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

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

Saturday, August 28, 2010

the most unlikely national treasure

Bottle gourds are ready for harvest.

National treasure "Family Enjoying the Evening Cool(夕顔棚納涼図屏風)" painted by Kusumi Morikage is in the possession of Tokyo National Museum. It is a two-fold screen with a height of 149.7 cm and a width of 166.2 cm.
Many people feel that it's too simple as a national treasure.

A simple pergola is covered with bottle gourd. A farmer's family is enjoying exposure to cool air in the evening under it, staring at something.

This painting is interpreted as representing happiness in little things.
However, the painter's family broke up easily.

Kusumi Morikage (c.1620-1690) was a Japanese painter of the Edo period. Not much is known about his background. His date of birth and death, his birthplace and deathplace are unknown.
He became a pupil of Kanou Tanyu(狩野探幽) who was a famous painter of the Kanou school. He was reputed to be one of the big four painters belonging to the school and he married Tanyu's niece. He enjoyed a moment of glory.

However, his son and daughter sullied luster.
Although both of them were pupils of the Kanou school, his daughter ran off with her fellow pupil, his son got expelled from the school due to his womanizing and unjustified resentment against his senior pupil caused him to injure the pupil by stabbing. His son was finally banished from Edo.

Morikage distanced himself from the Kanou school and headed for Kanazawa. His best known works including this picture were painted there. Ironically, the bad behaviors of his children led him to establish his original style.

Some say that the three persons presented in the painting are Morikage, his son and daughter and he projected his memory of a happy time in the past onto the painting.

His daughter became a painter and we can see her work at a museum, but her talent was nothing compared to Morikage's.

This painting was designated as a national treasure in 1952 because Kusumi Morikage depicted Japanese farmer's life affectionately although most painters in those days modeled after Chinese paintings.

Hyoutan(瓢箪:bottle gourd),also known as hisago or fukube, is frequently used in making Japanese confections as a motif representing early autumn.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


Sunflowers are passing a peak in most areas of Japan.
Himawari(向日葵, sunflower) literally means "common hollyhock(Alcea rosea) keeping its head pointed towards the sun". Although sunflower is an asteracea plant, it appears similar to common hollyhock in a tall and summer-blooming plant.

In 1920, Japanese businessman Koyata Yamamoto bought one of Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers". Some says it was fake. Unfortunately it was burned in the air raid on Ashiya on August 6th in 1945.

In 1987, Yasuda Fire & Marine Insurance Company(now Sompo Japan Insurance Inc.) made a successful bid of 39.92 million dollars for another one of "Sunflowers". It was a symbol of the period of the economic bubble.
This is also a disputed painting.

Gogh yearned for Japan as the country of Ukiyo-e, but two of his paintings(fake or genuine) saw the country which was far from the land of dreams.

Sunflower reminds me of a newspaper reader's column.

The writer of the column lost her grandmother to the Great Hanshin Awaji earthquake occurred in January, 1995. Her grandmother lived alone in an old wooden one-story house.Her house collapsed in the earthquake and she was trapped in the rubble. After her grandmother's death, her family cleared away the rubble and the plots of land remained idle.

In summer of the same year, her family visited a place where her grandmother's house once stood after so long.

Then they were surprised at a carpet of sunflowers.

Her grandmother kept a bird in a cage and fed it to sunflower seeds. The cage fell to the ground in the earthquake and the seeds were scattered all around the place.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Jizou-bon(地蔵盆) is an festival held to celebrate Jizou(地蔵,Ksitigarbha in Sanskrit) in Kansai Region including Kyoto, Osaka. It is not really prevalent in Kanto Region including Tokyo, Yokohama.

The festival was originally held on the 24th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. Because The Bon festival starts on the 1st of the 7th month when the lid of hell's caldron is taken off and ends on the 24th that is a day believed to have a special relation with Jizou in Buddhist beliefs.

Jizou is one of Buddhist bodhisattvas. His mission is to save people between Buddha's death and the appearance of Maitreya(弥勒菩薩, Miroku-bosatsu).
Yama(閻魔大王, Enma Daiou) is the lord of death and give sentence on the dead. Jizou and Yama are opposite sides to the same coin.

Ancient people associated Jizou with a belief in a travelers' guardian deity, so its statues were located to hornor it by roadsides around Japan.

He is also regarded as the guardian of children because he saves children who have to pile stones eternally on the bank of the Styx like Sisyphus due to living less than their parents.
So the festival is dominated by children.

Worshipers cleanse away and dress a Jizo statue in a new red baby's cap and bib, make offerings of food and flowers and place red and white lanterns around the statue. Now this is more like a event for children than a religious rite.

Confections in the shape of the swastika are sold at Japanese-style confection stores in Kyoto.
The swastika is derived from the Sanskrit word svastika and is used as a symbol of Buddhism in Japan. Originally it is one of the oldest symbols of regeneration used in Asia, Central America and Northern Europe.

I saw people in the Andes on TV enshrining mummies in their homes and supposed most Japanese feel an affinity with their tradition.

We don't have a tradition of enshrining mummies, but their way of treating mummies is similar to our way of treating Jizou. We worship him and feel something familiar to him. He is there for us.

Parishioners of some small Buddhist temples got away during wartime or in a fire, carrying their Buddhist statues on their backs. It seems that they treat their Buddhist statues as a member of their family or a former teacher.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer vacation in my childhood

Temperatures reached 35 degrees Celsius in Tokyo. Fire and Disaster Management Agency said the death due to heat stroke has risen to 132 from May 31th to August 15th in Japan. Hot summer is still far from over.

When I was a child, I spent my summer vacation at my grandmother's house several times. The house was in a rural area, about 30 minutes by a car from Kouchi Station.
Most people in my grandmother's village share a common family name although they are not relatives. They always left the door unlocked.

It was a Japanese-style house built about 100 years ago. The floor of each room was covered with tatami mats. It had elaborately-built reception room with a southern exposure and the room was usually used for welcoming guests. Its veranda-like porch called engawa was normally screened from the sun. It has also a small but well-mended Japanese garden.
On the other hand, its living space was humble. Old Japanese houses were designed with welcoming guests paramount in thinking.

Electricity was installed. She cooked with propane gas on the concrete floor and pumped water up from a well. We heated a bath by burning wood for fuel and used a vault toilet. It's too difficult to lie in nice hot bath because we can't lower the heat at a proper temperature.

The toilet and the bath were separated from the main building because the separate building got wet and rotted quicker than the main building did in Japan's humid climate.
We slept under a mosquito net with the window open. I often woke my grandmother and had her accompany me to the toilet during the night. I was scared of using the vault toilet in the night.

A large iron kettle-shaped bathtub called a Goemon-buro ("Goemon bath") was named after Ishikawa Goemon (石川 五右衛門, ?-1594), who was a legendary bandit and was executed by being boiled in oil.
It was installed in the bathroom and was heated on an open fire. We have to submerge ourselves in hot water while staying on a wooden board to prevent heated bathtub from contacting the skin. A child was too light to do it, so I and my sister rode on the board together.

I played with one of my cousins every day during my stay. My grandmother's house was an entertainment park for me. I never got tired of staying there, so I didn't want to go home.

Wood is suitable for the hot and humid climate in Japan.
Many people living in modern closed houses with less ventilation have a problem with propagation of mold, but it's cold in wooden houses in winter.

Traditional Japanese houses using high-quality woods last for hundreds of years by being maintained occasionally. Unfortunately, Building materials for my grandmother's house were not high-quality, so they rotted from within. My family demolished the house after my grandmother died at the age of 97.

金魚 デザイン/ 亘 正幸
"goldfish" designed by Masayuki Wataru

亘 正幸,空き箱で布の飾り箱(東京:世界文化社,2000年),P.5.
Masayuki Wataru, Kisetsu-wo-Kazaru-chirimenzaiku (Tokyo:SEKAI BUNKA PUBLISHING INC., 2000),P.5.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

national high school baseball championship

Kounan High School won its national high school baseball championship title on August 21th. It is the first time for the team representing Okinawa Prefecture to win this summer championship.

Okinawa was under American control until 1972 after World War Ⅱ. Syuri High School as the team representing Okinawa made its first appearance in the championship in 1958.
Players from the losing team take soil from the field as a memento and the members of Syuri High School did it. However, they had no choice but to scatter the soil in the sea because bringing in soil from Japan went against the U.S. plant protection act.

After the championship ended, We feel that summer vacation is at an end.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Yukata(浴衣) was originally a bathrobe called Yukatabira(湯帷子).
In summer, many young women go out in yukata to enjoy festivals or displays of fireworks. Yukata has become a popular summer fashion.
A variety of yukata including designer-label yukata arrive in stores.
Yukata that resembles kimono are sold now, but yukata is an informal wear like a T-shirt.

In the Edo Period, kabuki actors started to wear yukata of their own designs. The yukata featured bold designs and had a sense of fun. They wore in their backstage rooms and sent tenugui(washcloth) with yukata design to patrons as a service. Their descendants wear the yukata in their backstage rooms.

Yukata are cheaper and easier than kimono. Traditional kimono are usually sewn by hand, but cheap kimono are sewn on a sewing machine.

Most yukata and many kimono sold in Japan are sewn in some Asian countries because of the low labor costs. I heard from a kimono-related worker that Vietnamese seamstresses are good hands, their kimono are made with great care and kimono makers are very pleased with their well-made kimono.

We wear yukata next to the skin like a T-shirt, but we have to wear kimono-like garment under the kimono when wearing kimono. Dress and sleeve length of yukata are a little shorter than that of kimono.

Sewing kimono used to be an important accomplishment for women. My paternal grandmother was good at sewing kimono, so she made me a doll's kimono.

A roll of cloth is cut into some pieces after being marked not with a chalk but with a small clothes iron. We usually sew kimono by hand while taking care not to ruck up cloth, so unstitched pieces of cloth are less-wearing.
When I rucked cloth slightly, a sewing teacher ordered me to start over.

The pieces fit like a jigsaw puzzle, so they are sewn back together when kimono are washed. After the pieces are turned back to a roll of cloth, we wash and stretch it taut by using bamboo.
I heard from my mother that my maternal grandmother used to patch up unstitched pieces of cloth and wash them. Now we rarely bother doing that.

yukata are usually made of cotton and are unlined, so sewing yukata seems to be easier than sewing kimono. I struggled with sewing yukata because I had to get a needle through several layers of a little thick cotton cloth by hand. Especially, I had a hard time sewing the collar part.

タペストリー 100 デザイン:長崎恵里子
"tapestry 100" designed by Eriko Nagasaki

These are children's yukata. When I was a child, I used to attend the bon dance festivals held in my area in yukata.

Rou Naito(ed), Wafu-de-Tsukuru-Komono 105ten(,2002), p.36

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

koi no odamaki

August 16th was the 7th day of 7th month in the lunar calendar this year.

Imoseyama-onna-teikin(妹背山婦女庭訓) is a bunraku play written by Chikamatsu Hanji, Matsuda Baku, Sakai Zenpei, Chikamatus Tounan and Miyoshi Syouraku. It was premiered in 1771.

The highlight in the first half of the play is a tragic love story like Romeo and Juliet in the season for the Dolls' Festival.

In the second half of it, a love triangle is featured.
Omiwa(お三輪) is a daughter of a liquor shop owner. Fujiwara no Tankai(藤原淡海) secretly aspires to defeat a rebel, Soga no Iruka(蘇我入鹿) under an assumed name. Tachibana-hime(橘姫) is Iruka's sister, but she declines to be identified.

Tachibana-hime comes to see him in the evening. Omiwa comes back after attending the Star Festival held at the school of her childhood. Puppeteer Yoshida Minosuke showed a Omiwa's endearing childlike gesture by making her knead and blow a Chinese lantern plant.
Omiwa and Tachibana-hime fight over Tankai.

Two bobbins called odamaki(苧環), which are offerings of the Star Festival, are effectively used as stage props. Tankai ties one end of a string to Tachibana-hime's sleeve and Omiwa ties one end of other string to his sleeve. They follow the trail of
their lovers by tracing strings.

They reach Iruka's palace. Tankai learns that she is Iruka's sister. Omiwa is jealous of Tachibana-hime after her waiting maids mock at Omiwa. Tachibana-hime decides to take Tankai's side against her brother, and Tankai makes a vow to become one with her.

A retainer of Tankai's father stabs at Omiwa with a knife. He tells her that the blood of a woman being insanely jealous is needed to defeat Iruka. Omiwa is pleased to give her life as a sacrifice for fulfilling Tankai's wish. She dies wishing to be joined together in posterity instead of giving up impossible love in this world.

I went to this play with a friend of mine. We disagreed with the story ends. However, there is another argument that it would make Omiwa feel happy to shed blood for him if she has no chance to become one with him.

This play features an event of cleaning wells called Ido-gae(井戸替) and refers to the schools for farmers and townspeople called terakoya(寺子屋).

The Edo Shogunate institutionalized to clean all of the wells in Edo on the the 7th day of the 7th month. Most commoners in Edo were tenants, and they cleaned down the inside walls of wells, removed all the water from wells and scooped dirt out of their bottom under the direction of their superintendents. Edo didn't have a sewerage system, but it had public drinking water supplies.

The children of samurai families studied at the schools of the feudal domains. About 40% of the farmers and townspeople are estimated to have studied at the schools which taught reading, writing and arithmetic necessary for merchants, artisans and farmers.

The parents of the farmers and townspeople payed tuition and fees in proportion to their income. The parents in rural areas often payed in kind. Terakoya school teachers were proud of their works, so they didn't expel the children of people that fell behind in their tuition payments.
It is said that Edo had a literacy rate of nearly 100 percent at the end of the Edo period.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

after bon festival

Temperatures reached over 37 degrees Celsius in Tokyo.

I put a special altar, things placed on it and Bon Festival lanterns back in order. I had soumen offered at the altar with my family for lunch.

In early summer, I've walked along a path named amanobe no Michi(山の辺の道) which is an ancient route connecting the foots of some mountains in Nara Prefecture. I ate Miwa Soumen(三輪素麺) at Chogaku-ji temple(長岳寺) along the path. Miwa soumen(Japanese vermicelli made in Miwa area) are thin, but it has body. It was topped with green maple leaves for decoration to give visitors a sensation of coldness.
It was hot and I was tired, so I very much enjoyed the cold vermicelli. It's probably one of the best-tasting somen I've ever had.

Monday, August 16, 2010

farewell bonfire

Torrid temperature in excess of 35 degrees Celsius has continued for the second consecutive day. The weather report says it'll be extreme heat again tomorrow.

on the night of the 16th, we light a farewell bonfire to see our ancestors off.

In Kyoto, Gozan no Okuribi(五山の送り火) bonfires are lit on this day. Five bonfires are set alight on the mountains ringing the city. They include two "大" characters, "妙法" characters, a boat form and a shrine gate form.

I sent off my ancestors by making a bonfire this night.

the Bon dance is one of Bon events.
It is said that it started when people danced in delight along to the Buddhist chants because it rained after doing a ritual for rain.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

the anniversary of the end of the Pacific War

August 15th is the anniversary of the end of the Pacific War.
On this day in 1945, Japan made an unconditional surrender, which led to the end of the Pacific War. The annual Memorial Ceremony for the War Dead is held on this day.
In South Korea, August 15th is a public holiday to celebrate liberation from Japanese rule.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

the Bon Festival

Yesterday is the first day of the Bon Festival.
I visited the family grave on the site of a temple, cleaned it, offered flowers and burned incense. The temple were filled with people visiting their graves.

Most families usually make offerings of flowers, burn incense and pray for the repose of their ancestors at Buddhist altars called butsudan(仏壇). It is a wooden cabinet with doors that enclose and protect religious icon, typically a statue or painting of a Buddha or the founder of a religious sect. We also enclose tablets with our ancestors' posthumous Buddhist name in it.

During the festival, the cabinet's doors are opened and we place a special altar called shouryou-dana(精霊棚) in front of the cabinet. We lay a mat made of Manchurian wild rice leaves on the alter, set green bamboos on end at the four corners of it, extend a rope from bamboo to bamboo to mark the boundary between sanctified area and other areas and hang Chinese lantern plants on the rope.

We place the tablets, a cow and horse made of cucumber and eggplant, an incense burner, a rin gong, candle holders, a mixture of rice, diced eggplant and cucumber called Mizunoko(水の子), loosestrife(禊萩, misohagi) and offerings of soumen(素麺,Japanese vermicelli), fruits, dry confectionery in the shape oflotus or chrysanthemum on the mat.

I prepared the alter after visiting the family grave. This arrangement is simple and is a little different from the traditional model. Some people prepare more imposing altars. People belonging to some sects don't prepare a special altar for the festival.

I put Bon Festival lanterns together every year. All the constituent parts of a lantern fit in this blue box. Most of their parts are made of wood and silk.

These are silk lanterns with light bulb sockets.

This revolving lantern is made of plastics.
I heard some foreign tourists buy a Bon Festival lantern as a souvenir.

On the evening of the 13th, we light a bonfire using dried hemp stems called ogara outside our homes to guide our ancestors.
It rained last evening, so we waited for the rain to stop and lighted a bonfire.

When My mother was a child, she was told not to go to rivers or fields during the Bon Festival because the dead who have nowhere to return hid in the places and dragged people into the afterworld.
Many temples hold a service for them during the festival.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Typhoon, Perseid meteor shower and Japan Airlines Flight 123

Typhoon No.4(Dianmu) made landfall in Akita after it damaged South Korea. The typhoon passed away. Kyoto had a record rainfall because of the typhoon.

Crickets started to stridulate at night.

The Bon festival takes place every year from August 13th to 16th. It is a Buddhist festival held to welcome back the spirits of the dead. Many people receive company holidays during the period and go back to their hometowns or go on trips, making expressways and trains extremely crowded. Some people were held up due to the typhoon.

The Perseid meteor shower is visible now. It is predicted that its peak in activity is around eight in the morning on August 13th (Japan time). Unfortunately, It's unlikely to see the shower due to the typhoon in most areas.

Twenty-five years have passed since Japan Airlines Flight 123 from Haneda to Itami crashed into Osutaka Ridge in Ueno Village of Gunma Prefecture at 6:56 p.m. on August 12th, 1985, resulting in the death of 520 of 524. This flight was full because it was during the bon holiday period.

According to the report published by Japan's then Aircraft Accidents Investigation Commission, the accident was caused by poor maintenance of damaged rear pressure bulkhead of the aircraft.

Unidentified dead's ashes were placed in a charnel house in Ueno Village. Japan Airlines (JAL) and Ueno Village built a monument to the disaster and maintained a climbing trail on Osutaka Ridge.

In 2006, the Safety Promotion Center opened not to forget terrible lesson of the accident and to reconfirm the importance of operational safety for the company employees near Haneda Airport.
The displays in the center include remains of the plane and passenger effects. It is also open to the public, but it is needed to book the appointment in advance. Japanese airline companies have caused no passenger to die since the accident.

I read a newspaper column that a newspaper helicopter headed for the scene of the accident shortly after the airplane crash and a fellow passenger witnessed a large number of shooting stars in the dead of night on the way back from the accident scene.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

summer and fall

Today is the 1st day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar. Fall was thought to begin from this day. The following waka poem was made on the last day of summer.

夏と秋と 行きかふ空の 通ひ路は かたへ涼しき 風やふくらむ(凡河内躬恒)
"On the sky two-lane road where going summer and comming fall go by each other, Is cool breeze blowing in the lane for comming fall?" written by Oushikouchi no Mitsune(c.859-925)

Monday, August 9, 2010


Nagasaki Prefecture has over 130 churches. It is related to Nagasaki's history.

Christianity was first introduced to Japan in 1549 by Saint Francis Xavier, a Catholic missionary belonging to the Society of Jesus. Nagasaki became a base for overseas trade after a Christian feudal lord opened a port there in 1570.

However, men of power came to feared that Catholic missionary work could lead to the conquest of Japan and the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity in 1612. Christians were persecuted and foreign missionaries were banished from Japan in 1614.

The Shimabara Uprising (島原の乱, Shimabara no ran) was staged against the Tokugawa shogunate in 1637–1638 during the Edo period. Rebels included peasants bearing a crushing tax burden, the persecuted local Christians and the former retainers of Christian feudal lords.The rebellion was quashed and they were virtually eradicated.
Japan completed its isolation policy in 1639 after the rebellion.

Italian Jesuit, Giuseppe Chiara(1602-1685) infiltrated Japan and was caught by the Tokugawa shogunate in 1643.
Sebastião Rodrigues as the character in Shusaku Endo's "Chinmoku(沈黙,Silence)" is modeled on him. In the book, a historical figure, Cristóvão Ferreira(1580-1650) also appeared. Both of them took Japanese names and lived in Japan after apostatizing Christianity under torture.

The story is being made into a movie by American film director Martin Scorsese, but its production is held up due to insufficiency of funds.
I want to see the movie featuring Daniel Day-Lewis and Benicio del Toro even though this story is unlikely to have mass appeal.

Only non-Catholic Dutch were allowed to maintain trade relations at Dejima in Nagasaki.
The surviving Christians went underground. Crypto-Christian is called Kakure Kirishitan(隠れキリシタン). They could have observed their faith without priests for about 250 years due to being extremely well organized, being suppressed several times.
Once a year, they are compelled to trample on a plate with a crucifix or other Christian symbol in order to prove themselves non-Christians. It was so hurting and hurtful for them that they offered one of prayers called orasho(オラショ) to ask forgiveness for their sins. Trampling on it was abolished in 1857.

Orasho(オラショ) is derived from "oratio", a Latin word meaning prayer.
It sounds like Buddhist scriptures, but its words trace its roots to some prayers and hymns in Europe. Orasyo have been handed down from generation to generation. Their descendants also sing orasyo now. Orasyo and its original songs were recorded and we can buy some CDs containing them.

After the isolation policy was lifted, Oura Church (大浦天主堂, Oura Tenshudou) was built by some foreign priests at the foreign settlement of Nagasaki in 1864. In 1865, more than a dozen Urakami villagers professed piety to the French priest Bernard Petitjean.
The Meiji Government newly formed in 1868 adopted a ironfisted policy and over 3600 villagers were banished between 1869 and 1873. They suffered from hunger and torture to convert them to Buddhist. Most of them observed their faith, but the fifth part of them died in exile.

I've been to Tsuwano(津和野). It is a famous tourist destination but was also one of the penal colonies.
Thirty-six out of the 153 banished Christians were martyred for their faith at Otome Pass(乙女峠) in Tsuwano. I heard Otome Pass is known as a Catholic holy site. In 1948, the Memorial Chapel of Mary was built for Christians persecuted and tortured there. I heard that we can see detailed description of the time at the museum attached to the church. As far as I remember, some torture devices were reproduced there. I remember being shocked.

In 1873, Anti-Christian Edicts was abolished. The surviving villagers came back home, Urakami.
Construction of the original Urakami Cathedral(浦上天主堂) through the efforts of a foreign priest in 1895. The cathedral was built on the site of the village headman's house, where hidden Christians used to be compelled to trample on a plate with Christian symbols every year in the Edo Period. The site of the cathedral was a special place for Christians. The cathedral was completed in 1914.

When an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9th, the Sacrament of Penance was helding at the cathedral.
It was located only 500 meters (1640 ft) away from ground zero of the atomic bomb. So it was completely destroyed, and all of two priests and believers were killed outright. It is said that 8,500 out of the 12,000 Christians in the parish died as a result of the atomic bombing on the day.

In September of the same year, mass were held at the bombed ruins of a hospital and a monastery. On November 23th, the memorial service for the atomic bomb victims took place in front of the bombed ruins of the Urakami Cathedral and about 600 of surviving believers attended the Mass for the dead.
In 1949, the 400th anniversary of St. Francis Xavier's arrival in Japan was held at the ruins of the cathedral and was attended by about 20,000 people.

In 1959, the present Urakami Cathedral was constructed at the ruins of the original.
After the war, there was much debate on what to do with the ruins of the building. Many people said the ruins should be preserved like the Gembaku Dome, but they were removed. It is said that their removal was decided because of the intention of the cathedral's priest and the consideration for the U.S. government. The priest wanted the new building to be located at the same site from historical circumstance.
Although some remains of the bombed-out cathedral have been preserved, many people regret their removal.

In 2007, Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki were included on Tentative Lists for UNESCO's World Heritage.

Peace Memorial Ceremony is held in Nagasaki on August 9th every year.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

the beginning of fall

Today is the first day of fall(立秋) according to the lunar calendar.
It's still hot, but we already have an autumn sky which is clear and blue. We can hear cicadas churring during the day and crickets start to stridulate in the evening every year at this time.

we have a custom to send a postcard for a midsummer greeting before the first day of fall. After this day, we send a postcard for late-summer greeting. This has declined in recent years.

The Sendai Tanabata Festival(仙台七夕まつり) is being held in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture from August 6th to 8th. Tanabata(the star festival) declined after the Meiji era, volunteers from merchant in Sendai brought back the festival.

The 92th national high school baseball championship has begun at Koshien Stadium today. Every August forty-nine teams from 47 prefectures, which have survived fierce regional eliminations, compete at the stadium. They play games in the searing summer, even in the fierce midday sun.
The championship is a signature summer event of Japan.

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony is held on August 6th every year.
I have never been to Hiroshima and have no experience of war, so I have no right to say about it. However, we are provided with a window on various aspects of the atomic bombing.

I happened to see a TV program on rain containing radioactive soot and dust called black rain yesterday. The report said the nuclear cloud in Hiroshima climbed into the sky more highly than initially envisioned, so black rain caused by the cloud should have fallen more widely.

Today, Japanese Health Minister Akira Nagatsuma announced his determination to verify the accuracy of this information and review the designated areas where the law to help the victims of atomic bombings applies.

Due to secondary exposure to atomic bomb such as being exposed to the black rain and entering the disaster area to search for family members shortly after atomic bombing, many people developed atomic bomb disease.
Even now, we haven't been able to grasp the whole situation about effects of the atomic bomb.

Years ago, NHK drew testimony from atom-bomb survivors and broadcasted a documentary about August 6th in 1945.
Most of them expressed regret that they could not save dying people who were pleading for help on the day. Some said they were sorry for the dead to be the only one surviving although their friends and acquaintances died.

The following message is inscribed on the monument to the atomic-bomb victims.

"Let all the souls here rest in peace
For we shall not repeat the evil"

"we" means all the people in the world.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial(commonly known as the Genbaku Dome) was designated a World Heritage site in 1996. It used to be the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall designed by the Czech architect Jan Letzel.
How does he feel about his architectural work that has become famous in this way?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival

The Yamagata Hanagasa Festival(山形花笠まつり) is being held in Yamagata City, Yamagata Prefecture from August 5th to 7th. It started as the main attraction to promote tourism in 1963.
Hanagasa is a bamboo hat decorated with artificial flowers.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Natsu Matsuri Naniwa kagami

"Natsu Matsuri Naniwa kagami(夏祭浪花鑑)" was written by Namiki Senryu(並木千柳), Miyoshi Syouraku(三好松洛), Takeda Izumo Ⅱ(二代目竹田出雲) and was premiered as a bunraku play in August in 1745, as a kabuki play the following month. It was based on an actual incident that A fish peddler had a fight with a habitual gambler and killed him.

This play is a regular performance in summer, along with "Ise-ondo Koi no Netaba(伊勢音頭恋寝刃)".
The highlight of the play is a scene of a lead character killing his greedy father-in-law because of persistent invective.
With the festival music including the sound of drumbeats and bell jingles, Danshichi kills his father-in-law Giheiji in mud (in kabuki, real muddy water is used) during the summer festival of Kouzu-gu(高津宮) shrine in Osaka.

However, what surprised me most was an action taken by Tokubei's wife, Otatsu(お辰).
Her husband Tokubei(徳兵衛) is yakuza (gangster). When she visits his peer Sabu(三婦), Subu's wife asks her to shelter a young man, Isonojou(磯之丞). But Sabu expresses concerns Isonojou may hook up with Otatsu because she's sexually attractive.
Surprisingly, she holds a red-hot poker against her face by herself and said, "Do you still think I have a sexy look?"

We think that she doesn't need to go to such lengths.
Yakuza were incredibly loyal while being belligerent. They were willing to die for their benefactors. She is the prototype yakuza's wife of modern yakuza movies.

The summer festival of Kouzu-gu is still held on July 17th and 18th every year.

hanten(半纏:traditional short coat as worn at festivals), setta(雪駄:leather-soled sandals), obi(帯:obi sash), hachimaki(鉢巻き:headband) and watermelon.
Hanten is stitched with an embroidery technology called sashiko(刺し子) which has been used for keeping warm and reinforcement of cloth.

"Dollhouse(summer festival)" designed by Kiyoko Ishizu

Nobuaki Seto(ed), Oheya ni Kazaru Wafu no Mini quilt(Tokyo:Nihon Vogue-sha,1996),P.49.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

summer festivals

The Aomori Nebuta Festival(青森ねぶた祭) is being held in Aomori City, Aomori Prefecture from August 2nd to 7th. The festival is said to have originated as a combination of the Star and Bon Festivals.

Nebuta are 5-meter-high, intricately-shaped paper lanterns that are designed to look like characters from kabuki dramas, myths and history. About 20 nebuta floats are paraded through the city at night. Dancers in colorful unique costumes called haneto(跳ね人) prance behind nebuta floats in time with the watchword Rassera (らっせーらー).

The three largest and most famous festivals in the Tohoku region are the Tanabata Festival in Sendai, the Nebuta Festival in Aomori, and the Kanto Festival in Akita.

The first recorded the Aomori Nebuta Festival was in the early 18th century. Now the floats has become so large that the organizers had to raise money from sponsors such as major companies, public offices and universities. Anyone can put on the special costume and join the festival as a Haneto, but moral degeneration of participants have caused some troubles.

photos: Aoi Mori no Shashinkan「青い森の写真館」

The Akita Kanto Festival(秋田竿燈まつり) is being held in Akita City, Akita Prefecture from August 3rd to 6th. The festival is said to be derived from the Star Festival.

Kanto is a 10-meter-long bamboo pole with 40 lanterns(they weigh 50 kilograms).
Persons holding kanto poles balance them on their foreheads, shoulders and hips.
The shape of kanto poles represents ears of rice, that of lanterns do straw rice bags, and they're used to pray for a good harvest.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summer vacation and the Bon festival

I tend to be in poor health because of the use of air conditioners, so I sleep without the air conditioner on. I can't get to sleep from consecutive hot summer nights.

The month of August is summer vacation and is also the month for the dead in Japan.
The Bon festival is a Buddhist festival held from August 13th to 16th. In many areas, the festival is held according to the lunar calendar. The souls of the dead are believed to return to their families during the festival.

Bon Festival lantern is a landmark for the spirits of ancestors, who use lanterns as landmarks to find their ways home. At the first Bon Festival following the death of a family member, the family hang an unpatterned white lantern outside and Bon Festival lanterns are sent from the family's relatives or people close to the member as offerings to the member.

Hanging scroll with a painting of lotuses and waterfowls is placed in the alcove.
We associate lotus with Buddhism. We can see lotuses planted in the soil of the pond at Many Buddhist temples. Lotus is also reagarded as a symbol of purity because it produces beautiful flowers in spite of growing from mud.

This is a pig-shaped burner for mosquito coil(mosquito-repellent incense, 蚊取り線香). Mosquito coils used to be made from pyrethrums, but most of them are done from pyrethroid that is a synthetic chemical compound now. Recently, the coils made from pyrethrums have been brought back as naturally-derived products.

Many companies offer fans(団扇, uchiwa) as an advertising medium, displaying company names and product names on them.


My grandmother used to chill the watermelon in well water.
This is a watermelon-shaped confection. Its red flesh is made of yokan(hard bean paste jelly).

Kakigouri(かき氷) is a Japanese dessert made from shaved ice flavored with syrup. When I was a child, I made it with a household snow cone maker.
Sei Shonagon (清少納言, c.966-1017) referred to shaved ice with boiled down ivy sap in the metallic bowl as sophisticated taste in her book, "The Pillow Book (枕草子, makura no soushi)".

Most boys are fond of catching beetles or stag beetles, but urban boys have few chances to catch them. So we can buy their larvae and adults to raise them at pet shops or Internet shopping sites.

Himawari(向日葵:sunflower) is a typical summer flower even in Japan.

Furin(風鈴:wind bell)

Sudare(簾:bamboo blind)

Radio taisou(ラジオ体操:radio physical exercises)
It was first broadcast on NHK radio in 1928. The exercises are designed to improve people's strength and health.
Students practice exercise to the music on the radio in parks or squares early morning during summer vacation. After the exercises, they get stamp marks for their attendance on the cards.

bottle rocket, pinwheel(ねずみ花火) and sparkling firework(線香花火)

We can buy a set of household fireworks including hand-held fireworks, bottle rockets, pinwheels(ねずみ花火) and sparkling fireworks(線香花火) at convenience stores or supermarkets.
In childhood, we set off fireworks with our parents outside the house during summer. Young people often do it on the beach.
Anyone can buy and sell household fireworks without a license.
Sparkling fireworks in Japan are unspectacular, but they are very popular among adults who see life's fleetingness in burning sparkling fireworks.
However, most of sparkling fireworks are made in China now.