Tuesday, September 29, 2009

In the Wake of Lafcadio Hearn. Part 2

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"From the caves of the Kami we retrace our course for about a quarter of a mile; then make directly for an immense perpendicular wrinkle in the long line of black cliffs. Immediately before it a huge dark rock towers from the sea, whipped by the foam of breaking swells. Rounding it, we glide behind it into still water and shadow, the shadow of a monstrous cleft in the precipice of the coast."

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"And suddenly, at an unsuspected angle, the mouth of another cavern yawns before us; and in another moment our boat touches its threshold of stone with a little shock that sends a long sonorous echo, like the sound of a temple drum, booming through all the abysmal place. A single glance tells me whither we have come."

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"Far within the dusk I see the face of a Jizo, smiling in palestone, and before him, and all about him, a weird congregation of grey shapes without shape--a host of fantasticalities that strangely suggest
the wreck of a cemetery. From the sea the ribbed floor of the cavern slopes high through deepening shadows hack to the black mouth of a farther grotto; and all that slope is covered with hundreds and
thousands of forms like shattered haka. But as the eyes grow accustomed to the gloaming it becomes manifest that these were never haka; they are only little towers of stone and pebbles deftly piled up by long and patient labour."

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"'Shinda kodomo no shigoto,' my kurumaya murmurs with a compassionate smile; 'all this is the work of the dead children.'"

"And we disembark. By counsel, I take off my shoes and put on a pair of zori, or straw sandals provided for me, as the rock is extremely slippery. The others land barefoot. But how to proceed soon becomes a puzzle: the countless stone-piles stand so close together that no space for the foot seems to be left between them."

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"'Mada michiga arimasu!' the boatwoman announces, leading the way. There is a path."

"Following after her, we squeeze ourselves between the wall of the cavern on the right and some large rocks, and discover a very, very narrow passage left open between the stone-towers. But we are warned to be careful for the sake of the little ghosts: if any of their work be overturned, they will cry. So we move very cautiously and slowly across the cave to a space bare of stone-heaps, where the rocky floor is covered with a thin layer of sand, detritus of a crumbling ledge above it. And in that sand I see light prints of little feet, children's feet, tiny naked feet, only three or four inches long--the footprints of the infant ghosts."

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"Had we come earlier, the boatwoman says, we should have seen many more. For 'tis at night, when the soil of the cavern is moist with dews and drippings from the roof, that They leave Their footprints upon it; but when the heat of the day comes, and the sand and the rocks dry up, the
prints of the little feet vanish away."

Text by Lafcadio Hearn. Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894)
Photos by Ojisanjake More Glimpses of Unfamilar japan (2009)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

On the path to being Tarento....

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We had a rehearsed spontaneous visit from a BSS TV crew last Friday. When we first moved here we were on TV 3 or 4 times, but not for a few years.

This crew was travelling around Japan making a program on empty houses.

Apparently 1 in 8 houses in japan are empty.

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As we had moved into an empty house they were interested to see what we've done in terms of remodelling, redecorating etc.

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They seemed particularly interested in Yoko making some pumpkin muffins..... and then me eating them.

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The program is scheduled to air nationwide at the end of October or early November.

Then I shall sit back and wait for the flood of calls inviting me onto more TV shows.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tsukubai at Mitaki Dera

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Tsukubai, literally "stooping basin" are small stone basins associated often with Tea Ceremony. They differ from the Temizuya found at Shinto shrines in that they are small, low to the ground, and usually with only a single dipper.

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Their function is similar to Temizuya, used for purification. The water usually enters the basin through a bamboo spout. This new one was built just outside the toilets.

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All of these Tsukubai are at Mitaki Dera, my favorite site in Hiroshima.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

In the wake of Lafcadio Hearn. part 1

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"We cross the broad opening of the bay, journey along another half-mile of ghastly sea-precipice, and finally make for a lofty promontory of naked Plutonic rock. We pass by its menacing foot, slip along its side, and lo! at an angle opens the arched mouth of a wonderful cavern, broad, lofty, and
full of light, with no floor but the sea. Beneath us, as we slip into it, I can see rocks fully twenty feet down. The water is clear as air."

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"This is the Shin-Kukedo, called the New Cavern, though assuredly older than human record by a hundred thousand years."

"A more beautiful sea-cave could scarcely be imagined. The sea, tunnelling the tall promontory through and through, has also, like a great architect, ribbed and groined and polished its mighty work. The arch of the entrance is certainly twenty feet above the deep water, and fifteen wide; and trillions of wave tongues have licked the vault and walls into wondrous smoothness."

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"As we proceed, the rock-roof steadily heightens and the way widens. Then we unexpectedly glide under a heavy shower of fresh water, dripping from overhead. This spring is called the o-chozubachi or mitarashi [1] of Shin-Kukedo-San.. From the high vault at this point it is believed that a great stone will detach itself and fall upon any evil-hearted person who should attempt to enter the cave. I safely pass through the ordeal!"

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Suddenly as we advance the boatwoman takes a stone from the bottom of the boat, and with it begins to rap heavily on the bow; and the hollow echoing is reiterated with thundering repercussions through all the cave. And in another instant we pass into a great burst of light, coming from the mouth of a magnificent and lofty archway on the left, opening into the cavern at right angles. This explains the singular illumination of the long vault, which at first seemed to come from beneath; for while the opening was still invisible all the water appeared to be suffused with light. Through this grand arch, between outlying rocks, a strip of beautiful green undulating coast appears, over miles of azure water. We glide on toward the third entrance to the Kukedo, opposite to that by which we came in; and enter the dwelling-place of the Kami and the Hotoke, for this grotto is sacred both to Shinto and to Buddhist faith.

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"Here the Kukedo reaches its greatest altitude and breadth. Its vault is fully forty feet above the water, and its walls thirty feet apart. Far up on the right, near the roof, is a projecting white rock, and above the rock an orifice wherefrom a slow stream drips, seeming white as the rock itself."

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"This is the legendary Fountain of Jizo, the fountain of milk at which the souls of dead children drink. Sometimes it flows more swiftly, sometimes more slowly; but it never ceases by night or day. And mothers suffering from want of milk come hither to pray that milk may be given unto them; and their prayer is heard. And mothers having more milk than their infants need come hither also, and pray to Jizo that so much as they can give may be taken for the dead children; and their prayer is heard, and their milk diminishes."

"At least thus the peasants of Izumo say."

"And the echoing of the swells leaping against the rocks without, the rushing and rippling of the tide against the walls, the heavy rain of percolating water, sounds of lapping and gurgling and plashing, and sounds of mysterious origin coming from no visible where, make it difficult for us to hear each other speak. The cavern seems full of voices, as if a host of invisible beings were holding tumultuous converse.
"

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Text by Lafcadio Hearn. Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894)
Photos by Ojisanjake More Glimpses of Unfamilar japan (2009)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Scary protectors

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It took me a long time to find out about this statue as I can find nothing similar anywhere else. It is located in Mitaki Dera, my favorite site in Hiroshima City. Many people refer to it as a Nio, but it is not. It is one of the Shitenno, the 4 Heavenly Kings.

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Originally Hindu deities, in Japanese buddhism the shitenno are associated with protection of the 4 directions. Tamonten, also known as Bishamonten, is probably the most well known of the shitenno. Which of the four this one is I don't know.

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The clue that it is a shitenno and not a nio is that under its foot, and in this particular statue also being hurled from its left hand, are Jaki ( or Jyaki), a type of demon or malevolent spirit.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

From the forest

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Kuri, Japanese Chestnuts, are starting to fall from the trees now. It's an indigenous tree of the Japanese islands, and the nuts have been consumed for thousands of years. Along with bamboo shoots and mushrooms, it is one of the most avidly harvested wild foods and people rarely divulge the location of their favorites trees. Kurigohan, rice cooked with chestnuts, is a common dish at this time of the year, and kuri are used extensively in sweets and confectionery.

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These not particularly appetizing-looking fruits are Akebi, with the curious name of Chocolate Vine in English. Not collected much anymore as they are not very sweet and mostly seeds, but were popular in earlier times when the Japanese had less sugar in their diet. The bears and monkeys continue to love them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Almost the 7 Lucky Gods of Japan

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I found this eclectic tableau at the entrance to Suisei-en on the yamanobenomichi.

The figure on the far left is Hotei, one of Japan's 7 Lucky Gods (Shichi Fukujin), and is associated with abundance and good health. He came from China where he is named Budai, and is also known as the laughing Buddha, which is the name I associate him with as I had a small statue of him when I was young.

The gentleman in the middle back is Fukurokuju, another member of the Shichi Fukujin, and he is associated with wisdom and longevity and probably derives from a Chinese star God, Shou.

To the right stand 2 tanuki, who are not gods or kami, but have existed in Japanese folklore since ancient times as shape-shifters. They are also associated with good fortune.

In the center are Daikoku and Ebisu, both members of the Shichi Fukujin and often equated with Okuninushi and Kotoshironushi. Daikoku is the god of wesalth, commerce , and trade, and is derived from the Hindu God Shiva. Ebisu is the god of fishing and merchants, and is usually believed to be the only one of the Shichi Fukujin not from India or China.

The 2 snakes in the front I'm not sure about. Snakes have many connotations in Japan, especially water, so they may be representations of Benzaiten, one of the Shichifukujin associated with music, art, and eloquence. Based on a Hindu River God, Saraswati.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Garden views.

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I was struck by the late afternoon sun shining through the leaves of the satoimo plants.

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Called taro in English, they still have a month or more before we dig up them up.

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The unused land around my riverside garden was taken over this year by a neighbor who planted sesame as a cash crop.

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Called goma in Japanese, he is hoping to make a good income from it.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Kobe Port Tower

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Opened in 1963, the Kobe Port Tower soon became a symbol of the city of Kobe.

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Designed by the Nikken Sekkei Company, the design is based on a Japanes drum, the Tsuzumi, and was the first tower built using a pipe lattice.

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The tower is 108 metres high, and the observation platform is at 90 metres.

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The tower is open every day of the year and entrance is 600 yen.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Hikawa Town

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Hikawa Town lies along the Hi River (Hikawa) in Izumo.

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The red iron sand of the Hi was one of the earliest sources of domestic iron production in Japan, and the site of the Yamata no Orochi legend, both associated strongly with Susano.

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The design of the manhole cover is of Dotaku, bronze bells from the late Yayoi Period (2nd and 3rd centuries) and reflect the large number of archeological sites associated with this ancient part of Japan.

Not much is known for sure about dotaku, though they were probably ritual objects used in early agricultural rites, and that they were introduced, like so much in early Japan, from Korea.

They have been excavated all over Japan, usually singly, but not far from Hikawa at Kamo Iwakura, a cache of 39 were discovered.

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I took the photo ofthe manhole cover at the entrance to Kojindani, an archeological site even greater than Kamo Iwakura. Bronze ritual swords were also used in similar ways to dotaku, and all over Japan more than 300 of these swords had been excavated in total. At Kojindani in 1984, 358 swords were uncovered in one spot!!!

The importance of Izumo as an early political and cultural center of ancient Japan was underscored.

There is a small museum at Kojindani, but the 385 swords themselves are on display at the nearby Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo.

Monday, September 7, 2009

More Yosakoi

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Posting the pictures of the Yosakoi last weekend prompted me to dig out some old photos from the Kawamoto matsuri 4 or 5 years ago.

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I watched a program on TV last night from this years big Yosakoi Matsuri in Kochi City. Most of those groups were large and danced in formation as they paraded down the streets.

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These groups at the kawamoto matsuri tended to be small, much younger, and danced in a style much closer to pop or rock.

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One thing common to all Yosakoi dancing though is that you have to have fun. Or at least appear to have fun.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ways to play the Taiko

There are many different ways to play the Taiko, the Japanese big drum.

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You can play it while seated.

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Sometimes you might need to stand.

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Some choose to sit on it.

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You can play in a line with friends.

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You can even play it with your child asleep upon your lap.

All the photos are from the Kawamoto Matsuri 5 years ago.

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