Friday, October 29, 2010



The seventh kagura matsuri for us this month was at Kakushi in Gotsu. Being in a town there were lots of people there and lots of stalls. There were lots and lots of kids running around. It was a Monday night but because of the all night matsuri all the local schools were closed next morning.

First dance we saw was Shioharae, the purification of the dance space. We came here about 6 years ago and Kakushi had their own kagura group, in the more traditional 6-beat style. Tonight Tsuchi kagura group were playing. Tsuchi pay the faster 8-beat style. Actually Tsuchi were the teachers of my own village kagura group.


Next up was Hachiman. The Kakushi shrine, like many round here, is a Hachiman shrine. Last year when we did the rounds of the matsuris it seemed that everywhere we turned up they were dancing the Iwato dance. This year it seems to be the Hachiman dance.

Hachiman danced alone, and fought a single demon.


Next up was Yamato Takeru. There are a whole series of myths/legends/stories about the exploits of the prince known as Yamato Takeru, mostly concerned with his subjugation of tribes outside Yamato control in Kyushu, Izumo, and the East. On his way east he is given a sacred sword by his aunt who was the Head Priestess as the Ise shrine. This is the sword that Susano found in the tail of the 8-headed serpent Yamata no Orochi, and gave to his sister Amaterasu the Sun Goddess, ancestor of the Yamato imperial line.


In the East he is almost killed when his enemies lure him alone into a grassy plain. They light the dry grass all around him but he uses the sword to cut down the grass around him and he creates a firebreak. Since this episode the sacred sword, one of the three Imperial Regalia, has been known as Kusanagi, the grass-cutting sword.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Kibitsuhiko Shrine


Kibitsuhiko Shrine is at one end of the Kibi Bike path near to Bizen Ichinomiya Station where bikes can be rented or dropped off if coming from the other end. The shrine is about 1k from Kibitsu Shrine which is the Ichinomiya (first-ranked shrine) of the old Bitchu province. Kibitsuhiko Shrine is the Ichinomiya of the old Bizen province.


The shrine is also known as Asahinomiya as the building are lined up with the sunrise and sunset of summer solstice.

The main kami enshrined is once again Kibitsuhiko, one of the sources of the Momotaro story. Also the mythical/legendary 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th Emperors are enshrined here though I suspect that they may have been a Meiji era addition.


Traditionally the Japanese did not enshrine emperors as kami. Other than the case of Ojin who became equated with the kami Hachiman through an oracle, and a couple of emperors who died violent deaths and were enshrined in a buddhist procedure, all the emperors now enshrined as kami were done in the modern era of State Shinto/ Emperor worship. Some of the biggest shrines now, Meiji Jingu in Tokyo, Heian Jingu in Kyoto, Kashihara Shrine in Nara, are all modern creations.


In the grounds of the shrine is a stone lanterm 11.5 meters tall. Possibly the biggest stone lantern in Japan.


There is also an old, large sacred tree, but on closer examination it turns out to be mostly concrete. Most of the tree died with some form of rot so to keep it standing the rotten part was filled in and sculpted with concrete.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Liquid breakfast


There are a lot of blogs that focus on the variety of products in Japan that seem strange, unusual, or just plain weird, and I do not intend to become one of those blogs, BUT... I saw this in a vending machine a couple of nights ago and just had to try it.

The food company Morinaga sell one of the most popular pancake mixes in Japan, and this drink is based on that flavor.

The dominant flavor of the drink is maple syrup, followed by butter, though I strongly suspect real butter and maple syrup came nowhere near the product.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


After watching a few dances up at the matsuri in Kanzui, it was time to head back to our own matsuri in Tanijyugo.

The Kakko dance had just started. In this video we see the main character attempt to summon the god Kirime by finding the correct location to place the sacred drum. Not being knowledgeable about such things he is unsuccesful and his dance veers towards a comical jig.

Next up was Yasogami, a tale about Okuninushi, the hero, and his 80 brothers. In this first scene the 80 brothers, represented by 2 of them, attempt to kill Okuninushi but end up beating themselves up. Sections of the dance descend into comedy and pantomime.

The end of the Yasogami dance is the traditional swordfight wherein Okuninushi dispatches the brothers in succession.

Next up was Hachiman, the kami of the local shrine. In our groups version Hachiman has an aide and they fight 2 demons. Being the god of archery, Hachiman hills the demons with arrows rather than swords.

Around 3am the Ebisu dance was performed, but in this instance 2 Ebisus danced. Like all kagura dances it lasted 45 minutes and has many different sections and these 2 little boys did amazingly well. The most important part of the Ebisu dance is when he throws out lucky candy to the audience.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Portraits of Japanese firemen


A lot of manhole covers in Japan provide access to mains water for the fire services.


About 85% of Japanese firefighters are volunteers, like in my villlage, that work at regular jobs and are called out for fires. many are local government officers.


There may be some female firefighters who actually fight fires, but most females members of the fire service do ancillary activities.


What is noticeable about the images of firefighters on these manhole covers is that they are all cartoon characters.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The New Fukuoka Tower


The New Fukuoka Tower stands next to the beach in the Momochi District of Fukuoka City.


At 234 meters in height it is the tallest seaside tower in Japan, though the observation deck is only at 123 meters.


It has an unusual triangular cross-section and was built in 1989 by Nikken Sekkei.


Open from 9:30 am to 8 pm entrance is 800yen and the elevator whisks you to the observation deck in 70 seconds.


It is particularly popular in the evenings for the expansive views over Fukuoka and the surrounding area.


Vacation 2010 Day 10: Wurzburg (morning)


On my second day in Wurzburg I met up with a few other camera buffs and continued exploring.
Churches were of course on the itinerary and again it was the light inside them that contin ued to attract me.


Like the scales of some prehistoric dinosaur, the slate tiles of the roofs sometimes took on organic forms.....


Corridor in the Julius Spital, a 16th Century hospital


The stairwell in a modern section of the Julius Spital.


The churches and cathedrals had some pretty impressive organs, but the most unusual-looking one was in the Augustiner Kirche.


In a small garden around the grave of Walter von der Vogelweide, a 12th Century knight and poet.

Monday, October 18, 2010



Saturday was the matsuri in our own village, but first we headed up into the mountains to check out a matsuri we hadn't been to before at Kanzui Uehata Shrine.
Kanzui is remote. There is no village as such, just scattered farms up and down the narrow valley.
One of the first walks I took in this area was here and I was amazed that in 15 kilometers there was but one vending machine.

We arrived just as the ceremony was finishing and once inside we were invited to partake of the Omiki.

The first dance was a surprise. Usually the first dance is Shioharae, the dance that purifies the dance space in preparation for the dancing, but here they performed a dance I have never seen before, the Akuma'barai, the Purging Demons dance. It is danced by Sarutahiko. the earthly kami that marries Uzume, and his red face and long nose makes him indistinguishable from Tengu.


The dance seems to be more common in the Bitchu region than around here.


The next dance up, Kami Mukai, the welcoming of the gods, was danced by children, but also unusually it was 2 girls. Until recently Iwami Kagura was an all-male affair. Gradually girls have begun to perform as musicians, and occasionally dance some of the ritual dances, but as yet I have never seen a female dance any of the theatrical pieces.


The last dance we saw before heading off to our home village was Yumi Hachiman, and in this dance Hachiman was played by a young boy.

I got really good vibes at this matsuri, from the shrine, the performers, and the small number of villagers in attendance. Next year I plan to spend much longer here as I suspect there are more surprises in store for me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kibitsu Shrine


The distinctive roof of Kibitsu Shrine is visible from quite a distance as one approaches on the Kibi Bike Path.


From a sub-shrine there is a 400 meter corridor leading to the main shrine.


Kibitsu Shrine is a major shrine, for a long time the Ichinomiya (top-ranked shrine) of Okayama, so there are numerous secondary shrines within its grounds.


The shrine is a major tourist destination and has a large staff including many miko.


The main building, in its current form built in the early 15th Century, is a National Treasure.

Like Izumo Taisha in Shimane, Kibitsu Shrien was built by the Yamato after their conquest of the region and enshrines Kibitsuhiko (Wakahikotakekibitsuhiko)as well as


who all seem to be members of the family of the mythical emperor Korei, linked with the conquest of Kibi.


Nowadays Kibitsuhiko is linked with Peach Boy Momotaro and images of Momotaro are in evidence at the shrine, on Ema etc

Friday, October 15, 2010



On Wednesday night we headed to the Hachimangu shrine in Uyagawa, a village on the coast between Gotsu and Hamada. I'd never been to thye matsuri here before and so didn't know what to expect. What we found was quite a big matsuri with 3 or 4 stalls by vendors from outside the village, so it was more like a town matsuri.


The shrine did have a big kagura-den, but the village has no kagura group so the Otani group from Hamada were invited to play.


The first dance we saw was Yumi Hachiman, starring the kami of all Hachiman shrines, equated with mythical/legendary Emperor Ojin. Some groups have him dancing with an aide, but here he was alone to fight the flying buddhist demon from the sixth level of hell.


Hachiman is associated with archery, and the demon is dispatched by arrows.


In previous posts I have written about all these dances, so if you want to know more just enter the dance title in the search box or click on the tag links to find more info.


The next dance up was Yasogami, the story of Okuninushi and his "80" brothers, who are pissed off that the beautiful Princess Yakami refuses their advances and instead chooses to marry Okuninushi.


In this version the 80 brothers are represented by just one on stage, and are made to appear rather dumb and dorky through comedy and pantomime. At one point the brother spends a good minute or 2 picking his nose and then flicking it into the audience.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010



On Sunday we went downriver to the Oihikonomikoto Shrine in Matsukawa Oda. They always have their matsuri on a Sunday during the daytime so there is no problem deciding which matsuri to visit like on a Saturday night when there might be 10 or more going on.

The village doesn't have a kagura group so Iwamishindaikagura Kamiko Syachu from Hamada were paid to perform.


The first dance we saw was Kurozuka, a very popular dance especially with older kids. Based on a couple of Noh plays the story revolves around an evil white fox. I was particularly impressed with this groups fox mask.

In the early part of the story/dance a priest and his guide Goriki, spend the night in a house of a pregnant woman. She is in fact the evil fox in disguise and in the video we see here she bewitches and possesses the guide. In the original story she kills and eats him, but in the dance he survives.

The priest then begins to battle the fox. The Kurozuka dance has many different variations depending on the group that is performing it. Often the dance incorporates pantomime and humor and the dancers speak in modern vernacular and local dialect.


The fox will invariably attack the audience and seek out young children to terrify.


Parents seem to take great delight in their kids being terrified and will call the fox to attack their babies. The Japanese believe that screaming loudly will cause their kids to grow up strong and healthy. I personally find it uncomfortable and believe it is more to instill fear in the kids and keep them close to the family and frightened of "outside".


Next dance up was Shoki, the demon-queller.