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Thursday, January 31, 2013

mountain-burning events and Omiwatari

The mountain-burning event(Yamayaki) at Mount Wakakusa (若草山, Wakakusa-yama) in Nara Prefecture was held on the 26th. It's held annually on the 4th Saturday of January. The event including a display of approximately 600 fireworks attracted 180,000 people.

The montain was already covered with turf by 1255. Legend has it that it was derived from a boundary dispute between Kofuku-ji Temple and Todai-ji Temple 1760. However, according to a record which was discovered recently, farmers set on fire to encourage new growth and prevent wild animals from causing damage to farms. It is said that the event has been held every year since 1760.

Procession to the bonfire
Procession to the bonfire by iriskh /flickr

Each of ten monks lights a torch from the sacred fire in Kasuga Taisha Shrine.
After going in procession to Nogami Shrine for praying safety, they go to a big bonfire.

Procession to the bonfire
Procession to the bonfire by iriskh /flickr

Yamayaki by scjody /flickr

Yamayaki by scjody /flickr

Wakakusa Yamayaki (Roasting Mt Wakakusa in Nara)
Wakakusa Yamayaki (Roasting Mt Wakakusa in Nara) by iriskh /flickr

They light a big bonfire at the foot of Mt. Wakakusa.

Wakakusa Yamayaki Bonfire by iriskh /flickr


Fireworks are set off.
Wakakusa Yamayaki Fireworks
Wakakusa Yamayaki Fireworks by iriskh /flickr

Nara Mountain burning (Yamayaki)
Nara Mountain burning (Yamayaki) by nwhitely /flickr
Some monks of Kofuku-ji Temple, Todai-ji Temple, kasuga Taisha Shrine light big torches from the bonfire.

Wakakusa Yamayaki (Roasting Mt Wakakusa in Nara)
Wakakusa Yamayaki (Roasting Mt Wakakusa in Nara) by iriskh /flickr

Bonfire + Grassfire at Wakakusa Yamayaki
Bonfire + Grassfire at Wakakusa Yamayaki by iriskh /flickr

Each of firefighters lights a torch from the bonfire. The monks set fire to grass lands first, then the firefighters do it at their posts as one.

Wakakusayama Yamayaki
Wakakusayama Yamayaki by Sam Sheffield /flickr

Wakakusa Yamayaki (Roasting Mt Wakakusa in Nara)
Wakakusa Yamayaki (Roasting Mt Wakakusa in Nara) 
by iriskh /flickr

The dead grass on the mountain burn out in 30 minutes.

They give their full attention not to cause a fire in adjacent Kasugayama Primeval Forest.

In most areas of Japan, grasslands turn into forests if they are not cared for. Controlled burning has been traditionally conducted to turn out catlle and horses onto fresh pasture, and to gather Japanese silver grass(susuki) and common reed for thatched roofs. The controlled fire can prevent future fire and damage from insects. Wood ash is beneficial to the newly sprouting grass.

In Japan, meat-eating was a taboo or was officially prohibited for Buddhist beliefs from 675 to 1872 although some people secretly ate meat. Horses were raised for military and transport use. Cows were raised for transport, ceremonial and agricultural use.

Semi-natural grasslands are important to maintain biodiversity, but they have greatly declined in Japan. Many plant and insect species are threatened with extinction.

Prescribed burns are done in many areas, but may be delayed due to weather conditions. In the past, prescribed burns has caused several accidents in Japan.

 The mountain-burning event at Mount Omuro (大室山, Omuro-yama) in Ito City, Shizuoka Prefecture will be held on February 10th.
Mount Omuro was a producer of Japanese silver grass for thatched roofs. It is said that controlled burning in this area started to encourage new growth of them about 700 years ago.

The mountain-burning event at Akiyoshi-dai (秋吉台) in Yamaguchi Prefecture will be held on February 17th.
Akiyoshidai is the largest karst plateau in Japan and is thought to have been a primeval forest in ancient times. Although by the 19th century this area was already a grassland region, it's unknown when this event was started. Controlled burning was done to enrich the soil with ash, gather pasture, and prevent future fire. Now it's done mainly to maintain grassland and attract visitors.

Controlled burning(Noyaki) at Hiraodai(平尾台) in Fukuoka Prefecture will be done on February 24th. Hiraodai is a famous karst plateau.

The mountain-burning event at Sengokubara(仙石原) in Hakone, Kanagawa Prefecture will be held on March 8th. Sengokubara is also famous for its fields of susuki grass and was a place to gather susuki grass for thatched roofs.

Controlled burning(Noyaki) at Mount Sanbe(三瓶山, Sanbe-san) in Oda City, Shimane Prefecture will be done in late March.
According to a record, the local lord started to turn cattle out to graze in 1643. Controlled burning was restarted in 1989, cattle grazing was done in 1996. The moderate grazing pressure helps to maintain biodiversity. The area is being returned to its former appearance.

photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集
Tonomine highland

The mountain-burning event including a Japanese drum performance at the Tonomine highland(砥峰高原) in Hyogo Prefecture will be held on March 30th.

photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集
Tonomine highland
The highland is famous for its fields of susuki grass. It was a good place to gather susuki grass for thatched roofs.  A soil investigation has found that susuki fields appeared as a result of controlled burns several hundred years ago and bamboo grass had flourished before its appearance.

photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集
Tonomine highland

photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集
Tonomine highland

 a Japanese drum performance

photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集
Tonomine highland

photo by 神戸観光壁紙写真集
Tonomine highland

visitors watching the fire burn

Controlled burning(Noyaki) at Mount Aso (阿蘇山) in Kumamoto Prefecture will be done on February 10th and 17th.
The mount is the largest active volcano in Japan.  It is not clear when the event started.  There are notices about controlled burning issued by the Kumamoto Domain in 1859 and 1864. According to a law and regulation book completed in 927 AD, there was a cattle grazing land in Aso.
Now Aso's grassland is mainly used for grazing beef and dairy cattle and mowing pasture, but the number of cattle and the total grassland area are decreasing in Aso due to the increase of aging and part-time producers. Therefore, many volunteers help with controlled burns.

Yoshiyaki (reed burning) in the Watarase Retarding Basin(渡良瀬遊水地, Watarase Yusuichi) may be done in March of this year.
Watarase Yusuichi was built as the control basin for settling mineral poison on the prefectural borders between Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama, and Ibaraki Prefectures about a hundred years ago.
Almost the entire basin is filled with reeds. The basin has rich biodiversity due to its reed bed. Reed growers have mowed reeds for making screens. and have Controlled burning helps to protect and maintain biodiversity by inhibiting vegetation succession. The basin was inscribed as a registered wetlands under the Ramsar Convention in 2012.
After Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident in March 2011, reed burning has been on pause for two years. In March of this year, it may be done.

Ogiyama Fire Festival (扇山火まつり) is a mount-burning event held in Beppu City, Oita Orefecture on April 6th. Beppu Hatto Onsen Festival will be also held from April 1st to 7th.

Omiwatari by Kainoki Kaede /flickr
in 2012

 On January 22th, Omiwatari(御神渡り, The God's Crossing) appeared in Lake Suwa, Nagano Prefecture for the second consecutive year. It's cracks that form in the ice on Lake Suwa and appears only in the killer winter.
(More information about  Omiwatari can be found at

The oldest record of the phenomenon is described in a report from a Suwa Shrine's priest to the feudal government at the time in 1397. Omiwatari has been observed by Suwa Shrine every year since 1443 although its observation was interrupted several times.

Shinto priests judge a fortune about a good or bad harvest for the year by the traces of omiwatari.  On the 25th, the chief priest of Yatsurugi Jinja Shrine(八剣神社) divined the year's harvest by watching the traces. The result was that the crops will turn out slightly above average and hopeful signs in the world are looming. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Hatsukayasai in Hiraizumi

Hiraizumi(平泉) including Motsu-ji Temple(毛越寺) in Iwate Prefecture was registered as a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2011.
The principle image of Motsu-ji is Amida Nyorai (Amitabha Tathagatae), and the deity of Buddhist prayers called Matara-jin(摩多羅神) is enshrined in Jogyo-do Hall. The Matara-jin image is exhibited to the public once every 33 years. Local people have worshipped Matara-jin as the deity of crops since long ago.

A prayer for good health and agricultural fertility is offered to Matara-jin from January 14th to the 20th. On the last day, a festival called Hatsukayasai(二十日夜祭) is held.

Around 3.p.m., flowers are offered to Amida Nyorai and vegetables are offered to Matara-jin in the hall. Some rituals are held.


Around 7:30.p.m., people in their unlucky years (yakudoshi) head for the hall to offer vegetables. Men in their unlucky years strike torches together on the grounds of the temple. It's called Hitakinobori.

Ennen no Mai

From around 9.p.m. to midnight, the dance called Ennen no Mai(延年の舞) is performed in the hall. It has been designated a significant intangible folk cultural asset of the country.

photo by Iwate Tourism Association

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Japanese women writers from a thousand years ago

Utakai Hajime (歌会始, Imperial New Year's Poetry Reading) was held at the hall named Matsu-no-Ma(松の間) of the Imperial Palace on January 16. The reading of traditional tanka poetry is convened by the Emperor.  This year's theme was "ritsu(立)" and next year's theme is "sei(静)". "立" literally means "stand", but this character is used in various idioms. This ceremony includes only chants of traditional tanka poems.

Tanka (literally, short poems) is a type of waka poetry, and has a five-line poem with the 5-7-5-7-7 syllable structure. Choka (literally, long poems) generally consist of more than 10 to more than 20 lines with alternatively five and seven syllables and a couplet of seven syllables at the end. As choka (literally, long poems) became less popular, waka came to refer to tanka.

In connection with this ceremony, I am going to introduce several waka poems of Japanese women writers from a thousand years ago.  In the Heian period(794 to 1185), many women were active as writers although they were not professional writers.

Izumi Shikibu's poem included in Ogura Hyakunin-isshu

あらざらむ この世の外の 思ひ出に
今ひとたびの 逢ふこともがな
A-ra-za-ra-n Ko-no-yo-no-ho-ka-no
I-ma-hi-to-ta-bi-no A-u-ko-to-mo-ga-na

"I am going to die soon. As a memory to take to the afterlife, I am eager to meet you again."

Izumi Shikibu(和泉式部, c.976- ?) was one of Murasaki Shikibu's colleagues. She was well known as an excellent poet, and Murasaki Shikibu appreciated her talent in the Diary of Murasaki Shikibu. However, Izumi Shikibu had many love affairs. Murasaki condemned her as an immoral woman in it.

Koshikibu no Naishi(小式部内侍, 999-1025) was Izumi Shikibu's daughter.

She also served to Empress Shoshi as a lady-in-waiting and was known as a woman with many love affairs like her mother. She died in childbirth in her 20s.

Koshikibu no Naishi's poem included in Ogura Hyakunin-isshu

大江山 いく野の道の遠ければ
まだふみもみず 天の橋立
O-o-e-ya-ma I-ku-no-no-mi-chi-no To-o-ke-re-ba
Ma-da-fu-mi-mo-mi-zu A-ma-no-ha-shi-da-te

"One must cross over Mount Oe and pass through Ikuno before reaching Tango.It's a long way, so I haven't been to Amanohashidate yet. (I haven't received a letter from my mother.)"

Rumor had Izumi Shikibu ghostwrote for her daughter. A nobleman told her mockingly, "Did you send a messenger to Tango to ask your mother to ghostwrite a poem?" Izumi Shikibu was in Tango area. She replied to him with an excellent poem. Amanohashidate(天橋立) has long been known as one of famous viewing spots in Tango(current an area in Kyoto).

Akazome Emon's poem included in Ogura Hyakunin-isshu

やすらはで 寝なましものを 小夜更けて
かたぶくまでの 月を見しかな
Ya-su-ra-wa-de Ne-na-ma-shi-mo-no-wo
Ka-ta-bu-ku-ma-de-no Tsu-ki-wo-mi-shi-ka-na

"If I had known you wouldn't come, I would have gone to sleep immediately. The night fell and I saw the moon setting in the west (while waiting for you.) "

Akazome Emon(赤染衛門, c.956–1041) was also one of Murasaki Shikibu's colleagues. Murasaki shows her veneration for Akazome Emon in her diary. Akazome Emon was happily married and also had interactions with Sei Shonagon.

Eiga monogatari (栄花物語, A Tale of Flowering Fortunes) describes the lives of Fujiwara no Michinaga and his family. It is believed to have been written by a number of authors. Akazome Emon is thought to have written the first thirty volumes. This tale was written entirely in kana(Japanese syllabary characters). It was a history tale by women and for women.

Ise no Taifu's poem included in Ogura Hyakunin-isshu

いにしへの 奈良の都の 八重桜
けふ九重に にほひぬるかな
i-ni-shi-e-no na-ra-no-mi-ya-ko-no ya-e-za-ku-ra
kyo-u-ko-ko-no-e-ni ni-o-i-nu-ru-ka-na

"Double-flowered cherry blossoms from ancient capital Nara look beautiful in full bloom at the imperial court today."

Double-flowered cherry blossoms from Nara were presented to the Emperor. Although Ise no Taifu(伊勢大輔, c.989-c.1060) was a newcomer, she was chosen to receive the blossoms. Her predecessor was Murasaki Shikibu. She made up this poem on the spot by order of Michinaga.

Udaisho Michitsuna no haha's poem included in Ogura Hyakunin-isshu

なげきつつ ひとりぬる夜の 明くる間は
いかに久しき ものとかは知る
Na-ge-ki-tsu-tsu  Hi-to-ri-nu-ru-yo-no
I-ka-ni-hi-sa-shi-ki  Mo-no-to-ka-wa-shi-ru

"I spend lonely nights alone crying over you. How could you know how long the nights are?"

Michitsuna no haha /Udaisho Michitsuna no haha(右大将道綱母, c.935-995) was one of Fujiwara no Kaneie's eight wives and was Fujiwara no Michitsuna's mother. She is said to have been wondrous beautiful. She is famous as the author of the Gossamer Years(蜻蛉日記,Kagero Nikki). It is considered a forerunner of the women's diary genre, and greatly influenced the Tale of Genji.

Kaneie approached her enthusiastically, but he got tired of her soon. Her husband had his official wife and many mistresses. The form of marriage in those days involved commuting relationships.
She composed this poem shortly after she gave birth to Michitsuna around 20 years of age, in 955. She was furious when she found out he had taken another mistress. One day, He visited her for the first time in quite a while. He asked her to open the gate, but she didn't open it. He felt offended and went home.she sent him this poem with a withered chrysanthemum flower.

She was a jealous and temperamental woman. She resented her husband, was jealous of his official wife and loved her only child. She was far below Kaneie socially, so her son's promotion was delayed. Kaneie's official wife gave birth to powerful brothers, Fujiwara no Michitaka and Michinaga.

In her mid-thirties, 970, she secluded herself at Ishiyama-dera Temple in the 7th month after she had a falling out with Kaneie . He visited the temple in the 8th month and they got back together. The following year, she secluded herself at a mountain temple to enter a nunnery, but he got her back. She got over her husband, and came to expect from her son.

The following year, she adopted a girl between Kaneie and another woman. She moved outside the city and lost access to him. Her diary ended at around the age of 40. She died 20 years later, in 995.

In fact, she and Kaneie spent New Year's Day together every year until around 970. When she secluded herself at Ishiyama-dera, he joked to amuse her. Her sister laughed hugely, but she stopped herself from laughing. She was good at sewing. He sent her rolls of cloth before major events, and made her make formal costumes.

He was a member of the Fujiwara family with power, and took over a leadership position. Nevertheless, her diary were widely read among nobles.

Sugawara no Takasue no musume (菅原孝標女, 1008-c.1059) was Michitsuna no haha's niece, but Takasue no musume was born after Michitsuna no haha died.  She is known for her travel diary, the Sarashina nikki(更科日記).

We learn about classical Chinese and Japanese literature in high school. This diary appeared in my school text book. For high school students, this diary might be more suitable than other ones. I thought it was a tedious story in high school. I was only interested in erupting Mount Fuji in the diary. Now I feel close to her unspectacular life.

She grew up at her father's post, in Kazusa(current central Chiba Prefecture).  At the age of 13, his father finished out his term and she went to Kyoto in the company of him. She lost a sibling, got hooked on the Tale of Genji and other stories, served as a lady-in-waiting at the Imperial court, got married at around the age of 33, gave birth to three children, sought solace in religion, and lost her husband at the age of 51. Her diary ended at the age of 52.

Ki no Tsurayuki (紀 貫之, ?-945) was a famous male poet. He wrote the Tosa Diary in kana characters pretending to be a woman.  It's a story of travel from Tosa(current Kochi Prefecture) to Kyoto. It had great influence on the development of women's literature.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Murasaki Shikibu hated Sei Shonagon

Ogura Hyakunin-isshu used in the karuta competition is a famous poetry anthology and contains one hundred waka poems by hundred poets including Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部, c.970 or 973-c.1014 or 1025), Sei Shonagon(清少納言, c.966-1025).  The Tale of Genji was written by Murasaki Shikibu.
Sei Shonagon is also famous as the author of "the Pillow Book(枕草子, Makurano Soshi)." 

Both Murasaki Shikibu and Sei Shonagon were their court names. Their real names are unknown. Murasaki Shikibu's first court name was To Shikibu(藤式部) and To(藤) was named for her family name Fujiwara(藤原). Sei(清) in Sei Shonagon was also named for her family name Kiyohara(清原). Shikibu and Shonagon were derived from their fathers'(or brothers') official titles.

Sei Shonagon's poem on a karuta card
 Sei Shonagon's poem in Ogura Hyakunin-isshu

夜をこめて 鳥の空音は 謀るとも
よに逢坂の 関は許さじ
Yo-wo-ko-me-te   To-ri-no-so-ra-ne-wa
Yo-ni-o-u-sa-ka-no   Se-ki-wa-yu-ru-sa-ji

"If you say cock-a-doodle-doo before daybreak in order to deceive a gatekeeper(me) , the gate of a checkpoint will not open (I will never meet you.)"

This poem is based on a story in the Chinese ancient history book, the Records of the Grand Historian(史記.)

A poet's name and only the first phrase was written on the karuta card until the end of the Edo period.

Sei Shonagon's father, Kiyohara no Motosuke(清原 元輔) and her great-grandfather, Kiyohara no Fukayabu(清原 深養父), were famous poets and the anthology contains their poems.

When starting to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Empress Teishi at the imperial court around 993, Sei Shonagon was a divorced mother with a son. Empress Teishi's father, Fujiwara no Michitaka, had held power but died of illness in 995. His younger brother, Fujiwara no Michinaga, arrived in power. Michinaga used every available means to hold on power. Teishi's position became precarious when she lost the backing of powerful figures. Although she gave birth to a son in 999, she died in childbirth in 1001.

Shonagon abandoned her service at the court shortly after the empress's death. She got married again and gave birth to a daughter who served as a lady-in-waiting to Empress Shoshi later. She had interactions with some acquaintances including Izumi Shikibu, Akazome Emon after she left her position. From an Akazome Emon's poem we can see that she lived in her father's former dilapidated home in her later years.

It is thought that she started to write the Pillow Book around 996 and finished it between 1001 and 1010. It was the hardest time for Teishi and her, but her book tells on a happy note.

Murasaki Shikibu's poem on a karuta card
 Murasaki Shikibu's poem in Ogura Hyakunin-isshu

めぐりあひて 見みしやそれとも わかぬ間に
雲がくれにし 夜半の月かな
Me-gu-ri-a-i-te   Mi-shi-ya-so-re-to-mo
Ku-mo-ga-ku-re-ni-shi   Yo-wa-no-tsu-ki-ka-na

"It had been a long time since we had met, but you returned home as soon as I recognized you. You are like the moon late at night. It soon losts itself in the clouds."

This is a poem about a childhood friend who had not seen her for a while.
The friend came to say goodbye to her at the end of autumn before going far away. Her childhood friend probably accompanied her father(or husband) when he left for his new post.

Shikibu's father, Fujiwara no Tametoki(藤原 為時), was a mid-ranking aristocrat. He was a waka poet as well as a composer of Chinese poems. he was an antisocial person. Shikibu lost her mother in her infancy. Her father lost his position at the court, but his major source of income were his territory. He focused his efforts on her education. She learned the study of the Chinese classics.

In her late 20s, she got a proposal from a friend of her father's.  He had a son older than her and some mistresses.  She felt reluctant to marry him.  She accompanied her father when he left for his new post.  He continued approaching her while she stayed in the country. She spent only one year there.  After returning to Kyoto, she married him in 998.

The typical aristocratic lady in those years would marry in her mid-teens. There is one theory that it was her second marriage, but no evidence has been found to prove the hypothesis.

She gave birth to a daughter in 999, but her husband had entirely ceased to show up at her home. The form of marriage in those days involved commuting relationships. In addition, her husband died only three years after their marriage in 1001. His death left her in a daze. She felt insecure about her future.
After her husband's death, she started to write the tale to dispel the anxiety over her future and showed it to her friends. The tale became greatly talked about among people.

She started to serve as a lady-in-waiting to Teishi's rival and co-empress, Empress Shoshi in strong demand from Michinaga around 1005. The empress had several literary ladies-in-waiting.
Her colleagues included Akazome Emon(赤染衛門, c.956–1041), Izumi Shikibu(和泉式部, c.976- ?), Ise no Taiu(伊勢大輔, c.989-c.1060.)

Empress Shoshi gave birth two sons in 1008 and 1009.
Some say she became mistress to Michinaga during her service. The truth cannot be known.
It is generally believed that she finished the Tale of Genji and the Diary of Murasaki Shikibu in 1010.
She attended the imperial court at least until 1013.

In contrast to outgoing Sei Shonagon, Murasaki Shikibu was a reflective thinker. They were not acquainted, but Shikibu reckoned Shonagon as a rival. In the Tale of Genji, Shikibu criticized Sei Shonagon implicitly.

In the tale, Murasaki Shikibu says that the winter bright moon casting a beautiful light over the snowy landscape is not far behind from spring flowers and autumn leaves. The autumn moon has been praised since ancient times. The winter moon wasn't thought to be worth viewing, but it came to be praised.
This text invoked a poem by Sei Shonagon's father. He was a famous poet and praises the winter moon in his poem, but his daughter says the moon in the 12th month is tasteless in her Pillow Book. However, the description of the moon in the 12th month doesn't appear in the currently existing Pillow Book. (The 12th month in the lunar calendar corresponds approximately to January in the Gregorian calendar.)

Shikibu wrote about other ladies-in-waiting at court including Sei Shonagon in The Diary of Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部日記, Murasaki Shikibu Nikki.)  It is counted among diary literature which is a type of literature written like a diary.
In the diary, Shikibu makes a series of stinging remarks to Sei Shonagon:

"Sei Shonagon is very arrogant. She thinks herself so clever and litters her writings with Chinese characters, but when you look at them carefully you will find many errors. Those who want to behave as if they were superior to others will lower their reputation. Will their future be brighter?"

Talented women evoked envy and were greeted with hostility by many people.
It was common for men to read and write in Chinese characters, so most people have hard feelings toward a woman who could read Chinese classics. Shonagon expressed her talent openly. Due to the influence of medieval thought that talented women lead to misfortune, lots of anecdotes about Sei Shonagon's reduced circumstance were left behind.

Shikibu was concerned about what other people think of her, and she tried not to stand out. She was unwilling to serve at court.
However, she had a sense of humor. The Tale of Genji contains some humorous episodes. She had capacity for detached observation. Sometimes she sees things through men's eyes in the tale.
Some people say Shikibu had it in for Shonagon because she wrote something bad about Shikibu's husband in the Pillow Book.
Shonagon said nothing about Shikibu. She may not have been able to criticize Shikibu who was a MIchinaga's  favorite.
the statue of Murasaki Shikibu at Ishiyama-dera Temple in Shiga Prefecture:

According to legend, Murasaki Shikibu started writing the Tale of Genji or got ideas for it at the temple.

photo by 高画質壁紙写真集無料壁紙

Friday, January 4, 2013

karuta competition and ceremony

Ceremony of the First Karuta Play of the New Year is held on January 3rd at Yasaka-jinja Shrine(八坂神社) in Kyoto and on January 13th at Omi Jingu Shrine.

The annual karuta competition to decide the male and female champions in Japan will be held at Omi Jingu Shrine(近江神宮) in Shiga Prefecture on January 5th.  From 10:30 a.m.(Japan time), the event will be broadcast live on the Net. (Japanese version only)
(In order to use this video site, you must have a login account at this site.)

The competition is called Kyogi Karuta and played by the rule established by All-Japan Karuta Association. Karuta is a Japanese card game, but Kyogi Karuta is a kind of sports. Karuta players take the card at lightning speed.

This competition uses one hundred waka poem cards based on Ogura Hyakunin-isshu which is a famous poetry anthology selected by Fujiwarano Teika in the Heian period.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

New Year's Day 2013

Happy New Year! May the New Year bring many good things to you.

Ready-made New Year's dishes including many untraditional ingredients set in three-tiered boxes

confections for the New Year:
"Fukubukuro(lucky bag)" on which the character "寿" is written, "Hatsu-hinode(the first sunrise of the year), Shochikubai (pine, bamboo and plum trees)

According to the Chinese zodiac, 2013 is the year of the Snake. Most people don't have a good image of a snake.
In Japan, it has also been worshipped as the deity of fertility and the deity bringing rain since long ago.  The white snake was considered a messenger of the Hindu goddess Saraswati whose Japanese name is Benzaiten (弁才天, 弁財天). It is believed that it brings economic fortune.

大神神社 三輪明神 〆柱
大神神社 三輪明神 〆柱 by Mixtribe Photo /flickr

Omiwa Jinja Shrine(大神神社) in Nara Prefecture is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. Its enshrined deity is Omononushi-no-okami who is transformed from a snake and is considered to bring forth clouds and rain. So eggs, a favorite food of snakes, are offered to the deity. When I visited the shrine with a friend a long time ago, a small snake came with the aim of an egg. Then an elderly woman near me started to fold her hands and worship the snake. I was amazed.
We stayed at an inn located on the shrine's grounds and visited the shrine in the early morning. Many local worshippers payed their respects at the shrine. They were pious.

The shrine is not equipped with Honden (main shrine). Mount Miwa linking to the shrine is believed to contain the spirit of the deity. Visitors directly worship the mountain at Haiden (a hall of worship). I thought I understood why ancient people worshipped the mountain. It had a distinct personality.

I highly recommend walking along a path named Yamanobe no Michi(山の辺の道) including Omiwa Shrine, Isonokami Jingu Shrine (石上神宮), Chogaku-ji temple(長岳寺). It's an ancient route connecting the foots of some mountains in Nara Prefecture.

Isonokami shrine
Isonokami shrine by teaoka /flickr

 Isonokami Shrine has a long history and appears in the oldest history book "Kojiki" (712 AD) and in "Nihonshoki". When visiting the shrine in the off-season, there were no visitors. A priest explained "Kotodama(言霊)" fully.  Kotodama was usually the spiritual power believed to be contained within words in Japan.

We walked the route in early summer and ate Miwa Soumen(三輪素麺) at Chogaku-ji temple along the path. It's probably one of the best-tasting somen I've ever had.