Light displays(Japanese version only):

when and where to see fall foliage (almost Japanese version): (English version)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Meiboku Sendai Hagi

We eat o-hagi(or botamochi) at Higan in spring and autumn. It's called ohagi in the season for hagi(萩:Lespedeza or Japanese bush clover).

Maru ni Kyumaihagi(丸に九枚萩)
Nine leaves of Japanese bush clover in a circle

Hanatsuki Dakihagi(花付き抱き萩)
Blossoming Japanese bush clover

下中菜穂,「切り紙 もんきり遊び」,株式会社宝島社,2007年,P.13,23
Nabo Shimonaka, Kirigami Monkiri-asob(Tokyo:TAKARAJIMASHA,Inc.,2007),P.13,23

The Japanese bush clovers in Sendai(仙台) are now at their peak.

We associate Sendai with Date Masamune (伊達 政宗,1567-1636), who was a fearsome warlord during the Warring States period and the early Edo period. He was also called dokuganryu(独眼竜,one-eyed dragon) because of loss of the right eye due to smallpox.
He was the first lord of the Sendai Domain and formed the basis of today's Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture.

"Meiboku Sendai Hagi(伽羅先代萩)" is a kabuki or bunraku play based on the internal strife in the Sendai Domain between 1660 and 1671. It was premiered as a kabuki play in 1777 and as a bunraku play in 1785.

The actual incident like this.
After the 3rd lord of the Sendai Domain was deposed by feudal lords related to him due to his debauchery, Date Tsunamura(伊達 綱村) became the 4th lord of the Sendai Domain. His granduncles who were the feudal lords of another domains had real power as guardians for him because he was only two years old.

However, the domain were mired in confusion because there was internal strife. A chief retainer and one of his granduncles strove to build a centralized governance structure, and some members of the Date clan strove to maintain the decentralization of power. The domain was divided into two factions by infighting over policy differences.

In 1666, the lord was nearly killed with poison. 
In addition, when a territorial dispute among two factions arose, the Sendai Domain gave an award against a member of the Date clan. The member appealed to the Edo Shogunate.  Edo Shogunate summoned relevant people to the chief minister's house for trial on the 27th day of the 3rd month in 1671. The chief retainer of the Sendai Domain killed the member of the Date clan, and the chief retainer and a faction member of the Date clan killed each other.

Only people belonging to the faction of the lord's granduncle were punished. All the men of the chief retainer's family including infants, adopted child to other homes were forced to commit suicide. The lord escaped punishment due to his tender age.

The highlight of this play is the suffering of Masaoka(政岡) who is torn between love for her child and loyalty to her lord.
Masaoka is the wet nurse of her young lord. Her little son also serves the lord. She prevents her lord from eating served meals for fear of poisoning and boiled rice with utensils for tea cerremony.

She is a mother but the guardian of her lord. Her lord is a child but the lord of the domain. His son is a child but a retainer. While she praises her lord, she gets toughs with her son.

Wives of a shogunate high-ranking official and a member of the domain visit the lord. Actually, they feel hostile toward the lord and give him poisoned confections as a gift from the shogun. Masaoka keeps him from eating them, but the wives blame her on suspecting a gift from the shogun.

Then, his son obeys his mother's instructions. He comes running up to the confections, and he eats them.  One of the wives stabs his son suffering from poison with a dagger on plea of terrible discourtesy to avoid detection. Masaoka desperately tries to stay calm without getting upset.
When being left alone there, she displays her grief in the face of her dead son.

We can't understand her. But kabuki actors and bunraku puppeteers say that Masaoka is a challenging role.

Chinese characters "伽羅" are commonly read "kyara." Kyara(伽羅, aloes-wood) is a high-quality agarwood(沈香, jinkou). The 3rd lord of the Sendai clan went to brothels very often, wearing precious wooden clogs made of aloes-wood.
Sendai Hagi(先代萩) comes from the former(先代, sendai) lord's favorite Lespedeza buergeri(木萩, kihagi). 

Female servants of warrior families are allowed to return home during the Doll's Festival. This play used to be performed for them in the 3rd month.

By the way, there is a sequel to the incident.
In 1923, a covenant under joint signatures was discovered In the attic of a temple. The covenant says that a Buddhist memorial service for the chief retainer was held at the temple six years after his death and 139 of his former retainers attended it. Memorial service for him has been held at the temple every year.

The name of the chief retainer is Harada Kai(原田甲斐), who is named Nikki Danjou (仁木弾正) in the play. He gets categorized as a devil in the play, but there are strong doubts about whether Harada Kai who endeared him to many people was a villain.

Many people gather from the covenant that there were complicated circumstances behind the incident.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Higan in autumn

Two periods of seven days with the middle day falling on the spring or autumn equinox are called Higan(彼岸), which means "the other shore" or Buddhahood. On the other side of a river, there is Buddhist paradise and we live in the world of suffering on this side of the river(此岸).

Higan started on September 20th and will end on 26th this year. It is usually cool during the period, but it was very hot on 22th this year. I have the anniversary of my father's death during higan in autumn. I visited my family grave with my family. With temperatures dropping quickly, I caught a cold.

Kakochou(過去帳) is a family register of deaths that contains the deceased's posthumous Buddhist name, secular name, date of death and age at death.  The register has two facing pages per day. High priests' names, year and month of death are written at the top of a page. We write those of the deceased at the bottom.
The history of my family dates back over 200 years in this register.

 Higanbana(彼岸花:spider lily, Cluster amaryllis, Lycoris radiata)

Starting to bloom during higan in autumn is responsible for its name. It is regarded as an ominous flower in Japan. It is also known as Manjushage(曼珠沙華) that derives from Buddhist scriptures.

The bulbs of spider lily are very poisonous, but immersing them in the water can detoxify their toxicity. (It's too dangerous to do it actually.) So it is said that they used to be planted to save people from starvation.
Some people say they are used to surround their paddies and cemeteries to keep the mole and mice away and were planted around the cemetery for ancestors' soul.

Shirobana Manjushage(白花曼珠沙華)

photos:「季節の花 300」 (Japanese version only)
Spider lilies blooming in front of a vending machine. It's kind of odd.

秋風や むしりたがりし 赤い花 (「おらが春」、小林一茶)

"Autumn breeze, she wanted to pluck, these red flowers," written by Kobayashi Issa(1763-1828) in "Oraga Haru(My Spring)".

Issa came from a troubled family background.  At the age of 56, he had his first daughter.  However, she died due to smallpox shortly after reaching her 1st birthday. He visited her grave after on the 35th days after her death, the 25th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar(September 14th in the Gregorian calendar). Then he saught red flowers swaying in the autumn wind. Those are the flowers that she was avid to pluck.
We don't know what kind of flowers those were, but I think that spider lily is appropriate for this haiku poem.

Friday, September 24, 2010

waka poems about the moon

此の世をば わが世とぞ思ふ 望月の かけたることの なしと思へば

"The world is my oyster, I lack for nothing like the full moon," written by Fujiwara no Michinaga(藤原道長,966-1028)

But the full moon has nothing else to do but wane.
Michinaga was ensconced in a high seat of power.  Murasaki Shikibu(紫式部) is a private tutor of his daughter.

天の原 ふりさけ見れば 春日なる 三笠の山に 出でし月かも

"When raising my head skyward, I found the moon, it could be the same moon that rises over the Hill of Mikasa in Kasuga,"written by Abe no Nakamaro (阿倍仲麻呂, c.701-c.770)

He was a scholar, administrator and waka poet in the Nara period.  He went to the Chinese Tang dynasty as one of Japanese Missions to Imperial China in 717. Kibi no Makibi(吉備真備) and the Buddhist monk Genbou(玄昉) were fellow passengers.
To survey international circumstances or advanced technologies and to collect Buddhist scriptures, the missions staked their lives on the voyage to China.

He passed the civil-service examination and achieved successful career as a bureaucrat in China. It was hard to receive a permission from the emperor to go home because Nakamaro found favor with the emperor.
In 753, his ship drifted down to the coast of Vietnam due to wrecking after he got permission to come back temporarily to Japan. He could not get a permission again. So he abandoned to return home and remained in China until his death.

His Chinese name was Zhao Heng (晁衡).  He was a close friend of the Chinese poets Li Bai(李白) and Wang Wei(王維), among others. Wang Wei was reluctant to leave Nakamaro in his poem when Nakamaro embarked for Japan. Li Bai grieved Nakamaro's ill-fated death in his poem when getting misinformation of his death.

He could not return home, but his waka poem was introduced into Japan.

Sei Shinsei (or Ino Manari, 井眞成) also remained in China during the same period.

In 2004, a Chinese university announced that his epitaph was discovered at a construction site. He had been unknown until the news made him famous. The epitaph lifted him up from obscurity.
Although it is thought that he is a member of the missions or an official and is from Fujiidera City in Osaka, his life is poorly understood.
He died in China, but his epitaph visited home in 2005.

For your information, the statue of the Chinese Buddhist priest Ganjin(鑑真) who was the founder of Toshodaiji(唐招提寺) also has visited home. He visited Japan in response to a request from a Japanese emperor. He attempted to visit Japan six times over strong protests of the Chinese emperor and his Chinese followers.

The original sentence of his epitaph is as follows.


"■" means illegible characters.
Two Japanese modern characters(即 and 既) are used in place of undisplayable characters.

The epitaph's summary:

His last name is 井 and his first name is 真成. He came from Japan.
He was endowed with tremendous talent and was dispatched on a mission to the Chinese Tang dynasty from a distant country.
He continued his civilized behavior and was so eager to learn, but he suddenly passed away at the age of 36 at a public dormitory in the 1st month in 734.
The emperor raised his official rank to "尚衣奉御"(department head of management of emperor's clothes) in mourning his death and had a funeral at national expense on the banks of the San River(滻水).
His splendid funeral was held in the procession including a white carriage and flag-flying.
People who attended the funeral heaved a sigh at the sight of the setting sun and headed for the cemetery in sorrow.
Although death is inevitable, people in his home country also would mourn the loss of him.
The remains are buried in a foreign country, but we sincerely hope that his soul will return home.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Jugoya(full moon night)

It's very hot today. Temperatures have reached 33 degrees Celsius in Yokohama and have reached over 35 degrees Celsius in several areas.

Jugoya(十五夜) means the night or the moon on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar(corresponding to September 22nd of this year in the Gregorian calendar).
We can see clear full moon tonight. Jupiter is near the moon.

Moon Viewing on this day derives from the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, but we celebrate another moon viewing named Jusanya(十三夜) on the the 13th day of the 9th month in the lunar calendar. The event is unique to Japan and is also called Mame-meigetsu(豆名月, bean harvest moon)or Kuri-meigetsu(栗名月, chestnut harvest moon).

Jugoya is also called Imomeigetsu (芋名月) or "Potato harvest moon", so these confections contain potatoes.
Potato Manju(ぽてと饅頭):

confection using potato


confection using sweet potato

Usagi Manju(うさぎ饅頭: rabbit-shaped steamed buns filled with bean paste)

"Where do rabbits live, earth, moon or sun?"
A guest had to answer the question within five seconds on a TV quiz program.  He said, "Moon!"
Of course, answer to the quiz is earth, but rabbits are strongly connected to the moon in Japan. We see rabbit pounding steamed rice on the moon surface.

It comes from an Indian mythology. A rabbit without having a specialty was not able to do good for an old man, so it gave the meat of itself to him by drowning itself into the fire. The old man was Taishakuten (帝釈天, Śakra in Sanskrit), and he placed the charred rabbit on the moon surface.

ハートシリーズ デザイン・制作/石津喜代子
"heart Series" designed by Kiyoko Ishizu

Full moon, Japanese pampas grass and Tsukimi Dango

Nobuaki Seto(ed), Oheya ni Kazaru Wafu no Mini quilt(Tokyo:Nihon Vogue-sha,1994),P.50.

Daki Susuki (Japanese pampas grass )

Mukai Usagi

下中菜穂,「切り紙 もんきり遊び」,株式会社宝島社,2007年,P.7,12
Nabo Shimonaka, Kirigami Monkiri-asobi,(Tokyo:TAKARAJIMASHA,Inc.,2007),P.7,12

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Respect-for-Senior-Citizens Day

The third Monday in September is Respect-for-Senior-Citizens Day. The day was originally celebrated on September 15th, but it was moved to the third Monday in September in 2003.

There was an article about a proponent of the day in the paper(The Asahi Shimbun) yesterday morning.
A mayor at Nomatani village (now Takacho) in Hyougo Prefecture presented a peasant kabuki play to show respect for the villagers 55 years of age or older, who have contributed to society for many years in 1947, when the average life-span was 54 years for women and 50 years for men in Japan.

He has felt discontented with the absence of the day for elderly people, although there were the Boys' and Girls' Festivals or Coming of Age Day.

He kept appealing to the government and the prefecture for the establishment of the day for elderly people, and the day spread all over the country and was established as a national holiday in 1966.

The mayor passed away at the age of 98 at an aged care facility this February. His grandchildren and great-grandchilden visited him every weekend.

Missing centenarians has grabbed headlines this summer, but it has little effect on life expectancy. Because it doesn't cover men aged 98 or over and women aged 103 or over, and is calculated using a national census. Census takers visit every household, and distribute and collect census forms in person.

As of 2010, people aged 65 or over accounted for 23.1 percent of the total population.
Koseki (戸籍) is a Japanese family registry. Events such as births, deaths, marriages must be filed by family members. So no one updates a family registry if an entire family dies due to wars or disaster.

My grandmother lived in a rural area. Most people in my grandmother's village share a common family name although they are not relatives. They always left the door unlocked.

A hill was used as a shared grave site among the villagers. The hill were absolutely covered in weeds soon. Our gravestones were not visible externally due to bushes. To visit our grave, we had to cut off weeds along the path and clear our bushy grave of bushes.

The villagers could choose a site for their graves on a first-come-first-served basis. As graves have filled in the open spaces, my grandmother was worried that she could not get her last resting place if she lived long.
She lived to be 97 in peace after the renovation of the site.

Kouhaku manju(紅白饅頭: red and white buns filled with sweat bean paste)

Some local governments send elderly people a gift to celebrate their longevity. Kouhaku manju are used as a congratulatory gift.

My neighborhood association hands kouhaku manju to the people. These are covered with cellophane wrappers.

I made this one.

Manju has its origins in ancient China. According to legend, Shokatsu Ryou(諸葛 亮,Zhuge Liang in Chinese, 181-234) used head-shaped buns filled with beef or mutton as a substitute for Human heads to pay tribute to their god.
It is said that Rin Jouin(林浄因) from China, a Zen Buddhist monk, brought it to Japan in 1341 and started to sell it as Nara-manju(奈良饅頭). It was filled with bean paste because the eating of meat became tabooed with the rise of Buddhism.

It made a big hit with the emperor of that time. Rin Jouin married a court lady who was given by the emperor. They served kouhaku manju to people around them at their marriage and buried a pair of that manju in the ground to pray for prosperity of the family, and a stone in the shape of manju was placed there. So that manju became a festive confection.

His descendants set up a shop in Kyoto, but they moved to Shiose village(塩瀬村) in Mikawa to escape the fighting. The shop name was changed to Shiose, the name of the village. They moved to Edo and Their shop enjoyed prosperity under the patronage of Tokugawa clan in the Edo Period. In the Meiji Period, they became a purveyor to the Imperial Household. Now their main office named Shiose Souhonke(塩瀬総本家) is located in Chuouku Ward(中央区) of Tokyo.

Rin Jinja shrine(林神社) was built to honor Rin Jouin as the god of manju in 1949. Japanese-style confectionery manufacturers throughout the country hold its annual festival on April 19th, the anniversary of Rin Jouin's death.


Okina means a old man. Jelly-like confection containing starch syrup, sugar and kanten(agar).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

two festivals

The Kishiwada Danjiri Matsuri (岸和田だんじり祭) is a festival held on September 18th and 19th in Kishiwada, Osaka. Danjiri is a float with tow ropes.

Floats are drawn through the narrow streets at terrific speed by fearless men. The highlight of the festival is the move called yarimawashi. The floats make right-angled turns at street corners without slowing down. The floats sometimes collide with each other or buildings, so the parts of buildings that the floats might strike hard against are protected with padding.

The annual festival of Shiba Daijingu shrine(芝大神宮) is held in Minato Ward of Tokyo from September 11th to 21st.  It's also called Daradara-matsuri because the festival drags on for 11 days.
The festival features the Ginger Fair. It is said that the ginger here prevents people from catching a cold. In the Edo Period, many one-eyed vendors sold ginger because a one-eyed old vendor achieved large sales.

Hitotsume-kozou (一つ目小僧, one-eyed boy) are youkai (literally demon, spirit, or monster) that appears in Japanese folklore.  He has a humorous image, but it is thought that some ancient gods came down to be one-eyed monsters.

Some said that a sacrificed person's one eye was put out to keep them from escaping and the sacrificed person was thought to accompany the god, so they came to be deified.
Some said that many smithies of an early date lost sight in one eye because they looked into a furnace with one eye, so the god of smithery was thought to be blind in one eye.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Shinshu Kawanakajima Gassen and Honcho Nijushi Kou

It is said that Yamamoto Kansuke (山本勘助) served Takeda Shingen(武田信玄, 1521-1573) as a military strategist. Shingen was a warlord of Kai Province (now Nagano Prefecture) and is known for the battles of Kawanakajima (川中島の戦い) with Uesugi Kenshin(上杉謙信, 1530-1578) of Echigo Province (now Niigata Prefecture).  The five major battles took place in 1553, 1555, 1557, 1561 and 1564.
According to the Kouyou Gunkan (甲陽軍鑑, a record of the military exploits of the Takeda family), Yamamoto Kansuke was blind in one eye and didn't have full use of his one leg, started out on a training journey, was employed at a high salary by Shingen and was killed during the battle of Kawanakajima in 1561.

Only the Kouyou Gunkan incorporates the life story of Yamamoto Kansuke, so most people inferred from it that he was not a real person.  In recent decades, several correspondences that confirms the existence of him were found. He was thought to be an aide close to Shingen, but his real life remains a mystery.

"Shinshu Kawanakajima Gassen(信州川中島合戦)"is a bunraku play, which was written by Chikamatsu Monzaemon(近松門左衛門) based on the battle. It was premiered in the 8th month in 1721.

The monologue of Kansuke's mother(fictional character) hit me in my mind.
She was born in Owari, grew up in Suruga, married into a family in Mikawa, lived with her son who was masterless samurai in Shinano and lived with her son who served Shingen in Kai. She was going to live out her last days there and never thought she would die in Echigo. She could not find a place where she can live in peace to the end.
For the first time after age 70, she finds out her permanent home called the Pure Land in the West(西方浄土) where people are relieved from suffering, by dying.

There is a common saying that woman has no home of her own in the three worlds(女三界に家なし). It means that woman can't get places in this world. It was once thought that woman had to obey her parents when she was a child, to become a trailing spouse after marriage and to obey her children when she was old. It shows woman's low status of that time in society.
In addition, she lived at a time of war and turmoil. She chose suicide to prevent her son from submitting to negotiations in return for freeing her held hostage. Death would have relieved many people from suffering.

Kenshin changed his name several times. His names include Nagao Kagetora (長尾景虎), Uesugi Masatora (上杉政虎) and Uesugi Terutora (上杉輝虎). Naoe Yamashiro-no-kami(直江山城守) in the above play indicates Naoe Kanetsugu (直江兼続,1560-1620) who was a chief retainer of Uesugi clan. His life was featured in a NHK TV drama in 2009.

Kenshin was both a fearsome warlord and a priest who believed particularly in Vaisravana (毘沙門天, guardian god of Buddhism). I have an image of Kenshin as the leader of a religious cult. He was a unique individual. Meanwhile, Shingen sat in the seat of power by purging his father from Kai Province. They tried to put Zenkoji temple(善光寺) in Nagano City under the care of them. Now their mortuary tablets lay alongside at the temple.

Both of Shingen and Kenshin died not in battle but of disease. After their death, their sons, Uesugi Kagekatsu(上杉景勝) and Takeda Katsuyori(武田勝頼) built an military alliance against massive military forces of Oda Nobunaga(織田信長), and Shingen's daughter Kikuhime(菊姫)was given in marriage to Kagekatsu.

Although Kagekatsu delivered reinforcements, Takeda family went to ruin before its arrival because of the late arrival due to dialogue discrepancy between Kagekatsu and commander of the reinforcement. Kagekatsu made his retainer search for Katsuyori and his son after its destruction.

It is said that Kikuhime was a beautiful and intelligent lady. Kagekatsu and she had no child, but she endeared herself to him and people around him. After Shingen's another son defected to the domain of Kagekatsu, Uesugi clan gave special treatment to him and his descendants as members of a domain lord's family.

It is said that Yaegakihime(八重垣姫) in a bunraku play named "Honcho Nijushi Kou(本朝廿四孝)" is modeled after Kikuhime. It was written by Chikamatsu Hanji(近松半二) and others and was based on Shinshu Kawanakajima Gassen and others. It was premiered on the 14th day of the 1st month in 1766.

The story highlights Yaegakihime's dramatic movement that presents her passionate love. Yaegakihime crosses over the frozen lake with the help of a samurai warrior helmet and foxes to protect her fiance from an assassination attempt by her father. The helmet was given by the god of Suwa Myoujin and the foxes are messengers of the god.

While Yaegakihime takes a drastic action for the love of her fiance, she has a dignified elegance. It's a challenging role for puppeteers, so it's regarded as one of the three major princesses in bunraku plays.
I was absolutely enthralled by Yaegakihime manipulated by puppeteer Yoshida Minosuke.

Nijushi Kou(廿四孝) means the 24 filial exemplars in Confucianism. The title comes from the third act of the play based on one of the exemplars.

Monday, September 13, 2010

balloon flower

Some cool invigorating autumn weather is just around the corner.

balloon flower(桔梗,kikyou) is one of seven autumnal flowers including bush clover(萩,hagi), Japanese pampas grass(薄,susuki), kudzu(葛), fringed pink(撫子,nadeshiko), Patrinia scabiosifolia or golden lace(女郎花,ominaeshi), thoroughwort(藤袴,fujibakama) and balloon flower.
These flowers are blooming in August and September.

ききょう袋 デザイン:水口婉子
"drawstring pouch in the shape of a balloon flower" designed by Tsuyako Mizuguchi

Tsuyako Mizuguchi(ed),Densyo-no-chirmenzaiku,(Tokyo:Graphsha inc.,1994),p.25.

Originally nadeshiko(fringed pink) meant caressing a child's head. It came to mean charming young woman. Yamato-Nadeshiko(大和撫子) means the ideal Japanese woman who is neat and clean, modest and saves men's faces.
Another name for nadeshiko(fringed pink) is tokonatsu(常夏) which means everlasting summer. Toko of tokonatsu have the same meaning of bed, and tokonatsu came to be associated with love relationship. Tokonatsu is also the 26th chapter's title of "The Tale of Genji" written by Murasaki Shikibu.

kudzu(葛) was used as a highly nutritious cattle food. Plant fiber was made of its stems. Its vines were used to bind up firewood. Its rhizomes are used as a coagulant. Now it is regarded as a nuisance.


photos:「季節の花 300」Kisetsu no Hana 300 (Japanese version only)

Friday, September 10, 2010

Yari no Gonza Kasane Katabira

After the typhoon passed, the lowest temperatures became below 25 degrees C for the first time in a month. I got a full night's sleep after so long. It's going to be a boiling hot day and sweltering night tomorrow.

"Yari no Gonza Kasane Katabira(鑓の権三重帷子)" 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 17th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar (August 23th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1717.

It was premiered on the 22th day of the 8th month of the same year. 36-year-old Toyo(とよ) left her husband Masai Soumai(正井宗味), who is a tea master of the Matsue clan, and going off with a 24-year-old member of the Matsue clan, who is her daughter's fiance, to Osaka on the 8th day of the 6th month. Soumai and her brother killed them on a bridge on the 17th day of the 7th month. Samurai was allowed to kill his wife who committed adultery.

Yari no Gonza(鑓の権三) was a real person who was a former samurai and became a gangster. There was a popular song about him.

The heroine of the story is Osai(おさゐ). Her husband Asaka Ichinoshin(浅香市之進) is a lowly warrior of the Matsue clan, but he is given an important position as a tea master.

Although tea ceremony is regarded as one of accomplishments for women now, it is incorporated ideas from Zen Buddhism and used to be for members of the warrior or samurai class as a mental discipline.
Especially practicing tea ceremony was essential to survival for the feudal warlords during a period of provincial wars. Most dominant warlords appreciated and often held a tea ceremony.
The host and guests of tea ceremony cherish the encounter in the tea room as a once-in-a-lifetime one. The guests at that time might have met each other again as enemies.

A tea-ceremony house was often used for secret meetings between feudal warlords.
The house creates a closed space and its abnormally-small door prevents visitors wearing a sword from entering it. The guests of a tea ceremony pass around a bowl of tea, so it's impossible to administer poison with intent to kill a hostile warloard.

The house served as the meeting ground for cultural figures in the peaceful Edo Period. In this story, only one member of Asaka's family is initiated into tea master's mysteries. It causes the incident. Sasano Gonza(笹野権三), who is Ichinoshin's disciple, gets engaged to his daughter in order to become his successor although Gonza has a lover.
Gonza visits Osai secretly to read esoteric writing during her husband's absence late at night. She accuse him of infidelity. A man sees two alone together. I suppose her overblown anger shows a feeling of jealousy.

The 47 warriors of the Ako clan killed Kira Kozukenosuke in revenge for their lord's death in 1703. Otaka Tadao(大高 忠雄,1672-1703) was a lowly warrior of the Ako clan, but he was well known as a haiku poet.
Yamada Souhen(山田 宗徧), famous tea master, received Kira's patronage. Otaka Tadao apprenticed himself to Souhen by using his connections with
cultural figures and found out the dates of the tea ceremony at Kira's house.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Moon Viewing

Moon Viewing is held on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar(corresponding to September 22nd of this year in the Gregorian calendar).

Moon Viewing derives from the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival, but we celebrate it in a different way. It is also called Imomeigetsu (芋名月) or "Potato harvest moon".

Many Japanese enjoy the full moon and offer it foods such as rice dumplings called Tsukimi dango(月見団子), taro, edamame, chestnut, kaki persimmon, kinukatsugi(衣被, steamed unpeeled taro) and flowers such as susuki(薄:Japanese pampas grass), hagi(萩:bush clover or Japanese clover), ominaeshi(女郎花:Patrinia scabiosifolia).
In the Edo Period, some sophisticated people enjoyed to see the moon from the top of a many‐storied building and Some held a banquet on board a ship.

People enjoyed to hear suzumushi singing. We can buy artificially-bred suzumushi (鈴虫: Japanese bell cricket, Homoeogryllus japonicus).

susuki(薄:Japanese pampas grass)

ominaeshi(女郎花:Patrinia scabiosifolia)

hagi(萩:bush clover or Japanese clover)

photos:「季節の花 300」Kisetsu no Hana 300 (Japanese version only)

Tsukimi dango(月見団子):
In kyoto, oval-shaped(taro-shaped) dumplings wrapped with adzuki bean paste are offered.


Chinese people eat mooncakes(月餅) with their families or friends on this day. They customarily offer mooncakes to familiar persons or people who have helped them.

Katsura Rikyu(桂離宮), which was built in the 17th century in Kyoto, has a large moon-viewing facility named Geppa-ro(月波楼). Aristocrats used to enjoy to view the full moon and its reflection on the surface of the water.

Amaterasu-Omikami(天照大神) is the goddess of the Sun and an imperial ancestor. Her younger brother Tsukiyomi-no-Mikoto(月読命) is the god of the moon and controlls the night. He came to be enshrined as the god of agriculture because his observation of phases of the moon leads to making calendar that is important for agriculture. Ancient people associated wax and wane of the moon with repeated rebirth, and the moon came to symbolize rebirth and immortality.

My mother went shopping at a mall with a shopping bag like this in my childfood. There are a dish with cooking chopsticks linked by a piece of string, a case of eggs and a coin purse on the low dining table.

The tea ceremony for moon-viewing is held from evening while the host and guests are waiting for the moonrise.

furosaki-byoubu(風炉先屏風): Two-panel folding screen placed behind furo(風炉).
furo(風炉): charcoal water heater for the tea ceremony. It's used from early May to late October.
chagama(茶釜):kettle for the tea ceremony
MIzusashi(水指):tea ceremony water jar
Kensui(建水):wastewater receptacle, Hishaku(柄杓:a long-handled bamboo ladle)

Natsume(棗):jujube-shaped tea case
chawan(茶碗):tea ceremony bowl, chashaku(茶杓):tea scoop, chasen(茶筅):bamboo whisk

tabako-bon(煙草盆,tobacco tray):
Tabako-bon was said to be brought to Japan from Europe as a tea utensil In the early 17th century. It's a smoking kit including a charcoal fire container, cigarette butt container and a pipe. Feudal lords started to use it and it spread to commoners.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

abnormally hot summer

The Japan Meteorological Agency announced this summer is the hottest since the survey started in 1898. We are having a relentless heat wave. I long for autumn.

Owara Kaze no Bon(おわら風の盆) is a festival held from September 1st to 3rd to pray for an abundant harvest and protection of planted rice from high wind due to typhoons at Yatsuo in Toyama Prefecture.
From early evening until dawn, people dance in the streets.


Originally, Bon dance was held from early evening until dawn. People used to gather and dance spontaneously to welcome the spirits of the dead in the early evening and to send off them at dawn. People danced on the border between this world and the netherworld, such as waterfront, sites of temples or shrines and junctions of streets. After send-off ceremony, people never look back, or the spirits come along.
The original form of Bon dance is inherited in some areas.

The most distinctive feature of Owara Kaze no Bon is melancholic music using an instrument named kokyu (胡弓). In the Edo Period, kokyu was very popular as one of three major accomplishments for women, along with shamisen(a three-stringed instrument of the lute family) and koto(a stringed instrument made of wood with 13 strings). Now it's not popular.

The festival continues until dawn even after most tourists go to their accommodation. Yatsuo is a small town but a popular sightseeing spot, so it becomes very crowded during the festival.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Disaster Prevention Day

September 1st is Disaster Prevention Day. It was established to mark the Great Kanto Earthquake which occurred at 11:58:44 am Japan time on September 1, 1923.
Mass of the rubble of the Great Kanto Earthquake are still buried under Yamashita Park in the port of Yokohama.

This day is also the 210th day(二百十日) from the first day of spring according to the lunar calendar and it means the beginning of typhoon season.
Every year on this day, extensive emergency drills are organized throughout the country. Many train companies make their trains go slower temporarily on this day.

Earth's subsurface consists of bedrocks called plate and its movements trigger a major earthquake. Under or near Japan, there are four kinds of plates. Two plates slide towards each other, and formed subduction boundaries are accumulating strain.

Japan Geotechnical Consultant Association says that the earthquakes over magnitude 7.0 took place 900 times during the last 90 years in the world and ten percent of the earthquakes occurred under or near Japan.

In Kanto region or Shizuoka Prefecture, most schools and many large companies conduct emergency drills, and I participated in them many times. At a drill in 1995 when the Great Hanshin earthquake occurred, a drill supervisor stated flatly that a big earthquake was sure to take place. In that year, many people took part in emergency drills seriously.
I recently learned that such drills are rarely held on at the schools in other areas.

People living in Kanto region or Shizuoka Prefecture know that a big earthquake will be sure to take place in these areas.
A big earthquake can be likened to a friend's death. No one knows when that will happen and who will die first. Though we know in our heads death is sure to all, we will be overwhelmed by a sense of loss if it becomes a reality.
Earthquake occurrence is nobody's fault, so we just have to accept it when being damaged by an earthquake suddenly.

Although we have made repeated attempts to minimize earthquake damage, earthquakes often exceed all expectations and baffle our calculations. Seismic retrofitting costs a great deal of money.
Every damage from the past earthquakes raised new problems and led to amendments to the Building Standard Law that stipulates seismic capacity of buildings.

The Japan Meteorological Agency provides information on the affected areas when an earthquake with a seismic intensity of 5.0 or more is expected to take place by using Earthquake Early Warning system. However, the warning is not in time for areas close to the earthquake center.

Kogakuin University professor Youtarou Hatamura(畑村洋太郎) says that the shinkansen(bullet train) bridge piers that collapsed or damaged in the Great Hanshin earthquake and the Miyagi earthquake in 2003 led to reinforcements of the shinkansen concrete bridge piers in hazard areas. Although a Joetsu Shinkansen bullet train was derailed in The Chuetsu Earthquakes in 2004, the piers might have been broken and the elevated railroad tracks might have given way if a railroad company failed to make repairs.

Long-period earthquake ground motion is a big problem now.
Areas that have soft ground is prone to the motion. Upper floors of high-rise buildings shake badly. Buildings that enter into resonance with an long-period earthquake collapse in the quake. It was typically seen in The Mexico City earthquake in 1985.

Many people can't go home immediately an earthquake occurs in areas far from their homes.
Local governments and most large companies accumulate stockpiling of water, food, medical goods for disasters. Some local governments also provide temporary bathrooms and signed an agreement for supporting such people with convenience stores and gas stations, but public institutions fail to take sufficient measures against such people.
There are books or a drill to walk home safely in case of a disaster.
Online message boards services by mobile phone companies operate in times of disaster because many calls to confirm the safety of their families or relatives flood the phone lines.

The flexible structure of ancient towers is more resistant to earthquakes.
No tower in Buddhist temples fell down at the time of the Great Kanto Earthquake and the Great Hanshin earthquake. Horyu-ji Temple Five-storied Pagoda(法隆寺五重塔), which was built about 1300 years ago, has not been damaged at all even after nine times of severe earthquake with a Japanese seismic intensity of 5.0 or more. I heard that no tower in the temples all over Japan has ever fallen down because by earthquakes.