Light displays(Japanese version only):

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

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Kichirei Kaomise Kogyo

Kichirei Kaomise Kogyo(吉例顔見世興行) of kabuki is being held from November 30th to December 26th at Kyoto MINAMIZA Theatre. Kichirei(吉例) means a festive annual custom. Kaomise Kogyo(顔見世興行) is a show with an all-star cast.

At this program, several famous scenes of kabuki  are perfomanced by east(Tokyo) and west(Osaka, Kyoto) big actors such as Sakata Tojuro IV(四代目 坂田藤十郎), Nakamura Kichiemon(中村吉右衛門), Kataoka Nizaemon(片岡仁左衛門) and Bando Tamasaburo(坂東玉三郎).

The theatre have many signs called Maneki above the entrance. Each sign says a performer's name and his family crest in unique letters. Maiko wear a different hair ornament(花簪,hana kanzashi) every month. Its motifs include Maneki in December. Maiko have a kabuki actor who is appearing in Kaomise Kogyo sign his autograph on their hair ornament's Maneki.

In the Edo Period, Kaomise Kogyo was held from the 1st day of the 11th month to the middle of 12th month in the lunar calendar. Kabuki actors in those days signed a exclusivity contract with a theatre. The contract period was 1 year from the 1st day of the 11th month.
Sakata Tojuro I(1647–1709) was one of the founders of the Kamigata (Kansai) kabuki. Although Chikamatsu Monzaemon was a playwright belonging to a bunraku company, he was charmed by Tojuro's talent and wrote kabuki scripts for Tojuro. He returned to the bunraku company after Tojuro retired.
Important names in Kabuki are handed down from generation to generation, but no one succeeded to "Sakata Tojuro" after Sakata Tojuro III died in 1774. Sakata Tojuro IV, who is a Living National Treasure, commemorated his succession to the 4th "Sakata Tojuro" in 2005. His wife is a former actress and the former Minister of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.
Ichikawa Ebizo(市川海老蔵) will not be appear on this stage because of injury including fracture of the zygoma and a front tooth by a violent incident during drinking. Some people blamed him for his inability to make commitments. He was given surgery yesterday.
His father, Ichikawa Danjuro XII(十二代目 市川 團十郞) apologized the staffs and co-stars for causing them so much trouble as the head of the Ichikawa family.

At this program, Ebizo was about to perform in two plays. One of them is named Uiro Uri(外郎売り:The Medicine Peddler).  It is a part of a play and is included in the Ichikawa family's repertoire comprising 18 classical Kabuki pieces(歌舞伎十八番). Ichikawa Danjuro II(二代目 市川團十郎) performanced when the play was was premiered in 1718.
The lines of Uiro-uri are read to speak lines smoothly at a training school for performers or announcers.
Kataoka Ainosuke(片岡 愛之助) is filling in for Ebizo.

We associate a confection with Uiro, but it was the name of a medicine originally. Even now, Uiro family in Odawara sells both a medicine and a confection named Uiro. Uiro is a family name.
Many people think of Uiro as the confection that is a bar of steamed cake made of rice flour and sugar and is a specialty of Nagoya. You can also give shape to Uiro.

                                confections using flat-rolled Uiro.

Uiro-wrapped bean paste are shaped into unripe ume and Japanese loquat.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Tension has escalated in the Yellow Sea.  Nothing happened today.

Matsuo Basho passed away on November 28th(corresponding to the 12th day of the 10th month in the lunar calendar) in 1694. The anniversary of his death is called Shigure-ki(時雨忌).
Shigure(時雨) is the drizzling rain in late autumn and early winter.


This is made by coating adzuki bean paste with a mixture of white beans paste, egg yolk and slight rice powder and steaming it.
This confection needs to have cracks. Uncracked one is viewed as a failure. Kimi(黄身) means egg yolk. This confection is called shigure because its cracks look like raindrop impressions.


This shigure contains cheese.


This confection is made using  the dough of Kourai-mochi(高麗餅). It  is made by sifting a mixture of beans paste and rice powder, drying and steaming it.

Kourai(高麗)  was a Korean sovereign state established in 918.
The 17th lord of the Satsuma Domain(now Kagoshima Prefecture), Shimazu Yoshihiro, carried skilled potters from Korea to Japan during the Battles of Bunroku and Keicho(文禄・慶長の役). The potters reproduced the festivals at their hometown.  It seems that kourai-mochi was used at the event to divine whether pottery making would go well or not.

Kore-mochi(高麗餅) is a specialty of Kagoshima and is a festive confection. It contains more rice powder than Kourai-mochi does. It is said that Kore-mochi is close to the food that the potters made.

Kourai-mochi is called Murasame(村雨) in Kansai Region and Kourai-mochi(高麗餅) or Kourai-shigure(高麗時雨) in Kanto Region.
Murasame(村雨) is the intermittent rain in late autumn and early winter. It seems that ancient people associated Murasame with the dough of Kourai-mochi.


Friday, November 26, 2010

fallen leaves

秋は来ぬ 紅葉は宿に ふりしきぬ 道ふみ分けて とふ人はなし  (よみびとしらず,「古今和歌集」)

"Autumn has come, my garden is covered with fallen leaves, nobody wades through a pile of fallen leaves to my house", author unknown in "The Kokin Wakashu".

A female writer composed this poem. Her lover might have had a change of mind. He didn't come to her anymore. When I read this poem for the first time, I had a different image of it because she stated firmly. I thought a reclusive person wrote this poem.



These dried confections represent drifted fallen leaves of trees such as a ginkgo, a maple and a pine. There is also an acorn.

The leaves on the ginkgo trees along Gaien-dori in Tokyo have been colored. Fallen gingko nuts that was run over by a car smell ripe, but they are delicious.

This is nerikiri(a mixture of sweet white bean paste and soft cakes of pounded rice).


This is yokan(hardened bean paste by kanten).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last days of Basho

秋深き隣は何をする人ぞ (松尾 芭蕉)

"Autumn has been far advanced, how does a next-door neighbor earn a living?", written by Matsuo Basho(1644-1694).

This is very famous haiku poem. It's hard for me to translate this poem adequately.

On the 28th day of the 9th month in the lunar calendar(on November 15th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1694, he composed this haiku poem. He attended a haiku gathering on this day, but he fell sick after it. The gathering was to be held for two days straight, so he sent this poem to the host of the gathering. He never arose from a sickbed.

旅に病で夢は枯野をかけ廻る  (松尾 芭蕉 「笈日記」)

"While being sick in bed on my journey, I lope across the desolate fields tinged with the color of withered leaves in my dreams", written by Matsuo Basho in "Oi nikki".

Matsuo Basho took to his bed on the 29th day of the 9th month(on November 16th). On the 8th day of the 10th month(on November 24th), he composed this haiku poem.

He passed away at the age of 51 in Osaka on the 12th day of the 10th month(on November 28th) in 1694.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Labor Thanksgiving Day and Niinamesai

November 23rd is Labor Thanksgiving Day, which is a national holiday to praise labor and production and give thanks for the benefits of labor. This day was established after World War II and was originally called Niinamesai(新嘗祭).

Niinamesai is a harvest festival held by the Imperial court on November 23rd. The festival dates back at least to 677. The emperor dedicates newly harvested rice and sake to Amaterasu-Ohmikami, the Goddess of the Sun, an imperial ancestor.

The festival is mirrored by Kannamesai(神嘗祭, from October 15th to 17th). Unlike Kannamesai, the emperor eats these offerings at Niinamesai.

Niinamesai used to be held on the second day of the rabbit in the 11th month in the lunar calendar before the Meji Restoration (1867). It was held on November 23rd after the solar calendar was adopted since 1872.

Originally, Niinamesai was held around The Winter Solstice.  Some people say the emperor inherits power from the Goddess of the Sun(Amaterasu-Ohmikami) and gets new power by eating the offerings.

Monday, November 22, 2010

wedding season

Koharu-biyori(小春日和, Indian summer day) continued for some days. Koharu(小春) is an another name for the 10th month in the lunar calendar(corresponding to November in the solar calendar).

In Japan, many couples have their weddings in October, November, March and May. June is in the rainy season, so it's thought to be unsuitable for wedding.

People avoided to get married in the 10th month in the lunar calendar due to the absence of the Japanese gods in the Edo Period, .

In the Edo Period, few commoners had their weddings. The weddings of the warrior class were done in the bridegroom's house from early evening until night.

Most marriage ceremonies have been conducted in Shinto shrines since the Meiji Period.

Today, many couples choose Christian-style weddings, although most of them are non-Christians.

Nezumi no Yomeiri(ねずみの嫁入り: A Spouse For a Mouse, The Mouse Bride)

Mie Kuwahara, "Oshi-e no Gaku-e" in the November issue of Oshare-Koubou(Tokyo:Japan Broadcast Publishing Co.,Ltd., 1995),p.24.
桑原実絵,"押し絵の額絵", おしゃれ工房11月号(東京:日本出版放送協会, 1995),p.24.

This is a folktale about mice finding a husband for the daughter. Eventually, he marries off his daughter to the next door mouse.

This is made with a handicraft technique named Oshi-e(押し絵:padded cloth picture). By using this technique, we can put fabric scraps to good use.

In Shinto-style wedding, a bride wears a pure white kimono named Shiromuku(白無垢) and a silk floss headdress named Wataboushi(綿帽子) at the ceremony according to Shinto rites, and she changes into a colorful kimono named Iro-uchikake(色打掛) and a headdress named Tsunokakushi(角隠し) during the wedding reception.
Uchikake is a women's bridal robe with trailing skirts worn over a kimono, and its hem is stuffed with cotton. Upper-class ladies used to wear it. Tsunokakushi literally means a headdress to veil bride's horns.
A groom wears a short coat for formal kimono named Haori(羽織) marked with a family crest and man's formal divided skirt named Hakama(袴).

bridesmaid(介添人, kaizoenin)

Elderly women take the role.

Hourai-san(蓬莱山, Mount Penglai)
According to Chinese legend, Hourai-san is the mountain where a mountain hermit lives.Hourai-san is a big monju(buns filled with sweat bean paste) with a weight of 1 kg and contains some small monju. It is also known as Komochi-manju(manju with children), so it's served in celebrations like weddings.

Yomogashima(蓬が嶋) sold at Toraya(虎屋) is the same confection as this. According to Toraya's records, the retired Emperor Koukaku(光格上皇, 1771-1840) bestowed Yomogashima on Mizuno Tadakuni(水野忠邦, 1794~1851). The Yomogashima contained 50 small manju. 
According to Toraya's records of the late Edo period, the confection contained 20 small manju.

Now several confectionery shops sell this contection only by subscription. Toraya's Yomogashima contains five or seven small manju.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bears and nuts

Today was the second day of the cock in November, so Tori no Ichi(酉の市:the Cock Fair) was held at the Otori Shrines.

Many shrines held Ebisu-kou on November 19th and 20th.


acorn head and layered kimono made of kaki leaves

Many Asiatic black bears(月輪熊, Tsukinowa-guma) have been found in and around human settlements in Japan this autumn.  It is thought to be due to poor acorn crop, bear's lacking a feeling of fear of humans, deserted border areas between mountain foothills and arable land. In the areas, bears got a taste for unharvested chestnuts or kaki. Many bears are quite fearless about humans due to a decrease in hunters. Tsukinowa-guma literally means "crescent bear."

There was a good crop of mushrooms this year. Poisonous mushrooms became a problem.

Karasu-uri(烏瓜、Trichosanthes cucumeroides)

Karasu-uri literally means crow's melon.
Its unripe fruits look like a watermelon.
Karasu-uri flowers come out in the twilight around the end of July because they are pollinated by moths.

Japanese Beautyberry (紫式部, Murasaki-shikibu)

Murasaki-shikibu is the author of "The Tale of Genji", and Murasaki also means purple. So this plant was named after its color.

Haze-no-ki(櫨の木、黄櫨の木:Rhus succedanea)

The colored leaves of this plant is beautiful, but I got poison ivy from this plant belonging to a sumac family.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

autumn leaves

Now is the best time to view autumn leaves in Hakone or the Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and many viewing spots in Kyoto are also now at their peak. They are crowded with people enjoying autumn leaves.

足引きの 山行きしかば 山人の われに得しめし 山つとそこれ  (元正天皇,「万葉集」)
"When going to the mountain, a mountain man gave me this poem as a souvenir", written by the Emperor Gensho(680-748) in "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves".
Yamazuto(山苞) means a souvenir from the mountain. I learned the words "Yamazuto" from a confection's name. The words appear in the above waka poem and the 10th chapter of "The Tale of Genji". Hikaru Genji sends the empress a branch with colored maple leaves as a souvenir from the mountain.
at Kifune(貴船)

 秋山の 黄葉を茂み 迷ひぬる 妹を求めむ 山道知らずも  (柿本人麻呂,「万葉集」)
"Trees ablaze with autumn colors were too rank in the mountain, so my wife lost her way, I want to go looking for her, but I am unfamiliar with the mountain path", written by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro(c.662-710) in "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves".
Actually, his wife has long been dead and buried in the mountain named Hikite no Yama. So she can't return home, and he can never see her again.

Even at night, many viewing spots including Kiyomizu-dera are illuminated.









Photos :KYOTOdesign
(Japanese version only)


Originally karanishiki means Chinese colorful silk fabric. It also came to mean beautiful autumn leaves.
There are various confections named Karanishiki. This confection contains chesnuts with their astringent skins preserved in syrup.


This confection is a standard souvenir from Kyoto.
Some people say its name derives from Yatsuhashi Kengyo(八橋検校,1614-1685), who was an outstanding koto(Japanese harp)  player and composer. He established the modern koto music. Kengyo(検校) was the highest rank in the visually impaired and was of high social standing.

According to a theory, its name comes from the bridge made by combining eight boards in Yatsuhashi(now Aichi Prefecture), where Ariwara no Narihira(在原業平) who is the hero of "The Tales of Ise" makes a famous poem about kakitsubata(Rabbit-Ear Iris).

Yatsuhashi(八ッ橋) is a cracker in the shape of koto(Japanese harp).  Its dough is made by steaming a mixture of rice powder, sugar, cinnamon and water. Nama-yatsuhashi is sweet bean paste containing unground beans wrapped in the dough. Yatsuhashi is made by baking the dough.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Shichi Go San and Tokanya

Shichi Go San(七五三:The Seven-Five-Three Festival) is a traditional event to celebrate children's growth and pray for their future good health.  Around November 15th, 3-year-old boys and girls, 5-year-old boys and 7-year-old girls in formal dress such as kimono are taken by parents to a shrine.


These are red and white egg-shaped suama(寿甘、素甘), which is rice cakes containing sugar. Torinoko-mochi(鳥の子餅) are red and white egg-shaped rice cakes made of only glutinous rice. Both of them are festive confections. Tsurunoko literally means a crane egg or chick.

A harvest festival named Tokanya(十日夜) is held in the north part of Japan on the 10th day in the 10th month in the lunar calendar (corresponding to November 15th this year).  The god of rice paddy goes back to the mountain on the day after harvesting of the rice. It is said that Tokanya is one of the three major days for moon-viewing along with Jugoya and Jusanya.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Shinju ten no Amijima

"Shinju ten no Amijima(心中天網島:The Love Suicides at Amijima)" 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 at Daicho-ji Temple in Amijima on the 14th or 15th day of the 10th month in the lunar calendar (November 13th or 14th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1720.

Under a full moon, the 28-year-old paper merchant named Jihei(治兵衛) and the 19-year-old courtesan named Koharu(小春) head for Daicho-ji to commit suicide together while taking a side glance at several familiar bridges.

He stabs her to death to the sound of Buddhist chants and hangs himself shortly after the chants end.

He has a wife and children, but he is wrapped up in Koharu. They come to love each other. He has to make a substantial payment to buy the freedom of Koharu.  However he can't raise the necessary money. He is obsessed with committing suicide together.

His wife Osan sends Koharu a letter saying she asks Koharu to split up with him for the sake of saving his life. Koharu pretends to be disgusted at him, but he can't perceive her true feelings. He hears another man intends to buy the freedom of Koharu, and that makes him feel animosity against Koharu.

Hearing that from him, Osan perceives Koharu to be resolved to kill herself. Osan tries to come up with the money to save Koharu's life and encourages him to buy the freedom of Koharu. However, Osan's father interrupts her.

Jihei and Koharu prepare to die.

Daicho-ji Temple belongs to Jodo shu which is one of Japanese traditional Buddhist sects. Buddhist monks belonging to Jodo shu used to spend night and day chanting sutras from the night of the 5th day to the morning of the 15th day in the 10th month in the lunar calendar.

They commit suicide on the early morning of the 15th day when the ritual ends.

This ritual derives from Shinshogokuraku-ji Temple(真正極楽寺) known as Shinnyo-do (真如堂) in Kyoto. Now it is held at many temples belonging to Jodo shu in October or November.

Chikamatsu writes up their death agony. The killing scenes in his plays are so real. 
She thrashes about with pain because his knife missed her vital organs. He finishes her off by thrusting a knife into her again.  He writhes and kicks after hanging up. Without feeling, Chikamatsu says it's like a calabash swaying in the wind.

Koharu(小春) is an another name for the 10th month in the lunar calendar. Chikamatsu says the lovers break up in the 10th month due to the absence of the Japanese gods.
It is said that the Japanese gods gather at Izumo Taisha Shrine and have a meeting to make a good match between people in the month.

Friday, November 12, 2010

the Chrysanthemum Exhibition

Yellow sand has blown to western Japan today.
Many policemen are on guard in the town center of Yokohama due to APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation).

 Chrysanthemum flower exhibitions are being held in various regions.

Shinjuku Gyoen Kikka-ten (Chrysanthemum Exhibition) is being held at Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo between 9 am and 4 pm from November 1st to 15th. The admission fee is 200 yen.

 In the Edo Period, it was said that chrysanthemum flowers were at their peak four or five days after Rittou(the first day of winter, November 7th this year) and people enjoyed seeing those flowers in the gardening districts.

chrysanthemum figure(菊人形,kiku-ningyo)wears a costume made of chrysanthemum flowers or leaves. An old book says that chrysanthemum works like topiary were very popular in Edo Period.

My father made an attempt on triple cordon of chrysanthemums, but it was difficult to grow three flowers in a balanced fashion. So he gave up soon.

菊袋 デザイン/芝田美恵子
"drawstring pouch in the shape of chrysanthemum" designed by Mieko Shibata

Shigeyoshi Inoue ed.,Wa-no-Nunoasobi-chirimenzaiku,(Tokyo:ONdori Sha,2003),P.9



下中菜穂,「切り紙 もんきり遊び」,株式会社宝島社,2007年,P.9,20
Nabo Shimonaka, Kirigami Monkiri-asobi,(Tokyo:TAKARAJIMASHA,Inc.,2007),P.9,20