Sunday, May 31, 2009

Rice planting the old way. Tauebayashi Matsuri

Spent a great morning today downriver in the village of Kawahira for the Tauebayashi matsuri.



Tauebayashi is a rice-planting worksong from this region of Japan, and kawahira is one of a handful of villages that still perform it. They performed it at last summers Horanenya Matsuri in Gotsu Honmachi

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In this first of four posts, the sequence of photos show the procession to the rice paddy to be planted.

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It was a full matsuri, with lots of tasty local food at cheap prices, no crowds, and very friendly people, all attributes of village matsuri's that I enjoy.

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I'll post more photos over the next few days.

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If your only experience of matsuri has been at some of the big, famous, city-based matsuri's, then you have missed a really wonderful part of Japan.

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Saturday, May 30, 2009

Mizuki Shigeru Road

I really enjoyed our afternoon in Sakaiminato, and as well as the collection of bronze yokai sculptures (a small selection of which you can see here, here, and here ) there are yokai all over the place.

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The trains on the JR Sakai Line, which connect Sakaiminato to Yonago, are decorated inside and out with scenes from Shigeru's stories.

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The street lamps around the station appear as Medama Oyaji, Daddy Eyeball.

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Halfway down the street there is even a faux "shrine" complete with ema.

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Paintings and drawings of yokai adorn the walls and even the sidewalks of the street

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Lining both sides of the street are shops selling yokai products of every conceivable type, masks, canned drinks, clocks, the usual range of Japanese omiage with yokai packaging. It was hard to find any type of product that wasn't made in a yokai form. When I next visit I intend to see if I can find some yokai condoms.

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There is also another large set of "negative space" sculptures on the street and at a nearby seaside park.

Finally, there is the Mizuki Shigeru Museum which has displays of Shigeru related materials, numerous screens showing anime, and yokai material from around the world collected by Shigeru.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Yokai Gallery 3

This is the third post on the yokai sculptures on the Mizuki Shigeru Road. Details in Yokai Gallery 1

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Salaryman Yamada is not, as far as I can tell, a yokai, but he is a character in Mizuki Shigeru's work, and is based on a friend of his.

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Omotogami is another name for Omotojin, also known as Kojin in neighboring Izumo. I was surprised to see it classified as a yokai as it is in fact a common kami in this part of the world. It is often known as an aragami, which is usuually translated as "rough deity", but I prefer the translation "turbulent deity", as it is a force of nature and quite capable of causing damage. More posts on Omoto here

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These are Shigeru's creation, Daruma and guts, and are based on the well-known Daruma, who was the Bodhidharma who brought Zen (Chan in Chinese) from India to China. In his common form he has no arms or legs as they have atrophied from years of sitting in meditation. In Shigeru's daruma, the little creatures are daruma's "guts", and if they are killed Daruma becomes weaker.
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Uwan is an invisible Yokai that inhabits old houses and temples. His shouts can only be heard inside the building. In the Edo period artists began painting images of various "invisible" yokai.

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Medama Oyaji is the father of Kitaro, Shigeru's most famous character. A ghost reborn as just an eyeball, the character is known as Daddy Eyeball in the english version. He loves to stay clean and is often found bathing in a bowl.

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Keukegen is completely covered in hair and is known to cause disease in humans. It inhabits damp, airless spaces, so the solution is to open windows and doors and allow some air circulation.

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Yamabiko is a tree spirit living in the mountains that creates the echoes you hear in the mountains.

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Syunobon is a yokai originally from Fukushima. When following you he appears human, but will startle you by reverting to his original form.

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Aonyoubou (Blue Wife) is a form of Goryu, an "angry ghost". The most famous Goryu is Michizane Sugawara, commonly known as Tennjin. Humans killed for political reasons are particularly prone to be angry ghosts.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Yokai Gallery 2

This is a follow on post from Yokai Gallery 1

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This is a Sazaeoni. A sazae is a shellfish known as Turban Snail in English. When a turban snail reaches 30 years of age it turns into a "turban snail ogre", sazaeoni. It can turn itself into a beautiful woman, and, as the story goes, when rescued from the sea by sailors will have sex with all of them but cut off the testicles afterwards.

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Housoushi was a kind of exorcist who used his four eyes to watch over the four directions and dispel invisible "pollution". He seems to be developed from a Chinese shaman/magician. There are still ceremonies held in several Kyoto shrines involving Houssoushi, but he somehow dissapeared or fell out of favor in the ninth century.

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Hyakume, literally "one hundred eyes", is a yokai that protects shrines from thieves. It is said that if you steal from a shrine then one of hyakume's eyes will chase after you until it attaches itself to you. It is possible that this is related to the symbol that was tattooed on convicted thieves.

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Rokurokubi during the daytime look just like normal people, but at night they can stretch their necks to tremendous lengths and seem to delight in scaring people, especially it is said, drunks. There are buddhist versions of Rokurokubi that actually were humans who broke buddhist precepts, and were more bloodthirsty and demonic than other Rokurokubi.

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Dorotabo was a hard-working farmer who died. His son who inherited the land was a bit of a wastrel who rather than work the land sold it off. Whenever the new owner tried to work in the paddies Dorotabo would emerge from the mud screaming "this is my land!!!". Interestingly his one eye maybe connected with ancient fertility rites, literally "the one-eyed trouser snake"!

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Isogashi is the Japanese word for "busy", and is an invisible spirit that possesses people and drives them to busyness. I know a lot of Japanese possessed by this yokai.

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If you've ever been walking down a dark country lane at night and felt as if you are being followed, but turn around and there is no-one there, chances are it is Betobetosan following you. The solution is to say "Betobetosan!... after you!" and he will pass you.

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Looking like a Harry Harryhausen creation, Kanibouzu was a giant crab that hid in a temple and took the form of a buddhist monk. Whenever people visited the temple he would kill and eat them.

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Hyoutoku is a variation of Kyotoko. In the story, a poor old couple meet a beautiful woman in the forest and she gives them a baby boy. They take him home and notice that the little boy is constantly poking his bellybutton until eventually gold starts coming out of it and the old couple become rich.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Yokai Gallery 1

Yokai is a very broad category of creature that includes monsters, goblins, demons, in fact all and every kind of supernatural being in Japanese folklore. One man who is largely responsible for keeping yokai alive in contemporary Japanese folklore is Mizuki Shigeru whose manga and subsequent anime, tv programs and full length movies introduce many of the classic yokai as well as creating many new ones.

Shigeru's hometown, Sakaiminato in Tottori, has created the Mizuki Shigeru Road in honor of him, and there are more than 100 bronze statues of yokai along an 800 meter stretch of road.

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The first statue just outside the station shows Mizuki Shigeru himself working at his desk. To the right is his most famous creation, the yokai Kitaro, though looking like a boy is actually 350 years old. Kitaro has appeared in 2 full-length movies. The yokai on the left is Kitaro's sidekick, Nezumiotoko (Ratman) who is almost as old as Kitaro and has never taken a bath so stinks.

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Kappas, the water -sprites appear several times along the road.

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The creature on the right is a Kirinjishi, and on the left is Shoujo, both characters are from old Chinese stories.

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Nurarihyon is a yokai from folklore that may have derived from stories of a large jellyfish. In modern stories he is considered to be the commander of all yokai, and has a habit of slipping into peoples houses while they are busy making dinner and helping himself to tea and tobacco.

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Momonjii is a kind of bogeyman that carries children off into the forest and is used by parents to threaten their misbehaving kids. Believed to derive from Momonga, a kind of small flying squirrel that turns into momonjii upon reaching old age.

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Gangikozou is a fish-eating water monster related to the kappa.

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Nuppeppo is probably from the Edo area, and to me looks like Mr Potatohead, but is actually a piece of dead flesh often found wandering in graveyards and temples.

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Originaly from China, the Baku has been in Japanese folklore for a thousand years. It is a dream and nighmare eater, and it has had varying forms over the years. Baku is also the Japanese word for Tapir, and modern renditions have the yokai appearing similar to a tapir.

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Nureonna has the body of a snake and the head of a woman. Exists in various sizes up to 300 meters in length, and often found on the seashore. has a habit of sucking all the blood from its victims.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Izanagi Shrine, Tenri

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Izanagi Shrine is located just across from the Sujin Kofun on Route 169 in Tenri, just a little off of the Yamanobenomichi.

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The shrine is mentioned in the Engishiki of the tenth Century, but at that time it was located in Yamada, southeast of its present site. It was moved here in 1641.

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Enshrined here along with Izanagi is Sugawara Michizane, commonly referred to as Tenjin.

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As often happened in the early years of Meiji, the shrine was renamed, but reverted to its original name after the end of WWII.

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There is also an Inari Shrine in the grounds.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Nichihara Town

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This is the draincover for Nichihara in Shimane, located on Route 9 about halfway between Masuda and Tsuwano. In 2005 it became part of Tsuwano. The design shows a catfish and some sweetfish (ayu). The Takatsu River that flows through Nichihara has a reputation for being one of the cleanest rivers in Japan, and a lot of people come here to fish for the sweetfish. Thats probably why the catfish is so happy.

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I passed through the town on a walk from Tsuwano to Masuda, and saw the draincover just in front of an abandoned Pachinko Parlor.

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The parlor is no longer there. Probably a convenience store or a new pachinko parlor has replaced it.

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According to ancient beliefs, a giant catfish that lives underground is responsible for causing earthquakes. A fascinating article on the catfish in Japanese folklore.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Leading the blind

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Japan first began to use raised "bumps" in the floor as a guide for the blind and partially-sighted in 1967--the first country to do so.

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They can now be found all over the country, in stations, public buildings, and on the sidewalk.

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There is still no country-wide standard, but the basic designs are "dashes" to indicate direction, and "dots" to indicate warning, i.e. a change of direction, platform edge, etc.

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A variety of materials are used, though a type of rubberised plastic is the most common. Metal is sometimes used.

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I find them a fascinating source of composition in photographs.

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