Monday, January 31, 2011

Around Gion


The Gion district of Kyoto is one of the most familiar places to visitors to Japan, and whiles I try to concentrate on posts that are more unfamiliar, because Yoko is from Gion we visit there fairly often to visit family, so sometimes I will post on Familiar Japan.


This little girl was being photographed by her parents last August. Probably not dressed up for Shichigosan as that is not until November.


The chances are she is a student of Nihon Buyo, traditional dance, and has just finished taking part in the annual recital.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

NEC Building, Momochi


The 11 storey NEC building in the Momochi district of Fukuoka is not a particularly outstanding piece of architecture, but its use of some subtle curves and its cantilever porch gives it a little style.


Like so many other buildings in this area of reclaimed land in Fukuoka it was built in 1996.


It was designed by Nikken Sekkei, and while they are not a particularly famous architectural company, they have done a lot of interesting buildings. Clicking on their name in the tags below this post will show you some of them.



Friday, January 28, 2011

Momiji gari part 2


This is a continuation of an earlier post.

As the heroes lay unconscious in a drunken stupor they are visited by Hachiman, the god of war and the protective deity of samurai. Interestingly in the kagura dance he is referred to as Hachiman Bosatsu, which is his buddhist identity, and as buddhism was mostly purged from Iwami kagura in the early Meiji period, it leads me to believe this is a post-war dance.


Hachiman purifies the heroes and also gives them a sacred sword and so the scene is set for the finale, a wild and frenetic swordfight.


The three demons have new masks and appear in all their fully formed horror.


There is, of course, no doubt as to the outcome. The good guys will win, and the demons will be destroyed.......


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Komainu of Kunisaki


Like shrines and temples everywhere, on Kunisaki Peninsular there are plenty of the guardian Komainu. This one with a flat head is supporting a lantern.


This is a variation on a modern style. Some komainu, like here, have a baby under its paw.


Often seen with elephants and dragons, the ends of beams are carved as komainu


This one is sitting on top of a turtle.... something Ive never seen before.


There are dozens of different styles of komainu, and part of the fascination with visiting shrines for me is to discover new variations.


All of these were found on the Kunisaki peninsular in northern Kyushu.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Vacation 2010 Day 13: Truro and The Lizard


From Helston I head to head into Truro for some business. The countryside is covered with the ruins of the old engine houses that pumped water from the tin mines.


Truro is a city and the capital of Cornwall. I'm not sure how a city is defined in Japan, I suspect it is simply a decision rendered by the government, but I knbow in the UK what defines a city, as opposed to a town, is the presence of a cathedral.


Its not a very old cathedral, as cathedrals go. Construction began in 1880, and it was completely finished in 1910.


Ive been to Truro hundreds of times, but I think this was the first time I have ever actually gone inside!!


After Truro, time to head down the the Lizard, the southernmost tip of mainland Britain, but first a stop at one of the cliff-top hotels for a Cornish Cream Tea.....


I lived down on the Lizard for a winter, and I have walked the coast path around it several times....

Monday, January 24, 2011

Haruta Shrine, Asuka


Haruta Shrine is located on the east side of Asuka, right next to Okadera Temple. The two were a temple-shrine complex until the seperation of buddhas and kami in early Meiji.


The three primary kami enshrined here are Onamuchi, another name for Okuninushi, Susano, and Homuda Wake, another name for Emperor Ojin.

The shrine is listed in the Engi Shiki, so is more than 1,000 years old.


The honden has an unusual design with a T-shaped roof topped by 3 chigi. The torii in front of the honden I would guess to be a post-meiji addition as this style was adopted by State Shinto.


A statue of Kinjiro, the common name for Ninomiya Sontoku. Similar statues are common in front of schools. Kinjiro is famous for becoming successful through self-study.


Sunday, January 23, 2011



This is the draincover for the city of Nagaoka, the place that was briefly the capital of Japan before it moved to Kyoto. The design shows bamboo and bamboo shoots (takenoko) a major product of the area.


The hills behind the town are covered almost exclusively in bamboo and there are plenty of trails and small roads that let you walk through the area.


I have an earlier post on takenoko here


Whereas we don't maintain the bamboo in any way, other than harvesting the root and the poles, here the bamboo is cultivated.


One method seems to be layering rice straw with soft earth. In places this has built up to a depth of 2 meters with narrow paths between.


The bamboo sculptures at Komorikate Shrine were popular with you, so here is a close-up of the tiger, made completely out of bamboo save for the glass eyes....

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Momiji gari


Went to a charity kagura event today and saw a dance I had never seen before, Momiji-gari.

The dance opens with three maidens dressed in gorgeous kimonos carrying sprigs of maple.


The dance is based on a Noh drama which itself was based on an older story set among the autumn leaves in what is now Nagano.

The group dancing was from northern Hiroshima, and one feature of Hiroshima kagura is that "human" dancers do not wear masks, rather make-up.


The dance was graceful and at times frenetic, and the blur of golds, yellows, and reds against the backdrop of autumn leaves was quite spectacular.


Next up we are introduced to Taira Koremochi, the great Heike warrior, who along with an aide has come to Nagano to destroy a demon that has been harassing the local people.


The heroes accept the invitation of the maidens to join their party and are repeatedly given sake until they fall into a drunken stupor.


Now the maidens reveal their true identity as the demons the heroes have come to slay and begin a dance in celebration of the inevitable doom of the heroes.


The transformation from maiden to demon is truly instantaneous.... one second the women are spinning around and in the next they have on the demon masks....... I certainly did not see it happen, and the audience erupts with applause at the slickness of the transformation....

As you can see in the photo, the masks are not held to the head by strings but are gripped between the teeth

to be continued

Friday, January 21, 2011

A gallery of Miko

Iwashimizu Hachimangu, Kyoto.
Miko, commonly translated as "shrine maiden" in English, can be seen at many shrines in Japan.

Iwashimizu Hachimangu, Kyoto.
At larger shrines they will be full-time employees with duties that include office work, cleaning, sales, and assisting with ceremonies.

Dazaifu Tenmangu.
They are not female priests, or priestesses. There are female priests, though they are  not a large percentage of the priesthood.

Iwaishima, Kanmai Matsuri
At smaller, local shrines, elementary-school girls will fulfill the role of miko in some ceremonies. A common scenario being Miko Mai, a dance performed by a single miko or a group. I have several videos of Miko mai, one performed by 4 village girls at the Tsunozu matsuri, and another of two full-time miko rehearsing for a festival at Kagoshima Jingu. Both posts also have lots of photos.

Takachiho Shrine.

Nagaoka Tenmangu.
The most common time to see miko though will be over the New Year period when shrines are at their busiest in the whole year. Big shrines will hire lots of university students as Miko to handle the influx of visitors.

Nagaoka Tenmangu
The full-time Miko will perform the more ceremonial duties, commonly inculuding purification rituals.