Friday, October 31, 2008

Suga Shrine, Matsubara, Hamada

Suga Shrine

Tucked away against the hill is the Suga Shrine in the little fishing village of Matsubara.

The shrine grounds were being used as a car park, and the place did not look like a very busy shrine.

Suga Shrine

It has a fairly large honden though, leading me to think it was a more important shrine in earlier days.

The Kami enshrined in Suga shrines are Susano and his wife Kushinada. Within the shrine grounds are smaller secondary shrines, Hachiman, Atago, and a Mishima shrine enshrining Oyamazumi.

Suga Shrine

The original Suga shrine is located in the mountains of Izumo, and is believed to be the site of the "palace" built by Susano after he slew the serpent Yamata no Orochi and married Kushinada. Susano then wrote a poem....

Many clouds rise up
clouds appear to form a fence
holding this couple;
They form layers of a fence
Oh, the layers of that fence.

This is considered to be the first example of a Tanka in Japanese history.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

October Harvest 2


With no sign of a frost yet, the garden is still producing tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers, and the first of the winter carrots too.

Spinach, called horenso in Japanese is harvestable now too. Horen is Chinese for Persia, and so means plant, so the Japanese name means "Persian plant", Persia being the area it originated from before being introduced into Japan from China.

Align Center

Lettuce, retasu in Japanese, are also being picked. I planted 3 kinds with seeds from England. Lettuce was introduced into Japan from the U.S. after WWII.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A protracted and theatrical death.

In this final video from the recent annual matsuri in my village. In this ending sequence to the dance, the hero, Yorimasa, and his sidekick dispatch the evil demon. The demon is hit by arrows at least 6 times, hacked and stabbed with swords, and still manages to keep fighting!!

The Yorimasa story is set in the 12th Century, with the Emperor being afflicted by an evil spirit inhabiting a dark cloud. Minamoto Yorimasa is summoned and he dispatches the monster with a single arrow shot into the cloud. In the story the monster has the face of a monkey, the back of a lion, the tail of a fox, the feet of a badger, and the voice of a bird.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Monkey Attack (comedic interlude)

Continuing with videos from the annual matsuri in my village last week. A couple of weeks ago I saw 2 kagura groups use the Kakko dance to inject a comedic interlude into the all-night performance, but the Tanijyugo group uses the Yorimasu dance for this purpose.

After a bit of stand-up comedy, the hapless farmer is harassed by a troop of monkeys who serve a demon. This is the dance that uses the baby monkey masks. The monkeys chase the farmer through the audience, stopping sometimes to pose for the cameras. Kids, and sometimes adults in the audience will also be grabbed and dragged on stage. I've seen very young children grabbed and be absolutely terrified, much to the delight of their parents.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Demon's entrance

Continuing with some videos of kagura performed by my neighbors at the village's annual matsuri.

It's usually dramatic when an Oni (demon/ogre) makes it's appearance on the stage. In this sequence Hachiman, the God of war based on the semi-mythical Emperor Ojin, is dancing alone on the stage. Amid clouds of smoke and brandishing a firework, the demon arrives and begins the battle with Hachiman. Good versus Evil, and Good of course wins.

Though a traditional folk art, Iwami kagura is notable for having adapted over time. Smoke machines and fireworks were first used at a performance of Iwami Kagura at the World Expo held in Osaka in 1970. Now their use has spread and most kagura groups utilize the technology. Radio mikes are now also standard equipment.

Tanijyugo kagura group dance in the 8-beat style.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Jingi Daiko

Last weekend was the annual matsuri in my village, Tanijyugo, so I'm going to post several videos of the all-night kagura performed by the villagers.

This first piece is called Jingi daiko, and is local to Iwami Kagura. It's not very common, I've only seen it performed once in Ichiyama, and they did a different version than this one from my village.

The 4 drummer dancers represent the 4 seasons.

If there is one sound that represents Japanese music to me it's the sound of the Taiko, the big drum.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Typical Japanese landscape 9


In Kerr's "Dogs & Demons" he writes of some first-time visitors to Japan driving into Osaka from the airport through this section of the city. The son commented "so this is where the poor people live." "No! this is where everyone lives." was the reply.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Kansai International Airport (Outside)


The Aeroplaza is a hotel/shopping complex attached to Kansai Airport's terminal building


Connected to the terminal by a covered walkway. For those who like expensive hotels and shopping malls. Never been in it myself.


Between the terminal and the Aeroplaza is the train station for connections into Osaka. Rather fine skylight.

One night in Kansai Airport 4041


Waiting for the first train.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ishigami Shrine, Matsubara, Hamada


Matsubara is a fishing village that is now part of Hamada City. Ishigami Shrine is just inside the village a stone's throw from Hamada City Hall and busy Route 9. The kami of the shrine is Amenotoyotarashikarahime (which could be roughly translated as "Princess Heavenly Abundance), and it was here that I learned the story of how Iwami got it's name.


Since I posted that story I have learned another version of it. In this other version Ameno does not kill the serpent, but simply calls for help to Yatsukamizuomitsunu, and it is he who kills the serpent.

Both versions of the story obviously relate to Iwami's dependence on the power of Izumo, but I prefer the first, simply because it is more detailed.


Sandwiched between 2 mountains, and between the sea and central Hamada, Matsubara is a maze of narrow lanes and alleys and a quiet respite from the bustle of the city.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tengu Mask


The earliest form of Tengu in Japan was a half-bird half-man creature, the Karasu (crow) Tengu, but the commonest form is the red faced, long nosed version that has come to be associated with yamabushi, the "mountain warriors" of Shugendo. Like all the masks, it is often used to ward off evil spirits. Like all my masks, this one is for sale at a very reasonable price :).

One weekend one year ago 1573

I've only seen the Tengu mask used in one kagura dance, and I've only seen it performed once.

One day on Miyajima 4559

This wonderful carved mask is in the temple on top of the mountain on Miyajima.


Another carved wooden mask, this one was over a metre in height, so obviously not meant to be worn. It seems the mouth is made to move. It was at a shrine in Miyoshi.


The tengu with it's huge nose is an obvious phallic symbol. This was one of a pair of masks guarding a "vagina" rock at a fertility shrine on Mt. daisen.


A tengu leads the procession at Tsunozu Matsuri

Kagura mask index

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Enko..... commonly known as Kappa


This is the drain cover found in my village and the surrounding town of Sakurae. It depicts an Enko which is the local name for a strange creature found only in Japan known mostly by the name of Kappa.

Kappas are aquatic creatures that live in rivers, streams, springs, ponds, and irrigation ditches all over Japan, though they can also survive on dry land. They are generally about 3 to 4 feet tall, with green scaly skin, webbed feet, and a shell, similar to a turtles, on its back. In many ways it looks remarkably like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (remember them?). Perhaps its strangest feature is its head, which has a bowl-shaped cavity on top surrounded by a ring of spiky hair. When out and about on dry land, this cavity must remain filled with water or else the Kappa becomes seriously weakened. Kappa is an ardent sumo wrestling fan, and will eagerly challenge any solitary traveller it encounters to a bout. The best strategy therefore if encountering a Kappa is to bow deeply. When the Kappa returns the bow the water spills out of the cavity and he become too weak to fight.


Kappa is an omnivore, and particularly likes horses and small children, which it will drag into the water before sucking out the innerds ( through an orifice not in the victims head!!!) but most of all Kappa loves cucumbers, there is even a type of sushi made with cucumbers, kappamaki , named after him. Parents whose children are about to swim in a pond or river will inscribe the childs name on a cucumber and throw it into the water in the belief that this will placate the Kappa and protect the child. Kappa is not purely malevolent and sometimes helps humans, and therefore is more akin to an Imp or Trickster than a monster.


The reason it is on our draincover is because there is a story about Enko set in our little village, and I'll post that story later.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Daily Life in Japan

Daily Life in Japan at the time of the Samurai, 1185 - 1603 Louis Frederic Translated by Eileen M. Lowe Tuttle Books ISBN 0-804813496-1 256pp A problem I have with a lot of history books, especially Japanese history books, is that they are about the history of the rulers, concerned with war, power, and the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous"!, and often have little to do with the actual lives of most people. For instance, I tire of reading something like ..."the Japanese ate little meat because of the Buddhist proscription against meat-eating".....the buddhist proscription was adhered to only by a small percentage of the Japanese people, and even then they found ways to circumvent it. Most Japanese ate any meat they could get their hands on! So, if you interested in the Lives of the Poor and Unknown, Frederic's book can't be beat. A full range of topics are included, life-stages from birth to death, city and country, occupations and crafts, the family system, the position of women in society, religion, and the way of the warrior. In each section he contrasts the lives of the upper classes with those of the lower, and what emerges is a very clear picture that their lives were very different. For instance, in the case of women's position, the women of the upper classes were little more than "borrowed wombs", but as one moves down through the classes women had more and more power and rights. The source for a lot of the information about common people of the period comes from illuminated scrolls which were used by monks to teach, and therefore often illustrated daily life of the common people. The book is also an excellent overview of a turbulent period of Japanese history. An excellent book for peeking behind the modern veneer of homogenity in Japan.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

How Iwami got it's name

Shimane Prefecture was formed by joining together 3 of the old provinces, Oki Islands, Izumo, and Iwami. The old provincial identities remain strong today, with an Iwami identity being stronger than a Shimane identity. I live in Iwami, and most of this blog is about Iwami.

The name Iwami is written with 2 kanji, "iwa" meaning rock/stone, and "mi" meaning look/see, so the name means something like "see rock".

The most common theory of the names origin says that it refers to the rocky cliffs around Hamada, which was the original provincial capital, but on one of my shrine-visiting walks I came across another story which is not well known, but far more interesting


The story begins a long, long time ago, before the introduction of Buddhism, when the area was ruled by female shamans.

The people of the area were under attack from a giant eight-colored serpent( not to be confused with the eight-headed serpent of Izumo).

The local kami, a shamaness names Amenotoyotarashikarahime fought against the evil serpent, and like all such battles it was long and hard, but the evil power of the serpent was too strong and eventually Ameno weakened.

Just as it looked as if Ameno would be defeated, "ofuda" rained down from the sky. Ofuda are small paper strips from shrines that are in essence charms to ward off evil or encourage good spirits. These ofuda were from a kami from neighboring Izumo, Yatsukamizuomitsununomikoto. (if Susano can be said to be the creator of the Izumo nation, and Okuninushi presided over it's demise, then Yatsukami ruled at the height of Izumo's power)

The ofuda did the trick, the serpent was weakened, and Ameno revived enough to finish off the serpent and hack its body to pieces. (North of here is a mountaintop shrine in the village of Yairoishi (eight-colored stone), and behind the shrine is the head of the eight-colored snake, now turned to stone)

The next part of the story is a little unclear, either for some reason Ameno turned herself to stone, or she turned the serpent, now in pieces, into stone. As the stone head exists, it seems likely that the latter is the story.

Anyway, Yatsukami felt the event was important enough that he instructed the people to remember the event by "LOOK AT THE STONE!"

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Kagura season is in full swing!

This is a scene from the Kakko-Kirime dance performed last night at the shrine in Kawado.


In the opening part of the dance an inept priest bumbles and fumbles his way around the stage in an attempt to find the correct spot to place a drum for a sacred ceremony. I saw this dance performed by 2 different dancers last night, and though both dances differed they both stressed the comedic element.


It's October, the rice has been harvested, and until the middle of November it is now Kagura season in the Iwami area. Every village will be holding it's annual matsuri, and here in Iwami that means all night kagura performances. Some places have a Kagura-den, a seperate building like an outdoor stage specifically for kagura, but most places round here perform it in the Haiden, the main hall of the shrine.

Last night we had the choice of 6 different shrines less than ten minutes drive away that were having all-night kagura. If we wanted to drive 20 minutes the number increases to 20 or so. I like to visit different shrines and see how the different groups interpret the dances, and there are still plenty of dances I haven't see yet.

The photo above is the Ichiyama shrine, where we went first. One of my friends is a kagura dancer there, so we've been often, but still I saw a dance that I hadn't seen before. For everyone attending there was also free food... piping hot bowls of oden, uden, and later onigiri.


The next shrine we stopped at was in Kawado. There will usually be a bonfire going all night at the matsuri,... something the kids like to play with and around. This is one of the few nights of the year when kids are allowed to stay up all night, though many crash out at some point only to wake up for the finale at dawn, the Yamata No Orochi dance.


If you've never seen Iwami kagura, then you've missed one of the most exciting of all Japan's traditional performing arts, and if you've never been to an all-night village matsuri, then you haven't experienced what I consider to be one of the defining experiences of life in Japan.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Piggyback Frogs!

One Day in Izumo9674

I found these 2 in the shallow pool of Shimane Museum of Ancient Izumo.

One Day in Izumo9680

As I knelt down to take photos they swam over and literally poked their faces into the lens!.

I have no idea if it is an adult and child, 2 adults, ... are they mating? Maybe a naturalist among you can tell me?

One Day in Izumo9684

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Izumo Taisha Shrine, Hamada


This branch shrine of Izumo Taisha is just off busy Route 9 in Hamada, sandwiched between modern concrete buildings. Like its parent shrine, the great Izumo Taisha, it has an unusually large shimenawa. Most people I know in Hamada come here for Hatsunode, the first shrine visit of the new year.


Most shrines in Japan are now branch shrines. The "spirit" of the kami at the head shrine is "divided" and brought to the new location. Sometimes this was done by the rulers, as is the case with Hachiman shrines which were spread by the samurai. Sometimes the kami is brought by travelling shugenja, as with Akiba and Atago shrines, and sometimes the kami is brought by a delegation of villagers who travelled to the main shrine, such as Konpira.


The identities of the kami have changed over time, and they also often have a buddhist identity. The kami of Izumo Taisha, Okuninushi, was more commonly known as Daikoku, one of the seven lucky gods. According to the ancient Yamato legends, Okuninushi "gave" Japan to the Yamato, although there are no stories of him in Izumo itself, he being based in what is now Tottori. Okuninushi is associated with marriage, and like its parent shrine in Izumo, this shrine also has a wedding hall attached to it.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Typical Japanese Landscape 8

A walk to Chomonkyo 1741

Abu River (Abugawa) valley, NE Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Early morning, November.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Kansai International Airport (Departures)

One night in Kansai Airport 4053

The terminal building at Kansai International Airport is the longest in the world,... 1.7 kilometres.

One night in Kansai Airport 4057

The 4-story "canyon" is part of Renzo Piano's award-winning design. Built on an artificial island at huge cost, the island sank 3 metres more than predicted and so several billion more dollars were spent.

One night in Kansai Airport 4055

Incredibly light and airy, it's a very comfortable airport to spend time in, partly because its not very busy.

One night in Kansai Airport 4066

Piano's initial sketch was of a glider landed on the island, and the departure lounges are the wings stretching out on either side of the main terminal.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

October Harvest


Started to harvest some edamame this week. Edamame means "twig beans" as the pods grow in clusters from short twigs attached to the main stem. Edamame is the name used in English nowadays, but in fact edamame are just immature soy beans. They are boiled lightly in the pods and then eaten mostly as a type of "bar snack", though I read that in the West they are served at expensive Japanese restaurants. I prefer to let the beans grow full term when they become Kuramame, black beans. The crows took most of the beans I planted, so I tried starting some in pots and they succsessfully transplanted, so that's the way I'll do it next year.

eggplant pickle

Still picking tons of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants. Eggplants grow so easily and are so prolific that people don't know how to use them all and many just rot in the gardens. The best way I have found to preserve them is with this Sri Lankan Eggplant Pickle recipe. It's a lot of work, but well worth the effort.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Small Hanya mask 2


This is another version of the small Hanya mask in Iwami Kagura style. The hanya masks are the most popular in terms of sales, and its the most popular search term bringing visitors to this blog! What little is known about Hanya masks I've written here


There are only about 3 or 4 different forms and shapes for Hanya masks around here, but the painting and shading makes for a much wider range of appearances. I love seeing new kagura groups with masks by different mask-makers and studying their different styles.


This one is an older mask carved in wood. It is too big to be used as a performance mask, and was made as a decoration to scare off evil spirits, the use made of most hanya masks sold.


Over time I will be posting lots more of my masks, and they are for sale, so please contact me if interested.

Kagura Mask Index

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Saburoiwa, Ama.


This draincover from the island of Ama in the Oki Islands shows a rock formation known as Saburoiwa. The design around the circumference shows dancers performing at the island's Kinnyamonya Matsuri.


Iwa means rock, and Saburo is a name traditionally given to the third son (Ichiro means first son). All of the Oki Islands have spectacular coasts, with many rock formations and towering cliffs.


On neighboring Nishinoshima Island are the basalt cliffs and formations of the Kuniga coastline that are part of the Daisen-Oki National park.


Tour boats explore many parts of the coastline in the Oki's, and there are also glass-bottomed boats to see the abundant sea life that inhabits the area.