu-mochi(葛餅,a pudding-like kudzu starch cake) is very popular among confections containing kudzu starch.








Cream anmitsu(クリームあんみつ):
Anmitsu is served in a bowl with small cubes of kanten jelly, boiled red peas, sweet azuki bean paste, colored gyuhi(求肥) and a variety of fruits such as peach slices, mikan and cherries. We eat them with kokutou syrup.
Gyuhi is rice cakes that have soft skin made of steamed refined rice flour and sugar.
Cream anmitsu is anmitsu with ice cream on top.

Kanten(agar or or agar-agar) is a white translucent jelly made by hardening an decoction of seaweeds such as tengusa or ogonori and becomes transparent by adding sugar. It's altered by the addition of an acid. Powdered kanten is convenient.

Confections containing kanten and sugar can freeze well, although confectioners don't recommend their freezing.
Kanten is approximately 80% fiber, so it was used as diet food and was sold out at many stores years ago.

Products named "Agar" in Japan consist of carrageenan which is made from an decoction of another seaweeds.
It remains unaltered by the addition of an acid.
Being also viscous and water-retentive, so it's used as thickener or stabilizer for food.


How many fish are there?




The answer is two!

Kingyo(金魚,goldfish):
This is more nishikigoi(錦鯉,varicolored carp) than goldfish.
Unlike gelatin, kanten solution cakes at room temperature. So we need to increase work pace. But sinking the fishes into the hot kanten solution causes the fishes floating on the water. Timing is everything.

Mizuyoukan(水羊羹) is also popular as a summer confection. Youkan(羊羹) consists of sweet bean paste, kanten solution and sugar.
It can be stored for about a month at room temperature, so it was used as wartime or maritime light diet. However, mizuyoukan have a higher water content than youkan, so it cannot be stored for quite a while.



Natsu-giku(夏菊, summer chrysanthemum):
Natsu-giku is one of small chrysanthemums which come into bloom in early summer. This is covered with kanten glaze.





Kurokan(黒かん):
This confection consists of small cubes of kanten jelly containing black cane sugar and shiratama(白玉, rice‐flour dumplings).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

wind-bells

Most schools has broken for the summer vacation today.

I couldn't sleep well because of sweltering night. Minimum temperature last night was 27 degrees centigrade.

A wind-bells bazaar was held at Kawasaki Daishi(川崎大師), whose formal name is Heikenji Temple(平間寺), from July 17tht to the 21st.

Japanese traditional wind bells include Nanbu Furin(南部風鈴) made of iron in Tohoku (north east area), Edo Furin(江戸風鈴) made of glass in Tokyo.
Myouchin Hibashi furin(明珍火箸風鈴) in Himeji consists of four iron chopsticks, and some musicians including Stevie Wonder used it in their performances.




風鈴 デザイン:戸上和子
"wind-bell" designed by Kazuko Togami

Kazuko Togami, Washi-de-Tsukuru-Etegami 220(Tokyo:Boutique-sha.co.,1999), p.16
戸上和子著,「和紙で作る絵てがみ」(東京:株式会社ブティック社,1999年),P.16









風鈴 デザイン:こもりかつこ
"wind-bell" designed by Katsuko Komori

Katsuko Komori, Hokkori-Kawaii-Otona-no-Wakomono (Tokyo:Boutique-sha.co.,2009), p.21
こもりかつこ著,「ほっこりかわいい大人の和小物」(東京:株式会社ブティック社,2009年),P.21








Nanbu Furin(南部風鈴)

Monday, July 19, 2010

Marine Day

It's too hot.

The third Monday of July is Marine Day (Ocean Day or Sea Day,海の日).Marine Memorial Day became a national holiday called Marine Day in 1996. It's the day to thank the sea for its blessings. There is no traditional events on the day.



たこ袋 制作/仲上右子
"drawstring pouch in the shape of an octopus"

A German octopus has recently been featured in the news.
The pouch in the shape of an octopus appeared in the book which was published in 1912. We have an image of octopus as a red humorous character wearing a towel around its head.

Shigeyoshi Inoue(ed), Chirimenzaiku-de-Asobu-Shiki(Tokyo:Japan Broadcast Publishing Co.,Ltd.,1998),P.20.
井上重義監修,ちりめん細工で遊ぶ四季(東京:日本出版放送協会,1998年),P.20.



In some areas, there is a custom of eating octopus on the day called Hangesyou(半夏生), around July 2nd.
We rarely eat octopus raw, and don't eat living one in Japan. We use boiled octopus when cooking. We often eat octopus dumplings or vinegared dishes including boiled octopus.
I like to eat tako-ten(octopus tempura, deep fried octopus in batter ) with mayonnaise.



Same-komon(鮫小紋)
Same(鮫) means shark. Kommon are fabrics dyed by cut paper stencils which have fine patterns. It's called same-komon from its resemblance to shark skin. From a little distance, this pattern looks unpatterned.
The pattern was used for formal wear of the samurai class. Only Kisyu-ke, which was one of three branch families of Tokugawa Shogun, was able to use the finest pattern of same-komon.
Fabrics which have 400 dots within a radius of two centimeters are regarded as top quality products of same-komon.


Maru-ni-Seigaiha(丸に青海波)
a design of blue sea wave in the circle

下中菜穂,「切り紙 もんきり遊び」,株式会社宝島社,2007年,P.14
Nabo Shimonaka, Kirigami Monkiri-asobi,(Tokyo:TAKARAJIMASHA,Inc.,2007),P.14



Seigaiha(青海波) is a traditional pattern, which was named after a costume that was used in the dance named seigaiha. Hikaru Genji performs that dance in "The Tale of Genji", and even now we can see that dance in the gagaku performance. Gagaku(雅楽) is Japanese traditional music and dance.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

the end of the rainy season and The Gion Festival

The Japan Meteorological Agency announced the end of the rainy season in many areas including Tokyo today. It is predicted that scorching hot days with temperatures near 35
degrees Celsius will continue for a week.

The Gion Festival is being held in Kyoto from July 1st to the 31st. It was originally started to counteract the epidemic spreading across Japan in 869.
The highlight of the festival is the Yamahoko-junko(山鉾巡行), a parade of 32 beautifully decorated floats on the 17th. The floats are decorated with old textiles and paintings by famous painters of the Edo Period, and are sculptured by famous artisans in the Edo Period.
The textiles includes tapestries made in 15th-century and 16th-century Belgium, ones in the Ming dynasty(1368-1644) of China, one in Mughal-era Pakistan(1526-1858) and ones in Persia. So the floats are represented as a "moving museum." Replicas of them or new tapestries are also used in place of old ones.

The Kyoto summer is very hot, but people in Kyoto realize that summer has come by the festival.

"Horikawa Nami no Tsuzumi(堀川波鼓)" is a bunraku play, which was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門) based on an actual incident that happened on the 7th day of the 6th month in the lunar calendar (July 16th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1706.

A member of the Tottori clan was transferred to Edo far away from his family in the 6th month, 1705. On the 15th day of 5th month in 1706, he came home. On the 27th day of 5th month, he killed his wife because of her adultery. On the 4th day of 6th month, he went to Kyoto with his wife's sister. On the 7th day of 6th month, during the Gion Festival, he killed his wife's secret lover.
Samurai was allowed to kill the man who committed adultery with his wife.

In the play, his wife Tane(たね) is fond of drink and let her drinking take control. It precipitates her ruin.

In the Chikamatsu's early plays, villains entrap lead characters to destruction so that the audience can empathize with them.
However, there are no villains in his late plays. He becomes convinced that he can touches the hearts of the audience by depicting weakness of one's character which cause a fatal mistake.

Hanging his summer clothes out on a sunny day in spring, she think of him. She is eagerly waiting for her husband's return. She covers for her loneliness with playing tsuzumi(traditional handy drum).

Although she makes her koto master drink to stop his mouth, she high-handedly make a pass at him under the influence of drink. It goes against the image of a samurai's wife. She is brutally honest. So today's audience can empathize with her.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Bon festival

Now that the rainy season is drawing to a close, heavy rain is battering some regions. They are suffering major losses because of flooded river or mudslides due to heavy rain.

The 15th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar is called Urabon-e(盂蘭盆,ullambana). The Bon festival took place from the 13th to 16th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar until the Edo period.
It's held in August according to the lunar calendar in most areas, but it's done in some areas according to the solar calendar. It is a Buddhist festival held to welcome back the spirits of the dead.
Fruits and dried sugared cakes of rice flour for offerings are sold at supermarkets and ritual articles at flower shops.

These confections are unrelated to The Bon festival.

Aokaede(青楓:green maple leaf):
There are various confections named Aokaede. It is grown green maple leaves. Its color looks cool in summer.





Nadeshiko(撫子:Dianthus superbus, Large Pink):
nadeshiko is famous as one of seven autumn flowers, but it's blooming from June to September.





















nadeshiko(なでしこ)
a design of nadeshiko

下中菜穂,「切り紙 もんきり遊び」,株式会社宝島社,2007年,P.7
Nabo Shimonaka, Kirigami Monkiri-asobi,(Tokyo:TAKARAJIMASHA,Inc.,2007),P.7

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Tomorrow

Tomorrow's going to be a long day for the media.

The third-place match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be held at 3:30 a.m. on June 11, Japan time.

The House of Councilors election will be held on July 11, and polls in most areas are scheduled to start at 7:00 a.m. and close at 8:00 p.m.

The July Grand Sumo Tournament will start at 8:30 a.m. on July 11th. It will continue until the 25th although the cancellation of the tornament due to continuous scandals was discussed.

The final game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be held at 3:30 a.m. on June 12, Japan time.



In Japan, the Diet consists of two houses, the House of Representatives (the Lower House) and the House of Councilors (the Upper House). The term of a member of the House of Councilors is six years and half of the members are elected every three years.


Sumo(相撲) is now facing a serious crisis with continuous scandals such as delinquency as yokozuna, a lynch case, possession of drugs, suspicion of assault and betting on baseball games as the way that gangs collect funds.

Sumo(Japanese-style wrestling, sumo wrestling) is Japan's national sport. It was originally practiced as a dedication to the gods. So sumo has persisted under the influence of Shinto rituals.
Now, six tournaments a year are held three in Tokyo and one in Nagoya, Osaka and Fukuoka. Each tournament lasts fifteen days.

Sumo has been called into question one's raison d'etre as a national sport.
Foreign wrestlers have ranked high and today's younger generation has a poor understanding of the tradition. The dignity as a yokozuna(grand champion in sumo) often became a major problem.

The world of sumo is very closed.
The Japan Sumo Association, which consists of only retired sumo wrestlers, has managed everything necessary to sumo tornaments.
The world of sumo is expected not only to follow the good tradition of it but also to break established conventions in line with the times. It's so difficult.

"Half-hearted compromise disgraces the tradition ..." (the words of Jean-Louis Barrault by Yoshida Minosuke Ⅲ, Zukin-Kabutte-50nen)

Women are not allowed to enter the ring even now.
Four pillars were removed for a live telecast.
The color of belts worn by sumo wrestlers is designated, but most wrestlers don't follow the rule.

Some members of the association can protest the call of a sumo referee and can retreat from referee's decision. The association has adopted the use of a video referee for quite some time now. When victory or defeat can't be verified by video referee, the association can decide to hold a rematch.

A sumo referee(行司, gyouji) makes his call with a dagger in his bosom. It's used for commiting suicide(hara-kiri) when he makes an error. Of course no referee use it now. It was sumo referee's principle to risk his life to judge a match because sumo was a Shinto ritual.


This time, The Japan Sumo Association ruined the reputation by associating with gangsters. Japan Broadcasting Corporation (NHK) is going to cancel a live broadcast of the tournament for the first time.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Chinese lantern plant Fair

Chinese lantern plant Fair is held on the grounds of Sensou-ji temple(浅草寺) at Taito City in Tokyo on July 9th and 10th.

Ajthough Atago Shrine(愛宕神社) in Minato Ward of Tokyo is the birthplace of chinese lantern plant fair, Sensou-ji's fair outdo the fame of Atago Shrine's now. The fair is held on June 23th and 24th at Atago Shrine.

July 10th was Sennichi-Mairi(千日参り), which was one of the days believed to have a special relation with Kannon. It was believed to receive 1,000 day's worth of blessings of Kannon by visiting the temple on this day.

The native green Chinese lantern plants on the ground of Atago Shrine were famous as a medicine for women's diseases or stomachache, so Chinese lantern plants fair came to take place there on the days of Sennichi-Mairi.

Sennichi-Mairi came to be called Shiman-Rokusen-Nichi(四万六千日,46,000 days) at Sensou-ji in the first half of the 18th century.


houzuki(鬼灯,酸漿:Chinese lantern plant,Physalis alkekengi)










ほおずきの小袋 作った人/佐々木孝子
"drawstring pouch in the shape of Chinese lantern plant" designed by Takako Sasaki

Shigeyoshi Inoue(ed), Yasashiku-Tsukureru-Densyou-no-Komonosyugei (Tokyo:Fujin seikatsu-sha,1994),P.10.
井上重義監修,やさしく作れる伝承のこもの手芸(東京:婦人生活社,1994年),P.10.

Only leaf veins and a orange fruit remain by being soaked in water for a few days. This is used at Japanese flower arrangement or as an ornament.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

hopping frog

Kaeru-Tobi-Gyouji(蛙飛び行事:the ritual of hopping frog) was held at Kinpusen-ji temple(金峯山寺) in Nara Prefecture on July 7th. The ritual dates back over a thousand years.

Legend has it that an big eagle takes an irreligious man away to a bluff. A monk comes by just in time to help him out by changing him into a frog. A high priest turns him back to normal by reciting a sutra.

The ritual sticks to this legend.
Mikoshi (portable shrine) on which a person in a frog suit rides is carried through the city streets to the temple. He hops like a frog on the stage. After a monk recites a sutra, he takes off his suit, bow and greet in silence.


"drawstring pouch in the shape of frog" designed by Mieko Shibata
かえる袋 制作:芝田美恵子

Shigeyoshi Inoue(ed), Yasashiku-Tsukureru-Densyou-no-Chirmenzaiku (Tokyo:Fujin seikatsu-sha,1998),P.36.
井上重義監修,やさしく作れる伝承のちりめん細工(東京:婦人生活社,1998年),P.36.

"Frog" is a seasonal word of spring in haiku.

古池や 蛙飛びこむ 水の音(松尾芭蕉)
"An old pond, a frog jumps in, sound of water," written by Matuso Basho

やせ蛙 負けるな一茶 これにあり(小林一茶)
"A lean frog, don't lose, I'm on your side," written by Kobayashi Issa

He wrote this poem on seeing male frogs' competition for female frogs. He had his sickly baby in mind. But, his hope was dashed. His baby died in 30 days.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Star Festival



July 7th is the day of Tanabata(七夕) or the Star Festival.
According to a Chinese legend, the two lovers(stars) of the Weaver (Vega) and the Cowherd (Altair) can only meet across the Milky Way once a year on the night of Tanabata, the 7th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar.

Kikkouden(乞巧奠) was an event that people wished to improve their skill of sewing, playing music and writing like Vega who was an accomplished weaver. It was held at the imperial court in the Nara Period or the Heian Period.
In the Edo Period, it was positioned as one of the five season-related celebrations, annual events for samurai class.

It is said that Tanabata is a synthesis of the Chinese legend, Kikkouden and another Japanese purification ceremony.

Pieces of bamboo were set up in the garden and adorned with strips of paper of five different colors on which were written poems, and food were offered. On the following day, the bamboo and the strips of paper were floated down rivers to wash away bad luck. Bamboos were believed to possess the power to ward off evil.

In the solar calendar, the festival fell during the rainy season. It's raining now.
The Star Festival in Hiratsuka is held in July, but the festival in Sendai is held in August according to the lunar calendar.


On the tatami mats, there are strips of paper and a writing box including suzuri(硯,ink stone), fude(筆,ink brush), sumi(墨,inkstick) and suiteki(水滴,small water jug).

Recently, syodo performance(書道パフォーマンス) is attracting an attention. It is the team competition that some members of a high school calligraphy club draw characters on a huge Japanese writing paper with huge ink brushes and sumi, dancing in tune with the music.
Some calligraphers are alarmed by flashy performances to attract a lot of attention, but most give favorable reviews that using their bodies to draw characters leads to improve their skills.

As an aside, Samuel Kamau Wanjiru, who won the gold medal in the men's marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics Games, won a prize at a Japanese calligraphy exhibition for high school students while studying at Sendai Ikuei Gakuen High School in Japan.


Biwa(琵琶,Japanese lute) is a musical instrument which has the same root with lute. We associate biwa with "The Tale of the Heike(平家物語)" or "Houichi without Ears (耳なし芳一)".


Hanging scroll with a painting of the Weaver and the Cowherd is placed in the alcove.

















typical Tanabata ornaments

●strips of paper(短冊,tanzaku) to improve people's learning and writing.
Now many people write their wishes on strips of colorful paper and hang them from bamboo branches.




●cast net(投網,toami) to pray for a bumper catch





●streamers(吹流し,fukunagashi) represent weaving yarns of the Weaver







●paper garment(紙衣,kamigoromo) to transfer people's misfortune and disease onto, or to improve people's sewing
●folded-paper crane(折鶴,orizuru) to pray for a long life
●drawstring bag(巾着,kinchaku) to save money by economizing
●garbage box(屑籠,kuzukago) to take care of what one has and keep a clean house



Edamame(枝豆,green soybean) & beer, cold tofu(冷奴,hiya-yakko) and Japanese vermicelli(素麺,soumen) are staple dishes in summer.
Soumen and ice cubes are in the round wooden tub with water.
Floating maple leaves create the sensation of coolness.
People had a custom of eating soumen of five different colors in the Imperial court on the day of Tanabara.

We often eat cold noodles in summer such as soumen, cold soba noodles with dipping sauce and chilled Chinese noodles. Soba noodles can also be served warm or chilled. Cold pasta dishes are also served at restaurants in summer.

A postcard for a summer greeting is sitting on the low dining table.
We used to have a custom to write to friends and acquaintances offering best wishes for the hot season, but less people do it now.

an electric fan of old sort and screen windows to let the wind in and keep the bugs out.


A legless chair with a rattan seat and a rattan pillow for summer.
Morning glories are blooming in the garden.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Iriya Morning Glory Fair

Some areas in Tokyo and Saitama Prefecture were subjected to local torrential downpours yesterday. In recent years, well-developed thunderclouds by global heating and urban heat island often caused local torrential downpours accompanied with thunder.
Hot humid weather is continuing. We are disgusted with the damp heat.

The Iriya Morning Glory Fair is held on the grounds of Iriya Kishimojin(入谷鬼子母神) at Taito City in Tokyo from July 6th to 8th. Originally, morning glory seeds were highly prized as Chinese herbal medicines. In the Edo Period, morning glories came to be cultivated as an ornamental plant. Iriya was richly cultivated with the flowers, and many new varieties of them were created.
In the Meiji Period, morning glory fairs were held there.
Although their cultivation disappeared from the area temporarily, the fair was restored after World War II.

"Asagao(朝顔)" is Japanese for "morning glory."
Kengyu-ka(牽牛花) is another name for it. Kengyu(牽牛) means a cowherd. The dates of the fair is based on a Chinese legend that the Cowherd Star(Altair) and the Weaver Star(Vega) can meet once a year on the night of July 7th.

Iriya Kishimojin was founded in 1659 and worships Kishimojin as a Buddhist goddess for easy delivery and child rearing. Originally, Kishimojin was a fierce goddess who abducted and ate the children of others even though she absolutely doted on her 100 children. Buddha made her experience the grief of the bereaved mothers by hiding her youngest child and made her embrace Buddhism.

朝顔に 釣瓶とられて もらひ水(加賀千代女)
"I tried to draw water from a well in the early morning, but a morning glory vine has locked its well rope. I couldn't bear to cut its vine to draw water, so I asked a neighbor to share her water", written by Kaga no Chiyojo(1703-1775)

朝がほや 一輪深き 淵のいろ(与謝野蕪村)
"A deep blue morning glory is moist with the morning dew, it reminds me of a deep pool", written by Yosa Buson(1716-1784)


Mezamashi-gusa(目覚草):
Mezamashi-gusa is another name for morning glory and it means wake-up flower.







Thursday, July 1, 2010

start of the mountain-climbing season

The season for Mt. Fuji climbing started on July 1st.
Originally, it started on the 1st day of the 6th month in the lunar calendar. Mt. Fuji, the highest peak in Japan, is 3,776 meters in height. It is classified as an active volcano now.

In ancient Japan, the mountains such as Mt. Fuji or The Dewa Sanzan (出羽三山:Three Mountains of Dewa) were worshipped as Shinto gods. So two shrines near the mountain perform a ritual on this day.
Now climbing Mt. Fuji is a leisure activity for most people. Some climbers caught the sunrise from the summit of Mount Fuji.

It is on the border between Yamanashi and Shizuoka Prefectures, but it's free from boundaries near the mountain's summit. The Edo Shogunate donated its entire top from the 8th stage upwards to The Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha (富士山本宮浅間大社) in 1779.
The national government claimed title to the land, but the Supreme Court recognized the land as the shrine's grounds in 1974.

In the Edo Period, it was not easy for many worshippers to climb Mt. Fuji, so they simulated a pilgrimage to it by builing miniatures of Mt. Fuji with lava from it.


夏の山路(虎屋製):
"mountain path in summer" made by TORAYA

This confection presents lingering snow and a green mountain in summer. I received it as a gift in return for a funeral offering.


Hakata Gion Yamakasa(博多祇園山笠)is the festival held by Kushida Shrine(櫛田神社) from July 1st to 15th at Fukuoka City in the Fukuoka Prefecture. The highlight of the festival is Oiyama(追い山) that nearly-naked men swiftly draw decorated floats on the 15th.

Steamed buns with beans paste filling named Gion-manju(祇園饅頭) are available for a limited time from July 1st to 14th and are made by only three confectionery makers. The buns include sake lees. They are wrapped with film on which the shrine crest is printed and the shrine drives away the ill luck of the buns. People in Hakata eat them after offering them at household altars to wish for the safety of the festival.


Sake Manju(酒饅頭):
Steamed buns including sake lees and with beans paste filling. It looks like an ordinary steamed buns with beans paste filling. Usually, we eat this in winter.

Enni(円爾,1202-1280) was a Japanese Buddhist monk who studied in China. His posthumous name was Shoichi Kokushi(聖一国師).
It is said that Enni gave a teahouse's shop owner at Hakata a recipe for making a sake-manju and named the shop "Toraya" in 1241. Sake-manju is also called Toraya-manju. It is unclear whether the shop is the same as the famous "TORAYA", but the nameboard TORAYA owns is said to have been written by him.

In the Edo Period, it was customary for the Kaga Domain(now Ishikawa Prefecture) to make shoguns presents of ice on the 1st day of the 6th month in the lunar calendar.
Now people living around Kanazawa City of Ishikawa Prefecture eat steamed buns with bean paste filling named Himuro-manju(氷室饅頭) on July 1st.


氷室饅頭(たねや製):
"Himuro-manju" made by Taneya
This is different from Himuro-manju around Kanazawa City. This is a pudding-like cake using arrowroot starch and it's topped with a red triangle representing ice.