Cherry Blossom Forecast 2024 (Japanese version only) (Japanese version only) (Japanese version only)

when and where to see cherry blossoms (Japanese version only):

Monday, May 31, 2010

What did a dead wife ask her surviving husband?

The 21-year-old Yohei(与兵衛) and the 15-year-old Okame(お亀) committed suicide together on the 17th day of the 5th month in the lunar calender(in the end of June in the Gregorian calendar). The 17th day of every month is a day believed to have a special relation with Kannon. But Only Yohei survived.

Okame was a daughter of an antique shop owner. Yohei who was her cousin married into her family. But he was entrapped by her father's mistress, and they decided to commit suicide together.

"Uzuki no Iroage(卯月の潤色:Redyeing of Uzuki)" starts here.
Yohei, her surviving husband, became a monk about a year after her death. He still sees her in his mind's eye. Her image is as hazy as a half-remembered dream. (Chikamatsu often shows poetic images like a movie.)

When he dozes off remembering her, he hears her voice. "Do you have a Yohei residing with you?" he hears her voice approaching. He gives an answer for joy and steps out of his house. She looks just the way she used to and asks him excitedly, staying on a palanquin, "It's hot... can you get me a glass of water?"
"Where did you go on a palanquin?"
"Today is the 17th day of the 4th month, so I just visited 22 shrines and prayed that you get along with my father." She carries on a pleasant conversation with him.

"I came to you because I wanted to ask you something. My aunt heard that Yohei often seemed to spend the time at adult entertainment shops. This question has bothered me for a long time. Is it true?"
With a happy grin, he turn the stove on to put water on for tea.
However, fire strikes her weak point. She makes herself invisible in front of him.

Through spiritual mediums, she let him know she wanted for him to stay alive and become a monk. Survivors of love suicide supposed to be executed, but he wasn't. Because his parents and relatives desperately begged for his life.

However, he didn't spend years as a ascetic monk, so he is not able to let her rest peacefully in her grave. He realizes that he has her chained to this world as long as he lives.
And he kills himself on the 17th day of the 4th month in the lunar calender(in the end of May in the Gregorian calendar).

"Uzuki no Iroage(卯月の潤色:Redyeing of Uzuki)" is the sequel to "Uzuki no Momiji(卯月紅葉: Maple leaves in April)". This bunraku play was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門). It's thought to be based on an actual but unidentified incident.

This play has never been performanced according to my best recollection, but it's one of my favorites.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Woman-Killer in Oil Hell

"Onnagoroshi Abura no Jigoku(女殺油地獄:Woman-Killer in Oil Hell )" is a bunraku play, which was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門). It's thought to be based on an actual incident that occurred on the 4th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar (on May 29th in the Gregorian calender) in 1721. But it's not unidentified.

The 23-year-old Yohei(与兵衛) killed the 27-year-old Okichi(お吉) because she rejected his appeal to lend him approximately 200,000 yen in a current value.(It's the same as the average starting salary for university graduates in Japan.)

He says, "I was hell-bent on preventing my father from being accused of a crime. I couldn't care less about the others."

He is a prodigal son and borrows money in the parent's name.
His stepfather succeeded his deceased father, who was his boss, to become a shop owner and married his mother. His stepfather can't reproach Yohei with his misconduct. His mother is very strict with Yohei. Yohei's elder brother serves his apprenticeship in another shop. The family members except Yohei care for each other and refrain from speaking their minds.

Okichi's husband runs a shop selling oil for lamp. They married more than 10 years ago and have some children. Yohei and Okichi are neighbors across the street.
He feels comfortable talking with her but don't have a romantic relationship with her.

He portrays her as a woman like a candy fashioned in animal forms- it's good-looking but tastes bad. He is falling head over heels for a courtesan. So his parents asks her to reprove him for his misconduct and sometimes cares for him. When he becomes muddy while fighting together, she helps to remove traces of soil.

He understands his parents' feelings and decides to pay off his debt in order not to give them further trouble. He asks for a loan to her as his last hope, but she don't comply with his request for a loan.
The highlight of the play is the scene of trying to kill her on oil-slicked floor. Afer her death, he attends a funeral for her with a completely innocent face.

Other bunraku writers cast him as a nefarious villain, but Chikamatsu didn't so. Therefore, his play didn't become a hit. It is said that Yohei resembles today's younger generation who snaps and loses their temper quickly.

After the Meiji period, this play is considered to be his masterpiece and is frequently performanced. It has been made into movies several times. Recent movies focuses on a romantic relationship between Yohei and Okichi. Their relation is open to a variety of interpretation.

Friday, May 28, 2010

unripe ume and loquat

Unripe ume(Japanese apricots) and loquats are currently on the market.
Umeshu(ume liquor) is made from unripe ume, rock candy and distilled spirits called white liquor.
Unripe ume stewed in sugar are also used for these confections.

Meanwhile, ripe ume are used to make pickled ume called umeboshi(梅干し).

confection in the shape of unripe ume
confection in the shape of loquat(or Japanese medlar)
confection in the shape of a bamboo leaf

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sonezaki Shinjuu

Sonezaki-shinjuu(曽根崎心中: Love Suicides at Sonezaki)

"Toku-sama can only die. Is he prepared to die?" She confirms his willingness by poking him with her foot while pretending to talk to herself. He expresses his intent to die by holding her ankle against his windpipe.

"I will die with Toku-sama no matter what." She conveys her decision to him by poking him with her foot. Under the porch floor, he sheds tears while enveloping her knees in his arms. She also weeps in sympathy. They communicate their feelings to each other without words.

"Sonezaki Shinjuu (曽根崎心中:The Love Suicides at Sonezaki)" is a bunraku play, which was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門) based on an actual incident that Tokubei(徳兵衛), then a 25-year-old sales clerk, and Ohatsu(お初), then a 21-year-old courtesan, commited suicide together in the forest of Sonezaki.

It happened on the 7th day of the 4th month in the lunar calendar (May 22th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1703, and the play was premiered on the 7th day of the 5th month in the lunar calendar in the same year.

A veranda-like(or wood deck-like) porch called engawa has the space under its floor. Ohatsu hides him under the porch floor.

He remains there while Kuheiji, who put Tokubei in the deep financial hole, is making advances to her sitting on the end of the floor.
"Toku-sama" is Tokubei's nickname.

In general female puppets have no legs, but it looks as if they have legs by foot puppeteer's handling.
Japanese women's legs were wrapped with kimono. So this play must have shocked audience with the scene he was holding her legs.

In the scene of the lovers' suicide trip, the following first sentence is proverbial one.
この世のなごり 夜もなごり 死にに行く身をたとふれば、
あだしが原の道の霜 一足づつに消えて行く 夢の夢こそあはれなれ
あれ数ふれば暁の 七つの時が六つ鳴りて 残る一つが今生の
鐘の響きの聞き納め 寂滅為楽と響くなり

In the forest of Sonezaki, Ohatsu is frightened to see will-o'-the-wisp. Tokubei tells her, "Two will-o'-the-wisp floating side by side are our souls." She says, "Then we've been already dead..."

Chikamatsu depicts gory details in his plays. I wondered why the killing scenes in his plays were so real.
Because there was a superstition that a person who die a painful death can get to heaven. I heard it in a study session. I guess the superstition partly comforted deceased family members.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Roses are in full bloom.
It takes a lot of trouble with growing roses in the hot and humid climate of Japan. Rose fanciers have to use chemicals to control disease and pest about one to four times a month from spring to fall.

some autochthonous roses in Japan are wild ancestors of garden species in Europe.
In Japan, Koushin-bara(庚申薔薇:China rose, Monthly rose) or
Mokkou-bara(木香茨、木香薔薇: banksia rose), which are native plant species, were grown as an ornamental plant in the Edo period.
After the Meiji period, European garden species became popular among Japanese people.

Neighborhood house surrounded by roses. It's not easy to get roses this far in Japan.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Shinjuu Yoigoushin

"If you were forced to get divorced a hundred or a thousand times, …"

"Shinjuu Yoigoushin(心中宵庚申:love suicides on the night of the day of koushin-machi)" 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 sixth day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar (May 20th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1722.

On the day, a greengrocery and his wife committed suicide together despite she was pregnant. Koushin-machi means Buddhist and Shinto ceremonies that people stay awake all through the night.

Surprisingly, the play was premiered on the 22nd day of the fourth month in the lunar calendar in the same year.
Bunraku writers of that time often dramatized actual incidents as they were happening live. The plays were premiered shortly after the incidents, like yellow papers.

Chiyo, this story's heroine, has bad luck with men.
Her first husband ruined himself and she lost her second husband. In additon, her mother-in-law forced her to get divorced during her third husband's absence, and she has been forced to come back to her parent's home.
Her marriages are arranged ones that were once common in rich families. Her father is a very wealthy farmer. People in those days regarded divorces as a shame of her family through no fault of her own.

He tells Chiyo, "If you were forced to get divorced a hundred or a thousand times..." He feels sorry for his daughter and complains of her third husband earnestly. Finally, He says,"I will marry you off to a much better husband than him."
His words should touch daughters' hearts.

We have an image of women in old times as weak victims, but most women in bunraku plays are pretty tough stuffs.
She is very meek compared to her noisy older sister who runs a family business well with her sister's husband. I guess her mother-in-law don't like her weakness and marital history.

Her third husband, Hanbei(半兵衛), was born into a samurai family but was adopted into a greengrocery's family. So he is not able to protest against his stepmother about being hard on her daughter-in-law. Meahwhile, he promises his wife's father not to leave his wife.
Finally, they decide to commit suicide together.

It is thought that the first act of the play was written to describe Hanbei's personality.
However, the content of the act is startling. The act is not performed at the present day, so few people know the content of this act.

He went to Hamamatsu to attend a Buddhist memorial service for his late father. He visits his brother who is a samurai warrior.
Some warriors try to have his brother's heart and their master encourages retainers to have a homosexual encounter!
Hanbei handles the romance with adeptness.

Actually, samurai warriors and monks were allowed to have a homosexual encounter in the Edo Period. It's a well-known fact that some famous samurai warriors were homosexual.
A Japanese film "Taboo (御法度, Gohatto)" directed by Nagisa Ōshima depects male homosexuality in the Edo Period. Recently, a kabuki play that deals with male homosexuality was performanced for the first time in 100 years.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Aoi Matsuri in Japanese literature

The first thing I come to mind when thinking of Aoi Matsuri in Japanese literature is "The Tale of Genji". Its 9th chapter named "Aoi no ue" depicts the incident occurred at Aoi Matsuri and its subsequent tragedy.

Hikaru Genji take part in the Aoi Matsuri's parade.
Lady Rokujou(六条御息所, Rokujyou no Miyasundokoro) and Lady Aoi(葵の上,Aoi no Ue) go and see the sights of the parade with their servants in cow-drawn carriages.
Lady Rokujou's carriage have already taken a good spot for the nice view, but Lady Aoi's servants push Lady Rokujou's carriage aside by force while knowing that it's her carriage.

Lady Aoi is Genji's wife.
Lady Rokujou was a daughter of a minister and the wife of former prince, but now is one of Genji’s mistresses.
Lady Rokujou has been wondering whether she left Kyoto with her daughter to eliminate a love-hate relationship with him. This minor incident blows her self-esteem, and she remains deep in the shock. She loses her control over herself.

Lady Aoi during pregnancy is often plagued by who-knows-what.
Meanwhile, Lady Rokujou often dreams that she hit Lady Aoi very violently.
Lady Rokujou have too much pride to retaliate on Lady Aoi, but her living spirit leaves her body and possesses Lady Aoi.
His visit to Lady Rokujou worrying about her illness and his wife's delivery ruffle her feelings.

Genji sees her living spirit and hears its voice.
Finally, Lady Aoi dies sometime after her delivery.
In fact, her living spirit has killed a mistress of his before.
She is stunned by herself for a deep hatred in the back of her mind. She resembled a person who has a split personality.

Although the leading character is Hikaru Genji, the novel describes the feelings of the women having relationships with him and their female servants carefully because a female novelist wrote it. She also depicts his outfit or stationery for love letters in considerable detail.

After his wife's death, people around him hope Lady Rokujou will become his second wife because she is very sophisticated and comes from distinguished ancestry.
Both of them adopt an awkward attitude to each other due to her living spirit.
At last, she decides to break up with him and leave Kyoto. He goes to see her to say goodbye just before her departure. By her face, he re-ignites romance and tries to persuade her to stay. Her determination is invincible. After that, she corresponds with him.

Years later, she entrusts him to her daughter's care because she feels the approach of death.
Athough she warns him never to fall in love with her daughter, he comes to love her daughter. She brushes off his advances because he is a fatherlike figure to her.

Hikaru Genji is an ideal man from a woman's perspective at the time.
He is good-looking, has a quick mind, is well-educated, is very good at dancing or playing instruments, has a sense of humor, is very gallant to ladies, puts his old girlfriends up in his house and financially supports them.

Even though he is a son of the former emperor, he is not acknowledged as a member of the imperial family. He sometimes says, "Every woman has her good points, but there is no ideal lover in the real world."

A noh play and Yukio Mishima's play were wrtten from this episode.

Mitarashi-dango(みたらし団子:stick of dumplings):

People in Kyoto eat this confection on the days of the Aoi Matsuri and the Mitarashi Matsuri(御手洗祭:Mitarashi festival).
Mitarashi festival is held on the day of the ox in midsummer(土用の丑の日) at Shimogamo Shrine. On this day, worshipers purify themselves by bathing their feet into Mitarashi-no-ike pond.

Mitarashi-dango originates from an offering to the deity which was made by shrine parishioners. It is said to have been made in the image of bubbles in the pond.

Sticks of five dumplings dipped in salty-sweet sauce are sold at Kamo Mitarashi jaya(加茂みたらし茶屋), a Japanese sweets shop near Shimogamo Shrine.
It's llike this.
It is said that five dumplings means the head, arms and legs. Most Mitarashi-dango on the market has four dumplings.
A Japanese song named "Dango Three Brothers" was a popular hit song in 1999.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sanja Matsuri

Sanja Matsuri(三社祭) is an annual festival held in the middle of May at Asakusa Shrine. "Sanja" comes from the three deities enshrined there.
Today is the last day of the three-day festival. Three mikoshi, which
are miniature mobile shrines for the three deities, are paraded through the city streets and back to the shrine.

The bad manner that some people ride on mikoshi has become a problem in recent years. Riding on the mikoshi is blasphemy against deities. In 2006, the poles on which people carry nikoshi were broken because some people rode on the poles. The following year, this sort of problem happened again. So the parade in 2008 was cancelled.
It seems that there was not a major problem with the this year's festival.

The festival have another troubles such as participating gangsters
(it cannot be broadcast on TV) or participants except shrine parishioners.

The Aoi Matsuri

The Aoi Matsuri (葵祭:Wild ginger festival), which is formally called Kamo Sai(賀茂祭) , is held on May 15th in Kyoto, Japan.
People dressed in historical costumes parade from the Imperial Palace through Shimogamo Shrine(下鴨神社) to Kamigamo Shrine(上賀茂神社) in a one-kilometer procession.

Aoi(葵:Wild ginger or Asarum caulescens) is a shrine crest of both shrines.
People, even security staff, wear Wild ginger leaves in their hairs to meet deities on this day. In old Japanese, "Aoi(葵,あふひ)" is the same hiragana characters as "visiting day(会ふ日,あふひ)".

「季節の花 300」(flowers of four seasons) (Japanese version only)

Kamigamo Shrine, where the deity of thunder is worshipped, is the shrine of the guardian deities of the Kamo family.
A raging rainstorm did some serious damage in the middle of the sixth century. In accordance with a fortuneteller, the family began to hold a festival that they gallop atop their horses before the deity to appease the wrath of the deity.

The deity is pleased to see galloping horses, so the family has held the festival every year since then.
Although the members of the Kamo family are scattered all over the nation today, they group together to hold the festival during this period. Now, the festival is held in early May as part of the Aoi Matsuri. The riders head the procession on May 15th.

Shimogamo Shrine, a World Heritage site, is located in the forest called Tadasu no Mori (糺の森), which is the remnant of a primeval forest. Shinto is an indigenous religion based on the worship of nature. As a result, the precincts of shrines or worshipped areas such as mountains have long been protected.

Mother-deity and grandfather-deity of the Kamigamo Shrine's deity are worshipped at the shrine.
Mikage Matsuri(御蔭祭) is the most important festival to Shimogamo Shrine. On May 12th, it's held to welcome the deities that are born again once a year.
At Mt.Mikage-yama, the shrine's priests offer fruits of the sea, riches of the soil, confections, rice and alcoholic beverages to the deities. One of them calls for the deities in the voice that speak without words.

Putting a little white box containing the deities on the back of a horse, they go to Tadasu no Mori. There, dance and music performance are held to entertain the deities.

Both shrines have been located before the capital was moved to Heian-kyo(now Kyoto's city center) in 794 by Emperor Kammu.
A suite of the emperor went in procession to the shrines to show respect for the deities. This was the beginning of the Aoi Matsuri's procession.

They greet the deity at Shimogamo Shrine and use articles for presentation to pay tribute to the deities. One of them as Imperial messenger reads the emperor's letter.

Then, they go to Kamigamo Shrine and make the deity a present of a horse. The members of the Kamo family ride horses at the shrine.
Before night, they do it again at the foot of the mountain near the shrine.

Friday, May 14, 2010

this year's first catch of bonitos

目には青葉 山ほととぎす はつ松魚 (山口素堂)
"Now, we can see the fresh green of trees, hear lesser cuckoos' songs in mountains and this year's first catch of bonitos has arrived at fish markets." is a haiku written by Yamaguchi Sodou(1642-1716).

Bonitos are in season now. They ride the warm Kuroshio(Black Current) north from spring to summer and come down from the north in autumn. They reach off the coast of Kyusyu from February to March and are landed in fishing ports near Tokyo around May.
The first catch of bonito is highly prized for the superstition that eating the first crop (or catch) of the season extended lifespan in the Edo Period. So they were often traded at a high price and the price of one bonito hit a historic high of 400,000 yen. To prevent overheating, the official release date is fixed by a law as the first day of the 4th month in the lunar calendar.
May 14th is that day this year. Now, bonitos go on sale by April.

illustration: M/Y/D/S動物のイラスト集 (Japanese version only)
all rights reserved

Hototogisu(杜鵑、時鳥、子規、不如帰、杜宇、蜀魂、田鵑:lesser cuckoo or cuculus poliocephalus):
Ancient people valued lesser cuckoos because their song herald the arrival of summer. They often appear with tachibana(橘:Citrus tachibana)or unohana(卯の花:deutzia) in Japanese classical literature. They feature sing loudly, even at night.

A lesser cuckoo appears in the following song "Natsu-wa-kinu(夏は来ぬ:Summer has come)", which was written by Nobutsuna Sasaki(佐々木 信綱 1872-1963) and was composed by Sakunosuke Koyama(小山 作之助 1864-1927).

卯の花の匂う 垣根に
時鳥 早も来鳴きて
忍び音もらす 夏は来ぬ
"A lesser cuckoo perched on a branch of scented deutzia hedge.
I've heard this year's first song of the cuckoo.
It announced summer has come."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Kakitsubata (Rabbit-Ear Iris)

Kakitsubata(燕子花、杜若:Iris laevigata or Rabbit-Ear Iris):

It grows in shallow waters or marshy places and blooms in mid-to-late May. Its petals are partly white. Kakitsubata, ayame and hanasyoubu are confusingly similar in appearance.

Ayame(菖蒲、文目、綾目:Siberian iris or Iris sanguinea) blooms from Early May to Mid-June, prefers dry land and has partly-netted petals.
Hanasyoubu(花菖蒲:Iris ensata var. ensata) blooms from early June to late June, prefers wet land and its petals are partly yellow.

photos :
デジカメ動画フリー素材 (Japanese version only)   

The exhibition "The National Treasure Irises Screens and Rimpa Paintings" is being held at the Nezu Museum(根津美術館) in Minami-Aoyama, Tokyo from April 24th to May 23rd. The highlight is the national treasure "Kakitsubata-zu-Byoubu(燕子花図屏風), which is a pair of gold-ground six-panel screens by Ogata Kourin(尾形 光琳,1658-1716).
The screens depict the scene of the 9th chapter of "The Tales of Ise".

The hero, Ariwara no Narihira(在原業平) made the following poem about kakitsubata in the tales.

"I left behind my wife in the city of Kyoto, and now have come a long way.
Like comfortable clothes, we have come to be comfortable with one another.
The feeling of loneliness come home to me."

KA-ra-go-ro-mo (からごろも)
KI-tsu-tsu-na-re-ni-shi (きつつなれにし)
TSU-ma-shi-a-re-ba (つましあれば)
HA-ru-ba-ru-ki-nu-ru (はるばるきぬる)
TA-bi-wo-shi-zo-o-mo-u (たびをしぞおもう)

This poem includes "KA-KI-TSU-HA(BA)-TA" that is a word of five syllables.

The rabbit-ear irises in the museum's garden are being out of season.

かきつばた袋 デザイン:藤本正子
"drawstring pouch in the shape of rabbit-ear iris" designed by Masako Fujimoto

Shigeyoshi Inoue(ed.),Shiki-wo-Irodoru-chirimenzaiku(Tokyo:ONdori Sha,2000),P.13

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

kodemari (reeves spirea)

Kodemari(小手毬: reeves spirea or Spiraea cantoniensis):
Kodemari, which means a litte ball, is still in bloom. Cut kodemari blossoms are sold.

These are traditional Japanese thread balls called temari(手毬).
while singing, girls bounced balls in the past.
These balls come in kit form and differ from traditional thread balls in materials.

Traditional thread balls are made by rolling them into a ball while looping threads around a plastic bag stuffed with rice husks, drawing an equatorial line and some meridian lines with threads like a globe and looping threads around the lines.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother's Day

Carnations are the symbol for Mother's Day in Japan as well. Recently, "Mother's Day boxed lunches" made by exclusive restaurants became popular. The special boxed lunches ranged from 2,500 to 3,000 yen are selling well.

A cell-phone strap in the shape of carnation, which is formed in a mold for dry confectionery.

Japanese wisterias at Ashikaga Flower Park in Ashikaga City, Tochigi Prefecture are now at their peak. The wisterias began blooming later than usual because of coldness in April. Usually, Golden Week holidays are the best time to view their blossoms.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

another confections for the Boys' Festival

The rainy season has started in Okinawa and Amami, but cherry blossoms still haven't bloomed in Sapporo.

Steamed rice cakes filled with sweet bean paste and wrapped in Daimyo Oak leaves. After bursting into leaf, the tree lets its old leaves fall. Therefore, the families of warriors came to eat them to pray for lasting their family lines. It is said that kashiwamochi was regarded as a confeciton of the Boys' Festival about 1670.
There is a daimyo oak tree in my neighborhood. Now, Its young leaves are a perfect fit for kashiwamochi.

carp-shaped confection
Recently, many carp streamers are put up for sightseeing in various regions in Japan. A tourist spot began to hoist carp streamers using unnecessary streamers in homes.Altough most families with boys used to have carp streamers, parents quit hoisting the streamers after their childen have grown up.
The small carp streamers to be attached to the balcony of an apartment are selling well. Recently, unnoticeable streamers are often ordered on the grounds that they detract from the appearance.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Children's Day(the Boys' Festival)

The Boys' Festival is celebrated on May 5th.
May 5th is Rikka(立夏:the first day of summer) this year. It's hot today.

It is originally called "Tango no sekku",which means the festival on the first horse's day of a month. In ancient China, the events including plucking medicinal plants, hanging dolls made of mugwort on the gate and drinking sweet flag(calamus) brandy (菖蒲酒) were held on the 5th day of the 5th month according to the lunar calendar to drive away evil spirits because the 5th day was thought to be an evil month.

In imitation of the Chinese custom, the similar event were held on that day at the Imperial Court. The events included drinking sweet flag brandy, thatching houses with sweet flag leaves or mugwort on the roof and hitting the targets from a horse galloping along the course.
Sei Shonagon (清少納言, c.966-1017) praised this scentful event in her famous essay "The Pillow Book (枕草子 makura no soshi)."

Sweet flags(calamus) has been regarded as a medicinal plant. Even now people take baths in sweet flag leaves on May 5th.

Chimaki(粽, zongzi or zong in Chinese) is on the table. It's a traditional Chinese food which is glutinous rice stuffed with fillings and wrapped in bamboo leaves.
it has an episode of Kutsugen(屈原:Qu Yuan in Chinese) who was a Chinese scholar and minister. After he drowned himself in the river because of being demoted, people threw packets of rice wrapped in Melia azedarach leaves and five-colored strings into the river. There are various theories as to its reason and shape.
In Japan, we eat a confeciton made from rice-powder wrapped in bamboo leaves on May 5th.

Dorayaki(どら焼き) is also on the table.
It's sweat bean paste in pancakes and got its name from its resemblance to dora(銅鑼, Chinese gong).It is said to have begun around 1700. However, it has nothing to do with the Boys' Festival.
Recently, it's famous as a Doraemon's favorite confection. Doraemon (ドラえもん) is a character from Japanese manga and animation.
Another confection with the same name is sold at a Japanese confectionery shop, Sasaya Iori(笹屋伊織) founded in 1716, in Kyoto. The shopmaster created a confection to be baked on the heated dora because To-ji temple's monk ordered to make a snack for the temple's monks.

The warrior class was in a position of power in the Edo period.
Syoubu(尚武), which means valueing martial arts, have the same sound as syoubu(菖蒲).
So families of samurai warriors began celebrating May 5th as the day for boys.
Families with boys display warrior dolls, famous heroes such as Kintarou(金太郎), miniature samurai armor, helmets in their homes and fly carp streamers outdoors to represent strength and success. It comes from a Chinese tradition that carps turn to dragons after swimming up a waterfall.
Families of samurai warriors flew their family banner called nobori(幟). In rivalry with them, ordinary people began to hoist carp streamers.

There's a bow and a sword on both sides of a samurai helmet.
Hanging scroll with a painting of carps.

Children walk on stilts(竹馬, takeuma) and begin a swordfight(ちゃんばらごっこ), wearing a homemade paper helmet.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Greenery Day

April 29th, the birthday of the Showa Emperor, was decided to be a national holiday called named "Midori no Hi(みどりの日:Greenery Day) after his death. However, this holiday moved to May 4th in 2007.

It was hot today. But this April was rainy and cold. It didn't look like April.
I haven't seen a butterfly yet in my yard.

蝶の小袋 作った人/田中みちよ
"drawstring pouch in the shape of butterfly" designed by Michiyo Tanaka

Shigeyoshi Inoue(ed), Yasashiku-Tsukureru-Densyou-no-Komonosyugei (Tokyo:Fujin seikatsu-sha,1994),P.34.

oboro-zuki(朧月:misty moon)
There is a confection named oboro-zuki.

大原や蝶の出て舞ふ朧月 (内藤丈草)
"At Ohara, a butterfly flits about in the misty moonlight",written by Naito Jousou(1622-1704)

Many people enjoyed digging clams at the beach during Golden Week holidays. Clams are in seasnon.

Today is the last day of spring according to the lunar calendar.
"butterfly", "misty moon" and "clam digging" are seasonal words of spring.

The season of fresh greenery has come.
Decade ago, cherry blossoms have not yet bloomed when I went into the hospital. A month later, I felt new green leaves were too bright on the way home from the hospital.

Shinryoku(新緑:fresh green)



Monday, May 3, 2010

Hachijuu-hachi-ya and Constitution Memorial Day

May 2nd is Hachijuu-hachi-ya(八十八夜), which is the 88th day after Rissyun(立春:the first day of spring).That day is regarded as a starting point of farm work and also
contains a warning against late spring frost. Tea picked on this day is regarded as superior one, and it is said that drinking tea on this day leads to longevity.

The first tea of the season has come. It possess a pleasing flavor.
Uji(宇治) City, Kyoto Prefecture, which is famous for its high-quality tea, tea picking starts at the beginning of May. Early varieties of tea badly were damaged by abnormally cold weather in some areas of Shizuoka Prefecture.

We associate the following faouns song for children called Chatsumi(茶摘み:tea picking) with Hachijuu-hachi-ya. It appeared in a songbook for children published in 1912, but its songwriter is unknown.

1. 夏も近づく八十八夜
On Hachijuu-hachi-ya, summer is around the corner.
I can see fresh green fields and mountains.
"Look at the women over there. they are picking tea,
tucking up their kimono sleeves with a red band
and wearing a sedge hat."

2. 日和つづきの今日このごろを
Having a spell of lovely spring weather,
they are picking tea pleasantly while singing a song.
"Pick tea, pick, pick, you need to pick tea.
If you don't, Japanese tea leaves are not made."

Tea processing in Japan is, in brief, picking tender new leaves, steaming them while stirring, kneading them while drying on low heat and finishing them. Kneading work is so hard that tea leaves kneaded by hand are very expensive.

茶つぼ形巾着 デザイン:藤本正子
"drawstring pouch in the shape of chatsubo" designed by Masako Fujimoto

Chatsubo(茶壷) is a pottery tea jar and the pouch has a traditional design.

Shigeyoshi Inoue(ed), Densyou-no-Nunoasobi-Chirimenzaiku (Tokyo:Japan Broadcast Publishing Co.,Ltd.,1994),P.52.

Tea of the very best quality in Uji(宇治) were sent to shoguns in procession from late April to early May, from 1633 to 1866 every year. The authoritative procession was called Ochatubo-doucyuu(御茶壷道中) and even feudal lord's processions had to give way to it. Commoners are not allowed to see it. A children's song "zui zui zukkorobash(ずいずいずっころばし)" is written about it.

Tea manufacturers including Ippodo(一保堂),Kanbayashi(上林), Nagatani-en(永谷園) and Yamamotoyama(山本山) managed everything about the procession.
The supervisor of it was Kanbayashi, which has been in business for 450 years and has brought out Plastic bottles of green tea named Ayataka(綾鷹)in cooperation with Coca-Cola(Japan) Company, Ltd.

Ippodo(Ippodo Tea Co.,Ltd.) was founded in 1717. The site of Ippodo presents information about tea in English and Japanese. You can also buy tea and tea utensils such as Matcha Starter Kit, teapot on the Internet. They are available in countries outside of Japan.

Nagatani-en(NAGATANIEN Co., Ltd) has become a major food manufacturer now. Its founder developed process of making medium-grade tea(煎茶,sencha). Now sencha is drunk daily.

Yamamotoyama(YAMAMOTOYAMA Co.,ltd.), which was founded in 1690, has also become a major company and is famous for tea and nori(laver) now. Its founder developed process of making refined green tea (玉露,gyokuro).

May 3rd is Constitution Memorial Day(憲法記念日).
the present Constitution of Japan was enacted on May 3rd in 1947.
It makes a feature of war-renouncing Article 9.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

May Day

May Day was held all over Japan on May 1st.

Most labor unions are enterprise unions in Japan, and they are federated by industrial sector. Many conpanies replaced full-time employees with part-time and temporary workers to hold down labor costs since the regulations on temporary workers was eliminated during the prolonged recession that followed the collapse of the economic bubble of the 1990s.

Few companies have a policy of equal pay for equal jobs.
As a result, part-timers and other non-regulars have come to account for a third of the labor force and the unions have weakened.

Japan has no layoff system like that in the United States. Even now, many companies keep employees on the payroll unless they retired of their own will and don't cut their pay unless their companies are on the brink of bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, companies can terminate the temporary contracts of temporary workers according to companies' convenience.
A company refused the employees' demand for wage increases when it posted record profits, but it laid off temporary workers before it became in the red. Another company terminated the contracts of temporary workers who had been working there for ten years because it was sued for direct employment by such people.

Now, it's possible for part-time and temporary workers to join a labor union named Zenkoku Union(Japan Community Union Federation), and its members staged a march.