Sunday, November 30, 2008

Minoji Yashiki


One of the pleasures of exploring the backcountry of Japan is discovering the unexpected, and so it was with our trip up into the mountains near Hikimi Gorge. The Minoji were a wealthy farming family in the area, and a yashiki could best be described as a manor house. A few years ago the family donated their old home to the town, and it has been restored and opened to the public.


There are hundreds if not thousands of similar "folk museums" scattered across Japan, but this one has many nice touches that elevates it above most, and best of all it is free.


One nice touch was that the fire in the kitchen area was lit. The daikon drying under the eaves, and the arrangements of flowers were also good.


The bathroom was impressive even by modern standards.


The house had the biggest and grandest kamidana I've ever seen.


The largest outbuilding was devoted to a display of agricultural and woodworking tools and equipment, with explanatory maps, diagrams, and some photos.


The 2 floors of the storehouse were given over to displays of domestic items, clothes, tableware, dolls etc. The displays in both buildings were of a high quality.

In the gatehouse is a small cafe.


Tourist attractions in Japan tend to fall into 2 categories, expensive and boring, or cheap and interesting. Minoji Yashiki is definetely in the latter category.

Unfortunately access by public transport is extremely limited.

It is located within the boundaries of Hikimi Town, at the junction of Route 191 and the road that heads down through Hikimi Gorge to Hikimi Town.

It's open from 9 to 4 Tue. through Sun.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Fall colors: Gingko trees


2 weeks ago we took a drive up into the mountains near where Shimane and Hiroshima Prefectures meet. We were heading for Hikimi Gorge to see the Fall colors as down where we lived the leaves had only just started to turn.

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On the way we stopped at several shrines that I had not visited before and I was please to find Gingko trees in their full golden brilliance.


I prefer the gold of the gingko to the scarlet of the maples, especially the carpets of leaves that cover the steps and ground.


Originally from China, the gingko is often planted at shrines and temples.


Friday, November 28, 2008

Typical Japanese Landscape 11


It doesn't get any more typical than my own village,... flat area for rice paddies, with houses up against the base of steep hills. This was taken 2 weeks ago.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Kawamoto "civic centre" (inside)

The first part of this post can be found here


The musical instrument museum in Kawamoto is only a few metres wide, little more than a corridor running alongside the swimming pool, but is very tall and gives the impression of being a cathedral.


The complex of buildings were designed by Arai Chiaki, a local architect. The little museum is free, and worth a visit if you are in the area, but probably not worth a special trip unless you are really interested in musical instruments from around the world.


The benches are designed as piano keyboards and are a nice touch.


The foyer also uses height to increase the sense of space.


The auditorium has no particular features, though it was filling up with people for a concert so I wasn't able to wander around and find any interesting viewpoints.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Itsukushima Shrine, Matsubara, Hamada.


This branch of Itsukushima Shrine is located in the fishing village of Matsubara in Hamada at the base of the hill upon which stood Hamada Castle.


The head shrine is the famous Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima, a World Heritage site. The kami enshrined in Itsukushima shrines is Ichikishimahime, a daughter of Susano "born" when Amaterasu chewed up Susanos' sword and spat out three girls. Ichikishimahime's head shrine is not in fact Itsukushima, but in Munakata in what is now Fukuoka Prefecture. Ichikishimahime and her 2 sisters were kami who offered protection on the sea journey between north Kyushu and the Korean Peninsular in ancient times.


There is a small secondary shrine to Inari in the grounds.


Also a small shrine to Ebisu, another kami with an Izumo lineage. His head shrine is at Mihonoseki.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Uzume mask


This is the smallest of all the Iwami Kagura masks and is the goddess Uzume. In the most well-known of the ancient Japanese myths, Iwato, it is she who was responsible for getting Amaterasu out of the cave and so bringing light back to the world. She performed a type of shamanic dance, and at the end she pulled down her skirt and exposed her genitals. The cheers of the gathered kami piqued Amaterasu's curiosity so she peeked out of the cave and was pulled out by Tajikarao. This dance is considered to be the mythological origin of kagura.


The kagura dance of Iwato doesn't include the striptease, and is usually a fairly sedate and stylized dance, but I did see one performance wherein Uzume danced frenetically around the stage with sacred sakaki branches and hinted at the shamanic nature of original kagura.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

November harvest 2

Had a great taro harvest this year. I had never eaten taro until I came to Japan, and they have become one of my favorite vegetables, not least because they grow easily with little upkeep, and produce a lot of food. We probably picked 50 kilos this year. Taro is harvested in November, which is just about when the store of spring potatoes is running low, and taro can be substituted for potatoes in just about any recipe. Originally from India, Taro, known as satoimo in Japanese was cultivated by the Jomon people before the Japanese arrived.
sweetp Despite the raid earlier raid by the mountain whales, we still managed to get a crop of sweet potatoes. Called satsumaimo in Japanese, they were introduced from China and were very popular as they are very hardy and will produce even if floods or drought or poor soil produced famine. In my walks around the countryside I often see stone memorials to whichever individual introduced them into the local area.

Thursday, November 20, 2008



This is the manhole cover for Daisen Town, situated at the base of Mount Daisen in western Tottori Prefecture. It shows the town flower, sazanka, a type of camelia, and the town tree, kyaraboku, a kind of Yew, against a backdrop of the mountain.


Mount Daisen, at 1729 metres is the highest mountain in the Chugoku region, and is a volcano with 3 peaks. During the winter months climbers who are planning to climb Mt Everest come here to practise. The mountain was important as a center of Shugendo, and modern yamabushi can still be seen here on certain festival days.


Daisen is also mentioned in the ancient Izumo legend of Kunibiki. In the legend the Shimane Peninsular was formed by bringing pieces of land from Korea and other parts of Japan and was attached to the mainland by giant ropes anchored around Mount Daisen and Mount Sanbe in Iwami.

Shinto in History

Shinto in History: Ways of the Kami

Ed. John Breen & Mark Teeuwen

Univ. of Hawaii Press

ISBN 0-8248-2363-x


The word shinto is very problematical. I use it a lot in my blog, but am uncomfortable with it. Problem is there is no easy alternative word.

Shinto is often used to refer to an organized religion completely separate from Buddhism, and as such Shinto is a new religion created in the late 19th century which became the State Shinto of emperor worship. It's when shinto is referred to as "the indigenous religion of Japan" that the problems arise.

The first record of the word shinto in Japanese is referring to state rituals of the 8th Century which were of predominantly Taoist origin. Many researchers question if there is anything at all left if one strips away the influence of Buddhism, Taoism, Yin Yang theory and Confucionism from early Japanese religious practises..

All the chapters in this book look at different strands of Japanese religious history, and the book is organized chronologically. The contributors are a who's who of researchers and historians specializing in Japanese religion, and all the contributions are of a high quality.

A book for those who wish to get beyond the simplistic ideas that dominate so much and cause the rich diversity and complexity of Japanese history to be overlooked.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Iki-Iki Matsuri

Iki Iki Matsuri

This weekend was the local "Lively" Festival (Iki Iki Matsuri). The highlight on the second day was the parade. The ladies dance the town dance. Each village that makes up the town have their own "happi" coats with different designs and colors.

2 streets are closed off and stalls and a stage are erected. The festival is a "civic" matsuri, created to instill a sense of identity when the town was created out of widely scattered villages. It's similar to a County Fair in the states.

On the stage there are of course performances of kagura. Also the local Taiko troupe perform, as well as various folk dances. This year instead of a karaoke contest there was an eating contest.

There are exhibitions and displays by all the local arts and crafts societies. I'm always interested to see what the other maskmakers are up to.

There are lots and lots of food stalls, as well as local produce, cheap Chinese toys, tools, a few games, and of course beverages.

Being a rural town there are displays of the latest agricultural machines.

Monday, November 17, 2008

more cool links!

I recently had my computer crash, and while I was able to retrieve most of my data, one thing I lost were my web bookmarks. In trying to refind them I've come across these useful websites that I have added to the links on the right of this page.

Contemporary Japanese Architects is a photographic database of modern architecture in Japan. Search is by an index of each architects name. The photos are excellent quality, though there is no other information other than location and date. The collection is mostly focussed on Tokyo. I found this site while researching for my own humble architecture posts.

JAANUS stands for Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System, and calls itself a dictionary, but is more like an encyclopedia. The database is searched by keyword, and I often come to this site when researching obscure aspects of shrine architecture.

Japanese Old Photographs
is a huge collection of photos of Japan from the library collection of Nagasaki University. You can search for photos by location, subject, or photographer.

Old Photos of Japan is a blog I found thanks to Quirky Japan Blog. There is a daily post of an old photos with extensive details and information about the subject of each photo

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Susuki, Japanese Pampas Grass


If there is one plant that symbolizes Autumn in Japan it is Susuki. Miscanthus Sinensis Andress is called Chinese Silver Grass, or Eulalia in English, though it is more commonly known as Japanese Pampas Grass.

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Growing to a height of 2 metres, it is a common sight this time of the year along riverbanks and roadsides.

The reeds were formerly used as thatch for roofing.

Susuki appears in many haiku as it is the plant that symbolizes Autumn.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Sotoura Konpira Shrine, Matsubara, Hamada.


Sotoura is a small settlement at the head of a small inlet by Matsubara in Hamada. The small Konpira Shrine is built on top of a rocky outcropping.


The roof of the honden is odd!... the chigi (cross pieces) are aligned at 90 degrees to each other. I've seen this one time before, and if memory serves me well it was also a Konpira shrine. I have no idea if it means anything, but am still trying to find out.


Konpira is a very popular kami, known mostly as a protector of journeys, kind of like St. Christopher. As most journeys in ancient Japan were by sea, it's not surprising that they can often be found in coastal villages..


Like most Japanese Kami, Konpira has gone through many identities and forms. Originally a Hindu god, for most of the past Konpira was a Buddhist god. In the late 19th Century when the government created the new state religion of Shinto they changed its name to Kotohira, though most people still use the name Konpira. The government also decided that Kotohira was really an ancient Japanese Emperor, ... a lot of emperors werte enshrined by State Shinto, though that was not traditional.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

November Harvest Persimmons

November Harvest Persimmons

November Harvest Persimmons, Japan.

Been picking what's left of the persimmons. The monkeys took most of them. I don't begrudge them their food,... so much of the Japanese forests have been replaced with sterile tree farms that have no food for any species.

The rounder shaped species of persimmon is called amagaki in Japanese, and these can be eaten straight from the tree. I'll peel them and slice them then dehydrate them for later use.

The more oval-shaped persimmons are called shibugaki, and they are too astringent to eat without first hanging and drying. Then they become similar to dried figs. Strings of them hanging are a common sight in the countryside now.



Egrets are notoriously difficult to photograph without a strong telephoto lens, as they will fly away if you appraoch them, or even if you stop to take a picture, so I was pleased to get these shots the other day in the river at hamada.


There are several species of egret in Japan, lesser, intermediate, great, etc, and I believe they are a type of heron, though the common grey herons are nowhere near as skittish as egrets.

You see them everywhere, in rivers, ponds and lakes, and once the rice paddies are flooded and planted they congregate there.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Typical Japanese Landscape 10


The "beach" at Gotsu

Sunday, November 9, 2008

kawamoto "civic centre" (outside)


Kawamoto is a small town upstream of my village on the Gonokawa river. The population is around 4,500, a mere quarter of what it was 50 years ago, yet on the hill overlooking the town is quite a grand civic complex.


There's a heated indoor swimming pool, a library, a musical instrument museum, and a full-size concert hall. I went to the concert hall for the first time a couple of weeks ago to see the world famous taiko group Kodo on their world tour.


The town has a reputation as a "music town", and until recently a full-time music teacher was employed at the center which also has recording studios.


The complex was designed by architect Arai Chiaki, another homegrown Shimane architect, and opened in 1998. The complex does get used by local people, but I wonder if the money would not have been better spent on a decent hospital (nearest big hospital is an hour away) or installing a mains sewage system?