Sunday, August 31, 2008

Ichiyama Kids Kagura Matsuri

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Last night was one of my favorite matsuris. It was the Kids kagura matsuri in the nearby village of Ichiyama. We've been every year for the last 4 years, and as usual we had a great time.

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I enjoy it partly because its great to see kids focus their energies on something other than video games, TV, or martial baseball, but its also enjoyable because of the friendliness and hospitality of the village. Of course free sake is a draw, as well as 50yen yakitori! The first dance (photo above) is always the purification, Shioharae, and this is where the youngest kids start. This year the 4 dancers were all elementary school students.

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The second dance, the welcoming the kami, was performed by 2 10 year old boys who were a little more seasoned than the first 4.

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In between the dances the kagura group leader introduced some of the new costumes the group had acquired. They had received a grant from a foundation in Tokyo. The outfit above cost more than $8.000. Figuring in the pants, undershirt, wigs, masks, and other paraphenalia, a kagura dancer can be wearing up to $20,000 worth of costume. Mostly this is paid for by donations from the villagers.

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The canopy above the dancers is called a tengai, and the kami descend through the paper streamers to "possess" the dancers. The dancer in the Hachiman dance above is 14 years old.

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Of course, my favorites are the Oni,.. the demons, the ogres... with the continued depopulation of the villages, there are fewer kids to dance nowadays, so for some of the larger dances adults have to dance the parts.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Kannmai Matsuri



This short video was shot 2 weeks ago on the small island of Iwaishima. It shows the beginning of the Kannmai matsuri, as 2 rowboats, accompanied by a flotilla of gaily decorated fishing boats, head out to see to meet 3 boats coming from Kyushu carrying priests.

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The priests are from the village of Imi in Kyushu, and come here every 5 years fro the matsuri.

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The priests boats land on a beach in a bay on the other side of the island and perform a ceremony. In 886 a delegation of villagers were travelling back to Imi from Kyoto and were hit by a bad storm. They took shelter on Iwaishima and in gratitude for the help they received from the people on Iwaishima they performed ceremonies for the local kami, Kojin. This was the start of the Kannmai Matsuri which now occurs every 5 years.

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After the ceremony the boats form a convoy and head back to the harbor on the other side of the island. I counted more than 30 boats in total.

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At the harbor the villagers wait to greet the priests. The older women play shamisen, the young boys play drums, and there are 4 miko. All the men of the village are on the boats.

There now follows 3 days of kagura performances.

Previous post on Kannmai Matsuri

Friday, August 29, 2008

Monkey raid

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Sitting at my computer yesterday I heard a rustle in the persimmon tree just outside the screen door. An adult monkey had jumped into the tree to try and grab some unripe persimmons. As I moved to grab my camera he jumped back onto the fence.

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There were 4 other monkeys sitting on the fence, and as I went outside to try and get some photos they jumped down and ran back into the forest. The leader sat on the fence and watched me.

There are between 20 and 30 monkeys in the troop that live on my mountain. This was a raiding party of adults, no children.

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On the topic of monkeys allows me to post some photos I took while in the mountains of Miyajima. The deer is being preened by the monkey, probably for lice or some other such tasty morsel. A fine example of mutual assistance.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

Typical Japanese landscape 5

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The sun sets over a paddy of ripening rice.
This photo was taken in my village while walking to Bon Odori.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Matsubara Inari Shrine, Miyoshi

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Inari shrines are immediately recognizable by their "tunnels" of vermillion Torii. Inari is primarily the kami of rice harvest, but this one is in the middle of an urban area, surrounded by bars, snacks, restaurants, and other forms of "entertainment".

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This can be explained by the fact that Inari is the patron kami of geisha and prostitutes, and therefore shrines can often be found in the traditional "water trade" areas of town.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Nima Sand Museum (outside)

Nima Sand Museum

Driving along Route 9 as it passes through the town of Nima one is struck by a strange site;- 6 glass and steel pyramids rising out of the hillside. This is the Nima Sand Museum.

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Nearby is Kotogahama beach, known for its "singing sand".... actually it just squeaks when you walk on it, but that was the inspiration for the museum. The building was designed by Shin Takamatsu, who was born in Nima. The tallest pyramid was designed to be tall enough to be seen from his mother's gravesite.

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The main pyramid houses the world's largest sand timer, and other than that there is little to see inside the museum.

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However, the museum was featured in a hit TV drama, and that has provided the impetus for many to visit it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Millet harvest

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Harvesting pearl millet right now.

When I was a kid, millet was what you gave to the budgie! Later I discovered a health-food cookbook from the 1930's that had a recipe for millet souffle that I made often, so I was pleased to try and grow some millet.

It grows easily, and very quickly, reaching a height of 3 metres in a couple of months.

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Once its cut and dried, then the hard work of threshing must be done.

For all the pseudo-religious waffle one hears in Japan about rice, its worth noting that for most of Japanese history most Japanese ate little rice. A porridge made of 5 grains, rice, wheat, 2 types of millet, and "beans" was the staple, and of these millet has the longest history in Japan. It was grown by the Jomon a thousand years before the Japanese came to these islands.

Millet broom

We use it added into bread, and it also makes an excellent broom!! This one is still good after a years use.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Susano mask

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This is an Iwami kagura mask of Susano. Sometimes spelt Susanoh, sometimes Susano-O, sometimes Susano o mikoto. Susano appears in several kagura dances, but the most common, and most often performed as a finale, is the dance telling the story of his defeat of the 8-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi.

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According to Yamato mythology Susano is the brother of Amaterasu, and he was kicked out of the High Plain of Heaven for numerous bad deeds attributed to his violent temper. The dynasty founded by Susano existed long before the Yamato rose to power, and from the stories of him locally, a completely different Susano is portrayed. He was a Culture Hero who brought metal working and other technologies from the Korean peninsular, and promoted intercourse between western japan and Korea. In actual fact the stories have him first arriving in Iwami before he moved to Izumo and slayed the dragon. Ever since Susano's descendant, Okuninushi, gave Japan to the Yamato, they have been denigrating him, but he rightly deserves the title of Father of Japan.

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The mask is for sale, so please contact me or leave a message if interested.

Kagura Mask Index

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Beluga & Bridge.

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This is the official manhole cover for the City of Hamada, the capital of Iwami. It's population is a little over 60, 000, but most of those people live in nearby towns and villages that are now encompassed by Hamada's administrative district. Two of the main elements of the design are a Beluga whale, and the Great marine Bridge.

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The Beluga represents a pair that are the main attraction at nearby Aquas Oceanarium, the largest aquarium in western Honshu.

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The Great Marine Bridge is a 7 billion yen boondoggle that connects Hamad Port with the tiny island of Setgashima.

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Setogashima has a tiny fishing village. The island is already connected to the mainland by a 10 metre long bridge, so the Great Marine Bridge serves no function other than to generate profits fro the construction and engineering industry.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Japanese Historians


Japanese Historians and the National Myths, 1600-1945.
The age of the Gods and Emperor Jinmu.

John S. Brownlee

UBC Press
ISBN 9 780774806459
256pp


In front of Heian Shrine in Kyoto is a small sign in English giving a short history of the shrine, and one phrase jumped out at me.... "2660 years of Imperial rule".
This is of course a totally absurd number, with the current Imperial line MAYBE going back about 1600 years. It's the equivalent of stating that Columbus discovered America in the 4th Century and not the 15th Century.
The date of 660BC comes from the Kojiki, a book written in the early 8th Century to justify the Yamato Clan's rise to power, and to "correct" false versions of history. The early part of the Kojiki concerns itself with the founding myths of Japan, but even nowadays the Kojiki is treated as history by some, in a way some people view the Bible as history.
Brownlee's excellent book looks at how Japanese historians have dealt with the founding myths since 1600, when a new generation of neo-Confucian scholars discovered that the dates used in the Kojiki were completely inaccurate. In the later Edo-period, a new school of thought arose called Kokugaku, National Learning, and they sought to return to a "pure" Japanese thought before the introduction of Chinese thought and culture. They believed the myths were historical truth. When the Meiji Restoration occured, and the new government attempted to create a new Japan based firmly on the Imperial institution, they adopted the Kokugaku view. From then until the 1930's, historians were intimidated, pressured, and coerced, until every single Japanese historian claimed publicly that the founding myths were historical truth.
The chapter on notable Japanese historians of the 1930's examines in details the lives of these men and how they succumbed to the nationalism that drove Japan.
There is an epilogue that looks at the situation in post-war japan, and this could be a book of its own, as even though scholarship is no longer so tightly controlled by the State, education is, and the national myths still occupy a position that overlaps into history. February 11th, the date the Kojiki gives for tyhe ascension of Jimmu, is still the National Foundation Day, a brief look at Japanese tourist websites will reveal that Jimmu is written about as the "first Japanese Emperor", not the mythical first Emperor, and a recent Junior High School history text book has a map of Jimmu's advance from Kyushu to the Kinai, without making it clear that this is myth, and not history.
Excellent book providing background material to the current problems with Japanese school history books.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Not Harajuku!!

Not Harajuku 1

Harajuku is a neighbourhood of Tokyo renowned for it's young Japanese cosplayers who hang out there. It has become one of the "must see" sights for tourists to Japan. I've never actually been to Harajuku. Never actually been to Tokyo. It is my intention to never visit Tokyo.

Not Harajuku 2

Anyway, it may look like these photos were taken in Harajuku, but in fact they were taken on Iwaijima, a tiny island of 500 souls off the south coast of Yamaguchi. And these boys are not cosplayers, but participants in a sacred ritual that dates back more than 1,100 years!

Not Harajuku 3

They are part of the crew of huge rowing boats that sail out to sea to meet and guide 3 boats that have come from Kyushu, bringing Shinto priests to the island for a week of ceremony and matsuri that occurs every 5 years.

Just got back from a fantastic 2 days there,... took 500 photos,... experienced some wonderful hospitality...... will post more later.....

Another post with video

Friday, August 15, 2008

Bon Odori



The population of the village has doubled in the past few days. This is O Bon, somewhat similar to the Mexican Day of the Dead, the time that the spirits of the ancestors return to their earthly homes. There is a mass exodus from the cities as children, and grandchildren, return to their home villages. Gravestones have been washed and cleaned, and in our village a matsuri is held.

Bonodori 1

There are food stalls, games, and of course. kagura. First off the kids performed a couple of dances, then it was time for the village group to dance.

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The Ebisu dance is always popular at matsuri's, as he throws bucketfulls of candy out to the kids in the audience.

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And of course the Yamata no Orichi dance where Susano battles the eight-headed serpent.

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But the main event of the night is the Bon Odori. Every region has their own version of the dance, but it usually involves the villagers dancing in a circle around a central platform that holds the drummer and singers.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Kannon Falls

Kannon Falls 1

When we have visitors and it's hot, instead of heading to the beach to cool off we usually head to a waterfall. There are a lot of waterfalls in our area, and the highest, and also the most accessible is Kannon Falls.

Kannon Falls 2

Located up a small valley that runs down to the Gonokawa river at the village of Shikaga, the falls are about 400 metres up a pleasant path that follows the stream dappled in the sunlight filtering through the trees. The falls are more than 50 meters high, and end in a largish pool that is waist-deep in the middle.

Kannon Falls 3

It's a popular place in the summer and there are usually several families there, splashing, picnicing, and fishing, though no locals come here after dark as long ago a woman climbed to the top of the falls and committed suicide by jumping, so it is believed her ghost haunts the area.

Kannon Falls 4

The falls are named for Kannon, the Japanese name for the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, and there is a small shrine to her near the base of the falls. Note the figure of the Virgin Mary in the bottom right. In parts of east Asia, and among Japan's "hidden christians", Kannon was equated with the virgin mary, allowing them to appear to be worshipping the buddhist Goddess, but secretly worshiping Mary.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Typical Japanese landscape 4

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For most of the year dawn finds Japan's steep valleys filled with mist.
This photo was taken on an early morning hike in the hills above Ichiyama village

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Shrines in Temples ?

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In contemporary Japan there is a hard distinction between shrines and temples. Shrines are shinto, and temples are buddhist. This distinction came about when the government "seperated" the buddhas and the kamis in the late 19th Century.

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In my opinion it was a bit like trying to unscramble eggs, as for most of Japanese history the religious practises were a hybrid of various local cults mixed in with buddhism, daoism, confucianism, and other influences from Korea and even India.

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All these photos are from 2 buddhist temples in Miyoshi, Hiroshima. The top photos shows a small Inari shrine. The second photo is intriguing, anbd I haven't been able to find out anything about the figure, but the gohei (wand with paper streamer) indicates this is a shinto shrine.

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As buddhism was adopted by the ruling families in central Japan they used it to extend their control over the whole of Japan. As buddhism became more commonplace, temples were built next to shinto shrines so that the buddhist priests could pray for the kami and lead them to enlightenment. Later, shrines were built inside the grounds of the temples and the kami used to protect the temples. The first record of this latter type of shrine-temple was here in Miyoshi.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Grand Toit (inside part 2)

A walk from Tsuwano to Masuda 7218

The inside of Shimane Arts center in Masuda, known as Grand Toit, has always fascinated me each time I visit.

An evening in Masuda 1272

The floors and walls are of highly-polished wood, so that with the changes in light due to the passing of the seasons, the time of day, and the weather, create an everchanging display of reflections.
An evening in Masuda 1286


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