Events:

21 April - 14 May 27th National Confectionary Exposition in Mie, Mie Prefecture
leaflet in four languages:
Venue: Mie Prefectural Sun Arena and peripheral areas --20 minutes bus ride from Ise Jingu Shrine(Naiku) (advance ticket needed)

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, February 26, 2011

Haru-ichiban

Haru-ichiban(春一番) blew in Kanto region including Tokyo and Yokohama on February 25th. Haru-ichiban is the first strong south winds of the year between Rissyun(立春:the first day of spring, Feb 4th this year) and Syunbun(春分:spring equinox, March 21th this year).

At the same time, the hay fever season has started again this year. Last summer was extremely hot, so a large amount of cedar pollen is predicted this year. It's terrible!

In Yokohama, high temperatures was 20.3 degrees centigrade, the same as in mid April.
Meanwhile, the day's high was about 10 degrees Celsius.

I wish the trapped survivors of the earthquake in Christchurch will be dug out. It seems very possible that more than 20 Japanese students are also being trapped under the wreckage.
A 2-year-old child was rescued 92 hours after the Mid Niigata Prefecture Earthquake in 2004. A 74-year-old woman was rescued 106 hours after the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Enburi Festival at Hachinohe

Enburi Festival at Hachinohe in Aomori Prefecture was held from February 17th to 20th. It  used to be held on the 15th day of the 1st month in the lunar calendar.

Enburi(えんぶり) is the folk performing art that dancers wearing hats in the shape of the horse head dance with a shake of the head to pray for a good harvest.

"Enburi" means a kind of agricultural instruments called "eburi".It's used at rice planting.

Enburi is held in five prefectures including Fukushima, Tamagata, Miyagi, Iwate and Aomori.


Children also perform several dances during the festival.
 


photos: 「青い森の写真館」(Japanese version only)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chushingura(2)

Kira's son Uesugi Tsunanori(上杉 綱憲) was the 4th lord of the Yonezawa Domain.
(Uesugi Kagekatsu who was Uesugi Kenshin's son was the first load of the domain. Shinshu Kawanakajima Gassen and Honcho Nijushi Kou)

Kira's adopted son Yoshimasa(義周) was one of Tsunanori's sons. Tsunanori urged Kira to move to Yonezawa and it is said the farewell tea ceremony was held on the 14th day.
On hearing about the the raid by the Ako warriors, Tsunanori tried to deliver reinforcements. However his relative held him back.

Eighteen-year-old Yoshimasa waged a brave war against the warriors, but he was seriously injured.
Later the shogunate extinguished Kira's family line and drove him into exile. He was born weak and died of disease at the age of 21 in the place of exile.

Two of his retainers who moved from the Yonezawa Domain to Kira's house with him battled fiercely. One of them was killed in battle and the other was badly injured. Later the surviving retainer accompanied Yoshimasa to the place of exile.

The warriors put out fires caused by the raid and put Kira's headless body to bed after Kira's death. Then, one of them went away. It's not known exactly why.
Forty-six warriors went to Sengaku-ji Temple and placed Kira's head in front of Asano's grave. Later the head was carried back to Kira's retainer by the monks of the temple.

They were entrusted to the cares of four feudal lords.
The shogunate was at a loss over how to cope with the raid.
Raids were punishable by death. Meanwhile, their loyalty to their lord won widespread praise.

On the 4th day of the 2nd month(March 20th), the shogunate ordered them to commit harakiri. They did it the same day and were buried in the graves on the grounds of Sengaku-ji.

Their sons aged 15 and over except monks were driven into exile, but they were pardoned by the next shogun. Asano's brother regained his position as a direct retainer of the shogun. One of Oishi's sons was employed by Asano's head family.
Meanwhile, Yoshimasa death put an end to the Kira Family.

The sons of the 46 warriors received an offer from many domains. However, most of the Ako warriors who didn't take part in the raid could not serve another feudal lord.

Kira gained an infamous reputation for the raid, but was he such a bad person?
Injuring someone by stabbing in Edo Castle was an capital felony. Kira was a victim. Asano should have been punished severely whatever the reason.
The worst of it is that the shogun and his henchmen didn't find out why Asano made a cut at Kira.
The shogunate left warriors although it knew their plot, and no one tried to prevent them from raiding Kira's house when they were heading for it.

Kanadehon in the title "Kanadehon Chushingura (仮名手本忠臣蔵)" means an old Japanese alphabet copybook. This alphabet is also a poem which consists of 47 different letters.
Kanadehon is a pun for the 47 warriors.

いろはにほへと   ちりぬるを

わかよたれそ     つねならむ

うゐのおくやま    けふこえて

あさきゆめみし   ゑひもせす

i-ro-ha-ni-ho-he-to    chi-ri-nu-ru-wo

wa-ka-yo-ta-re-so    tsu-ne-na-ra-mu

u-wi-no-o-ku-ya-ma   ke-fu-ko-e-te

a-sa-ki-yu-me-mi-shi  we-hi-mo-se-su

This poem have several possible meanings. One of them is as follows.

The petals fall after blooming.
Everything changes in this world.
I got over a steep mountain in my life today.
I don't want to dream an empty dream when being sober.



East Gardens (the ruins of  the palace)

The present Imperial Palace was built on the site of Edo Castle.

People are not allowed to enter the palace, but the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace is open to people.

There isn't a trace of the corridor where the incident occurred, but the sign in the garden says that it used to be there.

East Gardens (the terraced walls of the castle)


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Kamakura Festival

Kamakura Festival at Yokote in Akita Prefecture was held on February 15th and 16th. It is one of the New Year holiday events and used to be held on the 15th day of the 1st month in the lunar calendar. The festival dates back 400 years.

A snow house called Kamakura has a household altar dedicated to the god of water to wish for the safety of their families, success in business and agricultural fertility.
In the house, children invite passersby inside and offer them sweet alcoholic amazake and rice cakes.

German architect Bruno Taut(1880-1938) visited Yokote in 1936 and described his impressive experience at the festival in his book "A Rediscovery of Japan".

About 100 kamakura stand in Yokote City during the festival. Many miniature kamakura are also built.



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photo:日本列島お国自慢(Japanese version only)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Chushingura (1)

A little snow pile up on the road yesterday. In recent years we have little snow here.

Late on the 14th day of the 12th month in the lunar calendar (January 31st in 1703 according to the Gregorian calendar), forty-seven Ako(赤穂) warriors raided the house of Kira Kozukenosuke(吉良上野介) and killed him around 4 a.m. on the 15th day.

We think of the scene that the warriors are headed for Kira's house in the snow. The memorial event for Ako warriors are held at Sengaku-ji Temple on December 14th, but the snow doesn't piled up at this time of year. In fact, it is said that it was a clear and frigid night with a full moon.

Kanadehon Chushingura (仮名手本忠臣蔵) based on this incident was written by Takeda Izumo Ⅱ(二代目竹田出雲), Miyoshi Syouraku(三好松洛), Namiki Senryu(並木千柳) premiered as a bunraku play in 1748, as a kabuki play in 1749.

he story has been featured in films and TV dramas many times in Japan.
In 2012, this story will be adapted into a 3D film called "47 Ronin" that starred Keanu Reeves. He will play an imagined character for the film. Ronin means a masterless samurai.


It all starts with the incident that Asano Takumi no Kami (浅野内匠頭), the lord of the Ako Domain made a cut at Kira Kozukenosuke with a sword in the corridor of Edo Castle on the 14th day of the 3rd month(on April 21st) in 1701.  The Edo Shogunate was due to perform a very important ceremony after welcoming Imperial messengers at Edo Castle.

The 5th Shogun Tsunayoshi was outraged by the incident. Asano committed suicide(harakiri) on the order of Tsunayoshi on the day of the incident without a detailed investigation in the face of opposition, and that he was sentenced to death by committing harakiri on the garden. Generally a feudal lord committed harakiri in the house.

It was unprecedented for a lord of domain to be ordered to commit suicide on the day of an incident.
Asano said that he had something against Kira, but it's not known exactly why he did so. The shogun extinguished the Ako Domain.  Kira was not punished because he didn't fight back at all.

At night on the 14th day, Asano's retainers received his body and held a funeral in obscurity at Sengaku-ji Temple(泉岳寺). At midnight, Asano's wife was taken along to a house belonging to her father.

The Edo Shogunate decided to punish Asano's brother and cousins on the 15th day. The domain's residences were handed over to another domains on the 17th and 18th day after the members of the Ako Domain working in Edo (now Tokyo) left there.

In the early morning of the 19th day, the members of the domain in Ako(now a part of Hyogo Prefecture) got the initial report of the incident.
The domain used to pay with local paper money issued in Ako. Chief retainer Oishi Kuranosuke(大石内蔵助) decided to change local paper money into national currency at a 40% discount. At that time another domains paid at more discount rate.

The members in Ako split over what to do about the incident. One group advocated holding out against the government barricading themselves inside Ako castle and the other group advocated reviving the domain after surrendering their castle to the government.

The members in Edo strongly advocated avenging their lord's death. Oishi Kuranosuke distributed more surplus funds to low-class warriors, but Oishi himself didn't get a share of the funds.
He led the members to accept the surrender of the castle to ask for reviving the domain by following their master to the grave. Advocates for his plan made an oath to commit harakiri by submitting a written pledge sealed with blood.

On the 19th day of the 4th month, Oishi surrendered Ako castle without blood. Some members including him attended to their backlog of the domain's government.  Asano's tomb was raised at Koyasan.

In the 8th month, the shogunate ordered Kira to move home and ordered Kira's brother, Kira's close companion and the person who made Asano commit suicide in a demeaning manner to give up their posts. In the 12th month, Kira transferred responsibility for the family to his adopted child(his biological grandchild) and his wife came back to her parents.

In the 1st month in 1702, Kayano Sanpei(萱野三平), one of the advocates committed suicide at the age of 28 because he was torn between loyalty to his lord and his father who offered to serve another lord. Hayano Kanpei(早野勘平) in Chushingura was modeled on him. Another advocate committed suicide with a courtesan.

Oishi lobbied powerful persons for reviving the domain, but their hopes were dashed on the 18th day of the 7th month in 1702. Oishi also decided to aim exclusively at avenging their lord's death.
Then Oishi provided an opportunity for the advocates to withdraw from the alliance by returning their written pledges. Because the advocates included the supporters of reviving the domain.

On the 5th day of the 11th month, members including Oishi reached Edo. It's not true that Oishi visited Asano's wife to say farewell after reacing Edo.

Oishi learned from a Japanese classical scholar that a tea ceremony was held at Kira's house. The scholar was one of Oishi's friends and was often invited to Kira's house.
Otaka Gengo(大高源五), one of the advocates, was also well known as a haiku poet and apprenticed himself to a famous tea master to found out the dates of the tea ceremony. Otaka published a collection of haiku poems before going to Edo.

Late on the 14th day of the 12th month (on January 31st in 1703), forty-seven warriors raided the house of Kira.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

the first horse's day of February (Hatsuuma)

Rituals for agricultural fertility are practiced at Fushimi Inari Taisha(伏見稲荷大社 :the head shrine of Inari in Fushimi) and its sub-shrines throughout Japan on the first horse's day of February (初午, Hatsuuma). The day corresponds to February 8th this year.

A torii is a symbolic Shinto shrine gate which marks the entrance to a sacred area. It literally means "a perch for birds," but its exact origin is unclear.


This is called "1,000 torii(千本鳥居, senbon-torii)," but in reality 10,000 torii line up.
Inari(稲荷) is the god grain, agriculture, trade and manufacture.  Followers of Inari have a custom of donating a wooden torii to Inari. It is said that the custom started from the Edo Period. As a result, 10,000 torii has lined up.


The date of dedication using Japanese traditional era name is written on torii. A visitor estimates that a wooden torii have a useful life-span of 20 years.  It seems that many followers dedicate torii every year.

photos: 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙(Japanese version only)


At Inari shrines, foxes are regarded as the messengers of the god. They hold a key, a gem, ears of rice and a scroll (Buddhist canon) in their mouths.




Monday, February 7, 2011

Sapporo Snow Festival

The 62nd Sapporo Snow Festival is being held from February 7th to 13th. (LIVE camera)





 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 photos: 北海道無料写真素材集 Do Photo (Japanese version only)

Shinmoe-dake (新燃岳) in Kyushu is still erupting. The shock waves generated by its eruption broke the school windows 11 kilometers from the valcano.
 
The Japan Sumo Association has decided to cancel the March Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka. This is the first time a sumo tournament will not be held since delayed renovation work of the Kokugikan Hall prevented the tournament from being held.

Sumo is facing a serious crisis with the match-fixing allegation again. There also have been rumors of match-fixing. Some evidence has surfaced that would support the allegation.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Syunsetsu

February 3rd was New Year's Day according to the lunar calendar called Syunsetsu(春節) this year. In Yokohama's Chinatown, New Year celebrations are being held from February 3rd to 17th.
(the pictures of the last year's celebrations : Four Seasons of Yokohama Kamakura,横浜鎌倉の四季)

There are more than 500 shops on the site of about 0.2 square meters.  After the opening of the Port of Yokohama in 1859, many Chinese merchants migrated to the foreign settlement.

There is a Kantei-byo(関帝廟) in the town. It's a temple of Guan Yu(関羽, ?-219) who was an ancient Chinese warlord and is enshrined as the god of commerce because he kept faith.

Most restaurants in the town served Cantonese cuisine.
Heichinrou(聘珍樓) was founded in Yokohama in 1884 and was introduced as one of famous Cantonese restaurants in a book published in 1909. It has been in business for 120 years.

The town experienced two Sino-Japanese wars and was burned down by The Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923 and World War II.

Now we associate the town with Chinese restaurants.
When I was a child, I looked forward very much to an annual lunch with my family at the town.
Many Japanese housewives cooked Chinese cuisine that adjusted their fare to suit Japanese tastes. The ingredients in chinese cooking were less commonly available and it was difficult to make real Chinese cooking at home.

Small family-run restaurants used to fill the town, but such restaurants are disappearing now. A new breed of Chinese shopkeepers is coming to the forefront.