Friday, October 30, 2009

October means Matsuri. Matsuri means Kagura. Part 7


For our next matsuri we again headed downriver, this time on the opposite bank to Kawahira. The shrine, like most shrines round here, is at the top of a small hill necessitating a climb. From the top of the hill the sound of the matsuri can be heard all over the village down below.

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The harvest matsuri is quite small in Kawahira, the village puts much more effort into the Rice Planting Festival (Tauebayashi) . We came here a few years ago for the Omoto kagura, and the villagers were very friendly and welcoming. This time, after we sat down, the village headman came over and put his forehead to the floor and thanked us profusely for visiting his humble village.

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The village kagura group is quite small, and the dancers are relatively speaking quite old. The first dance we saw involved quite a "portly" dancer.

Recently several visitors have asked if the swords they use in the dances are real. Well, obviously they are not sharpened, but they are made of steel, and I'm always surprised that with the frenetic swordfights in many dances that no-one gets slashed.

This time an accident happened. One of the dancers hands started gushing blood. Someone ran in and wrapped about 2 meters of sellotape around his hand and the dance continued.

After the dance he was taken to hospital for stitches, and being such a small group the loss of one dancer meant a rejigging of the schedule.

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A couple of dances later was "Yorimasa". and the main feature of this dance involves several vicious monkeys playing havoc with the audience. Just before the monkeys entrance I stood up at the back to get a good shot of the monkeys entrance from behind the curtain, and almost jumped out of my skin as one of the monkeys burst in to the shrine from behind me.

The monkeys charge in and out of the audience, stealing food from the audience members, sometimes wrestling with them too.

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The main thing they do though is go for the babies and very young children, grabbing them and running away with them. If the child or baby screams in terror the audience, and particularly the mother, are all smiles.

Monday, October 26, 2009

This evening's sunset

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As I've mentioned before, where we live is in a narrow valley, so we rarely get to see sunsets, so when we get the chance to see one it's a little special.

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Driving home today we pulled in at Kuromatsu around that time.

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Saturday, October 24, 2009

My Sky Hole.85

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My Sky Hole.85 is a large public sculpture by world-renowned Japanese artist Inoue Bukichi.

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It's one of a large sequence of works titled, not unsurprisingly, My Sky Hole. This one was completed in 1985

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It's located outside of the Wel City building in Hiroshima, a few hundred metres from the Peace Park.

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He was born in Nara in 1930, and died in 1997. There is another of his works in Hiroshima.

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

October means Matsuri. Matsuri means Kagura. Part 6

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We headed downriver to Matsukawa, the village of Oda, who have their matsuri during the daytime.

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The village no longer has its own kagura group, so Kamiko Kagura group from Hamada were playing.

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The dance being performed when we arrived was Gojin, concerning the 5 elements played out as 5 kami with territorial disputes. One of the kami is a buffoon, seen here with a long trail of green snot hanging from his nose. The group leader told us that Gojin was traditionally the final dance in a kagura performance, but nowadays the finale is usually Yamata no Orochi, as it was today.



It was a really great performance of the dance, unusually with all 8 serpents. It's one thing to see this dance performed on a stage, quite another to literally have it in your face. This first video shows some of the choreoraphed dance of the 8 snakes. As far as I know there is nothing else like this anywhere else in japan. If anyone has seen anything like this, please let me know.



This next video shows Susano battling the serpents. At one point he seems to be overpowered, but fear not, he triumphs.

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2 of the heads of the serpent were laid right at our feet.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Typical Japanese Landscape 24

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The view from the top of Sangaisan (378m) looking SW towards Taimasan.

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Looking SE, inland towards Kanagi.

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NE along the coast towards Gotsu.

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Looking down over the university and port at Hamada.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Back to Water Country

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We had some friends from upcountry visiting this weekend, so we took them to our favorite museum, Mizunokuni.

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A strong contender for the Least Visited and Most Underrated Museum in Japan, as usual we were the only people there.

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Lots more posts on Mizunokuni can be found here

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Everyone we've taken there has really enjoyed it. I'm guiding for 3 groups in the next few weeks so will be going back.

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Saturday, October 17, 2009

October means Matsuri. Matsuri means Kagura. Part 5

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After Ichiyama matsuri we stopped in at Kawado, the village just across the river from mine, for the last matsuri of the night.

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I've watched hundreds of kagura dances, and yet am still learning something new almost everytime I see a dance. Every village has developed their own variations on the dances and stories, and I suppose I have also become more knowledgable about details.

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The last dance we watched was Shoki, a 2 person dance with Shoki and a single demon.

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Shoki was a "demon-quelling" Chinese God who has become equated with Susano in Japan. The Susano and Shoki masks are interchangeable, though here at Kawado Shoki did not where a mask at all.

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I learned an interesting thing about Kawado's version of Shoki. The person chosen to play Shoki is not set. It is chosen each year by the group depending on whoever has had good fortune that year. Usually that means someone who has gotten married or had a child. This years dancer had recently celebrated the birth of his fourth child.



In this video there is something I hadn't seen before. After the demon has pranced about the stage, Shoki climbs up and starts shaking the tengai over the demon. The tengai is the canopy over the kagura stage, and the kami descend through the paper streamers to possess the dancers.

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Heights of Eternal Hope for the Future

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Miraishin no Oka is a 5,000 sq. m. sculpture park on the hilltop overlooking Kosan-Ji on Ikujima, a small island in the Inland Sea off Hiroshima.

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The brainchild of Environmental sculptor Kazuto Kuetani, all the sculptures and the marble that coveres the hillside was shipped from the Carrera quarry in Italy, where he has worked for the past 18 years.

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The only way to visit the hill is through Kosan-Ji, which charges 1,200 yen entrance, but what you get for that price is quite astounding.

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On a sunny day the hilltop is blinding. There is also an Italian restaurant in the park.

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The island can be reached easily from Ehime Prefecture in Shikoku or Ohnomichi Town in Hiroshima.

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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kobe Maritime Museum

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The Kobe Maritime Museum is located in Meriken Park next to the Kobe Port Tower.

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Built in 1987, and designed by the cities Harbor Maintenance Group, it's most dominating feature is the roof constructed of white pipe in the form of sails.

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I didn't go inside, but I've heard that as maritime museums go it's not that great, the displays being nearly all models and not real boats.

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It's open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday thru Sunday, and entrance is 600 yen for adults, 300 for kids.

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While I was there a storm approached and the dark cluds gave me a dramatic background for the photos.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October means Matsuri. Matsuri means Kagura. Part 4

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Ichiyama Hachimangu is a much bigger shrine than the one we just visited over the river in Eno. We come to most matsuris at Ichiyama as a friend, Toshi, dances there.

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When we got there they were still dancing Iwato.

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Toshi dances the character Ame no Koyane, the mythical ancestor of the Nakatomi. Its quite a hard part to dance as Koyane is an old man so the dancer must move and dance with bent legs all the time.

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Toshi danced in the next dance too, which must have been tough as kagura dancing is a hard workout. He played Hachiman's sidekick in the Yumi Hachiman dance.

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Around 2 a.m., not long after the demons entrance we headed off to the next matsuri....

Monday, October 12, 2009

October means Matsuri. Matsuri means Kagura. Part 3

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Our next matsuri was in Eno, a small village on the Yato River. This was our first time to matsuri here. It's a fairly new shrine, established under the orders/instructions of Omotojin during shamanic possession at Omoto kagura across the river in Ichiyama. Next month there will be Omoto Kagura here.

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The matsuri was well attended! After sitting down we were given 2 steaming bowls of wild boar stew, and later warmed Omiki, the sacred sake. :)

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The first dance after the ceremonial dances (shinji) was Iwato.

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Something I've never seen before in performances of Iwato was that during Uzume's dance the other "kami" joined in playing the intruments.

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Playing before the home crowd is always tough as locals are the toughest critics.

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The next dance was Yumi Hachiman with the usual spectacular demons entrance. Around midnight we had to leave as there were 2 more matsuris to visit this night.

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