fireworks festivals(Japanese version only):

summer festivals: (Japanese version only)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The 63th Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures

The 63th Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures is being held from Octber 29th to November 14th at the Nara National Museum. (Refer to previous post for information about Shoso-in Treasures.)
Sixty-two works are being exhibited this year. This page(only Japanese version) provides information about some of them.

On November 2nd, foreign students who study in a Japanese school will be admitted free to special exhibition "The 63th Exhibition of Shoso-in Treasures" and all regular exhibitions of the Bronze Ware Gallery and Nara Buddhist Sculpture Hall on presentation of their certificates or student IDs.

Foreign students will be also admitted free to the autumn special exhibition The Lineage of Culture: The Hosokawa Family Eisei Bunko Collection at Kyoto National Museum on November 5th and to regular exhibition at Kyushu National Museum on November 3rd. The students will be asked for their student IDs.

Refer to International Students' Cultural Exchange Day, 2011 at Kyoto National Museum for more information.

On Kyushu National Museum's Web site,  the information about "tea ceremony experience" is available in the Japanese version only.  I can't find foreign language versions of this information on this site. The event will be held on Nobember 3rd and advance reservations are required.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Railway Day(2)

The Japan Meteorological Agency announced that Kogarashi-ichigou(木枯らし1号, the first cold wintry wind of the year) blew in Kanto Region on October 26th.

I send my deep sympathy and prayers to the quake victims and their families in Turkey, and I hope the floodwaters in Thailand recede as soon as possible and that there would be no more damage.

What happened to the the passangers on board trains in Tohoku when the Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on March 11th?
None of the passangers was killed by the quake and tsunami while aboard a train.

1. Shinkansen(bullet train)
Piers supporting elevated tracks were damaged by the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 and the Miyagi earthquake in 2003. The roof and sidewall of the Uonuma Tunnel collapsed due to the Niigata Chuetsu Earthquake in 2004.  Therefore, JR East(one of Japan Railways Group) had undertaken antiseismic reinforcement of the piers and tunnels on the shinkansen(bullet train) lines in hazard areas.

Twenty seven Tohoku Shinkansen trains were running when the quake occurred. One of them was running at 270 kilometers per hour. All of them stopped safely due to the Urgent Earthquake Detection and Alarm System (UrEDAS). The system automatically braked the trains 9 seconds before the quake's first shaking arrived. So the decelerating trains didn't derail, but a deadhead train during test run derailed.

Then, it is estimated that between 40 and 50 trains were running on the conventional lines serving Tohoku Region. JR rail routes including Hachinohe, Yamada, Ofunato, Kesennuma, Ishinomaki, Senseki and Joban lost 23 stations because of tsunami.

2.JR Joban Line

The quake occurred after a four-car Joban Line train arrived at Shinchi Station in Fukushima Prefecture. There were about 40 passengers including two policemen in suit on the train. The two policemen were on their way from a police school to Soma Police Station, their posting.

Watching TV on a passenger's cell-phone with One-Seg functions, the passengers learned that Large Tsunami Warning was issued. The station is located 600m from the coast, so one of the policemen judged on the instant that tsunami would rush toward the station. He suggested heading for higher ground 1 kilometer from the station, but an elderly woman insisted on waiting for her family members to arrive at the station. He talked her into evacuating.

The passangers walked to higher ground with him in the lead. The elderly woman couldn't walk fast because of having weak legs, so the other policeman went with her. Ten minutes later,  the policeman and the woman were left far behind. He turned around and saw that tsunami was 200m away from them. Shinchi Station and their train had already been engulfed by tsunami. He stopped the passing pickup truck and they hitched a ride on the truck. Thirty minutes later, they reached the higher ground. The safety of all the passangers was confirmed.

For a moment, it crossed their minds that a tsunami might not hit this area. However, they put the school's teachings into practice. They did what police officer should do.
After that, the two officers were assigned to search for missing persons.

3.JR Senseki Line

The quake occurred shortly after a four-car Senseki Line train left Nobiru Station in Miyagi Prefecture. After leading its passangers to an evacuation spot(elementary school), its conductor walked to Sendai, about 30 kilometers away from the station. All communication to the disaster area had been cut off, so he could only walk to report on the present situation. The next day, he reached Sendai. The train was found in a residential area.

4.JR Kesennuma Line

The quake occurred shortly after a Kesennuma Line train left Matsuiwa Station in Miyagi Prefecture. The line is right by the sea. The train stopped on the 5-meter-high elevated bridge. Three female high-school students on board the train saw that seawater was drawing back, the seabed which are normally submerged was being exposed and fishes jumped up and down.  JR's direction center gave the train's driver directions, and the driver urge the train's passangers to get out of the train and head for higher ground. The passangers disembarked from the train by turns.

The students were heading in the direction of the house of one of them, but the driver chased after them and said, "Don't go that way! Head for higher ground at the next railroad crossing." They ran desperately and got separated. Two of them saw tsunami going across in front of them on national route 45. They ran for their lives to higher ground. They reached a junior high school on higher ground and joined together.

One of them said, "I owe him my life." She was truly grateful for the train's driver. The train's passangers were all evacuated from the train, but their safety after evacuation was not confirmed.

5.The Sanriku Railway South Rias Line

The Sanriku Railway (三陸鉄道) has the North Rias Line and the South Rias Line extends along the Sanriku Coast.
When the quake occurred, a South Rias Line train was running in the 3906-meter-long tunnel. The train stopped urgently in the tunnel. The train's driver and two passangers stayed there for two hours. The driver moved toward the tunnel exit to check on the damage. What he saw at the end of the tunnel was the collapsed elevated railroad tracks.

One of passangers was hearing impaired, so the driver wrote messages to communicate with the passanger. The driver led the passangers to walk 1.4 kilometers through the tunnel toward its entrance.
The trains on the line usually stopped at a scenic location for visitors for one minute and the train also stopped on the day. The driver said, "What if the train didn't stop for one minute?"

The Sanriku Railway resumed passenger service on the fifth day after the quake and anyone could ride its trains for free. Now the railway offers discounted fares. Many railfans throughout Japan has been supporting the railway.

One train is stranded at Fudai Staion on the North Rias Line. The station is on the damaged section. Local residents wrote messages on daruma dolls and put them on the train's seat so that the train didn't feel lonely. Local people have a deep emotional attachment to the Sanriku Railway.

"Karubonado" Shimanokoshi Station(島越駅) and the elevated railroad tracks of North Rias Line

They disappeared on March 11th.

6.JR Yamada Line

a Yamada Line train
 The quake occurred shortly before a two-car Yamada Line train arrived at(or left) Tsugaruishi Staion. There were about 20 passengers and crew members on board. JR's direction center informed the train's driver that large tsunami warnings were issued, and the center ordered the suspension of the train's departure and evacuation of its passangers.

The crew members led the passangers to an evacuation spot(elementary school), but the tsunami rushed toward its schoolyard. The passangers followed the directions of a member of a local fire company to escape to the hill behind the school.
The train was swept up and derailed by the tsunami.

7.JR Ofunato Line

The quake occurred shortly after a two-car Ofunato Line train left Ofunato Station. The crew evacuated the passangers on report of issuance of large tsunami warnings. The train happened to stop on slightly higher ground, so it remained. The tracks in front and back of the train were engulfed by the tsunami. A part of the roadbed was undermined. Unfortunately, the train was dismantled in July.

8. freight train on Joban Line

A freight train on Joban Line was carrying 20 containers. Its driver stopped the train after receiving the train protection radio warning. Soon after that, the big shake occurred. He struggled to reach JR's train control center on his cell-phone but had trouble contacting the center. Then, tsunami rushed toward the train. The engine car shaked. The containers and flatcars were 30 km away from the engine car. He waited there for a while, but he decided to escape from the train. Because big shakes repeatedly occurred and he heard an announcement that over ten-meter high waves would hit his area over Municipal Disaster Management Radio Communication Network.

He walked to a private house while dipping his body in the cold water up to his neck and went upstairs. He got a call on his cell-phone from the center and let the center know his safe. He spent a night in the house, and he moved to a secure location because the water began to recede.

The government expects to cover half of the restoration costs of the third-sector railway companies in tsunami-hit areas including the Sanriku Railway and to cover the other half by offering subsidies to local governments which have a stake in the companies.

JR East don't decide to restore its rail routes in tsunami-hit areas. Plans to move communities to higher ground are under consideration, so local governments hope to move JR rail routes near residential areas.
JR East and the local governments decided to move parts of rail routes including Joban, Senseki and Ishinomaki to higher ground.

9. planes

About 80 domestic flights and 8 international flights were scheduled to arrive and depart at Sendai Airport on March 11th this year. Fortunately, no passenger plane stayed at the airport at 2:46 p.m. when the quake occurred.

Air China Flight 924 for Dalian deaprted at 2:40 p.m. from Sendai with 61 passengers.

Japan Airlines Flight 2209 from Osaka(Itami Airport) was scheduled to arrive at 2:45 p.m., but it was delayed due to bad weather. The quake occurred soon after the flight departed 1 hour later than one expected. The flight turned back to Osaka.

An IBEX Airlines plane conducted landing training, but it was up in the air at 2:46.

After Large Tsunami Warning(6m) was issued at 2:49 p.m., airport staffs were led to go up to the third floor of the office building and passengers were led to go upstairs in the airport terminal building.

After Large Tsunami Warning(10m) was issued at 2:49 p.m., airport staffs were led to go up to the flat roof of the airport office and passengers were led to go up to the third floor of the airport terminal building.

The airport terminal building was a designated safe shelter, so many local residents fled to the airport.
After Large Tsunami Warning was issued, the staffs of a special nursing home shuttled 96 elderly people back and forth to the airport. Elderly people and staffs were all evacuated at 3:53 p.m.

Large tsunami reached the airport at 3:59 p.m.

About 1,600 people including passengers, local residents, airport staffs and the staffs of related facilities were kept in isolation.
The airport came in from the cold at around 4:00 p.m. on 12th.

At a Civil Aviation College's Sendai branch adjacent to Sendai Airport,  a trainer aircraft was about to land at the branch's airport when the quake occurred. The controller told the pilot to overshoot the runway, so he pulled up the nose of the aircraft. This and other trainer aircrafts were stacked. All of them in the stack were cleared into Niigata and Fukushima airports.

At the Japanese Coast Guard air station adjacent to Sendai Airport, repeated shakes prevented the aircrafts in the air station from taking off. So four aircrafts were swept up by the tsunami.

Although there was no human damage, more than 40 aircrafts belonging to air facilities around Sendai Airport were swept up by the tsunami.

Friday, October 21, 2011

newly harvested rice

October is the season for newly harvested rice in Japan. We never miss a day without rice.
The emperor dedicates newly harvested rice to Amaterasu-Ohmikami, the Goddess of the Sun, at Kannamesai(神嘗祭) which is a festival held from October 15th to 17th. That festival used to be held on the 17th day of the 9th month in the lunar calendar.

Last year's harvested rice was lack in quality due to unusual high temperatures in summer. This year's newly harvested rice tastes better than last year's. I have eaten the newly harvested rice since early October.

I always buy Koshihikari from Niigata Prefecture other than Minamiuonuma area. Koshihikari is a japonica rice cultivar.  Sasanishiki from Miyagi used to be one of the two major rice cultivars, along with Koshihikari from Niigata.  Now Koshihikari, especially products from Minamiuonuma area in Niigata, has a decided edge over the other cultivars.

This year, tsunami caused the rice paddies in tsunami-hit areas in Tohoku including Miyagi Prefecture to be harmed by salt. Less rice producers in the areas got good results in harvesting rice. They eliminated salt from salt-affected paddies by repeated drainage treatment.

Some people buy not new rice but old one for fear of radiation contamination this year. New rice from Fukushima is currently on the market because Fukushima Prefecture issued a declaration vouching for the safety of Fukushima's new rice after checking it for radioactivity.  However, the declaration can't address concerns over consumers.

Many mothers who have small children are very nervous about radioactive materials. However, opinions are split on how far we should be worried about them. Some people claim sampling tests are insufficient for confirming safety and devise voluntary countermeasures, other people don't worry too much about radioactive materials.

A TV program named "Asaichi" checked all the meals that seven family members ate for seven days for radioactivity.  The program spent 2 hours checking using an accurate radioactivity detector after putting one day's meals for one person in the blender.

The seven family includes two families in Fukushima, two families in Tokyo, one family in Hokkaido, one family in Osaka and one family in Hiroshima. Most of them mainly eat local products, but a family in Tokyo orders farm products from western Japan.

Radioactive materials(scesium 134 and 137) were undetectable in the meals of two families in Fukushima and Hiroshima. One day's meals of other five families contained a minute amount of the materials(5.69 Bq/kg scesium 134 in Hokkaido, 3.66 Bq/kg scesium 134 in Fukushima, 4.05 Bq/kg scesium 134 and 8.97 Bq/kg scesium 137 in Tokyo, 3.4 Bq/kg scesium 134 in Osaka.) Water and newly harvested rice in the above seven areas were examined individually, and the materials were undetectable.

Unbelievers don't believe this result. Some farm producers make detailed inspections on radioactivity levels in their products and provide consumers with the results.
I'm not young, so I don't worry too much about radioactive materials.
Many people are in agreement on the point that the government should review the provisional standard values for food in Japan.

ears of rice and a red dragonfly

Red dragonfly is a feature of autumn in Japan. They go to cool highland areas to avoid the heat of summer and move to low-lying lands in autumn.


Tanada (terraced rice paddies along steep hills) is one of beautiful scenery, but it requires great care because much of the work is done by hand. Most of Tanada are preserved as a tourist spot.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

foliage season

The foliage season has arrived again. These are good spots for viewing autumn leaves in October.

Onuma Quasi-National Park(大沼国定公園) in Hokkaido

best time to see : from late October

2 photos by   北の大地の贈り物 Photo by (C) RARURU

Autumn foliage in Tohoku is splendid.

● viewing spots in Aomori Prefecture

Oirase Stream (奥入瀬渓流)

best time to see : from late October 

I've been to Oirase Stream years ago. It was so beautiful. It seems to be splendid in any season.

Mount Hakkoda(八甲田山)

best time to see : now

Tsutanana-numa Swamp(蔦七沼)

best time to see : from mid to late October

Lake Juni(十二湖)

best time to see : from late October

Lake Towada(十和田湖) 

best time to see : from late October to early November

2 photos by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

● viewing spots in Iwate Prefecture

Lake Kinsyu (錦秋湖)

best time to see : from mid to late October

Mount Kurikoma(栗駒山)

best time to see : now


best time to see : early October

● viewing spots in Nagano Prefecture


best time to see : from early to late October

Kama Pond(鎌池) situated between Nagano and Niigata Prefecture

best time to see : late October

Shiga Highlands(志賀高原)

best time to see : now

Senjojiki Cirque(千畳敷カール)

best time to see : from late September to early October

Tsugaike Highlands(栂池高原)

best time to see : eraly October

Togakushi Highlands(戸隠高原)  Kagami Pond (鏡池, Kagami Ike)

best time to see : from mid October to late October

photos by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

● viewing spots in Toyama Prefecture

The Tateyama toll road(立山有料道路)

public hostel Tateyama-so Midagahara


Midagahara(弥陀ヶ原), Tateyama(立山)
best time to see : from late September to early October

Murodo(室堂), Tateyama(立山) 

best time to see : from mid September to late September

photos by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

● viewing spots in Fukushima Prefecture

the Bandai-Azuma Skyline (磐梯吾妻スカイライン) is a toll road, but it's free and open to the public from July to November 15th this year.

best time to see : now

Urabandai Highlands(裏磐梯)

best time to see : from mid October to late October

Jododaira(浄土平) , Urabandai(裏磐梯)

Urabandai The Five-Colored Swamps(五色沼, Goshiki-numa) , Urabandai(裏磐梯)

photos by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

● viewing spots in Tochigi Prefecture

Ryuzu Fall(竜頭ノ滝, Ryuzu-no-taki), Oku-Nikko(奥日光)

best time to see : now

Lake Yunoko(湯ノ湖), Oku-Nikko(奥日光)

best time to see : now

Hakusan Super Rindo Forest Road(白山スーパー林道) in Ishikawa Prefecture

best time to see : now

Koya Ryujin Skyline(高野龍神スカイライン) in Wakayama Prefecture

best time to see : from late October to early November

Odaigahara(大台ケ原) Daijagura(大蛇嵓) in Nara Prefecture

best time to see : now

3 photos by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Railway Day (1)

October 14th is Railway Day in Japan. The Ministry of Railways (present JR) established the day as the anniversary of Japan's railway in 1922 to commemorate the opening day of the Japan's first railway in 1872. Now railroad companies in Japan celebrate the day.

Recently railfans are also known as Tecchan(鉄ちゃん). Tetsu(鉄) means railroad (鉄道, tetsudo). Female railfans are called Tetsuko(鉄子) and kiddy fans are done Kotetsu(子鉄). Tori-tetsu(撮り鉄) means the railfans who are keen to take photos of trains. Nori-tetsu(乗り鉄) are fond of ride various trains across the country. there are also many model train buffs. Railroad dioramas are popular.
The Railway Museum(鉄道博物館) in Saitama Prefecture is also knowm as Teppaku and is crowded with various railfans.

Some railfans go around deserted railroads and rarely-visited train stations. Tsubojiri Station on the Dosan Line in Tokushima Prefecture, one of those stations, has only one regular user. It takes 30 minutes to go from the station to his house. He has to climb up and down a narrow road. He often decorates the station with flowers. Tsubojiri is a switchback station, so the station is surviving. There used to be many regular users of this station. Some travel agencies arranged a tour to visit the station.

Choshi Electric Railway(銚子電気鉄道) is a 6.4 km long local railroad between Choshi and Tokawa in Chiba Prefecture.  The railroad company started to sell nure-senbei(ぬれ煎餅, moist rice crackers) to eliminate the deficit in 1995.  In 2006, the company could not even cover the cost of inspection and maintenance stipulated in the statute because of a chronic deficit and the embezzlement of company funds by the former company president.

At the end of its rope, the company made an intensive appeal for aid to cover the expenses of three train carriages on its Web site on November 15th in the year.
"Please buy our nure-senbei to maintain the train service!!
We have to make money to repair train carriages."

The company's appeal received a great response. The company was flooded with orders from all over Japan, and nure-senbei were sold out. The mass media reported about the appeal, and nure-senbei became known to the whole country. The company overcame business crises.
This year its nure-senbei factory was visited by the Great East Japan Earthquake, but no damage was done to its railroad.

It is a relatively well-known fact that Hiroshima Dentetsu resumed streetcar service three days after the atomic bombing. But, did you know that bombed streetcars are still running on the streets in Hiroshima?

Two bombed streetcars, 651 and 652 of the Hiroshima Dentetsu 650 series, are running on the streets during the morning and evening rush hours.
The five streetcars of the 650 series were first put into service in 1942. The streetcar 651 was exposed to the atomic bomb at around 700 meters from the epicenter. It was derailed and burned. The streetcar 652 received relatively little damage, so it was running on the streets in August in 1945. The other three cars of the 650 series were wrecked or burned down. All the streetcars of the 650 series were restored.  The cars 653 and 654 were running until June in 2006, and they are preserved. The car 655 was wrecked in a crash and scrapped in 1967.

Due to the atomic bombing, 22 cars of 123 active streercars owned by Hiroshima Dentetsu were burned down, three were partially destroyed, 23 were completely wrecked, 34 were moderately damaged, 36 were slightly damaged and 15 were completely undamaged. Twenty seven cars were scrapped. Most of the streercars were restored.

The explanation provided on the car 651 is that only one passanger survived by jumping from the 651 when it was exposed to the atomic bomb. A man who was was exposed to the atomic bomb during the ride tells about his A-bomb experience on the car 651 around August 7th every year. He says that he was at around 750 meters from the epicenter and made it out of the streetcar alive with his mother(she died later). He spoke about his experience on 651 again this year. I'm never quite sure if he was riding on the car 651 when the bomb was dropped. His experience is different from the explanation provided on 651.  I can't find another streetcar that was at around 700 meters from the epicenter.

What is the reason why the trains in Japan always arrive on time?

Yuko Mito(三戸祐子) answers this question in "Teikokuhasha(Arriving On Time) " published by Kotsu-Shinbunsha in 2001, Shinchosha in 2005.
Her Web site(English version) is here.

Japanese trains are almost always on time. If my train arrives five minutes late during morning rush hour periods, I will get irritated. She says the origin of Japan's punctual train system dates back to Sankin koutai(参勤交代) in the Edo Period. Sankin koutai is the system of alternate attendance by a feudal lord in Edo. Project managers in feudal domains had to regularly make arrangements for Sankin koutai.

In "Kotsu Konjaku Monogatari(交通今昔物語, Japanese Railroad Tales of Times Now Past)" written by Keijiro Shimizu(清水啓次郎) in 1933, a train driver who worked on board the Imperial train from 1924 to 1933 said that the Imperial train stopped exactly at the required position at a station and arrived on time (within 2 or 3 seconds).

A rapid train of JR West's Fukuchiyama Line crashed into an apartment on April 25th in 2005 because the train approached curve at top speed to make up for being about two minutes behind schedule.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Jusanya and Sports Day

Today is Health and Sports Day (体育の日) that was designated in 1966 to commemorate the opening day of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. The holiday was originally celebrated on October 10th, but it's held on the second Monday of October after 2000 due to a new law. This year, the second Monday is 10th.
Many schools held their athletic meetings yesterday and today.

We celebrate two moon viewings named Jugoya(十五夜) and Jusanya(十三夜). Jusanya(十三夜) means the night or the moon on the 13th day of the 9th month in the lunar calendar. October 9th was Jusanya this year. This event is unique to Japan. Jugoya(the moon on the 15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar) is full moon, but Jusanya is the moon right before the full moon. Why isn't it a full moon? The exact origin of this event is unclear. In the Edo Period, people valued enjoying to view the moons on both days of Jugoya and Jusanya. Doing only either one of the two was believed to bring bad luck.

I got a glimpse of the moon late yesterday afternoon, but it rained at night.
Jusanya is also called Mame-meigetsu(豆名月, bean harvest moon)or Kuri-meigetsu(栗名月, chestnut harvest moon). I cooked rice with chestnuts yesterday. Removing astringent skins from the Japanese chestnut requires more effort and time than other chestnuts. So I peel raw chesnuts a once or twice a year.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Nagasaki Kunchi Festival

The Nagasaki Kunchi Festival(長崎くんち) is being held from October 7th to 9th. It is said that the festival started in 1634 when two prostitutes danced in dedication to the god of the Suwa Shrine.

It is said that kunchi means kunichi(九日, ninth day) and derives from the Double Ninth Festival(重陽の節句, Choyo no sekku) celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth month in the lunar calendar(corresponding to October in the Gregorian calendar.)

Festivals called kunchi take place to thank deities for the autumn harvest in Kyusyu Region. Some of them are also held on the 19th day and the 29th day.

Fifty nine towns in Nagasaki City are divided into seven groups. Each group performs once every seven years.
This year's performing towns and their floats(performances) are as follows:

Konya-machi(紺屋町),  Kasaboko(傘鉾) and Honodori(Japanese traditional dance)
Dejima-machi(出島町),   Kasaboko and Dutch Ship(float modeled after a Dutch ship)
Higashi-furukawa-machi(東古川町),   Kasaboko and Riverboat(float modeled after Japanese riverboat)
Kogawa-machi(小川町),   Kasaboko and Chinese Lion Dance
Moto-furukawa-machi(本古川町),   Kasaboko and Royal Boat(float modeled after Japanese royal boat)
Daikoku-machi(大黒町),   Kasaboko, Honodori(Japanese traditional dance) and Chinese Ship(float modeled after a Chinese ship)
Kabashima-machi(樺島町),   Kasaboko and Kokkodesho(float named Taiko-yama like a portable shrine)

You can see these town's performances in 2004 on this site.
Here is the movie of Kokkodesho in 2011 Nagasaki Kunchi Festival on the "Nagasaki Guide" Web site.
festival guide in English - Guide1 and Guide2

Nagasaki was the only city that was allowed to trade with foreign countries during the period of national isolation. So these performances show a strong influence of overseas cultures such as China, Holland and Portugal.

The Chinese Consul-General in Nagasaki serves as the director of Daikoku-machi's Chinese ship this year. The Nagasaki-Shanghai line will enter service this autumn.

The audience shout “Mottekoi!(もってこい)" to the performers when the audience would like to call them back on the stage for encore.

Each town's float and performers are led by its Kasaboko(傘鉾) which serves as a symbol of the town.

previous festival images

photos by artworks

The preparation for the festival starts in June 1st. The performers in these towns pray for a safe festval and start to practice their performances on this day. On October 3rd, each of performing towns displays its costumes, props, instruments and gifts for performers to the public. On October 4th, the performers have a rehearsal.

For three days starting from October 7th, these floats and performers visit private homes, offices and shops and briefly perform to usher in good fortune after performing at four places including Suwa Shrine. They go to different places between 800 and 1000 a day and do a longer performance in a large place such as a bank office. Later, the performers get tips from visited places.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Abe no Seimei

It snowed in some areas in Tohokku and Hokkaido yesterday. It's a little cold due to rain. Today's high was 18 degrees Celsius in Yokohama.

"which should I visit for Yaku-yoke(厄除け), a Shinto shrine or a Buddhist temple?"
"Visit whichever you like."
We oftentimes hear this question. It makes no difference if you visit a temple or shrine for Yaku-yoke.

Yaku-yoke or Yaku-barai(厄除け or 厄祓い) is an exorcism. Many people ask a shrine or temple to perform an exorcism at their critical ages. In general, 25, 42, 61 for men and 19, 33, 37 for women are critical ages. Their ages are based on East Asian age reckoning.  Everyone used to add one year to their age at New Year's in Japan.

It is thought that the exorcism comes from Onmyodo(陰陽道). Onmyodo derived from the Chinese theory of Yin-Yang and the five elements, but it developed independently from the original style in Japan. It includes telling people's fortune with oriental astrology and performing an exorcism on the basis of natural science.

"Onmyoji(陰陽師)" who mastered the secret of Onmyodo was a job title in the Imperial court and the most famous onmyoji was Abe no Seimei (安倍 晴明, 921-1005).
Onmyoji played a role like a feng shui master in the earliest years, but they came to perform magico-religious rituals.  With the rise of samurai class, they fell in decay and Onmyodo became popular among the public. In the Edo Period, would-be onmyoji were rampant.  Temples and shrines came to hold the ritual. Onmyoji maintained their power under the wing of the Tokugawa Shogunate, but the Meiji Government regarded onmyodo as a superstition and prohibited spreading of onmyodo in 1872.

Seimei  Shrine

Seimei Festival(晴明祭) in Kyoto was held at Seimei Jinja Shrine(晴明神社) on September 22nd and 23rd.

Seimei Festival

Abe no Seimei  is enshrined in this shrine. It is said that the shrine was built on the site of Seimei's house in 1007.

Seimei Festival

September 26th is the anniversary of the death of Abe no Seimei, and a ceremony was held at Sagano(嵯峨野) in Kyoto on the day.

Seimei Festival

These ceremonies are not nationally-known, but he is very famous as an onmyoji.
A boom in onmyoji occured around 2000.
Seimei Shrine

He used pentagram(五芒星, gobousei) as a symbol of five elements. Onmyodo regards pentagram as a sign against evil. Pentagram is also used as a variation of family crests in the motif of balloon flower.

Ashiya Doman Ouchi Kagami(芦屋道満大内鑑) is a bunraku play written by Takeda Izumo(竹田出雲). It was premiered as a bunraku play in 1734 and as a kabuki play in 1735.
This play comes from the legend that a white vixen in the Shinoda Forest(信太森, Shinoda no Mori) had a son, future Abe no Seimei with Abe no Yasuna(安倍保名). The vixen was called Kuzunoha(葛の葉) or Shinodaduma(信太妻).

This legend has a theory that he got his supernatural power from his mother. Legend has it that a thousand-year-old fox turns to a nine-tailed fox spirit in China. Foxes are regarded as the messengers of the god at Inari shrines in Japan, and they were thought to have an uncanny ability to change themselves into humans.

Humans have the power to reason, but animals are driven only by emotion. So animals have a deeper affection than humans do. In this play, the lines of Kuzunoha shows that people of the time thought so.

Sakaki-no-mae(榊の前), an adopted daughter of Kamo no Yasunori(賀茂保憲), tries to select his apprentice Abe no Yasuna(安倍保名) as successor according to his testament. However, she is taken in by the tactics of her stepmother and uncle and is pushed into killing herself.  Yasuna who is her fiancee loses his mind.

"Yasuna(保名)" is one of kabuki dances based on this play. A scene of this play was made into a dance. I hear it's a difficult piece of dance. He wanders vaguely with her kimono. Although he is not of sound mind, his good upbringing must become evident in his every movement. Dancers must perform a sophisticated dance, expressing his love and grief.

He comes upon her sister Kuzunoha who is a look-alike for Sakaki-no-mae. He comes to himself and grows to love Kuzunoha. Then a white vixen appears in front of him. The vixen is saved by Yasuna. After that he is saved by the vixen disguised as Kuzunoha. Yasuna and the vixen live together and have a child. However, real Kuzunoha and her parents pay them a visit.

The highlight of this play is separation from a mother, Kuzunoha. On the contrary, the other scenes of this play are barely played.

She reveals herself to him as she talks to her child.  She warns her child not to be told from people that he is a loser due to coming of a vixen and not to kill needlessly.

Her little child cries for her. Yasuna tries to prevent her from leaving with a loud voice.
"I'll be in disgrace for marrying a vixen, but people can laugh all they want. I'm not letting you go without asking."

However, she disappeared, leaving behind a poem that said, "If you miss me, visit me in the Shinoda Forest of Izumi."

Kuzunoha heads for the Shinoda Forest through late autumn scenery including blue beard or Caryopteris incana(段菊 or 蘭菊, dangiku or rangiku), bush clovers, Susuki grass, shigure(a shower in late autumn) and the sound of crickets. This scene was also made into a dance.

A child says, "foxes' wedding!" after seeing her. Ancient people believed that it suddenly rained in the sunshine as the wedding procession of foxes went by. It breaks her heart to see a little child.

kaki, scarecrow, naruko(bird clapper), rice ear

She dreads dogs' barks and the sound of bird clappers(naruko) in the paddies of late‐growing rices.

Yasuna and others go to the forest and meet Kuzunoha. She disappears after telling them that she saves her child. Little Seimei with superhuman prowess and Yasuna bring villains' crimes to light. Seimei is designated as onmyoji by the Imperial court.

Ashiya Doman(芦屋道満) was also a onmyoji and often appears in legends and ancient tales as the Seimei's most powerful rival. He is almost cast as a villain who is beaten in testing their skills of magic.
In this play, he is not a villain for a change and gives the child the name of Seimei.

In fact, Seimei was an apprentice of Kamo no Yasunori who was a onmyoji. Yasunori trained his son Mitsuyoshi(光栄) and Seimei to succeed.  According to an ancient tales, Mitsuyoshi(光栄) and Seimei disputed about which is the favored apprentice. It is said this tale changed into competition between Seimei and Doman.

People go to kabuki theaters to watch kabuki actors, so various performances were added to plays by actors themselves so as to make them look more attractive:
An actor as Kuzunoha makes a quick change and plays the parts of real and fake Kuzunoha in the same scene.
Real Kuzunoha and her parents run in panic on seeing fake Kuzunoha and she cries out.
Yasuna tries things out to unmask fake Kuzunoha.
With a child in her arm, fake Kuzunoha writes with her left hand or with a ink brush between her teeth.

Meanwhile, in buraku plays, the aural rendering by narrators(tayu) and shamisen players has an equal power with the visual rendering by puppeteers. Bunraku play is a fine collaboration between puppeteers, narrators and shamisen players.
Kabuki has a lot of fanfare, but bunraku describes the feelings of fake Kuzunoha with subdued movements.

wild ancestor of thoroughwort
Seven autumnal flowers according to the poems of Yamanoue no Okura(山上憶良, 660?-733?) in the Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves) includes bush clover(萩,hagi), Japanese silver 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(桔梗,kikyou). These flowers are blooming in August and September.

Blue beard(Caryopteris incana)

A fox hides behind a thicket of blue beard in a poem by Chinese poet Bai Juyi (白居易,772–846). So the flower came to be linked with the fox.

photo by「季節の花 300

The sight of undulating and shining susuki flowers in the sun is very beautiful. Now is the best time to view a carpet of susuki flowers in Hakone Sengokuhara(箱根仙石原).

photos by フリー素材タウン