Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Aki Nada Island Hopping


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The Aki Nada Islands are a chain of islands in the Inland Sea off the coast of Hiroshima Prefecture that run approximately from near Kure to near Takehara. A series of bridges have been constructed that link the islands to each other and to the mainland so now it is possible to drive, cycle, or in my case walk from island to island. The Aki Nada Ohashi bridge connect the mainland to Shimo Kamagari Island.

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This bridge connects Shimo Kamagari Island to Kami Kamagari Island. Shimo and kami mean "lower" and "Upper" and refers to which is closer to Kyoto as this was the main transportation route between Kyushu, Western Japan and the old capital.

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Kamikamagari connects to Teshima. Not to be confused with another Teshima further east in the Inland Sea off Hyogo. That Teshima has become quite well known as an "Art Island" and when I booked a room at a minshuku on this Teshima they wanted to double-check that I wasnt confusing it with the other Teshima.

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Teshima connects to Osaki Shimozima. There is a little bit of fishing on the islands but they are too steep to support agriculture but all the islands now grow a lot of oranges on the steep slopes.

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A very short bridge connect Osakishimozima to Tairajima, a small uninhabited island.

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Tairajima to Nakanoshima.

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And finally, with an almost carbon copy of the previous bridge, Nakanoshima connects to Okamura Island which is in Ehime Prefecture.

The largest of the Aki Nada islands, Osakikamijima, lies to the north and is only accessible by ferry.

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 8


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Last Saturday was the opening night of our villages matsuri and matsuri begins in the evening with ceremonies in the shrine. Most shrines do not have a resident priest, for ceremonies a priest comes in from a nearby shrine, but we do have a resident priest. Few people attended the ceremony:- a few of the kagura group, the village elders, and a handful of others.

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Once the ceremony was over the braziers were lit, food began to be cooked, and people started to arrive and take their places in the shrine......

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The first dance was the Bell dance, and strangely last week was the first time I remember seeing it for the first time and here it was again. The photo shows clearly how important the hands are in kagura dancing...

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Next up was Shioharai, the Purification dance, by two dancers, and if you look at the dancer on the left you can see he is certainly not Japanese. he is an American musician who has been staying with us studying kagura and Omoto. We arranged for him to sit in on the groups practises and they suggested that if he practised he would be able to dance for the matsuri, so with a week of solid practise, extra lessons from one of the young group members, and some help from aneighbor who used to dance the Shioharai he was able to pull it off...

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Next up it was the kids turn with Hachiman, and the young lad playing Hachiman was particularly confident and strong....

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In fact all four kids did an excellent job so with such strong talent in the younger generation it seems that our villages group will continue indefinetley, unlike some villages who have no kids filling the ranks...

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Komainu of Shikoku


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Historically komainu, the pair of guardian statues at most shrines and some temples, have gone by various names,... shishi and kara shishi are two common ones. What fascinates me is the incredible diversity of styles which unfortunately is slowly disappearing with the spread of a standard "national" style.

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These first two photos are from Oasahiko Shrine near the first temple of the Shikoku Pilgrimage.

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This one was at a small unnamed shrine in a village near temple 4.

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This one was at the Ichinomiya in Tokushima City

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This last one was at a small Hachimangu close to the Hasso Daishi chapel

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Akiyoshi Inari


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This is one of the most aesthetically pleasing and also unusual torii that I can remember seeing.

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It is at the entrance to Akiyoshi Inari Shrine in Mine City, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

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It was a very atmospheric shrine located in the forest. Unfortunately there was no signboard and nothing written about it on the net so not much to say.....

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 7


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Last saturday the villages of Matsukawa had their matsuris, so we started out in Tsuchi, home to one of the best kagura groups in the area, and the teachers of our own villages kagura group.

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The night opened with a ceremonial dance, Suzu Kagura, bell kagura. I dont remember ever having seen it before, and the two main sources on Iwami Kagura in English dont mention it, but those books were based in Hiroshima and Masuda and so dont know much of the detail of kagura in our area. The name of the bells that are used are kagura suzu.

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Next the kids performed Shiobarai, the dance that purifies the space. Like everything the Tsuchi group does it was tight and fast,,,,,

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Next up, Iwato, and while I find it one of the less interesting dances a few moments in this performance grabbed my attention, like when Tajikarao did some wild leaps in front of the cave.......

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Around midnight we headed down the valley to the Suwa Shrine in the village of Kamikawado,... not so much a village rather a collection of farms strung along a narrow valley. The village doesnt have a kagura group so our villages were performing here...... Iwato, one more time.....

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And one more stop on our way home at the shrine in Ichimura where the dance Yamato Takeru was underway. Ive always found this dance strange because it celebrates the defeat of local leaders by the Yamato, kind of like Native Americans or the Welsh celebrating their subjugation. So deeply has the national identity overidden local, tribal identities....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 6


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After the round of ceremonies at Nakano Omoto Matsuri it was time for more dancing and first up was some very young kids dancing Hachiman.....

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Bothe the 2 heroes and the 2 demons were very young kids and they did a really great job...

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Next up a couple of older kids danced Shoki...

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Then to the other end of the age scale.... an elderly gentleman danced the first part of Yachimata. This was the first time I have seen this dance and the only reference I can find to it says it is danced by Uzume and Sarutahiko. Yachimata is the crossroads between the High Plain of Heaven and Japan and it is here that Ninigi, Amaterasu's grandson, and his entourage meet Sarutahiko on their derscent from heaven to begin their rule of Japan. This old gentleman is obviously not Uzumne, so maybe he is Ninigi.....

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The second part of the dance belongs to Sarutahiko....

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A break from the theatrical kagura brings us to the Four Swords dance. I have read that originally this dance and Kenmai were once the same dance but then split into 2 separate parts.

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The dance increases in tempo and excitement and the audience is well aware when difficult, acrobatic sections have been performed well.....

It was around 2am and there was lots more to come but I was suffering from a bad cold so took my leave early.....

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 5


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Wednesday night was Omoto Matsuri up in Nakano. Honoring the local kami Omotojin, these matsuris only take place, in the villages that still have them, every six or 7 years and are therefore more important than the annual matsuri. The event took place in the shrines kaguraden, but the villagers had built a huge temporary shelter out of bamboo and blue tarps to keep everyone protected from the weather....

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As we arrived the Iwato dance was underway....

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After that first dance it was time for rituals and ceremony to begin and first the representation of Omoto, a coiled rope snake with red tongue was brought in and set on the temporary altar. Later the snake will be uncoiled and used in some shamanic rituals, and next day he will be taken to a sacred tree and wrapped around its base.

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Next three priests conducted a purification of the space that culminated with the scattering of rice grains over the space and the audience/congregation.....

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The other priests now entered, 7 in total, and they were all purified with the Onusa. The priests had come from all over the district. Most shrines do not have a resident priest, and the few priests that do live in the countryside are responsible for a large number of shrines. For Omoto rituals there may be as many as ten priests who take part.

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next came the lengthy ritual of placing the offerings on the altar. Mostly shinsen, food offerings, but also other types known as heihaku. Compared to a more usual shrine ceremony, the number of offerings was quite large as befitting the importance of Omoto.

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Next a series of norito were read to Omoto, after which the offerings were removed, rather more quickly than they were placed, and then Omoto was placed above the tengai to "observe" the nights dances and the altar dismantled so the dancing could continue.....


Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Month of Little Sleep part 4


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Around 2:30am the kagura group took a break, something I have never seen before. I suspect that as the village has shrunk, so has the kagura group, and fewer members means each must do more and therefore not get any breaks during the long night. The audience took the opportunity to pull out some food and spread out... All night long Mr Yama operating the barbecue grill outside had been passing free food into us.... fried noodles, barbecued squid, barbecued crab legs..... along with copious amounts of cold beer and sake, so we were full but could not refuse the offers from different groups in the audience who insisted we join them and share their food....this, for me, is the essence of matsuri....

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After the break the action started up  with the Oeyama dance with lots of demons including the favorite of the audience, a junior demon...

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The spiders web trapped the hero but he was of course able to free himself and kill the demon...

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next up was Iwato, usually one of the first dances at a matsuri....

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And then Ebisu, ably assisted by junior Ebisu, distributing lucky candy to everyone in the audience...

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The penultimate dance was Shoki.......

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Outside the sky was lightening and more people had been arriving...... in the countryside people get up at 5... and so it was time for the finale, Susano's battle with the multiheaded Orochi.... It was a small kagura group, so there were only four heads to the serpent, but even so they took all the dance space and spilled out into the audience. An exciting end to a great night..... time to go home to bed and rest up..... in 3 days it would be an Omoto Matsuri up in Nakano....

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