Light displays(Japanese version only):

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

Thursday, April 28, 2011

the 49th day after death

In the affected areas, Buddhist memorial services were held on April 28th that marked the 49th day after death. 
It is thought that the souls of the dead alternate between the afterworld and this world during the seven weeks after death in most buddhist sects. The dead are judged by Yama(the King of Hell) every seven days and Yama decides whether the dead could go to the heaven(Amitabha's Pure Land) on the day.

Remains of the deceased pray that the dead can go to the heaven during the period. Bereaved families come to terms with their family member's death during the period. Most of them place the dead's ashes in their tombs on the day.

However, 11,432 people are still missing although the Japan Self-Defense Forces and others have been searching for them.

On April 26th, 25 years have passed since a large-scale radiation leak occurred at the Chernobyl nuclear plant in 1986.

On April 25th, an actress's funeral was held in Japan. She debuted as a member of an idol trio, retired five years later and made a comeback as an actress since then.

Her best knowm film is "Black Rain(黒い雨, Kuroi Ame) " directed by Shohei Imamura in 1989. He depicted the real nature of human beings in his films.

The film is based on the novel of Masuji Ibuse and the novel is based on the diaries of atomic bombing victims. It depects the horror of radioactive rain called black rain and residual radioactivity, a lack of understanding about atomic bomb disease and discrimination against atomic bombing victims.

It was shown at the Cannes International Film Festival. When I read a movie critic's review that the film emphasized that Japanese people were victims during the war and lack understanding of themselves as aggressors, I was stunned by the fact that he never thought that radiation exposure could be a problem for himself although only three years had passed since the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl.

The actress left a message recorded on her sickbed for her farewell service. she condoled with the quake and tsunami victims at the beginning. She told that she wanted to be of service to the dead from the quake and tsunami if she went to the heaven, she had a very happy life but wanted to continue to act more and more and appreciated everybody.

She maintained a friendship with the other members of the idol trio. They knew that she had been fighting against breast cancer for nearly twenty years and didn't have that much time. They were in at the finish with her family and made the main speech at her funeral.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival

Hirosaki Cherry Blossom Festival is being held at the Hirosaki Park from April 23rd to May 5th. The cherry blossoms are late blooming this year, so its period will be extended for three days.

Hirosaki Park includes Hirosaki Castle constructed in 1611 and its grounds. Hirosaki belongs to Aomori Prefecture that includes some tsunami-hit regions such as Hachinohe City. Even so, Hirosaki decided to hold this festival.

I've been to the festival, but the blossoms have passed a peak.

These pictures were taken in 2008 and 2009.
photo by 「青い森の写真館」(Japanese version only)
In Aomori, cherry blossoms, ume and daffodils come into bloom all together.

I heard from the provider of these photos. An acquaintance of his,  a disaster victim said, "I want to soak in a bathtub and have a good night's sleep. Of course, I know, I'm asking too much."

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Shoryo-e (memorial service for Prince Shotoku)

Double cherry blossom(八重桜, yae-zakura), flowering dogwood(花水木, hanamizuki) and rhododendron(石楠花, shakunage) are blooming in my town.

I often hear a Japanese bush warbler singing.

According to Chronicles of Japan, the 22th day of 2nd month in the lunar calendar is the anniversary of the deatn of Prince Shotoku(聖徳太子, 574-622 or 629).

Shoryo-e(聖霊会) which is the annual memorial service for Prince Shotoku including a parade, Gagaku(雅楽, ancient court music and dance) were held on April 22th in Horyu-ji Temple(法隆寺) and Shitenno-ji Temple(四天王寺). Those temples were built by order of him.
Horyu-ji usually holds the service on March 22th and does it on April 22th once every ten years.

These are some costumes of the dances performed in Shitenno-ji. Dancers dressed in colorful costumes perform in groups of four or five each.

the dance named Soriko(蘇利古)

This dance expresses an enjoyable drinking party. Some people say the dance came from the custom that brewers held an event to commemorate the god of furnace and well in an ancient kingdom located in southwest Korea.

the dance named Manzairaku(万歳楽)

Some say this dance music was modeled on a song of a bird during the Sui or Tang dynasty in ancient China. This is performanced on celebratory occasions.

the dances named Garyobin(迦陵頻) and Kocho(胡蝶)

Garyobin is the dance of Garyobinga(迦陵頻伽) which is an imaginary creature in Buddhism, part human and part bird. It is believed that it lives in Sukhavati(Amitabha's Pure Land).

Kocho is butterfly dance. This dance and its music are said to be made in 906 in Japan.
Two groups dance together on each side of the stage. Garyobin is performanced on the left side of the stage and Kocho is done on its right side. Both of them are performed by boys (or women).
This illustration depicts dancers on pleasure boats with dragon head and imaginary bird head.

A score for Asian lute (Biwa called in Japan) is found on the reverse of a Buddhist scripture discovered in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang(敦煌) in China in 1900. Gagaku was originally the Chinese ceremonial music, but it died out completely in China.

The discovered score is very similar to the biwa score that is in use nowadays in Japan. Its title is about the same. Some gagaku musicians restored the piece in the style of Japanese gagaku.

The Court musicians of the Imperial Household mastered the playing skills of western musical instruments through training in the Meiji Period and perform at events at the Imperial Palace.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sanriku Railway and Kenji Miyazawa

At Kongou-ji Temple, one of the shelters in Iwate Prefecture, disaster victims enjoyed the cherry blossoms on 18th. Even in the afflicted areas, the cherry trees surrounded by the wreckageare are almost in full bloom. Many afflicted people lack the emotional capacity to enjoy the cherry blossoms.

The Sanriku Railway (三陸鉄道, Sanriku Tetsudo(Japanese version only)) which has the North Rias Line and the South Rias Line extends along the Sanriku Coast. Although the Sanriku Railway train has partially resumed, there are no prospects for reopening of the entire lines.
The Iwate Galaxy Railway(いわて銀河鉄道) is different from the Sanriku Railway. Iwate Galaxy Railway Line runs from Morioka Station to Metoki Station.

Tanohata Station(田野畑駅) and Shimanokoshi Station(島越駅) on North Rias Line belong to Tanohata Village. Shimanokoshi Station was like a Mediterranean house, but it disappeared due to tsunami on March 11th.

Tanohata and Shimanokoshi Stations get the nicknames of "Campanella Tanohata" and "Carbonado Shimanokoshi". Their nicknames were named after a character and an island volcano from the works of Kenji Miyazawa(宮沢 賢治, 1896-1933) who was a poet and a children's literature author from Iwate Prefecture.

Campanella appears in "Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru(銀河鉄道の夜, Night on the Galactic Railroad or Night on the Milky Way Train)" that has already been published and translated in many countries.
Although it is very difficult to visualize his works, this story was made into an animated movie in 1985. It is an excellent work, but featuring animal characters is somewhat misleading.
Now, we can see this story named The Celestial Railroad at planetariums in Japan.
Here's the English version of its movie trailer.

The main character Giovanni has after-school and before-school jobs because his father, a fisherman, is not coming back from the sea. His mother is ill in bed. His classmates tease him about his father. Campanella is a close friend of Giovanni.

He is in solitude on the hill. The next moment, he finds himself inside the Milky Way Train with Campanella. The train travels from Northern Cross to Southern Cross. During their travels, they see fantastic sights and meet various people.

A young man with a boy and a girl gets on their train.  He tells the boy and girl, "We're going to heaven. We'll never experience a feeling of fear. We are called to heaven."

He tells the two,"We'll no longer experience saddness. We can make such a fascinating journey, and we're going to be with God. There, all the people are so nice. People who could take to the boats instead of us should be able to return home where their parents are waiting for them anxiously. We are almost there. Cheer up! "

He tells that he is their tutor and they were aboard a cruise ship that sank after it hit an iceberg.
"Not all passengers were able to take to the boats.  I made a frantic effort to put them in a boat, but I saw many younger children and their parents standing in front of the boat.  I should have thrust them out of my way even if I committed a sin against God. But, for the soul of me I couldn't do that.
Parents put their children to the boat with only children. A mother blew a kiss to her child. A father stood carrying his cross. The ship was sinking. I steeled myself. I braced for sinking with the two children in my arms. I heard people singing a hymn. Then we fell into the sea and I became unconscious. The next thing I knew I found myself inside this train. I'm sure the boats were saved."

A lighthouse keeper comforts him by saying that a road to happiness includes the steep hill.

The train arrives at the Southern Cross and All the passengers except Giovanni and Campanella get off the train.

Giovanni says to Campanella, "Campanella, we are alone again.  Let's go together forever. I'm willing to be burned like a scorpion for everyone's happiness."
Campanella answered with tears in his eyes, "Me, too."
Giovanni says, "But what is true happiness for everyone?"
Campanella answered in a vacant voice, "I don't know."
Giovanni says, "I'm not afraid of darkness anymore. I'll go in quest of true happiness for everyone. Let's go together forever."
"We sure will. Oh, that field is so beautiful! People are gathering on the field. That place must be the heaven. That person over there is my mother."
Giovanni looks back at Campanella, saying "Campanella, let's go together." However, he is not there.

The next moment, Giovanni finds himself lying on the hill. Giovanni learns in the town that Campanella went missing after saving a classmate from drowning in the river. Giovanni meets Campanella's father at the riverside. He tells Giovanni that he got a letter telling the return of Giovanni's father. Giovanni returns to his mother.

Carbonado appears in "Gusuko Budori no Denki (グスコーブドリの伝記, A Biography of Gusuko Budori)". 
Gusuko Budori is a woodcutter's son born in Ihatov Wood. Famine due to cold summer damage causes the breakup of his family. He is forced to drift from job to job due to drought or a volcanic eruption.

He comes to work in the bureau of volcano as an engineer. He succeeds in minimizing damage from volcanic eruptions and fertilizing the fields of Ihatov with manure by using artificial rain. He is reunited with his sister. She has a son. He hears of his father's fate and raises a tomb for his father.

Ihatov is hit by the cold weather again. He studies methods of protecting people from cold-weather damage. He intends to emit carbon dioxide which contributes to global warming by triggering artificial volcanic eruption. But to do that, someone can't come back from Carbonado volcano alive. He does it by himself and stops cold-weather damage.

The Tohoku Region had been wracked by famine due to cold summer damage a number of times in the past. Kenji witnessed farmers suffering from famine. He graduated from an agricultural college in Morioka(now Faculty of Agriculture, Iwate University).

"Ihatov" means Iwate.
The tidal power plant that appears in this story became a reality. The first large-scale tidal power plant (the Rance Tidal Power Station) started operation in 1966.

The members of volunteer fire companies close the dikes, persuade people to evacuate over the community wireless system and help with the evacuations. So many of them were engulfed by tsunami. I heard seven of 14 deaths in Tanohata Village were the members of a volunteer fire company. (About 20 people are still missing there.)

A newspaper columnist said that Gusuko Budori came to his mind when he thought of the workers in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. He also said the workers didn't have to be Gusuko Budori.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

cherry blossoms

Another strong aftershock with a seismic intensity of a lower 6 occurred in Fukushima Prefecture again. Repeated aftershocks prevented workers from working in the nuclear plant in Fukushima.

Cherry blossoms have started blooming in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture.

Petals of cherry flowers started falling in my town. It's surprisingly hard to recreate real cherry blossoms on photo.

I gathered several cherry trees' photographs around the country.

Syuku-gawa(夙川) in Hyogo Prefecture


photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙(Japanese version only)

Wani-zuka(わに塚) in Nirasaki City, Yamanashi Prefecture

Keihanna  Commemorative  Park(けいはんな記念公園) in Kyoto

Photo by (c)Nature-Free (Japanese version only)

the Kyoto Imperial Palace(京都御所)

photo :KYOTOdesign(Japanese version only)

Yoshino-yama(吉野山) in Nara Prefecture
phot by version only)

Sakigake Cherry(魁桜) in HiranoJinja Shrine(平野神社), Kyoto

The cherry festival is held at the shrine on April 10th.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

One month has passed

One month has passed since the massive earthquake occurred on March 11th. According to the National Police Agency, 13,116 people lost their lives, 14,377 are still missing and 147,000 have been evacuated due to tsunami. However, the exact number of missing and dead is still unknown. The Japan Self-Defense Forces has been searching for missing persons.

A strong aftershock with a seismic intensity of a lower 6 occurred in Fukushima Prefecture on April 11th. The aftershock have generated several landslides and one of them caused one death, two missing and three critically injured.

Cherry flowers have started blooming in Fukushima. 
While some parts of the afflicted areas have begun reconstruction, some of them have been left behind. Main roads, mainline railroads and airports in the areas have been restored. In the areas, fishermen landed fishes at some fishing ports and they were handled at some fish markets.
However, very little has changed in some areas since the quake. Some people feel time stopped at the time of the earthquake.

Japan's 17th round of local-government elections are being conducted across the country on April 10th and 24th. These elections are held every four years to choose governors, mayors and local assembly members. They were not done on 10th in Iwate, Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki and Okinawa prefectures.
These elections were quiet. We are preoccupied with the earthquake. The result of the election announced on 10th. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan suffered a crushing defeat. No wonder.

The hay fever season due to cedar pollen is nearing an end. I can't live without allergy pills and disposable masks during the season! I will soon be able to go out without a mask. This winter was colder than usual, so cedar pollen started circulating in the air later than usual. I happened to start wearing a mask on March 11th.
A foreign TV reporter said, "In Tokyo, people are wearing masks to protect themselves against radioactivity!"

Friday, April 8, 2011

strong aftershock

A strong aftershock with a seismic intensity of a upper 6 occurred in Miyagi Prefecture around 11:32 p.m. on April 8th.  People in Tohoku Region headed for higher ground, but the quake didn't generate tsunami.

Although the electricity supply had restored in many areas, the quake caused blackouts again. Some train services in the region are suspended. Four died of shock and a ventilator's breakdown and 140 injured.

At the beginning of April, entrance and opening ceremonies are held in most schools in Japan. Most elementary students go to school with school bags named randoseru on their backs for six years.

A randoseru (ランドセル) is a backpack made of firm leather or synthetic leather. It usually costs more than 20,000 yen. When a child enters first grade, his parents or grandparents buy it for him.

Many randoseru were covered with mud in the devastated areas.
In one of the areas, many muddy randoseru are laid in a muddy school building. Most of these bags lost their owners. Some parents brought back their child's bag as a keepsake.

In another of the areas, a teacher washed some muddy randoseru and handed them directly to their owners, her students. Many residents were forced to evacuate some off-limits areas in Fukushima, so they left their children's randoseru.
Many new and old randoseru were sent to elementary students who lost or left their bags.

A person calling himself Date Naoto placed 10 new randoseru around the entrance of a children's consultation office last Christmas. Date Naoto is the main character of a Japanese manga "Tiger Mask". After being raised in an orphanage, he became a professional wrestler and donates money to the orphanage.

His Christmas present created a phenomenon to send school supplies to welfare facilities for children anonymously. Some people think the phenomenon is a fad. A girl in foster home said, "I'm glad to know that there is someone who cares about us in the world.".

elementary students having randoseru on their backs

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

cherry blossoms

The cherry trees are in full bloom in Tokyo and will be in Tohoku Region in late April. The tsunami damage has induced a mood of self-control among non-afflicted people. So less people go on a cherry viewing picnic.

The MIYAKO ODORI(Cherry-Blossom Dance) is being held from April 1st to 30th in Kyoto. (see MIYAKO ODORI)
Although few foreign tourists are visiting Kyoto now, they have an opportunity to see many geiko and maiko dancing once a year.

A 2-year-old dog named Ban reunited with her master for the first time in three weeks on the 4th. She was found standing on a broken roof drifting in the sea. It seems that she happened to get on the roof a few days ago after wandering around the foreshore.

The animals in shelters for afflicted animals have been waiting for their masters. There is only one pet-friendly shelter. Most shelters are preoccupied with the care of humans. Many pet owners think their pets are family members in Japan. A owner returned home to save his dog and lost his life in the tsunami.

Many pet owners are staying nights in their cars out of consideration for other victims. Doctors are warning the pet owners to take care of themselves. Because some people that took shelter in cars after the 2004 Niigata Prefecture Chuetsu Earthquake developed symptoms of economy-class syndrome.

We are concerned about soil and sea contamination due to radioactive materials, but I will buy fishes and vegetables on the market. Only agricultural and fishery products that meet safety standards are supposed to be currently on the market.

We have to support people in Tohoku Region including Fukushima and northern Kanto Region. Some prefectures, especially in Fukushima have been hit by harmful rumors.

Some people in Fukushimsa say, "Tokyo used electricity that Fukushima nuclear plant produced. Fukushima didn't use it. Many residents were evacuated from their homes, and it has been prohibited to search for 1,200 missing persons in the evacuated areas. Most farmers are hit hard by harmful rumors. How could this happen to us?"

Most workers in the nuclear plant are local people. Each worker ate survival food twice a day until recently and is asleep on the floor or in a chair covering himself with a blanket.

.Two weeks ago, a woman in the afflicted area said, "We are still in mortal danger from the tsunami. And yet people in Tokyo are buying up some kinds of goods. It looks as if they are more interested in future damage due to radiological contamination than in disaster victims."

People in Tohoku Region have a reputation for their industriousness and patience in Japan. Many of them worked hard as factory workers or construction workers during Japan's high-growth period.

Few disaster victims evacuated to other areas or prefectures. Most residents of Tohoku Region do not want to leave their hometowns. The towns have a high risk of tsunami attacks but are blessed with an abundance of seafood.

The residents felt hesitant about leaving their hometowns because they feel that they run away and leave the other victims staying in shelters. Many of them are still searching for missing family members.
They have rooted themselves in their communities, so they're afraid to lose a link to their hometowns and be unable to return there.

Recently they began to evacuate to other areas on an area-by-area basis. Some of the evacuees have started to move to temporary housing. The facts that many victims who were separate from their communities died solitary death in temporary housing emerged as a social issue after the Great Hanshin Earthquake. So it it said that disaster victims should live in temporary housing in a group of local residents.

Monday, April 4, 2011

confectionery festival

I'm tired of conveying gloomy news. Things don't get better easily, but we are going about our daily business with trepidation in Tokyo or Yokohama.

The annual confectionery festival is held at Kitsumoto Jinja Shrine(橘本神社) in Wakayama Prefecture on April 3rd. It's a festival to pray for the prosperity of the confectionery industry and about 150 confectioners from around the country dedicate confections to the shrine.

Considering the current situation of the victims, we feel guilty about enjoyning ourselves. Most events were cancelled or postponed due to the quake, and I don't know whether or not this festival was held.

The shrine is dedicated to Tajimamori no Mikoto(田道間守命) who appears in an ancient chronicle named Kojiki(古事記) written in the eighth century.
According to the chronicle, Emperor Suinin ordered him to bring back a fruit that has power to confer immortality. When he brought back the fruit from ancient China, the emperor was already dead. The fruit is said to be Tachibana(橘, Citrus tachibana).

Kashi(菓子)  meant fruits and nuts in ancient times, but it means confectionery now. So he came to be enshrined as the god of confectionery.
On third Sunday of April, the annual confectionery festival is also held at Nakashima Jinja Shrine(中嶋神社) that is dedicated to Tajimamori no Mikoto.

I heard an old classmate of of mine will start Japanese sweets making classes from this June.
menu of her classes(Japanese version only)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

initiation ceremony

Public offices and many companies in Japan held ceremonies to welcome their new employees on April 1st.

In the disaster areas, some companies withdrew job offers. A brand-new teacher took her post at a tsunami-hit school. The lessons are given in a temporary school. A soy sauce maker in business for 200 years welcomed a new employee although its office and factory were swept up by the tsunami.

New public employees joined the public offices in the areas. Most of the offices lost many employees and the surviving employees have worked around the clock to assist the affected people although the employees are also disaster victims. Now public officers from all over the country are supporting them. The brand-new officers are working to support residents and some of them stay nights at the offices as the surviving employees did.

Tohoku High School lost in the first round of the Spring High School Baseball Tournament. The members of its baseball team resumed to help the afflicted people after returning to their homeland.

More than 16,000 are still missing. the Japan Self-Defense Forces and US Armed Forces are searching for missing persons intensively in the devastated coastal areas for three days starting from April 1st.

The cherry blossom season began, but less people are going on a cherry viewing picnic because of saving on electricity and consideration for the afflicted people.

In one of the afflicted areas, a ume tree which escaped tsunami damage has started blooming.

An elderly woman found out the ume tree in her tsunami-hit garden that she planted to mark the 1st anniversary of her grandchild's birthday. Her son's wife insisted on planting a ume tree although she was going to plant a cherry tree. Her son's wife and grandchild are missing.

The ume blossoms in Kairakuen at Mito in Ibaraki Prefecture are now at their peak, but no visitor can see them. Because the earthquake damaged some facilities in Kairakuen. No damage was done to 3,000 ume trees.