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

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

Friday, May 27, 2011

Oze Marsh

In Kanto Region including Tokyo and Yokohama, the rainy season started 12 days earlier than usual today. The season's 2nd typhoon is approaching.

The season for Oze Marsh climbing started on May 24th.
Oze Marsh straddles Fukushima, Niigata, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures. Oze(尾瀬) has been designated national park. The marsh is 6km long, the 2km wide and 372 km² in area.

The marsh is famous for clustered Asian skunk cabbage(水芭蕉, mizubasho). A song named "the memory of summer" turned the marsh with mizubasho into a famous spot. The flowers start to bloom at the end of May.

In the middle of July, Daylilies (日光黄萓 or 禅庭花, Nikkokisuge or Zenteika) are clustered in the marsh.

I've been to Oze in late October. I heard the autumn leaves in Oze were beautiful, but the foliage season was over there.

While we were walking, it snowed and the wooden boardwalk became slippery. You need hiking boots to visit Oze.

We saw a lodge being surrounded with boards to protect the lodge against heavy snow. Even now most lodges are closed between the end of October and the end of April. One of my old colleagues was almost stranded in Oze in winter although less people go to Oze during winter.

Now Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) owns about 160 km² of land in the park and has handed out about 200 million yen every year in the improvement of its environment.
Some fear TEPCO will sell its land to pay reparations for the nuclear accident in Fukushima. For now, its land will not be sold.

The relationship between Oze and TEPCO is complex.
The forerunner of TEPCO got the water right in Oze to build a hydroelectric dam in 1921.
Chozo Hirano(平野長蔵) decided to move permanently to his lodge in Oze Marsh to block its project and conducted a crusade against it. After his death, his son took over his father's role.
The project was frozen in 1966 due to the opposition movement and interregional conflict of interest concerning water rights.  The company resigned its water rights in 1996.

There was a proposed plan to build a sightseeing road to Oze in the 1960s.
His grandson made a direct plea to the then Minister for Environment shortly after the start of construction on the road in July in 1971.
The government decided to discontinue the construction in November of the same year.
On December 1st of the same year, his grandson was stranded during his descent from Oze after winter preparation for his lodge.

Now Chozo's great-grandson is operating his lodge in Oze Marsh.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River

The rainy season started in Kyusyu and it snowed in Hokkaido yesterday.

Cormorant Fishing(鵜飼, ukai) on the Nagara River in Gifu Prefecture is being held from May 11th to October 15th except for the night of the mid-autumn harvest moon and the times when the water level in the river is high.

Now six cormorant fishing masters called usho(鵜匠) working on the Nagara River belong to the Imperial Household Agency.  A usho wears a traditional costume including eboshi (a type of headgear worn by court nobles), a straw skirt and a chest protector to protect his body from fishing fire while fishing.
The sweetfishes caught in the fisheries belonging to the agency are presented to the Imperial Palace, Meiji Jingu Shrine and Ise Jingu Shrine eight times a year.

In Japan, many visitors go and see the sights of the fishing on houseboats and the fishing starts at around 19:30.

HD映像 岐阜の夏の風物詩 長良川鵜飼
( A summer scene in Gifu City, Cormorant Fishing on the Nagara River)

According to The Book of Sui(隋書) which was the official history of the Chinese Sui Dynasty, a Chinese envoy saw a strange fishing method of using cormorant birds to catch fishes in 600 in Japan.

The fishing method appears in the Kojiki and the Nihonshoki, two ancient chronicles written in the eighth century.

Aristocrats in the eighth century enjoyed this fishing as a sport. They caught sweetfishes with fishing fire in one hand and leashes linked to cormorants in the other while dipping his body in the water at night. Cormorant fishing masters went along with them.

「年のはに 鮎し走らば 辟田川 鵜八つ潜けて 川瀬尋ねむ」 大伴家持
"When sweetfishes begin to swim around in the Sakita River, I'm going to have some cormorants dive while wading in shallow water," by Otomo no Yakamochi(c.718–785) in "A Collection of a Myriad Leaves"(万葉集, Man-yo-shu).

In the south area of Gifu Prefecture, the practice of using cormorant birds to catch fishes dates back some 1,300 years. This traditional fishing method has been handed down from father to son.
The powers of the day took cormorant fishing under their wings.

After watching cormorant fishing on the Nagara River,  Matsuo Basho(松尾芭蕉) composed the following haiku poem based on a Noh play named Ukai(鵜飼).

「おもしろうて やがてかなしき 鵜舟かな」 松尾芭蕉
"I enjoyed, but gradually I came to be saddened, to see scenes of cormorant fishing," by Matsuo Basho(1644-1694)

Let me give you a brief outline of the play.
Two monks visit Isawa(石和) in Kai Province (now Yamanashi Prefecture) and stay the night at a small temple by the Fuefuki River(笛吹川). The ghost of a cormorant fishing master appears to the monks. The master was killed because he did cormorant fishing during closed season. The ghost demonstrates his fishing skill by request from the monks, and they are intoxicated with his demonstration.

However, when the morning comes, he have to get back to the other world. He is reluctant to leave this world. They learned that his spirit still haunts this world and hold a memorial service for him. So his spirit goes to the Land of Bliss.

We can see cormorant fishing while wading in the Fuefuki River at Isawa Onsen in Yamanashi Prefecture from late July to late August.

石和鵜飼(cormorant fishing  in Isawa)

There is another fishing method of using cormorant birds in China.
There are differences between Japanese and Chinese cormorant fishing. Japanese fishing masters use Japanese Cormorants on leashes to catch sweetfishes. Meanwhile, off-leash Great Cormorants are used to catch various kinds of fishes in China.
A theory says that the fishing method developed independently of each other in China and Japan.
In both Japan and China, Cormorant Fishing is held for sightseeing now.

In most areas, the open season on sweetfish will start on June 1st. Many anglers pull in sweetfishes while dipping their bodies in the water up to their hips. I heard that wild sweetfish have a flavor of watermelon. It's catch was small, so it's expensive. Now it's available by Internet mail order.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Shinpan Utazaimon

Jigen-ji Temple
A Buddhist ceremony called Nozaki Mairi(野崎参り) is held at Jigen-ji Temple(慈眼寺) in Osaka Prefecture from May 1st to 8th. Sutras are recited to thank everything.The principal Buddhist image of the temmple is Nozaki Kannon(Mercy Goddess).

The ceremony dates back to the end of the 17th century. It draws many visitors during the period. Nozaki Mairi appears in some plays such as "Onnagoroshi Abura no Jigoku(Woman-Killer in Oil Hell)" by Chikamatsu Monzaemon, "Shinpan Utazaimon(新版歌祭文)" by Chikamatsu Hanji and others.

A merchant's daughter named Some(そめ) and one of her father's apprentices named Hisamatasu(久松) committed suicide together on the 6th day of the 1st month in the lunar calendar in 1710.

Kabuki and bunraku plays based on this incident were performanced in the same year.
"Somemoyo Imoseno kadomatsu(染模様妹背門松) " by Suga Sensuke is a remake of a 1710 bunraku play and was first performed in 1767.

Shinpan Uta-zaimona is also based on this incident and was premiered in 1780.
Originally, saimon(祭文) is an address to the gods in a religious ritual. It was deconsecrated by mountain priests and became an entertainment. Uta(歌) means a song. Utazaimon(歌祭文) is a ballad featuring sensational news such as love suicide with shamisen accompaniment. Shinpan means a new version, so Shinpan Uta-zaimona is a new version of the tragic love story between Osome and Hisamatsu.

Romances between masters' daughters and servants were banned in the merchant family, but Osome(お染) falls in love with Hisamatsu.
He is framed by an another apprentice and is sent his parents' home at Nozaki Village. His father attempts to marry him to his stepdaughter, Omitsu(お光). He can't tell his father about his lover. He is torn between love and duty. Osome follows him to the village while wedding preparations are under way.

Osome is an urbane rich girl and Omitsu is a strong-minded country girl. Both of them don't give in an inch.
How will the love triangle work out?

His father persuades Hisamatsu and Osome to give up on their love, and it seems to make it work for his father.  However, Omitsu makes a drastic move.

She appears in a bridal costume (white kimono) with bride's silk floss headdress, but a monk's stole and her short haircut are underneath the costume. Omitsu decides to prolong the death of Hisamatsu and Osome by becoming a nun and bowing out gracefully. She knows they will commit suicide together if this goes on.

When I wacthed this play with a friend of mine, we couldn't go along with her behavior. The two end up comitting suicide together in another scene. Only the scene of Nozaki Village is performed now.

Modern scripts consist of stage directions and dialogues, but bunraku scripts are close to novels. So bunraku without puppets, a storytelling called sujoruri(素浄瑠璃) by narrator(太夫, tayu) and shamisen player is occasionally performed.

At the scene of Nozaki Village, tayu need to perform the voices of several characters including two young women in the same generations.  I was greatly moved by the storytelling of a skilful tayu at the scene without puppets. This is the best play for young tayu to try his skill in storytelling.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Aoi Matsuri

Shimogamo Shrine
 The Aoi Matsuri (葵祭:Wild ginger festival) was held on May 15th in Kyoto.
(Refer to The Aoi Matsuri and Aoi Matsuri in Japanese literature for information about this festival.)

Kamigamo Shrine
A procession of people in historical costumes started at around 10:30 from the Imperial Palace, arrived at around 11:40 at Shimogamo Shrine(下鴨神社), started at 14:20 from the shrine and arrived at around 15:30 at Kamigamo Shrine(上賀茂神社).  Rituals were held at the Imperial Palace and the two shrines.

The procession consists of the following characters and others.

Real police officers on horseback head the procession.

Norijiri(乗尻) on horseback are six members of the Kamo family. They are the riders who galloped atop their horses at Kamigamo Shrine on May 5th.

 security officer called Kebiishi no Sakan(検非違使志)

chief security officer called Kebiishi no Jo(検非違使尉)

Ouma(御馬) are two horses to show gods. Norijiri ride these horses at the two shrines.

Gissha(牛車) is an oxcart decorated with wisteas. Oxen for Gissha are almost from Kyoto, but they include oxen from Okayama Prefecture in recent years.

Maiudo(舞人) is a military officer. He dances at this festival.

Chokushi(勅使) is an Imperial messenger, but a reliefer joins the procession now.
Actually, he is the main character at this festival. Chokushi is unspectacular but key appointment.

Huryukasa(風流傘) is a parasol decorated with artificial flowers such as peony flower and rabbit-ear iris.
Baiju(陪従) is a military officer. he sings a song and play musical instruments at this festival.

Saio-dai(斎王代) means a substitute for Saio(斎王). Saio was an unmarried female relative of the Japanese emperor and served gods. Now an ordinary woman associated with Kyoto is selected as Saio-dai.
Saio and ladies were added to the procession in 1956.
Myobu(命婦) and Nyoju(女嬬) are ladies-in-waiting to Saio.

Menowarawa(女童) is a girl who serves Saio.

Munenori-onna(駒女) is a shrine maiden on horseback.

Originally, Uneme(采女) was a lady-in-waiting who set the table for emperors and empresses. Uneme came to be selected from among ladies-in-waiting on special occasions.

Photo by KYOTOdesign(Japanese version only)

Shimogamo Shrine, the approach and
the surrounding virgin forest
called Tadasu no Mori (糺の森)
Yase(八瀬) is located in Kyoto. People living in Yase are called Yase-doji(八瀬童子). They claimed descent from oni(demons).

After they carried Emperor Godaigo on a palanquin in 1336, they gained an official position as palanquin bearers for emperors. So they had been exempt from taxation and exacted service until 1945.

Yase-doji carried Emperor Meiji and Emperor Taisho on a palanquin at their funerals, but they attended as an observer at Emperor Showa's funeral.
Even now, about 90 people including children in Yase take part in the Aoi Festival every year.

You can see Mikage Matsuri(御蔭祭) at Shimogamo Shrine on the blog "京都を歩くアルバム"(Japanese version only).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother's Day and Matsushima

Today is Mother's Day.

A carnation grower in one of the afflicted areas shipped tsunami-hit carnations. Although they became submerged in muddy water, they have produced masses of flowers after the water had receded.

In the afflicted areas, many people placed white carnations beside the remains of their houses, their mothers' remains in temples and their family graves.

Many people enjoy digging clams at the beach during Golden Week holidays every year, but less people went to the beaches along the Pacific Ocean in Kanto Region. In some area, a tidal range doesn't create the mudflats.
Matsushima(松島) in Miyagi Prefecture was crowded with many visitors during Golden Week holidays.

A pleasure boat restarted at the end of April. Marinepia Matsushima Aquarium repoened although some sea animals were killed by tsunami.

Matsushima has been long known as one of "the three most scenic spots in Japan(日本三景,nihonsankei)", along with Amanohashidate in Kyoto and Miyajima in Hiroshima.

 Photo by (c)Tomo.Yun

Matsuo Basho(松尾芭蕉) visited this spot in 1689, but there is no haiku poem featuring Matsushima in his famous travelogue "Oku no Hosomichi" (The Narrow Road to the Deep North).

However, he composed the following poem featuring Matsushima.

島々や 千々に砕きて 夏の海  (しまじまや ちぢにくだきて なつのうみ)
"A scattering of small islands break waves in the summer sea."

The town of Matsushima had relatively little damage. Coastal souvenir shops and restaurants had water above floor level and four people died or are missing. It is said that about 260 small islands in the Matsushima bay served as a buffer for tsunami.


Zuigan-ji Temple(瑞巌寺) that is the family temple of Date clan is also attracting many visitors. Zuigan-ji Temple was reopened to the public on Aptil 10th.


The temple was found in 828 and the first lord of the Semdai Domain, Date Masamune(伊達政宗) built several buildings including the main building(本堂, Hondo) and kitchen(庫裡, Kuri) in 1609.

These two buildings have been designated as national treasures. No damage was done to the main building, but Kuri developed some cracks in the wall.

The approach
 The approach to the temple was covered by mud.

It is said that Masamune himself planted Garyubai(臥龍梅), a variety of ume on the grounds of the temple. The ume trees reached full bloom on April 24th this year.

Visitors and residents in Matsushima took refuge in the temple after the quake and tsunami. About 300 people stayed in the building for trainee Zen monks. The monks prepared and served meals to the afflicted people. The disaster victims in the temple could sleep on futon. The monks also drew water to flush the toilet and worked to clear the rubble. Souvenir shops contributed foods to the temple.
A visitor helped the monks and residents with the cleaning in gratitude for them.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

wisteria and azalea

Wisterias(藤, fuji) and azaleas(躑躅, tsutsuji) are in full bloom.

Okanbara Azalea Garden(大桑原つつじ園, Okanbara Tsutsuji-en) in Fukushima Prefecture 

photo by 日本列島お国自慢

Nagaoka Tenmangu Shrine(長岡天満宮) in Kyoto 

Nishiyama Park(西山公園, Nishiyama Koen) in Fukui Prefecture 

Mount Ohira(大平山, Ohira-yama) in Okayama Prefecture

wild azaleas

Mount Yamato-katsuragi (大和葛城山, Yamato-katsuragi-san) in Nara Prefecture 

wild azaleas

Kasuga Taisha Shrine(春日大社) in Nara Prefecture 

Wake Wisteria Park(和気藤公園, Wake Fuji-koen) in Okayama Prefectur 

Byakugo-ji Temple(白毫寺) in Hyogo Prefecture 

Shirai-omachi Wisteria Park(白井大町藤公園, Shirai-omachi Fuji-koen) in Hyogo Prefecture 

photos by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

Wisteria Maiden(藤娘, Fuji Musume)

Wisteria Maiden is well known as a classical Japanese dance perfromance.
This is a confection called Makimono-gashi(蒔物菓子) that is handed to invited guests to Japanese dance or koto recital as a souvenir.