fireworks festivals(Japanese version only):

summer festivals: (Japanese version only)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Higan in autumn

Two periods of seven days including the spring or autumn equinox are called Higan(彼岸), which means "the other shore" or Buddhahood. Higan went from September 20th to 26th this autumn.

We visit our family graves to pray and make offerings of flowers and incense during Higan. I went to my family grave yesterday. Many flowers were placed on graves.
Spider lilies(彼岸花, higanbana) were blooming on the grounds of the temple. We often see the lilies growing round rice paddies and cemeteries.

Spider lilies and rice paddies right before harvesting. They are said to have been planted to save people from starvation.

道の辺の いちしの花の いちしろく 人皆知りぬ 我が恋妻は
Mi-chi-no-he-no I-chi-shi-no-ha-na-no I-chi-shi-ro-ku
Hi-to-mi-na-shi-ri-nu A-ga-ko-i-zu-ma-wa

"A roadside spider lily easily comes into notice, everyone found out about my loving wife like that," author unknown in "Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves" (the oldest existing anthology of poetry)

Ichishi(壱師) is thought to refers to spider lily.
photos by 神戸観光壁紙写真集
Kinchakuda(巾着田) is a flat land located on a sweep of the meandering Koma River(高麗川) in Saitama Prefecture. Kinchaku-da got its name from its resemblance to kinchaku, a drawstring bag.
It used to be rice paddies. Now it's a place where people can relax. Spider lilies were found in clumps there.

Immigrants from Goguryeo(高句麗) reclaimed the land in the county to cultivate rice. Goguryeo was overthrown by the Tang Dynasty of China and Silla(新羅) in 668. Both Goguryeo and Silla were ancient Korean kingdoms.
Koma County(高麗郡) was created around Kinchakuda in 716 and Koma no Kokishi Jakko (高麗王若光) was appointed as the chief of the county.

According to two chronicles of Japan, Jakko(若光) arrived in Japan as a member of a mission from Goguryeo in 666 and the Imperial court granted the surname of Koshiki(王) to Koma no Jakko(高麗若光) in 703. He was regarded as a member of the royal family of Goguryeo.
Koma Jinja Shrine(高麗神社) was built to honor Koma no Kokishi Jakko (高麗王若光) after he died in 751. His descendants served as the head priest of this shrine generation after generation. The present head priest is the 60th generation.

Shoden-in(聖天院) is the temple of the Koma family located near Koma Shrine built in 751. On the grounds of the temple, resident Korean believers built a war memorial for the Korean people with no family who died in the colonial period in 2000. The shrine and the temple give us an insight into the history between Japan and Korea.

photo by 写真素材 Ryo

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The oldest company in the world

This week a typhoon hit my area with full force after so long.The tsunami-hit areas were also flooded. The typhoon paralyzed our transportation system. In case of a typhoon, the trains usually start to run only hours after its direct hit. The typhoon No.15 has brought in a heavy rain across the country, from Okinawa to Hokkaido.

The peak of Asahi-dake in Hokkaido and Mount Fuji were capped with snow for the first time in the year.

Kongougumi(金剛組) was founded by Kongo Shigemitsu(金剛重光) who was invited from Baekje(百済, an ancient kingdom in southwest Korea) as a shirne carpenter in 578.  At the request of Prince Shotoku(聖徳太子, 574-622), the company built Shitenno-ji Temple(四天王寺) in Osaka in 593, Horyu-ji Temple(法隆寺) in Nara in 607.

The company had been in the employ of the temple until the end of the Edo period. The position of the company's owner had been passed down the members of the Kongo family, but an eldest child didn't always take over the family business.

Its owners controlled the groups of carpenters through master carpenters. The company had original technology. So it demanded loyalty of the master carpenters and bound carpenters to the company to prevent the leakage of the technology and refine their skills.

Several owner's assistants could suspend an owner from his position after mutual consultation. In case a candidate of the Kongo family was unqualified, a new owner was supposed to be choosen from the families of the assistants.

Shitenno-ji lost some or all of its buildings due to disasters and wars including a lightning strike in 836, a fire in 960, setting on fire by Oda Nobunaga in 1576, the Siege of Osaka in 1614, a lightning strike in 1801, Muroto typhoon in 1934 and the U.S. bombing of Osaka in 1945.
The company reconstructed the temple each time.

The exsiting buildings of Shitenno-ji were reconstructed of reinforced concrete by the company from 1957 to 1963. For your information, the exsiting buildings of Horyu-ji are thought to have been reconstructed around the end of the 7th century.

The temple had been under the protection of the authorities until the Edo period, but most of its grounds were diverted to a park during the Meiji Period. The company went through hard times.
In 1932, the 37th owner of the company killed himself before his family grave because of financial crisis. His wife served as the 38th owner. The five story-pagoda of the temple that was destroyed by Muroto Typhoon was reconstructed under the direction of the first female master of the company in 1934.

It got involved in the construction of reinforced concrete buildings such as hotels and apartments to increase sales during the so-called bubble economy, and it got caught in a price war. The company faced bankruptcy due to Severe price competition with major contractors.

In 2005, the company accepted an investment from Takamatsu Corporation, a construction company in Osaka. In 2008, it became a subsidiary of the corporation. The head of the corporation said that Kongougumi was the treasure of Osaka and not saving the company from the bankruptcy became a shame to all of Osaka's contractors.

The Kongo family left the management of the company, but the 39th head of the family is still staying on as a consultant. The company has many shrine carpenters and traditional Japanese construction methods, so it specializes in the construction of temples and shrines. A member of the company says temples built with traditional methods don't need extensive repair for about 200 years after its construction. It introduces a new technique called AIR aseismic base isolation system. Generally shrine and temple carpenters acquired higher skills than usual carpenters did.

A ritual called Chonna-hajime(手斧始め) is held at Shitenno-ji Temple on January 11th every year. Chonna(手斧) means an adze. Shrine carpenters kick off the first work of the new year with this ritual. The head of the family has performed the ritual for generations. It's closed to the public. The ritual is designated as an intangible cultural heritage of Osaka City.

Some of long-running construction companies moved into action to build Western-style buildings during the Meiji Period.

Takenaka Corporation (株式会社竹中工務店) is one of the five major construction companies in Japan. Takenaka Tobei Masataka (竹中 藤兵衛正高) started his corporation under the style of Okumaya(大隈屋) in 1610.

He served Oda Nobunaga who was the lord of a small province in the present Aichi prefecture as the supervisor of civil engineering work.  He changed from a samurai to an artisan after his lord's death. He went into the service of the Owari domain as a shrine and temple master carpenter owing to his unique technology.

The Owari domain was owned by a Tokugawa family branch, so he needed to contract for construction works all over the country. He assigned master carpenters throughout Japan to implement constructions as substitute for him. The head of Okumaya was not limited only to members of the Takenaka family. The family could choose an excellent successor by pursuing an adoption after mutual consultation.

Kajima Corporation (鹿島建設株式会社) is also one of the five major construction companies in Japan. Kajima Iwakichi(鹿島岩吉) started his corporation under the style of Oiwa(大岩) in Edo(present Tokyo) in 1840. He obtained his master carpenter certificate after training as a carpenter. The corporation built the Japan's first skyscraper "Kasumigaseki Building" in 1968 by adopting the flexible structure.

Long-running companies value the continuation of their family businesses more than the preservation of their blood lines.
Susumu Nomura(野村進) who covered long-running companies in Japan says that a series of innovation make tradition.  Companies sticking to observe tradition will die out, but branching out into jobs outside their fields will tend to fail. Many of long-running companies have developed innovations with the strength of their tradition.
He says a key to longevity is benefiting not only the seller and the buyer but society. It's important to be rated highly by society.

"The Tale of the Heikes" written around 13th century says, "The prosperous must decay" or "All things are in flux and nothing is permanent." It shows Buddhist influences. Despite that, Japanese people have found value in lasting long.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

typhoon and the elderly

The weather has suddenly become cooler.

Although the season's 16th typhoon passed away near Japan, the 15th typhoon is predicted to make landfall on the country's main island.
The Kii peninsula in Wakayama prefecture suffered severe damage from the 12th typhoon. More than 100 people were left dead or missing by the typhoon. In the area, the five mudslide-formed barrier lakes are likely to collapse due to the approaching typhoon. Threats of landslides, mudflows and flooding continue in many areas including the area around Shinmoe-dake (新燃岳) where ashes fell by the eruption of the volcano in Kyushu. Many people have been evacuated in various areas.

The third Monday in September is Respect-for-Senior-Citizens Day.

Many of people aged 100 or over living a long healthy life were featured in a TV program before. They get physical activity, have a balanced diet and live without any stress. Some of them have been working on a farm, cook and eat fresh home-grown vegetables and have a chat with the ease of old friends.  Some cook or sew for their families or friends every day, play instruments, go to shopping on foot and look after a shop.
Some got into hobbies in their sixties or seventies and achieved to a high level at the age of 100. Impatient, selfish, prejudiced, lazy, pessimistic people are unlikely to live a long healthy life.

People aged 65 or over accounted for over half of the tsunami victims. It is said that lack of physical strength and their experiences of the former tsunami prevented impeded immediate evacuation.

There were many multigenerational households in Tohoku Region. Some people evacuated with elderly family members, but some of them could not outrun tsunami. If they would have run away and left elderly family members, they could have survived. But, can we leave our family memebers?

Old companies have overcome numerous difficulties such as wars, natural disasters, fires and change in people's senses of values. Time-honored shops and companies receive respect from people in Japan.

Yagisawa Shoten(八木澤商店) in Iwate Prefecture was founded in 1807 and had sold soy sauce, miso(fermented soybean paste) and Japanese pickles. However, its shop and factory were swept up by the tsunami on March 11th. A section chief who had been working for the company for 30 years went to close the dikes as a member of a volunteer fire company and lost his life.

Fermentation agents are essential to make fermented food. They live not only in barrels but inside wooden buildings. The company was thought to be beyond restoration, but the agent was found in the tsunami-driven barrel. The company resumed selling their products by the aid of others in the same trade and small investors.

Many small shops and companies were swept up by tsunami and many of them once gave up efforts to rebuild their businesses. Their customers were the ones who pushed them forward to continue. They owed their energies by feeling needed.
Teikoku Databank(TEIKOKU DATABANK, LTD.) reported in August of this year that 24,847 existing companies were founded by 1912(the last year of the Meiji period), 2,613 were founded in the Edo Period(1603-1867) and 165 were founded before 1602.

It's based on their database containing corporate information of 1.39 million compamies. The ranking's top ten long-running companies are as follows:

1.Kongougumi(金剛組) founded as a traditional wooden building contractor in Osaka in 578,
2.Ikenobo Kado Kai(池坊華道会) founded as Japanese flower arrangement instruction in Kyoto in 587,
3.Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan(西山温泉慶雲舘) founded as a hotel in Yamanashi Prefecture in 705,
4.Koman(古まん) founded as a hotel in Hyogo Prefecture in 717,
5.Zengoro(善吾楼) founded as a hotel in Ishikawa Prefecture in 718,
6.Tanakaiga Butsuguten(田中伊雅佛具店) founded as a Buddhist objects manufacturer in Kyoto in 885,
7.Nakamura Shaji(中村社寺) founded as a a traditional building contractor in Aichi Prefecture in 970,
8.Syumiya Shinbutsuguten(朱宮神仏具店) founded as a Buddhist objects retailer in Yamanashi Prefecture in 1024,
9.Geto Onsen(夏湯温泉) founded  as a hotel in Iwate Prefecture in 1134,
10.Sudo Honke(須藤本家) founded as a liquor company in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1141.

The oldest company in Tokyo is Shiose Souhonke(塩瀬総本家) founded in 1349, and the second oldest one is Toraya(虎屋) founded in 1521. (Refer to Respect-for-Senior-Citizens Day and Japanese Confectionery Day for more information on them.)
The third oldest is Nishikawa that started to sell mosquito nets in 1566. Now that company specializes in the manufacture and sales of bedclothing.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Moon Viewing

Hot humid weather has lasted. I've got tired because of the summer heat. Many people have been rushed to hospitals with heat stroke.

September 12th corresponds to the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar this year. Moon Viewing is held on this day. It derives from the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival.

We see a rabbit pounding steamed rice on the moon surface.

"drawstring bag in the shape of a sitting rabbit" designed by Yasuko Uchibayashi

It's like a rakugo storyteller who kneels on a cushion with a folding fan in its hand.

Mie Kuwabara, Chirimen-de-Tsukuru-Saikumono-to-Oshie,(Tokyo:Ondori-sha,1999),P.24.

There is a custom called Tsukimi-dorobo(月見泥棒) like Trick-or-treating on Halloween in some areas.

The moon on this day is also called Imo-meigetsu (芋名月). Imo refers to tubers. Moon viewing is thought to have been also a celebration for the first taro harvest.

On this day, people used to be allowed to eat taros out in their neighbors' fields in many areas. But there was a limit to the amount of them.

In some areas, children used to be allowed to sneak rice dumplings out of the neighbors' houses. But the dumpling was limited to one per child. It was a thrill-seeking behavior for children. Adults considered that the moon ate the dumplings.  The community as a whole watched children grow up.

In another areas, they visit their neighbors and ask for sweets, saying "Give me Otsukimi(sweets)!" They say "Thank you" when leaving.
Recently, people leave a basket of sweets around the entrance. Some children don't give thanks to them, take all of sweets, make a scene when seeing empty basket and come from different towns. For some children, it's only an oppotunity to get sweets for free.

full moon on September 12th

秋風に たなびく雲の 絶え間より
もれ出づる月の 影のさやけさ
A-ki-ka-ze-ni  Ta-na-bi-ku-ku-mo-no  Ta-e-ma-yo-ri
Mo-re-i-zu-ru-tsu-ki-no  Ka-ge-no-sa-ya-ke-sa

"Moonlight breaks through the clouds flowing in the autumn breeze, it's so bright and clear," written by Sakyo no Daibu Akisuke(左京大夫顕輔, 1090~1155)

This accessible waka poem is included in "one hundred waka poems," a famous poetry anthology selected by Fujiwarano Teika in the Heian period.

名月や  池をめぐりて  夜もすがら
Me-i-ge-tsu-ya  I-ke-wo-me-gu-ri-te  Yo-mo-su-ga-ra

"The harvest moon, while pacing around the pond, I saw the dawn break," written by Matsuo Basho(松尾芭蕉) on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar(corresponding to October 2nd in the Gregorian calendar) in 1686.

He held a Moon-viewing party with haiku poets at his hermitage in Fukagawa, Tokyo. They enjoyed the harvest moon on a boat in the Sumida River.
He moved to Fukagawa and became a monk in 1680. Besides composing haiku poems, he got coaching from a Zen monk.

ひとつ家に  遊女も寝たり  萩と月
Hi-to-tsu-ya-ni  Yu-u-jo-mo-ne-ta-ri  Ha-gi-to-tsu-ki

"At the same inn, a prostitute also stays, bush clover and the moon," written by Matsuo Basho at an inn in Niigata on the 12th day of the 7th month in the lunar calendar(corresponding to August 26th in the Gregorian calendar) in 1689.

Basho wearing monk's stole and a colorful prostitute stay at the same inn. In its yard, bush clovers are blooming beautifully in the moonlight. A combination of bush clovers and the moon is something akin to that of monk and prostitute.

Monday, September 5, 2011

typhoon and Pacific saury

The typhoon No.12(Talas) is moving toward the north at the speed of 10 km/h after moving across western Japan. It is very slow and proceeded only 1,000 kilometers in a week. The areas near the typhoon's path are being subjected to torrential rains for long periods of time.  Warm and humid winds are flowing to Japan because of the typhoon, so several areas geographically distant from the typhoon are also being hit by heavy rains. In 9 prefectures, 22 people were killed and 55 are missing. Torrential rains have still continued in some areas.

September 1st is the 210th day(二百十日) from Rissyun(立春,the first day of spring) and it means the beginning of typhoon season.

This day is also Disaster Prevention Day. It was established to mark the Great Kanto Earthquake which occurred on September 1st in 1923.
Large-scale disaster drills for possible large earthquake and tsunami were held throughout Japan on August 28th and September 1st. The Metropolitan Police Department blocked some main highways at 97 points 10 minutes from 9 a.m. on September 1st. In Yokohama, the local government held a Large-scale drill in collaboration with local fire department, the local police, the Self-Defense Force, the Japan Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy. The local fire department and a railroad company held joint training.

The 16th Meguro Pacific saury(sanma) Festival(目黒のさんま祭り) was held near Meguro Station in Shinagawa Ward on September 4th. Miyako City in Iwate Prefecture has provided Pacific sauries to this annual festival for free.

Another Meguro Pacific saury Festival will be held at a park in Meguro Ward on September 18th. To this festival, Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture has provided Pacific sauries for free.

Both cities were severely damaged by tsunami this year, so many people doubted whether these festivals could be held this year.
Seeing catastrophic damage of the Kesennuma fishing port, I never thought I would be able to eat cheap Pacific sauries this year. Sanriku is blessed with an abundance of seafood and was a major base for fishery production.

In April, fishermen restarted to land fishes at a temporary fish market in Miyako Bay. Sixty four million in donations for tsunam victims has also been collected by the organizers of the festival and others. Miyako City sent 7,000 Pacific sauries to the festival this year.
However, the organizers requested participants to pay for the fishes in a donation box this year.

Shinagawa Ward made a friendship city agreement with Miyako City in 2002 and Meguro Ward did it with Kesennuma City after these festivals started.

These Pacific saury festivals derived from comic storytelling called rakugo(落語) which dates back to the late 17th century during the Edo Period. One of rakugo stories is "Meguro no Sanma(Pacific saury in Meguro)."

A lord happened to eat a grilled Pacific saury in Meguro when hunting with a falcon. Blue-backed fishes including the Japanese sardine, the mackerel and the Pacific saury tend to be high in the essential amino acid, but they were regarded as fishes for the lower classes in those days.

Although he requested to serve a Pacific saury, his subordinate lost its taste by spending a lot of time and care on the fish. He asked his subordinate where he got the fish. His subordinate answered he did it at the fish market in Nihonbashi. The lord said. Pacific sauries from Meguro was as good as the best.
Meguro was situated away from the sea and had no links to the fish market. This story mocks the lord's ignorance of the world.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

fireworks festivals

Aerial fireworks are a feature of summer in Japan, but many fireworks festivals were cancelled or postponed due to the Great East Japan Earthquake this year. The Sumida River Fireworks Festival was also postponed until August 27th.
The festival started in 1733 as part of a ceremony to pray for the spirits of the victims of the great famine in 1732 and to drive away the evil disease.
This festival is broadcast live every year. I saw it on TV again this year. The river is surrounded by the overcrowded area, so the size of shells are restricted.

Omagari Fireworks Fetival in Akita prefecture is held annually on the fourth Saturday in Auguast. It's a national fireworks competition for pyrotechnicians started in 1910.

Daylight Fireworks, Wari-mono(割物)
The competition includes "Daylight Fireworks", "Wari-mono using size 10 round shells" and "Creative Fireworks."

Daylight Fireworks, Enryu(煙竜)

 The first Japanese to get a patent in the United States was Jinta Hirayama(平山甚太), a pyrotechnician from Yokohama. His "Daylight Fireworks(昼花火, Hiru-hanabi)" was patented. he fireworks release colored smoke instead of sparks while emitting a sound.

 compulsory wari-mono

Wari-mono(chrysanthemum type) are the typical Japanese fireworks which burst across the sky in a circle. They change colors while spreading in cirle and draw muti-layered concentric circles in the sky.

You can learn the details on the site "Japanese Fireworks".

 compulsory wari-mono

In the Wari-mono section, contestants are required to set off two fireworks. One is a compulsory wari-mono with more than three-layered pistil that form a perfect sphere in every single aspect and the other is a variation or creative wari-mono.

 compulsory wari-mono

"Chrysanthemum" and "Peony" are typical shells as compulsory wari-mono.

Yamauchi Enkaten(山内煙火店), this year's winner in Wari-mono section (youtube)

A size 10 round shell used in the competition has a diameter of 29.5 centimeters weighs 7.5 kilograms. The shell spreads in a circle with a diameter of 320 meters at 330 meters from the ground.

A size 40 round shell will be launched at Katakai Festival in Niigata Prefecture on September 9th and 10th. The shell has a diameter of 120 centimeters weighs 400 kilograms and bursts at 550 meters from the ground. It spreads in a circle with a diameter of 650 meters.

variations of wari-mono

Kowari-mono fireworks include "A Thousand Chrysanthemums(千輪菊, Senrin-giku)", Kowari-ukimoyo and Kamuro.


Kowari Uikoyou

Brocade crown (Kamuro)

palm trees

with big leaves

Spangle Chrysanthemum

The fireworks include  Poka-mono such as  "Flash", "Jetting Comets" and "Bee and bee".

with Jetting Comets

with  Jetting Comet

with Bee and bee





In Creative Fireworks section, contestants are required to select starmine(quick-firing rockets) or rapid firing of size 8 round shells and set off up to 150 rockets to the music within 2 minutes 40 seconds.


we could see various shapes such as cocktail glass, engagement ring, heart, the faces of cat, frog and rabbit this year. Christmas tree, snowman and hand-rolled sushi appeared at the last year's festival.

These fireworks have one major drawback. Their shapes are viewed clearly when it seen from the front, but they don't look like anything when seen from the other angles.


2011 Wari-mono and creative fireworks by Isogai Enkaten(磯谷煙火店) (YouTube)
A man takes out a ring and asks a woman to marry him in a cocktail bar.

2011 Wari-mono and creative fireworks by Beniya Aoki Enkaten(紅屋青木煙火店) (YouTube)
These fireworks offer visitors kaleidoscopic views.

The organizers of the festival also present a firework show.(YouTube)
They represented the past glory of Hiraizumi in Iwate this year.

2011 special program "Love, Courage and Peace" by Yamazaki Enkaseizosho(山崎煙火製造所) (YouTube)

photos by  高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙